Acts #8: When Lightning Strikes

SaulConversion5Pastor Barry/ The Gathering    Acts#8: When Lightning Strikes  To hear this message and others download our free App in the App Store: Search The Gathering Connect.

THE WAY Acts 9:1-2, Philippians 3:4-6, Proverbs 14:12                                                                We look today at a proud man who is on his way to persecute those who belong to The Way (Christians).  Saul, a religious Jew of the highest order.  A teacher of the law, a Pharisee.  Of himself he said that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and as far as practicing the Jewish law—he was “faultless”!  (Philippians 3:4-6). He would come to realize the loss of these things  as he followed Christ (vs. 7).

The Bible tells us that there is a way that seems right to a man but it ends in death (Proverbs 14:12).  God has the true way, but we must ask for directions…better yet, move over and let Him drive! Jesus said He is the Way but sometimes we mistakenly think that our way is better.  We should not think so highly of ourselves (Romans 12:3).

The Way. The terms “Christians/ Christianity” had not yet become common (Acts 11:26). Believers were known as “the Way”. Followers were called “disciples” (Acts 19:23,30).  Jesus himself provided “The Way” as a name for his church and his faith. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).

What are you doing your way today?  Are you fixed on a course that you have devised on your own without seeking direction from God?  Are you moving forward on pride? 

 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18

 Saul might as well have been riding into a lightning storm with a metal helmet on  his head. We do the same thing when we go our own way without the direction of Jesus.  Paul had letters of authority from the high priest in Jerusalem and also likely from Rome (although unmentioned) because he was out of his jurisdiction. Roman authorities would have been eager for a Jew to round up “trouble making” disciples of The Way and take them back to Jerusalem to be killed or persecuted.  

 THE TRUTH Acts 9:3-19, Matthew 23:15, 24-28                                                            Sometimes the truth hits hard, like a bolt of lightning, and knocks you flat.  Some call this “a moment of crisis”, “the end of ones self”, or a “reality check”.  For Saul it was “the moment of truth!”  Yet God showed mercy towards Saul because if He had given this “Christian killer” what he deserved that bolt of light would have killed him! It was an interesting thing that God did in blinding Saul.  For on many occasions Jesus referred to the Pharisees as blind guides” (Matthew 23:24).  Jesus rebuked Pharisees more than any sinner He came in contact with.  This was because they led people in a lie with God’s name attached to it.  They misrepresented God.  A warning for we who may do the same. 

 In direct contrast to Saul’s “own brand of truth” was Ananias’ (not the one who died in chapter 5)  following God’s truth even when it was difficult to comprehend (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Ananias didn’t want to take Saul in, let alone pray over him.  Saul was a well known persecutor of Christians, but Ananias couldn’t deny the direction that God was giving him.  He did as “the Truth” dictated.  As a result he witnessed the miracle of Saul’s new birth!

Speaking of the “truth” I must address the issue that some raise regarding the three differing accounts of Saul’s conversion found in Acts (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:3-21, Acts 26:12-18).  Upon close inspection all accounts are in fact true and when put together they give the full story without contradiction.  The full story says:  Saul and his companions were on the way to Damascus to make disciples of The Way prisoners and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.  Near Damascus at about noon a bright light flashed around them and they were all knocked to the ground.  Saul’s companions got up and stood speechless while Saul remained on the ground.  A voice sounded but only Saul understood it (Acts 22:9), because He spoke in Aramaic (Acts 26:14).  The voice identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus told Saul to “Get up and go into Damascus” and wait for further instructions. Saul’s companions led him to the house of one named Judas on Straight Street (Acts 9:11) because he had become blind.  For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything and then a man named Ananias laid hands on Paul and he received his sight and was converted and baptized.

THE LIFE  Acts 9:20-22, Romans 10:14-15, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21                                            Saul became a “new creation in Christ”, not because God magically zapped him into submission, but because Saul was persuaded to change through events that caused him to take a hard look at himself.  God brought those events into Saul’s life, but Saul repented and was baptized.  (Which is the act of turning away from sin, asking forgiveness and  walking in a new direction with a new purpose (Romans 6:3-4).  Saul was preached the gospel by Ananias (Romans 10:14) and “born again” into a new life in Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

 As people we can be self-centered and walk our own way.  We can develop our own sense of right and wrong. In our selfishness we are a detriment to our families and everyone else we come in contact with; however, this is not the life that God intended for us. Jesus said He is life  (John 14:6), but that life is not possible without following His way and truth.  Are you born again! (John 3:3)       

PERSISTENCE Acts 9:22-31, Galatians 1:17-19, 2:1-9, Philippians 3:14                                    Saul the Pharisee was now a disciple of  Jesus and followed “The Way”.  Saul the persecutor was now the persecuted.  After escaping from Damascus in a basket Saul would experience a long waiting period for acceptance among the Apostles and disciples. Between verses 25 and 26 of Acts 9 there is a period of three years, not mentioned here in Acts, but found in Galatians. Saul spent some of this time alone in Arabia being taught by “revelation from Jesus Christ”, then returned to Damascus (Galatians 1:17). After this three years Saul went to meet Cephas (Peter) for fifteen days and met also with James (Galatians 1:18-19).  It is likely at this time that Saul “tried to join the disciples but was rejected.  In their opinion he had not been a believer long enough to be trusted.  Between verse 26 and 27 of Acts 9 passes another eleven years , “then after 14 years” Barnabas brought Saul before the Apostles where he was finally accepted and given the “right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:1,9).  Here we learn that God forgives, trains and even uses us in ministry but there are always  consequences to our sin.  Saul “presses on” with persistence and so should we.   Philippians 3:13-14, 17 

Saul later took the name Paul (Acts 13:9). Saul of Tarsus, a Benjaminite (Philippians 3:4-5), was named after another Benjaminite—the first king of Israel (1Sam 9:15-17). He wore that name with pride. The name “Paul” comes from the Latin for “little. ” This name change reveals his humility. Paul realized the error of his ways and lived the rest of his life as a servant of Christ.  May we all do the same.

                                                             

 

                                                                                                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acts #7: More Than Magic

prayer2Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Church    ACTS #7: More Than Magic  (To hear this message and others get our free app @ The App. Store: Go to The Gathering Connect)

This message was presented by Ryan Bruce

THE SPREAD of CHRISTIANITY Acts 8:4-8

You might think that after the stoning of Stephen believers would keep their mouths shut.  They did not.  The persecution of the church did scatter the people; however, everywhere believers went they shared the gospel of Christ.  The words of the Pharisee, Gamaliel, were coming true: “If their (the disciples) purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men.” (Acts 5:38b-39a)

 The message of Christ was unstoppable and has continued to be unto this day.  If the  message of Christ was only in words it would have ceased long ago; however, the message of Christ was and is proclaimed in power and accompanied with signs and wonders.  Of these miracles, the greatest of them is the changed lives that occur when one is filled with the Holy Spirit.

MORE THAN MAGIC Acts 8:9-25

The fine art of deceiving people has always been a lucrative business.  Today, magicians have been reduced to mere entertainers.  Publications of their cleaver tricks and illusions have all but wiped out progressive society’s belief that any man can have real magical powers, but in the first century a deep belief in magic permeated society.  A “good” magician was assured a following of superstitious people and Simon Magus (lit. of magic) was known as the best!  “All  the people, both high and low, gave him their attention…he was known as The Great Power.” (lit. The Power of God).

 The people may have been amazed by Simon Magus, but Simon was amazed by the   Apostle,  Phillip, and “he followed him everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”  Being a magician, there is no doubt that Simon watched Phillip closely to see what trick or illusion he used to accomplish the “magic” that he was doing in the name of Jesus Christ.  It is likely that Simon “believed and was baptized” in order to attain the powers that he saw Phillip doing.  It is clear that Simon wanted the “power” associated with Jesus and not the friendship He offered with God.  That is why he offered the      Apostles money.  Peter made it clear that the Holy Spirit was more than mere magic and rebuked Simon for such a thought.  Peter was quick to recognize that Simon’s interest was in the acquisition of his own personal power and control of others.  Simon’s response to Peter’s rebuke was also self serving.  He wanted Peter to pray that his money or his power would not perish.

WHAT BECAME of SIMON MAGUS?

The Bible record of Simon Magus ends after the verses quoted above, however there are other direct references to him in existence, including that by Justin Martyr, a prominent Christian writer and historian who lived in the early second century, just after the close of the New Testament period. Justin wrote that Simon Magus went to Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius where he, being the skilled deceiver that he was, corrupted and   became the popular leader of a large portion of the Christians (many of whom had earlier been personally converted by the apostles) in the city.  Simon’s teachings did not reject Christianity, but rather grossly perverted much of it to his own liking, including making himself out to be a god.  His followers, despite what they were doing, believed themselves to be, Christians. Simon Magus blended a type of Christianity, Judaism and paganism into a single system which came to be called Simonianism, which later became known as  Gnosticism.  Simon Magus was labeled “the father of all heretics” by Irenaeus in the    Preface of his “Against Heresies” Book I.  From Simon Magus the term was also coined, simony  which means to  buy a religious office or to attempt to sell anything sacred. A “Simoniac” is one who has committed the sin of simony.

TRUTH Acts 8:26-40, Luke 11:9-13

In direct contrast to Simon’s self serving interest in God, which later led him and millions of others into spiritual blindness, Phillip is led to a man (an  Ethiopian eunuch, an important official) who sincerely desires to know the truth.

A Eunuch is a castrated man, not a homosexual or transsexual man. Some eunuchs were castrated as slaves others were volunteered by parents or themselves to secure a job.  Eunuchs were guards, servants in harems or chamberlains to kings. These were the original positions for the eunuchs, but many succeeded in climbing in social status, and could reach positions like bodyguards, confidential advisers, ministers, even generals and admirals. Many of the advisers under the Ottoman Empire were eunuchs. Eunuchs were desired for these  positions because they could not get women pregnant. Their personalities were also more submissive.

When we truly seek the truth, like the eunuch did, God will answer our questions and even bring people into our lives to direct us to Himself (as He did with Phillip).  Notice the signs of one who truly seeks the truth in the eunuch:

  1. He went out of his way to seek out the truth (from Ethiopia to Jerusalem)
  1. He studied to know the truth (reading the book of Isaiah)
  1. He asked questions to find the truth
  2. He responded with his actions to the truth

Simon and the Eunuch both desired the Holy Spirit of God.  One looked for his own    advancement among men , the other looked for truth to fill his soul.  One formed his own brand of “feel good” religion that remains with us today in the false religions of T.M., New Age,  Christian Science, Wicca, and other forms of modern day Gnosticism.  The other became the first Christian in Ethiopia.  African tradition knows him as Qinaqis who preached in Ethiopia and founded a Christian community in the Sudan. Today there are some thirty million Ethiopian Christians throughout the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Acts 6: Casting Stones

castingStonesPastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Acts 6: Casting Stones To hear this message and others download our free app @ The App Store.  Search The Gathering Connect.)

THE FIRST DEACONS Acts 6:1-7

As a church grows so does the complaining.  No, this is not the way it should be but it is the way it is.  More people equals more problems.  In this case Jews who were more    influenced by Greek culture (Hellenistic) complained against the traditional Jews (Hebraic) because their    widows were being overlooked in the food distribution.  It is here that we see the first installation of deacons in the church. Deacons are assigned servants in the church that free up Elders to do the ministry of the word (teaching).  This kind of delegation began with Moses at his   father-in-laws (Jethro) suggestion way back in the exodus. (Exodus 18:13-26)  Jethro saw that Moses was  wearing himself out by trying to solve peoples constant problems with one another.  He suggested that Moses select godly men who could take care of the peoples needs while Moses concentrated on the more pressing issues at hand.  It is likely that “the twelve” looked back to this very passage in scripture, and after prayer, called the other disciples together to select these Deacons.  Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the (power) Holy Spirit” was among those chosen.

“FREEDMEN” BECOME SLAVES Acts 6:8-15

There is some historic confusion regarding the synagogue of the Freedmen; however, a most likely reason for their title is that they were Jews living in Rome who had been made slaves by the Romans under Pompey,  but were  later set free and then built a synagogue in  Jerusalem.  These men were no strangers to persecution in their faith and no doubt had suffered much themselves at the hands of evil men.  They had been falsely accused, taken by force, and ruthlessly enslaved.  Now these men were freed, but willingly enslaved themselves to the work of the devil by accusing Stephen falsely.  They disagreed with Stephen’s  theology but were no match for his biblical wisdom so they stirred up gossip and lies about him. The same injustices that they once endured they poured out on Stephen.  Although it was likely true that Stephen had shared Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:2, Luke 19:41-44), he likely never spoke against that “holy place” or the law.  This was simply the charge they used to get the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) involved.

 As his accusers “looked intently” at Stephen “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel (innocent).” but they also heard him speak with the voice of a prophet.  God made it clear to all of Stephen’s accusers that he was a messenger of truth.  Yet these men, like the Romans that once enslaved them, were filled with their own pride and self-righteousness.

When filled up with self there’s no room for God and no end to the evil one can unleash.

 “THOSE WHO LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES”  Matthew 7:1-5, John 8:3-11, Acts 7:1-60, 8:1,  Romans 2:3-6       An old adage says “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.  Which means one   should not judge another if they are vulnerable to a similar judgment. When it comes to passing judgment on another we are all very vulnerable before God.

 Jesus tells us that by the same standard that we judge others, we too will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2 ).  Jesus illustrated this when the teachers of the law and Pharisees brought a woman to Him caught in adultery (John 8:3-11).  Her accusers were full of themselves and ready to stone her to death for her sin until Jesus wrote down their sins in the sand.  One by one they dropped their stones and walked away.  Jesus’ encouragement to her was to go and sin no more… a command not only in regards to her sexual sin, but also to the sin of unjustly judging others.

 The Sanhedrin had already put Jesus to death…and they were eager to put any of His followers to death too, (Acts 5:33) but they feared the crowds.  They had to appear judicious. They knew the “Freedmen” were fabricating lies about Stephen just as they had about Jesus. “Are these charges true?”, they sinisterly asked and then the Holy Spirit took control of Stephen’s heart, mind and tongue and poured out His raw truth on all of those phonies! Acts 7:1-53 records Stephen’s historically accurate rebuke of these self righteous judges using biblical documented evidence against them.  They were so furious that they “rushed” Stephen and stoned him to death, but not before the gracious words of Jesus Himself came through Stephen’s mouth… “Forgive them” (Luke 23:34/ Acts 7:60), he said and then “fell asleep” (God gave him peace in his death). Stephen became the first Martyr of the Church. His testimony has never been forgotten and demonstrates God’s grace in the midst of man’s self-centered insanity.

When we choose to ignore the Lord’s truth and His warnings as the Sanhedrin and so called “Freedmen” we rush to our own self-righteous judgment and place ourselves in the seat of God and store up wrath against ourselves when His righteous judgment is revealed (Romans 2:3-6).  Ironically this passage was written by Paul (also called Saul) the Apostle, who according to Acts7:58b, 8:1 watched the coats of those who stoned Stephen and approved of their killing him. In Saul’s case “God’s kindness led him to repentance”.

AMAZING GRACE  Acts 7: 60-8:1-3, Romans 12: 3, 19-21, John 7:24

Stephen’s cry to the Lord on behalf of his killers would “heap burning coals upon Paul’s head” (Romans 12:19-21 e.g. burn inwardly with conviction). Even though he would begin to “destroy the church” God’s grace was in action.  In time Saul would become a Christian, a church planter and even a martyr for the gospel (beheaded in Rome A.D. 66). As for the “great persecution?”— It drove the gospel out of little Jerusalem and into all the world!

When we self-righteously take the seat of God and judge others unjustly (outside of God’s word) we are not being agents of grace.  Like Stephen, we are to stand for righteousness and speak the truth, remembering “with sober judgment” who we are. Sober judgment only comes from God’s word and it is His Spirit alone that grows faith in us as we hear it and do what it says.  

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are also to be quick to forgive and restore those lost in sin. “Overcome evil with good”.  As Stephen did before he “fell asleep”.   It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance! Romans 2:4a

Acts #5: Fakes

CrossLiePastor Barry/ The Gathering Church  Acts #5: Fakes  To hear this message and others download our free app @ The App Store: search The Gathering Connect

FAKES Exodus 20:15-17, John 8:31-32, Romans 2:1-5

We live in a day and age where fake news, political propaganda, fabricated and lawless investigations and deceptive identity politics abound. There are so many fakes today that nothing appears genuine anymore.  Many seek to elevate themselves and their cause by being fake.  Empire” actor Jussie Smollett and the Osundairo brothers “allegedly” faked a hate crime in Chicago so that Smollett could boost his popularity as an actor and get paid more while falsely accusing trump supporters for his phony “beat down and noosing” (one of the brothers wore a MAGA hat).  Smollett’s sworn testimony said he was attacked for being a homosexual black man.  Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly filing a false police report. Prosecutors and police said Smollett allegedly paid the Osundairo brothers $3,500 via a check to attack him and also gave them money to buy the supplies they would need to carry out the hoax crime. A shocking turn of events came when a former top level aid for Michelle Obama communicated with State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and all charges against Smollett were suddenly dropped with only community service. Smollett continues to claim his innocence even though all evidence and testimony says otherwise.  New video evidence has just been released that also reveals that he is a liar.  Once again…it seems to be who you know that matters and not what you do. This of course is not Biblically true. 

We don’t have to look very far to see fakes and it appears that many of them are also in the church.  There are fake healers, fake evangelists, fake Bibles, fake churches and even fake Christians…even in real churches.  The best that we can do is not to just be able to spot a fake and stay clear of them, but to know when we are being fake ourselves and to repent! When a person is fake they break the eighth, ninth and tenth commandments that God gave us.  So we can be sure that God is not accepting of such behavior.  A person steals (premeditatedly takes what belongs to another), lies and covets when being a fake (Exodus 20:15-17). We must remember that Jesus said “the truth will set you free”( John 8:31-32).  If we hold to Jesus’ teaching we will live in truth.  We will also be careful not to judge others who do the same things as us (Romans 2:1-5). God’s intentions are that His children repent and live honestly! In today’s story we will see how God established these truths in the early church.

BARNABAS Acts 4:32-37, 1 John 3:18

We begin today’s lesson by hearing what the church was like early on in that first century.  Believers were of one heart and mind and they were generous with one another.  They practiced their faith in “deed and truth” ( 1 John 3:18). The scriptures tell us that a man named Joseph had a nick name. Oftentimes a nick name tells us more about a person than his given name.  It is true of many people that I’ve known.  I knew a man named Bear.  He had a terrible temper and smelled like an animal too.  I knew another man named Turtle.  He was very laid back and slow moving. Joseph was called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement).  From what we know about Barnabas his nick name fit his character too. The scriptures tell us that he sold a field he owned and gave all of the money to the church to take care of needy Christians.

ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA Acts 5:1-11

We can assume, according to the way things played out, that Ananias and his wife were not so much impressed by the selfless gift that Barnabas made to the poor, but by the fame it gave him among the church.  Ananias and his wife agreed to sell one of their properties too; however, they secretly agreed to keep part of the money for themselves.  Keeping some of the money for themselves was not their sin.  It was their property to do with as they pleased.  Their sin was threefold: 1.) their motivation for giving was wrong (to get the praise of men) 2.) they lied to the church about what they gave 3.) they lied to the Holy Spirit because they used the name of Christ to prosper themselves. ( The name of Jesus was blasphemed!) Most theologians assume that Ananias & Sapphira were struck dead by God, but the scriptures don’t tell us that.  It is likely that Ananias and his wife had heart attacks or strokes from the stress of being publicly confronted and the resulting events.  It was the fear of the Lord that killed those two fakes and that same fear that “seized the whole church and all who heard about those events”.  The fear of God accompanied the early Church.  Where is that holy fear today?

FEAR the LORD Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 3:5-6, 1 Peter 1:17-19, 2:9-12, 16

Proverbs 9:10  tells us to fear the LORD” —which is foundational to true wisdom.   Without the fear of the Lord we make decisions based on our faulty human understanding (Proverbs 3:5–6). When we fear the Lord we make decisions based upon His approval. We live with the knowledge that the Creator of the universe is intimately involved in our every move. He sees, knows, and evaluates all our choices, and we will answer to Him (Psalm 139:1–4). Our respect for God’s majesty causes us to honor Him (Psalm 29:2). Our gratitude for His mercy causes us to serve Him well (Psalm 2:11107:15). And the understanding that our God of love is also a God of wrath inspires enough fear to help us stay away from evil (Romans 1:18Proverbs 8:13). Sin is foolish! When we live righteously, we walk the path to wisdom, and everyone in our lives benefits as well (Proverbs 13:2019:8). In Peter’s first letter he calls believers out to live in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17-19). He proclaims that God’s “chosen ones” are to represent Him as a “royal priesthood and holy nation.”  To live as free people, but not to use our freedom as a cover-up for evil. 

DARING GOD Acts 5:12-42, Revelation 22:10-13, 1 John 1:9

The passage in Acts goes on to tell us that no one dared join the church, but they were highly regarded and grew in number.  In the early church fakes were called out and in the face of persecution chose “to obey God rather than men!”  A Pharisee, Gamaliel, gave good advice: “you will only find yourselves fighting against God” if you stand daring Him at His word”. Make no mistake, as Ananias & Sapphira did, daring God will end in judgment (Revelation 22:10-13)—now or later!  Are you among those daring God?  Remember, “the truth will set you free.”  Repent and live honestly before the Lord (1 John 1:9).