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MARCH 2018

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The Stoning of Stephen

 

Act 7:51-52  "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.  (52)  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,

 

Is this the Way to win Friends and Influence People?

Stephen had done wonders and signs among the people.  He spoke with wisdom in the power of the Holy Spirit.  But he was in Jerusalem and there were Jewish teachers there that did not like him or his message or his following.  They couldn't win a debate with him so they bullied him and brought him to the "council".  This was likely the same ruling council that had condemned the Lord so I don't suppose they would have liked the message that Stephen was preaching either.  So Stephen defends himself against the accusations of false witnesses.  What can we learn from Stephen's approach to witnessing?

 

Stephen Knew His Stuff

Stephen goes through the national history of Israel and shows that the nation has always been a rebellious nation.  He shows that they had rejected Joseph and Moses and the prophets and now they had rejected the Lord Jesus.  He then calls them "stiff-necked” and "uncircumcised".  I think he was saying that they were rebellious unbelievers.  He caps it off by saying that they had betrayed and murdered the Lord Jesus.  Now this was not what we would call "friendship" evangelism.  Our courses in evangelism do not seem to include Stephen's message as a model for our methods.  Don't misunderstand me, I try to get people to like me before I preach to them, although I don't always succeed.  I try to avoid situations that I know are going to be confrontational.  But Stephen did not do it the way we think it ought to be done.  He had done wonders and miracles before this confrontation, but when it came time to be honest, he did not draw back.

 

What Did Stephen Accomplish?

First of all, he managed to accomplish his own martyrdom.  He was stoned.  He was not stoned by another culture and religion. He was stoned by Jews who claimed to worship Jehovah.  I would compare this to being stoned by other Christians today who believe that their church doctrine and traditions are more important than Biblical doctrine.  I would liken this to be being stoned by those who call themselves Christians who are more concerned with changing the world through the ballot box than by the preaching of the Gospel. 

 

Second of all, he made at least one convert.  Oh, this man wasn't converted immediately, but Stephen's praying for those who stoned him caused one man by the name of Paul to reconsider his persecution of those who were followers of the Lord.  He then met the Lord on the Damascus Road and the rest is history.  Stephen may have made only one true convert (although likely there were others), but that one turned into a multitude.  Most of us who are saved today have been greatly influenced by if not saved through Paul's writings.

 

Third and most importantly, he managed to please the Lord.  The Lord gave him a vision of heaven and of Himself just before he was stoned.  I believe the Lord was meeting Him to take him over to the "other side."  Stephen deserved the commendation, "Well done thou good and faithful servant." 

 

What about Us?

Sometimes I wonder if we preach the gospel in situations and environments where people realize the seriousness of the message.  Do they realize that following the Lord is likely to cost them friends?  They are not going to be the most popular kids on the block.  Do we realize that we have the ONLY message that saves?  Do we realize that actually preaching a faithful message is going to sting because we have to preach about sin and its consequences before we can preach about salvation from the consequences of sin?  Sometimes, I think we preach today so we can save the saved. But the Lord came to seek and to save the lost.

 

Sometimes the message has to be confrontational.  Do you suppose that Stephen (had he lived) would have been commended for the loving way he preached or for would he have been criticized for antagonizing his audience?  Times have not changed.  Stephen is still one of the great Gospel preachers of the New Testament.  He was full of faith and controlled by the Holy Spirit.  He did love his audience or he wouldn't have told them the truth.  Sometimes the truth hurts.  We should never forget that.  

Meditation for the week of March 4, 2018

Musings on the Truth

 

John 8:44  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

 

Using the Instructions

Have you ever bought a piece of furniture or a grill or a portable metal shed that came in pieces with instructions as to how to put it together?  Have you ever looked at the instructions and decided that they were too complicated to understand so you just went off on your own and started putting things together?  After all, what man needs a set of directions?  However, after a few frustrating hours did you ever come to the conclusion that a little time spent studying the instructions would have saved a lot of time in taking your unfinished project apart and putting it together again according to the instructions?  I unfortunately have had that experience!  I am afraid that scenario is going to describe the way a lot of people have approached their relationship with God.  Unfortunately, there is going to be no place to start over when once the truth has been experienced after death.

 

Why do I believe that the Bible tells the Truth?

I believe the Bible based on inductive reasoning.  If God tells me the truth about one thing, I assume He tells me the truth about other things.  When a man deliberately lies to me about one thing, I assume that he will lie to me about other things.  Now that may not be true but most of us operate using inductive reasoning all of our lives.  Deductive reasoning is associated with the scientific method.  Inductive reasoning is the basis for most of our decisions in life.  We trust our doctors because we have had good experiences with them.  We trust our banks because so far we have not lost any money that we committed to them.  We do business with people that have a habit of paying their bills.

 

What has God told me that I know to be true?

First of all, He has told me that there is evil in this world.  We have all seen that evil in the destruction of the twin towers in New York City.  We have seen that evil in random school shootings.  We have seen that evil in political leaders that kill their own countrymen.  I do not need to list the events in this life that have absolutely no explanation apart from the fact that men have allowed themselves to be deceived by a murderer called the devil.  He doesn't care what lie a person believes, He only cares that we do not believe the truth.

 

Second of all, God has told me that He through the Lord and the agency of the Holy Spirit created all that is in this world.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that most of the technology that we use today was created.  It didn't just happen.  It doesn't take any genius to believe that cars didn't just "happen" to come into existence.  It doesn't take any genius to use inductive reasoning to be convinced that we are created beings and that we didn't just happen to come into existence.

 

Third, I could give other reasons as to why I believe God but they wouldn't mean much to anybody but me.  I have seen the protection of guardian angels in my life.  I have experienced the leading of the Holy Spirit in my work for the Lord. 

 

Fourth, the Bible has internal proof that it is the very word of God.  When we used to take aptitude tests in school, there were questions that were called validity checks.  They basically asked the same things in different ways to see if a person was trying to answer honestly or if they were just randomly filling in the multiple choice options on their answer sheet.  The Lord has validity checks in the Bible.  One of them has to do with the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Lord Jesus that were fulfilled when the Lord came.  I have a list of 44 of these that I have been explaining on my radio programs.  Admittedly, there is overlap in some of them but all of the prophecies were given over 400 years before the Lord came and many of them were written down 1500 years before the Lord came dealing with historical events that occurred at least 4000 years before the Lord came.  The prophecies were not written by one man but by many.  The fulfillments were not recorded by just one man but by many.  There are other validity checks having to do with the nation of Israel.  One can hardly study these validity checks and come away saying that God does not know the end from the beginning.  One has to come to the conclusion that we are created beings, accountable to a God who loves us but who will judge us vehemently and in wrath if we reject Him and His love. 

 

What is Truth?

This question was asked by Pilate before he allowed the Lord to be executed.  I know that that Romans 5:6-8 is the truth: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

John 3:16-18 is bedrock truth.  It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

 

My prayer is that everyone who reads this will believe what God has said so that when that final breath is taken you will not only know the truth but you will enjoy the blessings associated with trusting that Truth.

 

Meditation for the week of March 11, 2018

Little Faith

 

Mat 8:26  But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

 

The Difference

The difference between little faith and great faith doesn't have to do with the intensity of our believing but with our ability to take God at His word with regard to great promises.  If we are saved, we have faith that God is real, that Christ died, was buried and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures.  We know that that faith saves us for eternity.  But many of us still have trouble with practical promises that God has made to us in His word.  Some of us have trouble with the whether we are really saved.  We ask if we have believed right or whether we have truly repented because of faulty teaching on both subjects.  At times we wonder if there is anything to anything that we say we believe.   The doubts of Christians are real.  We have evidence of that in the Scriptures.  The Bible calls these doubts the fiery doubts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16).  The solution to our doubts is to take the shield of faith.  That does not mean to take the shield of believing but to take the shield of the truths that we believe.  Our salvation is by the faith that comes through hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17).  The cure for the fiery darts of the wicked one is the same.

 

Personal Doubts

I "got saved" (that is, I got the salvation that God has provided) when I realized that I was waiting for God to save me when He had already sent His son to the cross to do that.  I remember getting down on my knees and telling the Lord, "I don't know if I have "gotten saved" the way everyone else has "gotten saved," but I know this, "If I were to go to hell now, you would have to be a liar."  I was satisfied at that moment that I was saved.  I had peace.  I marveled that I hadn't seen that truth before.  But it wasn't long before I began to look within at my believing rather than looking at Christ, the object of my believing or faith.  I would ask myself, "Are you sure you are saved?"  And I would doubt.  Then I would think, "But Christ has died for me" and I would be alright.  This went on for about two weeks.  One day I read Matthew 7:24-27 dealing with building a house on sand and building a house on a rock.  I realized that before I was saved I had been trying to believe and couldn't say that I did because I didn't have my eye on the One in Whom I was to believe.  After I was saved, I couldn't convince myself that I didn't believe because every time I had doubts, it was the truth of Scripture that cured them.  I realized that I was founded on a Rock (Christ) and no longer did I need to be concerned with how others described their salvation because I had God's word for it that I was saved.  That ended that bout with the fiery darts of the wicked one.

 

When my father-in-law died, I was holding his hand.  If there ever was a man who I was convinced was a godly Christian, it was him.  But yet when he peacefully took his last breath, Satan was right there.  I thought to myself, "Is that all there is?"  Is he really enjoying the presence of the Lord?  Can he say now that to be with Christ is far better (Philippians 1:23)?  Or is he just "dead."  I wrestled with that most of the afternoon and suddenly it was as though the Lord told me, "He has seen the Lord."  Now we don't find those exact words in Scripture but we do find that the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord after the resurrection.  That satisfied me and I really have not had a lot of trouble with doubts since then.

 

My first problem was with whether my salvation measured up to the preaching I had heard and I found it that if it measured up to Scripture, that was sufficient.  My second problem was with whether there was anything to anything that I believed.  What satisfied me, probably won't satisfy others; but let me assure everyone reading this, that eternity is real.  Heaven is real.  Hell is real.  Christ is real and faith in Him prepares us for heaven.

 

Did People in the Bible have Doubts?

In our passage above, the disciples in the boat had doubts.  They didn't realize that when Christ was in the boat, whether sleeping or awake, the boat could not sink.  Peter had doubts when he came to the Lord walking on the water.  And yes, he was able to do that until he looked at the waves instead of the Lord.  Thomas had doubts as to whether the Lord had really been raised from the dead until He saw the Lord.

 

My Suggestion

When we have doubts we need to be honest about it.  Then the first person we should tell is the Lord.  I am convinced that the Lord will give assurance of salvation to those who need that and He will give any other assurance that Christians need if they just tell Him about their problem.  They need to be honest like Thomas was.  Sometimes talking to others helps.  Some of us are just built with a personality that always looks inward rather than outward and we will always have some problems.  But I am convinced that the fiery darts of the wicked one are real.  And it is only the shield of "the" faith that will cure them.  And for some they may need to be cured over and over.

 

I am sure that all of us in a measure have little faith since none of us can move literal mountains.  But fortunately, a little faith in a great God means a whole lot more than supposed great faith in the false promises of the wicked one.

 

Meditation for the week of March 18, 2018

The Wilderness Experience

 

Luke 4:1  Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

 

What a Way to Begin!

As the Lord began his public earthly ministry, I notice several things.  One, He was baptized and the whole trinity was involved.  The Lord was there, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Him, and the Father spoke from heaven.  These three were unified in presenting the Lord to the nation of Israel as the Son of God.  John had been saying the Lord was coming.  He was the herald preparing the people for the Lord.  Now the Lord was publicly manifesting Himself to the Jews and ultimately to the world.    At the baptism of the Lord, we find that the Lord was now here.  Some have wondered why the Lord needed to be baptized.  I don't suppose He NEEDED to be baptized for the same reasons that the people were baptized, but His baptism identified Him with the ministry of John the Baptist.  It identified Him with the nation of Israel.  It also gave witness to the fact that He was the Son of God and was doing the work of God.

 

Why then did He start his ministry by being sent by the Spirit into the wilderness?  It seems that the Lord not only needed a public declaration of who He was, but as the Son of Man, He needed a time of testing to prepare Him for the ministry ahead of Him.  His testing proved that He was who He claimed to be.  He did not sin and he could not sin.  He was God.  But Satan still tried.

 

Wilderness experiences are hard.  When we try to serve the Lord and make decisions based on our faith we are always put to the test.  The difference between us and the Lord is that we are like the children of Israel and often fail the test in the wilderness.  The Lord certainly did not.  The Lord never asks us to do what He is not willing to do so He spends a testing time in the wilderness.  And when he is the most vulnerable, Satan tries to get Him to sin.  It didn't work.

 

Are we Willing to be Tested in the Wilderness?

After Paul was saved, He spent at least three years by himself in Arabia,  Moses spent forty years on the back side of the desert.  David spent time getting to know the Lord while he kept sheep.  These experiences prepare us to depend on the Lord and not on man when the going gets tough.  And any person who wants to serve the Lord will find that the there are times when they wonder if they made the right decision.  Then when you think about what life could have been, the Lord reminds us of what life will be like in a coming day if we have really served Him.  We will be glad that we didn't waste our lives on the things that will be burned up one day.

 

I have always wanted to be a great evangelist.  I don't suppose that is ever going to be the case.  While others apparently see multitudes come to the Lord, I see multitudes reject the plain simple truth of the Gospel.  I get very little feedback that my ministry has made a difference.  But once in a while, the Lord gives me encouragement.  Recently, my wife and I found out that a man who came to one Bible study last year in our home, has come to know Christ because of that Bible study.  He will be in heaven. My wife befriended a neighbor some time back.  She came to a few Bible studies and called us one night to tell us that she knows that she will be in heaven.  Now that is what makes the wilderness experience worthwhile.  Over the years, there have been a few people tell me that because of my ministry, they heard the Gospel and believed it.  I will meet them in heaven.  That has made all the rejection by the world (and in many cases by those who call themselves Christians) worthwhile. 

 

I thank God for faithful loyal friends who have encouraged my wife in I in our "down" times.  They have made it possible for us to keep the Gospel free.  They have encouraged us to worship in a simple way according to the New Testament pattern.  They have never told us that the Lord's instructions in this day of grace simply do not work today. 

 

But I see a religious world today that wants to serve the Lord without taking up a cross.  They do not want to experience the wilderness.  They have never experienced rejection.  I pity them because I suspect that they have never really found out what it means to do things the Lord's way instead of the way "that seems right (Proverbs 14:12)."  I sometimes wonder just how many people who call themselves Christians and who think they are doing great things for the Lord are going to find themselves on the outside of a closed door one day saying,  "Lord, Lord, open for us," and He will answer and say to you, "I do not know you, where you are from."  Then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets."  But He will say, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. (Luke 13:25-27)."

 

Please

Let those of us who know the Lord encourage those who are trying to be faithful. Let us examine our own ministries to see if we are doing the Lord's work in the Lord's way. And then let us remember that the wilderness experience will come but it should make us stronger and not weaker.  And yes, there will be a wilderness experience.  Perhaps there will be more than one. 

 

Meditation for the week of March 25, 2018