Pastor's Blog
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November 7, 2018, 7:18 AM

Disagreeing in Love

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39)

The work of Christ has sometimes been seriously hindered, not because His people disagreed, but because of how they disagreed. Given our individual personalities and perspectives, differences and disagreements are inevitable. But if we can learn to maintain freedom in love, the work of Christ can continue. As we continue our verse-by-verse study, Acts 15:35-41 can instruct us in this important matter. Three factors stand out:

First, Community. Twice in this passage occurs the phrase “the brothers” (vv. 36, 40). Essentially the church is a brotherhood (today we would add, and a sisterhood!) – a family, a community of people. The community is not based upon race, class, or nationality. It transcends all of these. The community is created by our mutual participation in Christ – we are “all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). In Christ all are equal (Galatians 3:26-28). We belong to Jesus Christ, and we belong to one another in Jesus Christ. And because Christianity is a communal religion, it has no higher titles to confer than “brother” or “sister.”

Second, Liberty. Two of “the brothers” are shown in “a sharp disagreement” (v. 39). Community does not insure, or demand, uniformity. Differences of opinion will arise. When they do, how is community preserved? In short, by the recognition of mutual freedom. Paul was at liberty to disagree with Barnabas. “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them” (v. 37). Paul objected. To him, John was also called quitter! He was an unreliable man who had “deserted them” on their first missionary tour. So, Paul “did not think it wise to take him” (v. 38). Barnabas on the other hand, felt perfectly free to reject Paul’s judgment in the matter. Everything we know about Barnabas assures us that he was not being stubborn out of pride or jealousy. He was simply convinced that Paul was wrong, and that Mark needed a chance to prove himself. Coerced opinion and action does not benefit the Christian mission. We are much wiser to reserve to each other the liberty to dissent, even sharply. Coercion only creates master-slave relationships.

Third, Charity. Unable to resolve the conflict of opinion, “they parted company,” (v. 39) but they parted as brothers, not as enemies. Love doesn’t hold grudges (1 Cor. 13:4-5). W. E. McCumber observes, “As far as we know, Paul and Barnabas never traveled and worked together again. But no hint, however slight, is anywhere found to suggest that either man judged the other harshly or ceased to love, respect, and appreciate the other.” Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia (vv. 39-41). Soon Paul would choose Timothy, also, to share his labors. Community practiced in liberty with charity created for these three younger men rare opportunities for personal growth and fruitful service. Timothy’s career was ample vindication of Paul’s position (Phil. 2:19-22). And Mark’s proven usefulness vindicated Barnabas as an advocate of the second chance (2 Tim. 4:11). The two missionary parties became the triumph of love over disagreement. Working together or separately, Paul and Barnabas had a single aim – the welfare of God’s people and “strengthening the churches” was the result of their labors (v. 41). Men and women who honestly put Christ and the Church first will not always agree. But they will disagree and continue to serve in ways that keep Christ and the Church first. In the final analysis, the question is not, Do you always agree? The question is, How do you act when you disagree? You can walk hand-in-hand in Christian love without seeing eye-to-eye.

Let us join in prayer: Father, teach me to love and forgive others as you have loved and forgiven me. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

October 31, 2018, 7:09 AM

Heart Purity

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“He purified their hearts” (Acts 15:9).

Acts 15 records the first church council. Yes, even the Early Church found councils necessary! The church was sharply divided and the issue hotly debated. The agenda: Can Gentiles become Christians without becoming Jews? Must they accept circumcision and the law of Moses? Peter’s speech carried the debate, and a decision was rendered. All persons, Jew and Gentile, are saved “through the grace of our Lord Jesus” and not by the works of the law (vv. 10-11). In the speech Peter made we find some great words concerning God and the heart. It is this we want to focus on now.

1. God knows the heart. Acts 15:8 declares, “God, who knows the heart.” The heart is the inner life, the realm of intention, emotion, and thought. What goes on in another’s heart is not always evident in what we see them do or hear them say. For this reason, we are forbidden to judge by outward appearances (John 7:24). Not only are the hearts of others hidden from us, we do not know our own hearts. “The heart,” said Jeremiah, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (17:9, KJV). The answer to the prophet’s question is, God! God knows the heart. Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows what we are in our private depths. And this faithful God lets us know! He shows us our hearts; He convicts us of sin. He makes known to us every un-Christian aim and attitude that threatens the destruction of life’s center. But he does more than expose sin…

2. God cleanses the heart. According to Acts 15:9, “He purified their hearts.” As man cannot know his heart, neither can he cleanse it. He is powerless before that strength and stain of innate depravity. But God can and will purify the hearts of His people. Both the Old Testament (Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:25-27; Mal. 3:1-3) and the New Testament (Matt. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 John 1:7-9 contain some powerful promises of heart cleansing. Only the power of God is sufficient to realize these promises. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10, KJV). Only the creative power by which worlds were made can avail for the purifying of our deeply polluted inner lives. Some dramatic external things accompanied Peter’s experience at Pentecost and at Cornelius’s house. But what Peter points out as most significant is what happened internally – God purified their hearts! How?

3. God enters the heart. Acts 15:8 reveals, “Giving the Holy Spirit to them.” God’s Spirit can enter and posses our hearts. As fire can penetrate iron until the iron glows, while each element retains its own identity, so the divine Spirit can enter the human spirit. God remains himself, and we remain ourselves; He is not humanized, we are not deified. But we are changed! The Spirit of God within us is a flame that kindles against sin to destroy it. And He is a power to organize and orient the inner life around the will of God, producing a single-minded devotion to that will. “It is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (15:11). And saving grace includes this marvelous inward deliverance termed heart purity. It is “through… grace.” God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is “by faith.” The Holy Spirit is not a prize to be won, but a gift to be received. It is for all. Jew and Gentile – all followers of Christ without distinction may have this inward cleansing. It is for you!

Let’s pray: Almighty God, who knows my heart, cleanse me, change me, lead me. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

October 17, 2018, 8:24 AM

A Spreading Flame

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:49).

The spread of the gospel is a spreading flame, for God’s Word is a fire, a fire that consumes sin and refines people. That fire has spread around the world. In its light decisions must be made. Reverently, then, let us hear what today’s passage, Acts 13:42-52, has to say.

1. The spreading flame attracted crowds. According to Acts 13:44, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” The attraction was the gospel, not the preachers: the divine Word, not its human speakers. When speakers are the attraction, people come as spectators to be entertained. But when the message is the attraction, people come as participants and get involved. No wonder the disciples message attracted! It was a message of “light” (v. 47), “salvation” (v. 47), “eternal life (v. 48), and all by “the grace of God” (v. 43). The crowds had known enough of darkness, bondage, and death. They were weary of frustrated efforts to save themselves. To hear of deliverance as the gift of God was new, exciting, and hope-inspiring. Human need is unchanged. Sin and guilt still bring slavery and death. Salvation by self-effort is still a futile struggle. There is no word like God’s Word to spark hope in tired, hungry hearts.

2. The spreading flame created conflicts. Acts 13:45 declares, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy.” They “incited” leading citizens against Paul and Barnabas, stirring up persecution and expelling them from the region (v. 50). Paul interpreted their rejection as a disastrous self-judgment, saying, “You do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life” (v. 46). By their actions they voted against their own eternal interests. Fearful of losing people to the new movement, they became abusive and slanderous. The gospel creates conflict. Satan’s kingdom is threatened; human vested interests are threatened; exclusivism is threatened. Consequently, opposition to the Word of God can always be generated, especially among “leading men” and “woman of high standing” (v. 50). We must not expect complete acceptance, on the one hand, or be discouraged from our engagement in evangelism on the other hand. When one door closes, another will open. Thrust from the synagogue, they turned to the Gentiles (v. 46). God’s work goes on!

3. The spreading flame produced converts. Some opposed the word of the Lord, but others “honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (v. 48). The joy of the believers was as great as the rage of unbelievers. “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (v. 52). To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with joy, even in circumstances of conflict, for “the fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy” (Gal. 5:22). Those who “bring salvation” (v. 47) bring joy, for salvation is a well from which thirsty souls drink with joy (Isaiah 12:3).

Therefore, two fillings are recorded here. The critics were “filled with jealousy” and the converts were “filled with joy.” What are you filled with today? The Word of God which we share may provoke clashes, but it will also produce converts. For the sake of the converts we must risk the conflicts.

Let’s pray: Loving Father, fill me with your Holy Spirit and set me on fire for Your Kingdom! Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

October 10, 2018, 8:37 AM

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

The Acts of the Apostles, as many have observed, would be better entitled The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Behind all the human witnesses and their achievements is the power and guidance of the Spirit. Today’s passage of study, Acts 13:1-12, makes certain aspects of the Spirit’s work very clear.

1. The Holy Spirit sends people to the lost. Barnabas and Saul are “sent on their way by the Holy Spirit” (v. 4). He has “called them” for “the work” of preaching the gospel in other places. The Holy Spirit broods in love over our lost and broken world, eagerly desiring its salvation. That the lost may hear of Jesus and be saved, the Spirt sends workers to share “the teaching about the Lord” (v. 12). But the Holy Spirit does not recruit His workers in a vacuum. Here a great spiritual church, with a praying and fasting staff of ministers, supplies the Spirit’s labor pool. A disciplining ministry provides the instruments for evangelism.

2. The Holy Spirit equips workers with the truth. When they arrived in Salamis, Barnabas and Saul “proclaimed the word of God” (v. 5) At Paphos the proconsul “wanted to hear the word of God” (v. 7). No other weapon is placed in the hands of the Spirit’s helpers except “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). At times the church has forgotten this, and history records tragic cases of forced conversions, where heathens were compelled by threat of torture and death to be baptized in Jesus’ name. What a travesty on His gentle, patient love! When we face the world in its sin, we are armed only with truth. But God’s Word is sufficient for our victory, as the conversion of Sergius Paulus here shows.

3. The Holy Spirit saves people from the devil. When Elymas “tried to turn the proconsul from the faith,” Saul branded him a “child of the devil” (vv. 8-10). When the Holy Spirit is convicting men and women of sin and drawing them to Jesus, you can be sure that the devil will oppose; and he can always find people to work through. But the devil is no match for God! The rebuke and blinding of Elymas was a demonstration of the Spirit’s judgment upon evil; for Saul, “filled with the Spirit,” pronounced this judgment on the renegade. The punishment was suited to the offense. The devil seeks to blind men to “the right ways of the Lord” (v. 10), and here his emissary is physically blinded “for a time.” In contrast, “the proconsul saw” and “believed” (v. 12), becoming the first named convert of Paul’s missionary journeys. The power of the Spirit is evident in judgment, but even more so in mercy. Through the word proclaimed by those sent, the Spirit brings this politician to Christ.

This account presses some important questions upon us. Are we creating an atmosphere, by prayer and fasting, in which the Spirit can be heard calling for people to bear the gospel to others? Are we willing to place ourselves before the Lord as a labor pool from which He can select workers for special assignments? Can the Spirit work through us to defeat the efforts of the devil? Do we really believe that the Word of God is able to bring about the transformation wherever it is proclaimed?

Let’s pray: Lord, send your Holy Spirit to be my guide, and the sanctifier of my body and soul. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

October 3, 2018, 7:30 AM

A Great Church

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

Acts 11:19-26 introduces us to a great church. Here people were being saved, Christians were being discipled under sound teachers, and soon missionaries would be sent to distant countries. The people who observed all this zealous activity nicknamed the disciples “Christians.” Great churches do not just happen. Let’s look at this passage and see what it takes to have a great church.

1. The message of God was proclaimed. People came to Antioch “telling the message… the good news about the Lord Jesus” (vv. 19-20). This is where it starts, the home mission effort by people who care about the lost. So, how were they proclaiming the gospel? (a.) They were telling them under trial. It was some of “those who had been scattered by the persecution” who came to Antioch with the gospel (vv. 19-20). (b.) They were telling in triumph. We read that “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21). Despite the persecution, their message prevailed. What made the difference? Verse 21 says, “The Lord’s hand was with them.” When man’s hand was against them, they conquered nevertheless, because the Lord’s hand was with them. His hand is mightier!

2. The grace of God was evidenced. Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to investigate the news of revival in Antioch. “When he arrived,” he “saw the evidence of the grace of God” (v. 23). So, what’s the big deal about grace be evidenced? (a.) Grace produces visible changes! These people had “turned to the Lord” (v. 21), and this meant also turning away from sin, a turning to new life. (b.) Grace produces gracious co-laborers. It is said of Barnabas that “he was glad” and that “he was a good man” (vv. 23-24). The two are related. Some resent the success of others in gospel work and even slander it. A good man rejoices in all who do God’s work, and in all the work God does.

3. The people of God were strengthened. Barnabas “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). If people are to remain true to the Lord, they need to be strengthened in the face of opposition. So, how were they strengthened? (a.) They were strengthened by example. Barnabas set before them an example of mature Christianity. “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (v. 24). Example is a powerful stimulus to achievement. (b.) They were encouraged by teaching. Believers need the milk and meat of the Word to grow and become strong. “So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people” (v. 26). The follow-up ministry was just as extensive as the evangelism outreach. Converts are sometimes lost because the zeal and effort expended to reach them is not matched by a zeal and effort to establish them in the Lord.

Evangelism. Grace. Encouragement. By these three means a great church is created, one that can, in turn, become the home base of an outreach program that enlarges the circle of those who turn to the Lord. We can have a great church right here at Avon Parkside if we will. God is willing and able; and if His hand is with us, who can be against us?

Let’s pray: Lord, may we be the soul-winning, grace-filled, discipling church You want us to be. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

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