Acts and Evangelism

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The Book of Acts is an historical record of the spread of early Christianity throughout the Roman world. It’s a record of sermons and prayers, miracles and disappointments, angels and demons, arguments and love, murder and intrigue.

As Christians lived out their daily lives, God made opportunities for these believers to share their faith. Sometimes those opportunities were to hostile crowds, to a lone man headed home from a business trip, travelers in a shipwreck, or even to a judge during a court trial. None of these events were planned but came in the ordinary course of daily living.

In each of the instances of sharing the gospel of Jesus in the Book of Acts, not one person ever gave an “invitation” to be saved. No Christian ever asked, “Do you want to be saved?” In every case the person hearing the gospel asked what he needed to do to be saved. The Holy Spirit prompted the need to know within the unsaved person.

Churches are filled with un-saved converts. These are people who accept a man-made invitation apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Man-centered evangelism forces the listener to make a decision and act in some way; in Biblical evangelism, the Spirit of God prompts the sinner to ask what he must do to be saved.

Be careful not to take over the Holy Spirit’s ministry and create false believers. If someone is to be saved, the Spirit will have already been at work revealing his sin to him and he’s just waiting for the gospel solution to be proclaimed.

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Strength to Resist

How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your Word (Psalm 119:9).

The daily struggle of the Christian against sin isn’t easy. The Bible prescribes a simple way of resisting temptation and sin.

In His temptation, Jesus didn’t curse the Devil, bind spirits, or beg for deliverance in prayer. In fact, Jesus didn’t pray at all. Instead He turned to the Word of God for the strength to resist (Lk 4:1-13).

Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11).

The Demon and the Reformed Man

Many people become fed up with the havoc and pain in their lives and turn to religion for relief. They go to church, give up bad habits, pray with sincerity, share their new found faith with others, but after a time abandon it all.

Jesus told a parable about this kind of person in Matthew 12:43-45.

In His parable, an unclean spirit chooses to leave a man’s body. The demon isn’t cast out nor is the man born again, the demon merely leaves to look for a more suitable home. After not finding a better place, the demon decides to return to my house, showing his ownership over the man he left.

Arriving back, the demon finds the man’s life reformed, swept, and put in order. Some degree of morality and clean living are evident in the man’s life. He appears a reformed man, yet despite his religious lifestyle, the demon finds him empty of another occupant (Mt 12:44). The demon enters back into his house and invites seven other demons worse than itself as roommates.

When a sinner is born again, the Holy Spirit takes up personal and permanent residence within the convert (Jn 14:16-17). In salvation, the sin and spiritual darkness of the unconverted life is cleansed – not by the sinner or religion or self-help – but by God, and a new life is begun in the power of the Spirit of God (2 Cor 5:17).

When a person’s nature isn’t changed, morality can’t be maintained.

Jesus the Nazarene

word-became-fleshAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

The more we ponder it, the more mysterious and marvelous the Incarnation becomes; the fact that the eternal Second Person of the Godhead became fully human and yet remained fully God.

The Son of God took on mortal human flesh and became subject to all the same things you and I are subject to. He sneezed and coughed. He got hungry and had to relieve Himself. He got tired and slept and then cried when death touched a friend. He got headaches and an upset stomach. Every morning He got up, washed His face, combed His hair, then put His hand to the hammer in Joseph’s carpentry shop.

As a Man, Jesus got sick and was subject to death. The eternal Son of God could die – and He did! Three days later, what was mortal was swallowed up by immortality in the resurrection.

Today that same resurrected Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. As you read these words, the incarnate God is praying in the flesh for you (Rom 8:34).

How could God become Man? How can He, right now, be in the flesh? Yet this is exactly what the Bible says. In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).

We are left to wonder at the mystery of His Majesty and stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.

Keeping Busy with Religion

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! (Luke 13:34).

The Biblical history of Israel reveals a startling truth: they killed the messengers God sent to them.

The murder of the Jewish prophets wasn’t by heathen immigrants or foreign armies, but by those busily following the Old Testament law of Moses.

Every day the Jews were offering their animal sacrifices by the thousands in the temple. They were diligent to pay their tithes – even of their salt and spices. They prayed many times a day. They memorized large sections of the Scriptures and even wore Bible verses tied to their arms and foreheads. They claimed to be devoted followers of God and as they were busy being religious they rejected the Word of God and killed His messengers. Their devotion was outward for show and had no inward reality. Jesus said that they rejected God.

False religion always hides among true godliness.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will  … have a form of godliness but deny its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1, 5).

Feelings – A Poem by Martin Luther

 

 

 

 

Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God –
Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.

I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
‘Til soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,
His Word shall stand forever!

― Martin Luther

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).

A Shooting Star

My grandfather warned me of shooting stars in the church. Beware of shooting stars. As quickly as they appear they burn out. 

A shooting star is a small, rapidly moving meteor. As it enters Earth’s atmosphere, friction causes it to burn, leaving a blazing trail of rock, dust, and ice behind it. When there is nothing left to burn, it vanishes.

Many pastors give special recognition to new converts. They are allowed to testify, or because of their eagerness to be involved, given a part in the work of ministry. Sometimes these new converts are elevated because they are seeking attention; sometimes it’s the pride of the pastor desiring to be recognized for leading someone one Christ. Either way, the problem created is two-fold.

First, it is impossible to know that someone has been born again until that person’s faith has been tested. Anything else is a dead confession or profession. No matter what someone professes, Faith without works is dead (James 2:20).

Jesus warned of the deceptiveness of counterfeit converts in a parable. He said, He hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Others hear the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he become unfruitful (Matthew 13:20-22). Salvation is marked by the growth and increase of Christian virtues (Mt 13:23; 2 Pet 1:3-11).

Second, being recognized so quickly creates a false assurance in that person. He believes he’s saved, after all the pastor said so. When faith proves to be counterfeit after being paraded in the church, it causes other believers to stumble.

How do you know true regeneration? Not because you repeated a prayer, joined a church, were baptized in water, or accepted Jesus in your heart. You know you are born again because the Holy Spirit is actively producing and increasing the fruits of Christ-likeness in you. That is something proven only by the dual tests of time and trials.

Don’t create shooting stars which are here today but burn up and disappear tomorrow.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).

Poem: The Prayer of Cyrus Brown

 

 

 

 

“The proper way for a man to pray,”
Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,
“And the only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees.”

“No, I should say the way to pray,”
Said Rev. Doctor Wise,
“Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes.”

“Oh, no; no, no,” said Elder Slow,
“Such posture is too proud:
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed.”

“It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front.
With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,”
Said Rev. Doctor Blunt.

“Las’ year I fell in Hodgkin’s well
Head first,” said Cyrus Brown,
“With both my heels a-stickin’ up,
My head a-pinting down;

“An’ I made a prayer right then an’ there–
Best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
A-standing on my head.”

– by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

The proper method for prayer – and every other spiritual discipline – is the way God prescribes in His holy Word; not by what is popular, makes me feel good, or is my tradition or culture. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

Are You Gold?

Be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:10).

Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks wrote, Assurance is the believer’s ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions

Peter wrote the last of his letters to reveal the evil character of false teachers and show that growing Christ-like character is the proof of salvation.

Years ago I bought a used Ford Taurus that two days later had engine trouble. In the glove box I found a note from another purchaser only a week earlier reporting the same problem. Attached was a statement from the dealership’s own mechanic that the car needed a new transmission.

Since I bought the car from a dealership, Oregon’s Lemon Law allowed me to return the car for a full refund. There is little more frustrating to a consumer than buying a product only to discover that it isn’t what is claimed.

In the same way, Peter tells each of us who claims the name of Christ to eagerly prove and guarantee to ourselves that our salvation is what we claim it is. He says that the assurance of genuine faith is based on the character of Christ being formed within us.

Salvation isn’t proven through the repetition of a prayer, a feeling in the heart, the joining of a church, or having someone else affirm us. By these outward means we falsely claim converts. Assurance of salvation – like Noah sitting still and quiet in the ark – is the result of the Spirit’s internal work, proven by a tried and tested faith (Matthew 13:18-23).

Paul was persuaded or convinced by evidentiary facts that he was saved and nothing could separate him from the love of God in Jesus (Romans 8:38). His faith had been tested again and again by trials and hardships and proven genuine (Romans 8:35-39). His Christlike character proved him to be a conqueror not a victim as every circumstance in his life was working together for good (Romans 8:28).

As you are tested, genuine saving faith is proven the same way it was in Job: When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

Direct Access

Wyoming State Treasurer Mark Gordon

As the days of summer 2017 waned, my wife and I made a spur-of-the-moment and quick 2,500 mile drive from our home in Oregon to Cheyenne, Wyoming, without question our favorite city on the face of the earth.

Our day and a half in Cheyenne was spent riding horses, buffalo, and jackalope. We visited the Train Depot Museum, and the Nelson Museum of the West where I played the hymn To God be the Glory on an old square piano once played by Old West saloon keepers and more recently by Liberace and Elton John.

One of the highlights was our speedy trip to the State Capital Building. We not only walked freely into the Capital Building, but directly into the Governor’s office. I announced, We’re Richard and Kim Rice from Oregon, and we’d like to see the governor. It was already nearing 5 o’clock and he was gone for the day, but the State Treasurer, Mark Gordon, set aside his business to spend 30 minutes graciously talking with us about the state budget, the MouseTrap game, and his favorite cowboy boots just like we were old friends.

It is a gift to live in a nation where freedom is more than a meaningless political buzzword. We have direct access to our leaders – men like Mark Gordon who lead states we don’t even live in!

The Bible says that we can come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

You and I have direct access to God the Father through Jesus, the Way and the Door to Heaven (John 10:9; 14:6). Because Jesus died on our behalf and today ministers as our great High Priest, we don’t need an advance appointment to come to the Father (Hebrews 4:14). We don’t stand outside the pearly gates knocking, crossing our fingers and hoping really hard that someone lets us in. The Father not only permits us to enter through the sacrifice Jesus made, but He welcomes us, saves us, and floods us with grace in our time of need.