Archive for April, 2008

Everyone was Filled with Awe

April 30, 2008

Title: Everyone was Filled with Awe

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Text: Acts 2:43

Time: May 4th, 2008

“Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles,” Acts 2:43. We come to a passage that describes what has been obvious for nearly three chapters in the Book of Acts – miracles. The supernatural, miracles, signs and wonders, all of these fill the pages of the Bible from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament. If there is anything that best describes the faith of the Bible, Christianity, it’s the miraculous. Yet today, many people, more and more it seems each year, doubt the existence of miracles and the supernatural. Not that miracles aren’t believed in by a majority of people – they are, it’s just that more and more people doubt them today than ever before, and more and more people doubt that they ever will experience a real miracle today, at least the kind described in the Bible. With the spread of science over the last few hundred years, more people suppose that what used to be called miracles are really explainable by natural science in some way or another. This modern skepticism has led a lot of people to regard the biblical miracles as really make-believe stories created over time to explain mysterious things that are beyond human comprehension. In other words, people today often doubt whether the biblical stories really happened as they are recorded. They suspect that if we were to really be there when these events happened there would be a better, more natural explanation to account for them, one that didn’t involve the supernatural. But if we try to remove the miraculous from Christianity, or even Judaism the faith of the Old Testament, then it collapses; there is nothing left. The Apostle Paul says that if Jesus didn’t really raise from the dead than our faith is in vain, meaning, if the miracle of the resurrection didn’t really happen, Christianity is meaningless. So the Bible from beginning to end takes miracles very serious, and so do the believers of both the Old and New Testaments – and so have believers of all ages of the church. Today, in this verse, we once again find ourselves confronted with the supernatural, miracles, and we must choose again whether we believe them or not. It says, “Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous sings were done by the apostles.” When I read the accounts of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament, am I held in awe of how God entrusted such supernatural power in the hands of man? When I read about the many and different miracles of the Bible am I filled with awe by the power and presence of God on earth? I should be and so should you. If we can read these historical accounts of miracles and simply yawn or be bored by it all, then the problem is with us, not the Bible. But the bigger question, apart from being inspired by the accounts of miracles in the Bible, is this: should we still expect to be inspired by miracles from God today? I hope to answer that question. I’ll come at that question by raising three other questions, and answer them. (more…)

How are we to view Culture?

April 22, 2008

Title: How we are to view Culture

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Text: Acts 2:40

Time: April 27th, 2008

The first Christian church sermon was given by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost to a crowd of godly Jews who were in Jerusalem to celebrate a Jewish feast day. But as I commented on in the past few weeks, the message wasn’t the typical church sermon you’d hear from preachers today because it didn’t flatter the audiences but rather rebuked them. Peter was a fearless speaker who wasn’t trying to win a popularity context as much as be a prophet of God trying to save souls. Today, I’d like to zero in one comment Peter makes in his Pentecost sermon that is important for us to understand today, and that is Peter’s attitude towards culture. What I mean is, what should the Christian’s attitude towards culture be? By culture, I mean society, the world, popular culture, everything that makes up our life with other people in the world. I’m talking about pop culture found on television programming, radio, music, newspapers, government entities, schools, the business world, fashions, tastes, styles, etc. What should a committed Christian’s view be of the world? Now there have been about three different reactions to the world found among Christians throughout the last two thousand years. One, embracing the world. Many Christians have reacted to the world culture by accepting nearly everything the world has to offer. Two, rejecting the world. Still other Christians have rejected the world’s culture entirely. And finally, Three, other Christians have tried to sift and sort out the good from the bad in the world, and use the good and reject the bad. These three responses show that it’s no easy task in trying to relate to the world if you are a Christian. There is a tension no matter where you live, no matter in which time or culture you live in as a Christian. But if there were a trend among Christians today, a tendency among the people of God at the present moment, it would be to embrace the world’s culture uncritically and indulge in world’s tastes, entertainments, styles, activities, attitudes, etc. In older days you would have heard many sermons coming from many pastors in many churches warning people about the dangers of the world. But today, that warning is hardly ever heard. So we can easily see that the scales have tipped in Christianity to embracing the present world culture without very little warning against it. But that wasn’t the case back in the early church. The Apostle Peter expresses the early Christian’s attitude towards contemporary culture. Listen to Peter in Acts 2:40, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” Now that is a strong statement, and from it we might think that the only thing we can conclude is that we must always reject all of culture, but that isn’t what the Bible teaches always in every case. But it does warn us against the evils of culture, which is something our generation in the 21st century – a generation that mostly uncritically embraces pop culture — needs to hear. Let’s unpack what a Christian view of culture might actually look like, in order to help ourselves know how to interact with society today. (more…)

Evidences of Christian Conversion

April 18, 2008

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Title: Evidences of Christian Conversion

Text: Acts 2:42

Time: April 20th, 2008

 

We are examining the very beginnings of the Christian church in chapter two of the Book of Acts. Last week we saw how the Apostle Peter preached his first Christian sermon – actually the first sermon preached by a Christian after the birth of the Christian church. We saw how different it was from the most popular preaching style and approach of pastors today. Peter held nothing back in his strong teaching about the truth – the truth about sin and the truth about the need for repentance and trust in Christ. That contrasts sharply with most of today’s preaching which over-emphasizes sentimental feelings and practical advise for successful living. While there is nothing wrong with feeling good and living a successful life, early Christian pastors like Peter were more prophets than counselors, more truth-tellers than advise-givers. I concluded that more preaching today needs to come back to a greater prophetic approach rather than the current therapeutic approach. Part of the blame for the decline in truth convictions and moral behavior is due to poor preaching that emphasizes superficial solutions to life’s problems rather than teaching the truth of God as give in the Bible. A return to truth-telling could correct our church and cultural decline. But today I’d like to unpack the next verse in chapter two of the Book of Acts, 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here in this one verse we see what happens immediately after three thousand persons convert to Christianity. We also see a pattern which should be followed today when a person converts to the Christian faith as well. What can be expected of Christian converts? What kind of evidences should exist that a person has truly understood and committed themselves to Christ? It isn’t enough for someone to simply claim to be a Christian, because after all, anybody can say anything about anything; talk is cheap. But how can the person and other persons truly know if someone has indeed surrendered their life to Christ in salvation? The Bible outlines some simple and basic evidences of true salvation in Christ. I’d like to go through those essential evidences today so that we might examine ourselves, all of us who claim to be Christians, to test ourselves against them in order to ascertain whether we are indeed Christians, as well as provide a basis for determining whether new converts are truly of the faith or not. I have a feeling that a lot of people professing Christ aren’t truly saved, and that might go far in explaining why most professing Christians and church attenders can’t be discipled into the faith – they aren’t really saved to begin with. The big problem we suppose in mass evangelism is the follow-up of new converts. It’s a known problem that only a small percentage of persons making decisions for Christ at evangelistic rallies actually continue on in the church or in any meaningful Christian life afterwards. Why is that? The supposed answer is that they were not properly followed-up, but I suspect that the real answer is that they were not properly saved to begin with. Why? Because a truly converted or saved person will naturally and normally want to follow-up on the basics of the Christian faith on their own without needing anyone or any church to hold their hand or talk them into it. The Bible shows converts naturally being followed-up. So let’s see what the Bible teaches us about what real Christians naturally will want to do once they are saved — and most of all, let’s see if we have that same desire to follow-up our faith in the same way. Verse 42 mentions four important evidences of true Christian faith. (more…)

Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

April 9, 2008

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Title: Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

Text: Acts 2: 22-23, 36-41

Time: April 13th, 2008

 

Today there is a lot of confusion and controversy surrounding how pastors should preach, or in other words, how the gospel and the Bible should be communicated to the contemporary culture. If you turn on the television you will find all kinds of different styles of preaching and teaching ranging from the syrupy smiley face of Joel Osteen who teaches a positive, friendly message that hardly anyone would ever find offensive to the angry, loud, and highly offensive language of Barak Obamaha’s Pastor Jeremiah Wright in Chicago who teaches that God should damn America. But if you were to take a survey of all churches, of all sermons preached, you’d find that the vast majority are more like Joel Osteen’s than Jeremiah Wright’s, or in other words, most sermons preached in most churches are the kind, gentle, tame side of the spectrum. But if we ask the question, “What should a Christian sermon by a Christian pastor sound like?” we can do no better than refer ourselves back to the Bible. Here in the Book of Acts we see the very first sermon by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. If we want to know what Christian preaching should look like, I suggest we study the preaching of the Apostles, not the sermons of preachers on television. What we find when we go back to the Bible instead of to the television is that the Apostles preached a combination of sweet and sour sermons. They didn’t preach like Joel Osteen, which is all the time positive and feel-good, often ignoring passages in the Bible where God is trying to communicate something negative and serious. Neither did they preach like Jeremiah Wright, which is racist and unnecessarily inflammatory. What they did preach was a balance of the law of God and the grace of God, a balance of the justice of God and the love of God, a balance of condemnation and forgiveness. What we see today is an imbalance of either one or the other. Some people have grown up in churches that preach a lot of the law of God but none of the grace of God, while other people grow up in churches where the only thing preached is the love of God but with no mention of God’s law. People who only hear of the law of God are tormented by fear and guilt in their relationship with God, while people who only hear of the love of God are blind to their own sins and never see any need to be convicted, confess or repent of anything since God is love and forgives them anyway no matter what they do. Both of those extremes are wrong. But people are very confused today because they don’t understand the Bible’s balance. It’s hard to find a church that is balanced between the law and grace, justice and love, judgment and mercy. But if there is any over-emphasis that is clear to point out today in churches it is the over-emphasis on God’s love over God’s justice. This false emphasis leaves people with nothing to confess or repent, since they’ve never heard God’s law preached and never experienced the conviction of their conscience concerning their own sins. The Apostle Peter offers us a good example of balanced preaching, an example we should follow in looking for and finding a good church and good preaching. Let me mention three things about Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2: 22-23, 36-41. (more…)

3 more questions concerning Easter

April 3, 2008

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Title: 3 more questions concerning Easter

Text: Acts 2: 22-36

Time: April 6th, 2008

This week we return to our study of the Books of Acts after a short Easter recess break, but we aren’t actually done with Easter entirely, at least not yet, because we “happen” to be currently at a passage that deals with Easter and related themes – Acts 2:22-36. If you remember, Acts 2 opens with the coming of the Holy Spirit in wind and fire. The disciples begin to speak in tongues as they were inspired by the Spirit. I’ve already explained what speaking tongues is and what it means and how it relates to us today; so I won’t go back over that. Also, we’ve seen the famous prophecy of the Prophet Joel applied to the events of Pentecost – how it was predicted that the Spirit would be poured out on all people, not just a select few, and how they would be given the ability to do many amazing things under the inspiration of God. Now, today, we continue in the same chapter a little further with Peter’s sermon to the godly Jews present at the same Pentecost event where he answers three important questions: first, who is responsible for the death of Jesus; two, who raised Jesus from the dead; and three, who came to dwell with all believers because of the risen and ascended Christ? As you can see, these are all questions related to the Easter season, so really, this message is a continuation of Resurrection Sunday even as we transition back into our study of the Book of Acts. I didn’t actually plan it that way, but under the providence of God that’s how it worked out. Now it might be asked, “Why attempt to answer these simple questions concerning Easter, because after all aren’t they pretty straight-forward? Questions such as, who is responsible for Christ’s death, who raised Jesus from the dead, and who came as a result of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension, aren’t these answered clearly from the Bible, and aren’t they common knowledge already?” Yes, in one sense these questions are ones for which we already know the answers, but they are also questions for which much controversy has been raised. For example, on the first question about Christ’s death, even though the Bible is very clear about who is responsible for it, still through the ages and even today there are many people who don’t accept the Bible’s answers on the subject. They claim that the Bible is anti-Semitic and bigoted. We’ll look into that. Also, in respect to the second question, there are those who dispute that any resurrection actually took place, but instead offer alternative explanations that seek to explain it wholly in terms of natural causes. And then, finally, in dealing with the third question about the coming of the Holy Spirit, there are those who would try to reduce the Spirit totally to emotionalism only and not a real spiritual experience. So even though the answers to these three questions are simple and well known, they are still necessary to defend because people continue to criticize them from an unbelieving view point. I hope to answer these questions and the charges against them today. (more…)