Dreams and Determination

Acts 11

Acts 11 5a

“I was in the town of Joppa and was praying when I fell sound asleep and had a vision.” Acts 11:5
Peter experienced dreams.  What about us?  How do we hear from God?  When God gives us the urge to follow, we cannot rest until we complete the task that has been assigned.  When it’s right, you will be moved to do it.
He rewards our faithfulness. I pray often for my spirit to be stirred. To move me towards God and lead me to the adventure He has planned for me.  I pray for the wisdom to know when He is speaking to me.  I ask Him to help me be fearless in His name.  Are you willing to be obedient, to have a life of changing moments?  It’s not a burden to follow the Lord, it’s a true privilege.
Acts 11:19-30
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.                            Acts 11:22-24
Defining moments for any of us can be loss or can be about God’s great grace that can transform us in the midst of sorrow.  Through times of suffering we can see that through God’s grace we can achieve greater depth, compassion, joy, and appreciation of simple blessings.  This story in Acts reminds us of the great persecution and suffering that was going on at the time.  Yet Barnabas (the great encourager) arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God and he was glad.  What a gift to live outside the box—to trust in God’s great grace.   There is such depth in the faithfulness of God in our lives.  If you are going through a difficult circumstance, a tough choice, a rough path in your life, try recalling God’s love, faithfulness and His great grace.
God, thank you for the gift of your great grace.  May we trust that your grace is sufficient for us.
-Andy Cisneros

Listen and Obey

Acts 10

acts 10 34 35

“Do not call anything unclean that God has made pure.”
In Acts 10 Peter went up to his roof and closed his eyes, and God opened them with this vision. For those of us who do not come from a Jewish heritage, this is one of the most important stories in the Bible.  In this story, the disciples come to realize that salvation through Christ is available to everybody everywhere, not only to the Jewish people.   And God has given to us part of the job of spreading His good news.  That can be a frightening challenge but remember that He will first do the hard part Himself. In these verses God prepared Cornelius’ heart to be ready to hear the news before He had him talk with Peter; and He is preparing the hearts of people in your life to hear the gospel from you.  Maybe it is your school friend whom you study with, your brother who has grown steadily away from the church, or your coworker you’ve been working alongside for years.  Nobody is “out-of-bounds” – the Lord wants a relationship with each of His children.
“The Lord is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Father, please open my eyes today and reveal the people in my life who You have prepared to hear the gospel.
“…if we want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.”  Acts 10:35 (Message) Most of us agree we want God.  But are we ready to do as He says?  In this chapter of Acts, Cornelius, a Gentile, is told by God in a vision to send for Peter – a foreigner – a Jew.  God gives no reason; Cornelius asks no questions – he just does it.  And then waits.    And when Peter comes, Cornelius invites him in and waits again, “ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us.”  Do we trust God enough to simply do what he asks and then wait for Him to reveal what it means?  We are a generation of questioners, of action. I’ve always been full of questions and NOT good about waiting.  How hard it is for me to just listen to God without questioning and then wait – wait for God to reveal His plans, Himself.  But the times I manage to do this; when I usually ignore my natural instincts to do things my way, to “make it happen.” But the times I actually listen to that voice in my heart that says, “wait and listen for God’s direction”, those times are ALWAYS better.    Father God, thank you for knowing what’s best for us.  Help us to learn to wait and listen for your Word. This week, try to quiet your heart so you can hear what your Father is saying. And then do it!
-Andy Cisneros

Damascus Road Illumination

Acts 9

Acts 9 3 4

Saul was a man of deep convictions. He was deeply convicted that he was doing the right thing in the eyes of God. Not only did he feel he was right in the eyes of God, I believe he truly thought his vehement persecution of Christians was God-honoring work. Perhaps he even thought he was on a special mission from God. Saul was a Pharisee and Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the law. I think the law was like a blanket of security for him, a metaphorical checklist that he could check off point by point and be assured he was in good standing with God. How dare these Jesus followers, pushing their radical message of grace and echoing the teachings of Jesus that the contents of one’s heart far outweighed any outward action. Heresy! Something HAD to be done!

 

Is it possible that we are deeply convicted about something that we feel is God-approved- or even God-honoring- that in fact might not be? While we are not likely to have a flashing, blinding light from heaven to illuminate our paths and pinpoint the error of our ways, rest assured, our Heavenly Father does illuminate our paths. We have assurance from the well-known verse found in Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We are also told in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (NASB). Our Damascus Road illumination often comes in the form of scripture. We must be brave enough to continually compare our convictions up against scripture and prayerfully consider if those convictions resonate with the heart of God. In many ways our Christian walk is like a perpetual Damascus-road experience- if we are open to it. If we allow Him, God will continually refine our hearts and shape us. We read in Isaiah 64:8: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

 

The beauty of being a Christ-follower is that we can have a new identity in Christ. We become a new creation. Saul’s conversion was marked by a change in name to Paul. Does our name-tag still read Saul? Or are we continually striving to be a Paul for Christ?

-Kristy Cisneros

A Spirit of Boldness

ACTS 8

Acts 8 4 (2)

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from Acts 8. Here are two that stood out to me:

1. Go forward in a spirit of boldness, not one of fear and timidity. If you know me well, you know I LOVE the movie The Princess Bride. (Yes, I realize this movie is now a classic!) Spoiler alerts ahead! If you have ever seen the movie, you will recall the scene where Wesley is leading Buttercup into the Fire Swamp and Buttercup fearfully exclaims to Wesley, “We’ll never survive” and Wesley replies to her, “Nonsense. You’re only saying never because no one ever has.” True to Buttercup’s fears, they encounter the widely known dangers of the Fire Swamp: fire, quicksand and R.O.U.S.’s (Rodents of Unusual Size). In reading Acts 8, especially on the heels of Stephen’s stoning that we read about in chapter 7, one might imagine an atmosphere of fear and timidity could have easily festered in the Christian community. In Acts 8:1 we read about a great persecution that began against the church. We read of Saul who was waging war against the Christ followers, going from house to house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. One might think Christians might have chosen to go underground and keep a low profile. As we continue reading the chapter, we find just the opposite to be true. Christians were scattered about because of this persecution, but we read in verse 4 that they continued to preach the word. In verse 5 we read how Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. This wasn’t a clandestine type of preaching, his bold proclamation of the gospel was also accompanied by miraculous wonders such as healings and driving out of demons.

In John 15:20 Jesus tells us, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” We are not promised a trouble-free life. Jesus assures us this life will bring us trouble and persecution if we follow him. What should our response be to persecution? Do we shrink back and try to keep a low profile? Or do we move forward with boldness like Wesley and Buttercup in spite of our fears? 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Jesus assures us we will have trouble in this life, but we are never ever alone. He reminds us of this in John 16:33 when he tells us, “I have told you these things, to that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


2.  Be sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Your Christian life is unscripted. In many ways, it is a wild adventure. We have the most excellent advantage of knowing how the story ends and that the good guys do win after all, but there will be many plot twists in between. In verses 25-40, we read about how an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip sees an Ethiopian eunuch and we read in verse 29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’.” We continue reading that Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch and the eunuch declares his belief that Jesus is the son of God and gets baptized by Philip. We later read that Philip gets snatched away by the Spirit to Azotus and preaches the gospel in all the cities on his way to Caesarea. Following the lead of the Holy Spirit means we will lead life unscripted and we will often be pushed out of our comfort zones. What is the Holy Spirit stirring you to do? Be sensitive, be open and be bold. A grand adventure awaits…

-Kristy Cisneros

Are You Opposing God – 0R – Facing Opposition for Him

acts 6 9a 10

Acts 6b and 7

Yesterday, we left off with the 7 qualified individuals being chosen to take a load off of the apostles. One is given more attention than the rest. We see that because the power that was once seen in Christ, started to be seen in the disciples and now has moved on to other believers. Stephen is said to be full of grace and power and he started performing wonders and signs among the people.
Again we see the religious leaders take offense and try to squash any threat to their power and authority. As they stood up to dispute Stephen they quickly realized they could not outsmart or outwit him. So, as with Jesus, when they were unable to come up with a way to take him out on merit they made something up. They lied – and created a plan with multiple witnesses aligned with a fictional story to take out their problem.
All of chapter 7 is Stephen giving a summary of a year’s worth of children’s Sunday school material. He gives the details of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. He shows how God was at work throughout time and the constant opposition that faced Him, and then Stephen throws these man into that group. Stephen calls them uncircumcised in the heart and ears. He then points out that again God has been at work and when the story is retold – they would be the bad guys that opposed God and further the ones that killed the promised righteous one!
And like Jesus – he was put to death. They raised up stones to kill him and also like Jesus he asks for their forgiveness. Wow – to stand in the face of opposition and talk with conviction. He didn’t back down when it got difficult.
Our Christian walk at times has become too easy. As Stephen’s speech indicated; all throughout history, whenever someone made a stand for God, they eventually faced opposition. If we are not facing opposition, maybe people do not know where we stand. In John 16:33, Jesus tells us we will face  trials, trouble, opposition, suffering, sorrows, tribulations (depending on your translation). Not a maybe or some will – instead a certainty that we will all face.  As we make a stand for what is right we prepare for opposition knowing we can have peace while dealing with it because the verse doesn’t end there. It continues to say “Take heart, for I have overcome the world”.
What I pull most from the first few chapters of Acts is this: God has given His spirit, His power, so that we will go out into the world with BOLDNESS proclaiming the truth with love.
-John Wincapaw

Serving – and Delegating

Acts 6

Acts 6 3 4

At first glance it appears that some of the old behaviors of the disciples are creeping back in. It almost sounds like they are saying “we are too good to serve tables.” But we see that is far from the truth. They are actually so busy serving that they are not keeping up with all of their other duties and people are going hungry!

They were actually listening when Jesus said things about the greatest being servants – maybe it kicked in the night before Jesus was sent to the cross, when Jesus got down and washed their feet. Either way, they finally understand the importance of service.

So in light of being overwhelmed with too much to do they take a page out of Jethro’s playbook. (Exodus 18) They realize more work could get done if they find qualified leaders to take over some of their duties. They find 7 people who can take care of serving the tables, which will allow the disciples to focus on their other responsibilities. Specifically, they could focus on their calling – “prayer and ministry of the word.”

While it frees up the disciples it also allows others in the church to be involved. It is important to get involved in your church – to share the load so it is not just a few people overburdened. We each have and bring different talents that make up the body.  The church is most effective when all of the body is working together.

Is your church missing it’s hands, feet, ears…etc. because you are not involved? Or is it possible you are too busy doing good things that you are missing out on what God has really called you to?

I challenge you to find your place in service.

 

-John Wincapaw

 

His Agenda, Not Ours

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.Acts 5

As we see the disciples growing in their boldness, we see them start acting a lot like Jesus. They are going to the temple to teach and preach, they heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor. The church is growing – and it seemed inevitable that as things were going so well there would be a hiccup.

The church became the popular place where some people looked to make a name for themselves. A wealthy couple came in to the church looking for applause for their great gift. The crowd quickly learns that God’s church is not a place for self promotion and corruption as they both drop dead for their wrong doing.

Side note: They did a great thing for the church. If some random person walked into any of our churches and said “I just sold some property and I want to donate $100,000”, we would all be super excited for the great gift. The problem was not the size of the gift – instead the intent of the gift and lie. They were seeking attention and tried to make an already good gift better for the sake of looking good.

Before long the church did not only face internal problems but also outer opposition. The religious leaders began fighting back as their power and influence was threatened. They conspire against the disciples and often try to get them prosecuted. Seems crazy to have the religious leaders try to take down those who are healing the sick and pointing people to God. Even so, they beat and arrest the apostles on made up charges.

Gamaliel, a wise old Pharisee, gives advice – “Let them go! For if their 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.”

If we are doing the works of God, we cannot be stopped! If we are seeking our own desires we will fail.

-John Wincapaw