394:  What Does it Mean to Live by Faith? – Part 1

394: What Does it Mean to Live by Faith? – Part 1

In Acts 2, after the promised Holy Spirit came mightily upon the faithful praying in the upper room, and after Peter preached his Spirit-empowered sermon, the infant church grew from 120 to over 3,000 literally overnight.   And now the apostles had a logistics problem.  How were they to manage a crowd of over 3,000 newbies without the benefit of Christian literature or Lifeway, CCM, K-LOVE, God’s Not Dead 1 and 2, WinterJam, or local mega-churches with multiple, cross-town campuses?  What were they to do?

The answer was simple.  They were to teach their new Christian brothers exactly what Jesus spent three years teaching them— how to live by faith.  That’s right, faith.  Remember?

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith (pístis) is the substance (to place under, the basis, foundation, that which underlies the apparent) of things hoped for (confident expectation, to abide still, to expect fully), the evidence (proof, conviction, assurance, supreme confidence) of things not seen.

As we dig deeper into the life of the early church, we’ll discover that faith was pretty much all they had.  And it was enough for them to turn their world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Do you want to know more about what it means to live by faith?  Good.  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 2:36-41.

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393:  Right Thing + Wrong Time = Wrong Thing

393: Right Thing + Wrong Time = Wrong Thing

When Peter stands up in the midst of the 120 and declares that Judas must be replaced, he was speaking the truth (Acts 1:20).  It is true from Scripture that God intended to someday replace Judas.  But that doesn’t mean it was the right time to decide who the Lord had chosen to become part of the Twelve.  What happened then, and what often happens with each of us, is that we decide a course of action, present God with two options we have chosen, and then ask Him to choose which of our choices is His will.  And this assumes it was His will for us to do what we’ve determined to do in the first place.

The lesson from Acts 1:15-26 is that doing the right thing, at the wrong time, is the wrong thing.  Everytime. No matter how much it feels like the right thing and the right time.

And it often takes years to undo the mistakes we make for the right reason, or so we think.  Remember, spiritual maturity is asking God what His will is, and not trying to force Him to choose the lesser of two evils that we have chosen.  Do you want to know more about this classic error of presumption?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 1:15-26.

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Day One:  Learning to Hear His Voice

Day One: Learning to Hear His Voice

Today is the first day of a 40 day adventure.

No, this adventure is not about a mission trip to Haiti or a hike down the Appalachian Trail.  This 40 day adventure is a time specifically set aside to discover more about the Lord and to specifically learn to hear Him speak.  That’s right, it’s my desire during this adventure to draw closer to the Lord than I’ve ever been before and to learn to hear His voice.  I’m not talking about hearing Him speak to me through His Word, which is wonderful.  But I long for something more personal, more intimate.  I long to hear Him speak to me personally as He has others in Scripture, and as He has also done for me several times in the past.  In fact, those time of hearing His voice are some of the high points in my spiritual life.

I know what many of you may be thinking.

“Oh, here we go again.  It looks like somebody else is wanting to move beyond the sufficiency of Scripture.  I guess Scripture’s not enough for Steve and now He wants more than God has already provided for him.  Maybe he wants an encounter like the one described in The Shack or to hear God speak like Sarah Young claims in Jesus Calling or something like that.  Doesn’t he know that God only speaks today through His Word?”

No, I don’t know that.  In fact, I see many places in Scripture where God speaks to His children in other ways than through the Scriptures.  Let me give you a few examples.


The Damascus Road

In Acts 9, we find Jesus verbally speaking to Paul on the Damascus Road.  It wasn’t just a command or some proclamation declared from heaven.  It was a conversation where both He and Paul spoke to each other.  And in this conversation Jesus did not only speak through the written Word, which for Paul would have been the Old Testament.  Instead, He verbally communicated His personal message and will to Paul that could not be found from reading, for example, the Psalms or Isaiah.

Acts 9:4-6 – Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”  Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

“Got it,” you say.  “But that’s the apostle Paul.  He was an apostle and could therefore hear God speak to him verbally in ways He doesn’t do today, to anybody, ever.  You and I are not apostles.  We don’t even have apostles anymore.  So how God spoke to Paul back then was just for Paul— and not for us today.”

Really?  So how do we explain God speaking, just a few verses later, to a non-apostle named Ananias?  He was not an apostle like Paul.  He was just a faithful disciple of Jesus who lived in Damascus that God had chosen for a specific task.  And how was Ananias to know what specific task God had in store for him unless, somehow and in some way, God spoke to him personally.


Ananias

The Scriptures say God spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10).  Yet it was more than a dream or vision, it was actually a conversation.  God spoke, and Ananias responded.  God gave a command, and Ananias had some questions about God’s command.  Then God answered those questions and sent Ananias on his way.  Watch the give and take of this conversation.

Acts 9:10-16 – Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”  And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”  So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.  And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”  Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

This conversation did not happen from Ananias reading the Old Testament during his time of daily devotions.  This was a verbal communication from God that gave direction, instruction and explanation to a human being and occurred outside of His written Word.  It was personal, meant only for Ananias, and communicated God’s direct will to one of His children.  Not to each of us, but only to Ananias.

That’s what I’m striving for over the next 40 days.  I want my relationship to be so close to the Lord that when He speaks, I will hear and listen.  And I want to know His voice so well, like a child does his mother’s, that I won’t make the mistake of confusing His voice with mine.


Words of Encouragement

But there’s more.  In the very next chapter we find God speaking to Peter regarding a vision he had about whether he should eat ceremonially unclean animals.  Again, this is a conversation between Peter and the Lord.  It’s not Peter coming to this conclusion by reading Leviticus or Deuteronomy or some other Old Testament text and gleaning principles from them to help him make up his mind.  It’s a direct conversation between God and a human being.  God gives a command and Peter responds with an objection.  Then God gives another command and addresses Peter’s objection.  Plus, the text says God had to do this three times.  Read it for yourself.

Acts 10:12-16 – In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.  And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “Not so, Lord!  For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”  And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”  This was done three times.  And the object was taken up into heaven again.

But some may still be unconvinced that God can, and desires, to speak to us personally and directly and not necessarily always through His written Word.  After all, He is God and can do whatever He wants (Psalm 115:3).  So when we read accounts like the one above with Peter, sometimes we conclude these encounters with God were in a dream state or vision or an early morning stupor and not a direct conversation, from lips to ears, between God and a human being.  It’s true that often, in Scripture, God speaks in a dream or through a vision.  But that’s not always the case.  Consider how Jesus encouraged Paul in Acts 23.  This was a personal, intimate, one-on-one message of encouragement that was not revealed through a dream and was meant for Paul alone.  In fact, the text says the “Lord stood by him” when He spoke.

Acts 23:11 – But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

This was not a message Paul received from reading Proverbs or the creation account in Genesis.  It was a direct, personal word from the lips of the Lord to Paul.  And it shows that sometimes God speaks to us about specific needs that we have outside of, or in addition to, His Word.  It doesn’t mean God ever violates His Word or contradicts His Word, but sometimes He speaks to each of us outside of and in cooperation with His Word.

It appears the Lord has more tools in His toolbelt than we imagine.


Seems Logical

Think about it, you have a decision to make about taking a job offer.  Should you stay and accept the offer at Bank of America in Charlotte, or should you move and accept a competing offer with Capital One in Mclean, Virginia?  You don’t know what to do so, as a Christian who desires to be in the center of God’s will, you ask God to tell you what offer He wants you to take.  Not to give you wisdom so you can make the decision based on salary incentives and benefits, the relative costs of living, affordable housing, and professional growth potential— but to tell you specifically what offer He wants you to accept.

How does God do that through the Old or New Testament?  How does He communicate His desire directly to you?  Is there any verse, or passage, or story that specifically reveals to you the answer God has for you regarding the move?

Probably not.  Now there are principles in the Scriptures which may guide you in making the decision.  There may be passages that talk about the wisdom God gives you to help you decide your future.  But for those of us who want a deeper intimacy with the Lord, we hunger for more.  I want to know exactly, precisely, specifically what God’s will is for my life and I believe I can know that best from His lips alone.  How?  Through the Scriptures?  Absolutely.  But also by His direct communication— however He chooses to reveal Himself to me.

Because I can’t think of a particular passage in Ezekiel or Amos or 1 Corinthians that will tell me to either stay in Charlotte or move to Virginia.  Can you?


To Hear His Voice

My desire during this 40 day adventure is to learn to hear God’s voice on an ongoing basis.  Not every once in awhile, but daily, hour by hour, much like a loving son longs to hear soothing words from his father.  I’ve heard Him speak to me in the past, and these times have become cherished memories.  But I’m tired of living on the memories of good times, long past.  I hunger for more.  I believe the default position for the Christian is for our Father to speak clearly to us as He has to others in His Word and for us to hear and understand what He is saying.

I believe we should be able to ask Him questions and receive from Him answers, much like the disciples did of Jesus.  It was natural for the disciples to ask Jesus a question and expect an answer.  Why should we expect otherwise?  After all, Jesus gave us “another (állos) Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16).  And this “another (állos) Helper” is the Holy Spirit, who is just like Jesus.

But that’s something we’ll look at tomorrow.

If you’re so inclined, join with me and let’s discover together what God wants to do during this 40 day adventure with Him.  Hop on board.  It should be quite a ride.

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392:  The 240 Hour Prayer (and Fasting) Meeting

392: The 240 Hour Prayer (and Fasting) Meeting

When the 120 met together after the ascension of Jesus, there were some logistics we often overlook when considering their 240 hour prayer meeting (Acts 1:14).  For example:

What about food?
Did they go home to eat several times a day?
Did someone have food catered in to them?
Did they go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s daily?
Did their family drop off lunch bags each day?
Or did they go on an extended fast?
And if so, what was that like?

I believe it was a time of prayer and fasting— and not just prayer alone.  After all, that’s what Jesus expected them to do (Matt. 6:16-18).   Which raises one last question: What can fasting do for me today?  Or, why should I fast since fasting seems to be passe in the church today?  Consider the following:

Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
In summary, fasting opens up your spirit in ways that are hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.

Have you ever considered adding fasting to your prayer life?  You should.  You really should.

The following is a study on Acts 1:12-14.

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391:  Questions from the Infant Church

391: Questions from the Infant Church

As we begin to look at how the Holy Spirit moved in the lives of ordinary men in the book of Acts, we are confronted with a few questions.  These questions have to do with the character of the men Jesus chose to fulfill the mandate He gave to His church.  And what was that mandate?

Acts 1:8 – “But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when (what) the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Then, the first set of questions:

Has this mandate changed for the church?
Does it still apply today?
If so, how are we doing?
Have you received the power Jesus promised?
And how is that power being manifested in your life?
Do you see that kind of power in the church today?
If not, do you ever wonder why?

How would you answer these questions about the church?  How would you answer the ones that are more personal in nature?  The ones about you and the power, or lack of power, in your life?  Do you see a disconnect between the account of the church in Acts and the place you worshipped last Sunday?  Me too.  But what are we going to do about it?

The following is a study on Acts 1:1-14.

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