Acts – His Witnesses at Work

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The book of Acts is one of the most exciting reads you will ever come across: action adventure, good guys, bad guys, left for dead, miracles, jail breaks, courtroom drama, angry mob, shipwreck, dramatic monologues, and some of the most fascinating characters of the early church.  The author, Luke, was the same Gentile doctor who wrote what is now the 3rd gospel – an account of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Here, in the book of Acts, his story continues with the Acts of the Apostles – the story of the early Christian church age.

 

Luke opens his account in Acts with the crucified and resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples for 40 days, speaking about the kingdom of God (1:3) – obviously a topic near and dear to Jesus – so it should likewise be a topic we are passionate about.  Then, Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8). And as he ascends into the clouds, two men in white reassure the disciples that Jesus will return the same way that he rose.  And, throughout the rest of Acts, we see what happens when Jesus’ witnesses are faithful.

 

The promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they were able to do many miracles and wonders, even speaking in languages that men from all parts of the world would understand the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  Most of the first half of Acts follows the disciples, particularly Peter, as they teach and preach and grow the early church.  Even amongst strong opposition the church grows, with many new believers being baptized and committing their lives, homes, finances, and families to following Jesus.  Some, like Stephen, even gave their life – as he was stoned to death for speaking the truth about Jesus, the Son of God.

 

Most of the second half of Acts tells the incredible – and true – stories of Paul.  It starts with the conversion of Saul who was persecuting Christians.  BUT – he changed and became the great apostle who went on 3 missionary journeys and wrote much of what would become the New Testament (but more on that tomorrow when we cover the 3rd Division of the NT – Paul’s Letters).

 

There are so many great passages in the book of Acts you just have to read it for yourself!  Not only are there amazing action stories, but you also get some wonderful sermon snippets and see what is most important to the early church.  You see their teachings, courage and priorities.

 

We are still waiting for that day when the clouds will part and our Lord and Savior will come down to greet his followers.  What a day that will be!  If you have read the gospels to see Jesus in action – then you are his witness.  If you have felt Jesus’ peace in the storm – then you are his witness.  May we be faithful witnesses ready for his return.

 

-Marcia Railton

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The Good News Gospels

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Throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s work with His people.  The ups, and the downs.  His plan through the ages.  And through it all – there were prophecies, predictions and foreshadowing of what was coming – a Savior who would take upon himself the sins of all men and make a way for mankind to be reconciled (brought back together) with God.  Some have counted over 350 Old Testament prophecies of Jesus that are fulfilled in the New Testament, everything from: born in Bethlehem, came out of Egypt, praised while riding on a donkey, performed miraculous healings , not a bone of his body broken, etc…. Jesus fulfills everyone.  He is God’s plan that began in Genesis, or actually before the creation of the world.  And, we have not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 accounts of his life, ministry, teachings, death, and resurrection in the Old Testament – they are the gospels.  And here’s a little bit about each one:

 

MATTHEW – Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled in Jesus

Matthew is an excellent link between the Old and New Testaments because Matthew is writing particularly to the Jews to convince them that Jesus is the promised Messiah from God, the same Messiah that the Old Testament prophets had said would come.  Matthew, who knew his OT well, included 53 direct quotes and 76 other references to the Old Testament. Matthew, originally a tax collector, left his work to follow Jesus’ call.  He became one of Jesus’ 12 Disciples who were Jesus’ closest students and followers.  His new life mission was to persuade the Jews that the Savior they had been waiting for had arrived and his name is Jesus.  This book is an excellent introduction to Jesus!  Here we read of Jesus’ geneology, his birth, the visit from the Magi, his baptism and temptation, the calling of the disciples, and the great Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7).  Many more teachings (often about his favorite topic – the coming Kingdom of God) and miracles are included.  Then Jesus is put to death so we can be forgiven, and then miraculously resurrected 3 days later.  In the final verses the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples to go into the world and make disciples.  And that is just what Matthew did when he wrote about the man who changed his life.

 

MARK – To the Gentiles: A Suffering Servant Has Come

This is the shortest of the 4 gospel books, packed with action, and perhaps written first.  The author, perhaps called John Mark, was not one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, but was likely a close associate of Peter.  It is thought that Mark listened to all of Peter’s preaching about Jesus and carefully recorded them in what would become the book of Mark.  Mark would also accompany Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.  This book was written to a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience – perhaps specifically the church in Rome, at a time (60 AD) when powerful Rome was persecuting Christian believers.  It was important that the church be strong in their understanding of who Jesus was and what he did.  In the book of Mark we read of Jesus healing the sick, controlling nature and battling the powers of Satan.  And yet, the Jewish leaders plot to kill him (and do), his neighbors don’t understand him and his family thinks he is crazy.  Jesus is the Ultimate Suffering Servant – with his life – and his death.  Mark is perhaps preparing the church for a little suffering of their own.

 

LUKE – Jesus is Savior of ALL – Jew and Gentile

The author, Luke, was likely a Gentile by birth, and a well-educated doctor.  He also was known as the missionary Paul’s dear friend and fellow missionary.  His introduction states: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may now the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (1:1-4).  Luke was writing to not only tell of Jesus, to strengthen the believers’ faith, but also to assure people that Jesus had come to save the lost – both Jew and Gentile.  He is the only gospel writer to include several parables (one of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach using earthly stories with earthly meanings) including: the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son.

 

JOHN – Jesus is the Son of God who Saves

The author is likely John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, and the one sometimes called, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John and James had left the family fishing business when Jesus called them to follow him.  They would become 2 of the 12 disciples.  This gospel is the most unlike the other 3 gospels.  Over 90% of John is not found in the other gospels.  John does not include any of Jesus’ parables, or his birth or temptation or ascension.  Instead, he emphasizes who Jesus was – the Son of God.  He includes only 8 miracles, 6 of which are not recorded elsewhere (including water to wine and the raising of Lazarus).  John includes many of Jesus’ “I Am” statements explaining Jesus and his mission.  “I am the good shepherd” (10:11).  “I am the bread of life” (6:35).  “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (14:6).  And John is the only author to include the Upper Room Discourse (chapters 14-17) which was Jesus’ last teaching to his 12, as well as his prayers for himself, his disciples and all believers who would follow – including you.

 

 

How many people today think they know who Jesus was – but haven’t read the gospel accounts?  Read them to see God’s plan in action.  See for yourself Jesus’ love and compassion for the lost, as well as his insistence for a changed life (go and sin no more – John 8:11).  See his love for His Father and his commitment to God’s Word and His Will.  See his excitement and teaching about the Kingdom of God and who will be a part of it.  To properly carry on your mission from God – you MUST be in tune with what Jesus’ mission was.  Find it – in the gospels – and you too can share in God’s good news – for yourself and for your hearers.

 

Seek His Mission,

Marcia Railton

 

Come back tomorrow – we will have just one book to cover as we see the history of the early church.  What will they do when Jesus is no longer in their physical midst?

You Are Not Alone

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I just returned from FUEL2018 “Mission” – a great event for youth which brought together students and staff from many states and Canada.  It was better than a week of vacation or band camp or soccer camp or working that good old summer job.    And what made it so powerful was our connection through God’s Word.

I enjoyed reminiscing about a missions trip I had taken with other staff members years ago – a trip in which our mission was to teach about God, His Word, His Son and His Coming Kingdom.  I enjoyed the worship music which helped us praise our Creator (which we read about in Genesis) and remember the sacrifice of His Son, our Savior (as recorded in the gospels).  The general session teachings, classes, workshops and family group times brought Godly men and women speaking God’s Word and how it had impacted them and those they knew.  They spoke wisdom from the Scriptures on who God is, what He desires from His children, who His Son is and how to grow a personal relationship with Him.

And, then we all went home.

Perhaps in some small way we can feel the emotional let-down of the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven and then asked themselves – what next?  They had been so close to God’s representative – his own Son – and now they were separated?  How would they continue learning, growing, acting in his name – without his bodily presence and audible words there to guide the way.

So, too, we can feel a little lost and let-down upon leaving such a spiritually pumped up place as FUEL.  But, remember, you are not alone!

Stick close to your Christian brothers and sisters and mentors.  Get into church this morning – and throughout the year!  Listen well to God’s Words through your pastor and SS teacher and worship leader and youth leader.  Ask questions, look for connections, serve the church body, talk to the lonely, encourage the weak, invite a friend, share what inspired you at FUEL, and then make an opportunity to meet up with some faithful followers sometime this week to encourage and strengthen one another.  In a section sometimes titled “Call to Persevere” the writer of Hebrews gives these directions: “ And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24,25).  Don’t try being a lone-ranger Christian.  You need the body of believers – and they need you!

And, just as you wouldn’t dream of not eating again until you were back on Manchester’s campus next July, don’t waste away from a lack of God’s Word!  Keep serving yourself daily portions of God’s Word – for this is your source of spiritual food and nourishment.  You are not going home alone when you are going home with God’s Word.  It is here He reveals himself, His love for you, His precious Son, His plan for the ages, His goals and dreams for you, and the Mission He has given you.  It is here he shares all truth and how to be wise against deception and evil.  You can not protect yourself from falling for false worldly Gods if you do not know the true God in His Word.  It is here you learn of His all-mighty power, holiness, wisdom, presence, mercy, forgiveness, as well as His fatherly (good) discipline when needed to help you stay where He wants to bless you.

This blog/email list of daily devotions is one way we want to encourage you to stay in God’s Word every day.  God’s Words are the Best Words.  Every week you will read daily devotions written by someone in our FUEL family who is passionate about God – and YOU – and wants to help keep you connected to Him through a deeper understanding of His Word.  Thank you to Aaron Winner who wrote during FUEL on the MISSION we have!  The week before I wrote on an overview of the Old Testament, so this week we will continue on with an overview of the New Testament.  So, come back tomorrow ready to jump into the gospels!  You can be thinking about . . . what do you most appreciate about Jesus?   What is your favorite miracle?  Favorite parable?  See you tomorrow!

You are Not Alone,

Marcia Railton

Meeting the Mission

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Throughout this week,  we have laid the groundwork that leads us from the call to the kingdom.  We considered how Jesus sought those who were seeking something better, and how those men recognized the call, the voice of their master (John 10:27).  Next, we considered how the heavens declare our salvation, and the continuing metaphor we have in the heavens declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19) and His salvation plan for mankind.  Knowing this, we applied this knowledge to God’s presence even in the darkest points in our lives – in the highest heavens he is there, but also in the deepest chasm (Psalm 139:8). His Spirit is promised and available to those who ask to receive it.  When we accept Jesus into our lives, we not only receive the Spirit of God, but also the weight of the cross – not our sin, which Jesus has paid for once and for all – but the daily responsibility to carry the name of the Lord with us wherever we go. Finally, we looked at how faith should be our great motivator.  It assures us when we don’t see God working the way we desire that he is working all things together for those who love him (Rom 8:28). The culmination of this hope comes when we arrive home. We will not be returning, but experiencing for the first time the place we have been called, where the light has been leading, where the Presence of God is close and real, where the cross paved a way for us, and the plan, having all who have believed and waited, rewarded together (Heb 11:39-40).

It is a beautiful story unfolding before us, but right now, we’re in the middle.  The part in between being called and being home. So where does our mission begin?  It begins with prayer. Prayer is our conversation with God, admonishing him, asking for repentance, lifting up concerns, and seeking his will.  Paul tells us that we should pray repetitively or without ceasing (2 Thes 5:17) constantly thanking Him, seeking His word, and listening for His voice.  It is the best way to align ourselves with his will for our lives. These are everyday acts of spiritual warriors, the same as someone who runs or lifts every day in preparation for a marathon.  In Acts 9, Saul is blinded when He sees Jesus Christ standing before him on the Road to Damascus, but it is Ananias, a man most likely practicing his faith in his hometown, that is called to a great mission.  Risking his life to go before the Christian persecutor, he speaks to him, ““Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” With these words, the course of Paul’s life and Christianity are forever changed.

For some of us, our mission will lead us to a foreign country, a great stage, or into a dramatic change of circumstance; however, we are all called to be faithful, seeking opportunities for God to use us as a vessel to speak peace and hope into the lives of those around us in the present; Many lives are lived, fearing God and keeping his commandments, in hometowns before neighbors, coworkers, or fellow students, a task that is can be ironically harder. We continually pray for those who are within our reach and influence, attuning ourselves to the will of God.  When we are faithful, we most assuredly will be ready for the harder things God calls us to as we will reach out and unabashedly share His Kingdom, leaving behind our ego, leaving behind our reputation, and even leaving behind our lives – in a moment or daily, knowing our mission is met.

-Aaron Winner

Thank you, Aaron for writing this week!  We did miss you at FUEL, but we are thankful for your continued commitment to God’s mission in your life.  Aaron recently shared his newest recorded song: How Great You Are.  Thank you for pointing us to the One who is Great!

Coming Home

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One of the most bittersweet moments after a long, fulfilling journey is coming home.   Over the course of the past several years, I have been to a handful of different countries and have had some of the most wonderful, unforgettable experiences.  I usually spend my flight home scrolling through pictures, journaling, retelling that trip’s running joke, and planning a return journey to the destination I’m leaving behind.  Nevertheless, no matter how far I stray away, I find a soothing pleasure in seeing that final turn that will steer me into my driveway, opening the door to take a breath of the familiar smell, and laying down on my bed with my head perfectly placed on my pillow.  As I close my eyes, I do not think how much I wish to be where I was, I only think that I am so happy to be home.

I know many of you reading this have the exact same experience with the place you call home; however, I know for others, your current home is far from a place you wish to return.  Returning home to you means refacing an unpleasant past, examining poor relationships, having greater opportunity to sin, dealing with loneliness, hiding from abuse, or a customized mixture of some/all of these things.  The contrast between where you were and where you are going back to is so remarkably different that you see no hope in returning. There is always hope in returning home.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  John 14:1-4

The reality is that all of us who believe are on a journey home, but it is possible none of us will make it there in this lifetime.  God is preparing a place for all of his children, those who believe in the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and know and live by saving grace that comes through faith.  Jesus Christ is preparing a place for us to lay our heads for eternity, and he will one day come back for us, fulfilling his promise. We do not look for a physical direction, or a spiritual ascent in the heavens, but look for the way, the truth, and the life Jesus speaks of as the restoration to the Father. Our desire is to be here on this earth, but it is not in its present state (1 John 2:15-17), but the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

No matter where we lay our heads or what situations befalls us, we have been given a way to where Jesus is calling.  One place is not more powerful than another. One experience is not higher than the other. By placing Jesus Christ as our heart, our hope stays with us, and is never in a location or circumstance.  Still, even our spiritual highs pale in comparison to what is promised for us in the place that is being prepared for us. In the Kingdom we will be in the presence of our Savior and our God. Where we arrived at the place prepared for and rest in the assurance of eternal life, none of us will desire to be where we were; we will only think we are happy to be home.

-Aaron Winner

Seeing Isn’t Believing

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One of the simplest examples of an optical illusion is the Hermann grid.  Black squares closely placed side by side with white space in between. Our brain, forever processing the input of our eyes, darkens the spaces around where our eyes are focused, creating dots between the corners of the squares that do not exist.  Even though I know the truth, my eyes are trying to tell me something different. There is an ongoing battle in my nervous system between what I know is the truth, and what I sense. Such is the ongoing battle with our faith — the confidence and assurance in things we know to be true, yet our senses may tell us otherwise.  With each next step that comes our way, we must give control to our senses or our heart. Faith or sight.

In the final chapter of Matthew, the culmination of our hope is made complete: Jesus arises from the grave.  Amen. Our example in life shows us the physical transformation that will occur when we are raised from the dead alongside all those who patiently await in the grave (Heb 11:39-40).  However, we are told that when the high priests hear the news of the resurrection, they quickly bribed the soldiers overseeing the grave and told them to spread the lie that Jesus had not really risen from the grave but was stolen in the middle of night.  Jesus sends word to his disciples to meet him in Galilee to see with their own eyes that he was indeed raised as he had promised. Yet at the moment they had Jesus Christ, the risen one, standing in front of them, some doubted (Matt 28:17). They had heard Jesus preach the gospel.  They heard him predict his resurrection. They watched him perform miracle after miracle. They even watched him raise people from the dead. Still, some of them were not convinced it was Jesus Christ. In this moment, seeing was not believing to them. Surely Jesus Christ was just some form of an optical illusion.

 

Like the disciples in this moment, I often wonder if the people I know who have reservations about faith would change their minds if they saw Jesus?  If they saw him heal, cast out demons, or calm the sea, would this be enough to change their tune? The conclusion I come to is, no, it didn’t and it won’t.  It did not change the hearts of the Pharisees who rebuked Jesus for healing on a sabbath. It did not change the hearts of nine lepers who walked away with the promise in hand of being healed.  It did not change the rich, young ruler heart to turn all his possession over for the promise of greater Kingdomly treasure. Even among the apostles, John’s account of the events after the resurrection of Jesus makes Thomas as the scapegoat disciple who doubted. It took literal touching the scars of Jesus to truly restore his faith.  Blessed are those who believe in their heart, not give in to their senses (John 20:29).

 

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

 

Finally, in that moment, believing or not, Jesus gives the commision to his apostles, and I believe, each one of us.  Whether or not we believe, we are still held to the standard of preaching, baptizing, and teaching the world the Good News. Jesus Christ forever changes the course of their lives because he is a risen Lord and Savior actively working within them and for them until their demise or he returned.  Something changed in the heart of the disciples who doubted from then to Pentecost. They did not believe the gospel because they saw Jesus; they believed because He was the Lord of their life and the gospel was true, speaking to each one in the words of God, His Son, and in all of creation. Each of these men traveled a different part of the world to share this hope, and most found a gruesome end to their life far from home as a martyr.

 

We don’t need to see Jesus to share this same zeal and spirit. We need only to nurture the seed that has been planted in our hearts, to carry his gospel wherever we go.  We must declare with our mouths that Jesus Christ is our Lord from whatever stage is set before us and to ask others to make a commitment to declare the same. There will be a day when faith is made sight; they will be one in the same.  Every tongue will confess what I already know is true. No optical illusions — trumpets will sound, the clouds will roll back to reveal the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and life as we knew it will be no more. Until that day comes, we desperately seek His will, we urgently share His news, and we excitedly await for the assured thing we do not yet see.

-Aaron Winner

The Weight of the Cross

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The Via Dolorosa, or the “way of suffering”, is the path, according to tradition, that Jesus took to the cross on the day of his crucifixion.  His literal carrying of his cross most likely involved moving 100-300 pounds across a half mile stretch after being beaten to within an inch of his life.  This was an impossible journey that had Jesus incapable of bearing the burden, and his cross was (forcibly) taken up by Simon, the Cyrene (Matthew 27:32). Jesus carried the weight of the cross until there was nothing left in him; however, his path to Golgotha, to pay for the sins of all mankind, did not start at the Lion’s Gate on the day of his death, but it was an everyday consideration that was revealed to him by God.

 

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. – Mark 8:34-35

 

Jesus predicts his death moments/verses before, and knowing how his story would play out, he most likely thought of His own literal cross he would bear on a daily basis.  He uses it as our example for the daily battle to call ourselves his disciples. We must deny our hopes, our will, our thoughts, our opportunities, our deepest desires, and stand alongside him on the Via Dolorosa – the way of suffering – and follow him.  It is a hard, burdensome journey to put ourselves to death (1 Cor 15:31) and be crucified alongside him (Gal 2:20).

 

BUT the difference is Jesus no longer carries his cross.  He died once and for all and now lives so you can count yourself as one who will receive the same promise (Rom 6:10-11).  Just as Simon, the Cyrene, helped Jesus bear the burden of the physical cross, Jesus stands waiting to help us bear the things we cannot.  He makes our yoke easy, and our burdens light (Matt 11:30); he constantly is inching our cross towards the place he has prepared, not the Place of the Skull, when it seems we cannot journey no further. Without Him or God’s grace, it would be a crushing weight, and we would be doomed to fail.

 

We count our momentary sufferings as loss, because even in suffering we have Christ, and access to God, our Father.  Those who do not have him suffer alone, are crushed alone, and die alone. There is no hope from the crosses they choose to bear. They lead to a death without hope, eternal destruction and separation from the God who desperately loves them and allowed His son to suffer so that we might live.  Today, tomorrow, and every day that we have an inch of life or more, we must take up the cross and follow him, knowing He has and will bear the weight when we cannot.

-Aaron Winner