This week’s reading is from Acts chapter 15:28. The early church leaders held a council and decided that the Gentiles who were being saved did not have to keep the Law of Moses. After much discussion, they decided to write a letter to say that converts need not follow the practices of Judaism. What interests me is the terms in which they describe how they came to the decision in their letter. Verse 28 says, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Another way of saying this might be, “God said it and we agree with Him.” It had been promised that to the followers of Jesus there would be given the Spirit of truth, who would guide them into all truth. (John 16:13). Here we see the Holy Spirit guiding the church leaders into some clarity on how to handle the Gentile converts without burdening them with keeping the Jewish law. What a great example to all of us about the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit when making decisions. It is too easy to just make our decisions based on how we feel or what we think others might think. But when we do that we miss out on the supernatural guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. I think it is also impressive that this was a corporate decision, instead of just one person’s decision. There is much wisdom in the “multitude of counsel” (Proverbs 11:14)
How blessed we are to have God’s Holy Spirit guiding us through life. When you feel the leading of God’s Holy Spirit be sure to get it confirmed by other spiritual leaders. This phrase is so important in Christian decision-making. We should have an awareness that the Holy Spirit is guiding our thoughts as we prayerfully determine our steps. Let me encourage you to take the time to listen to His leading as we are faced with decisions, especially the big ones. When you do this, you are less likely to be making bad decisions and will find that He is really interested in helping us as we walk through our daily lives.
This week’s reading is from Acts 14:27 where Paul went to Jerusalem and “Reported all that God had done with them.” He shared with the church, all the great things that God was doing in his ministry as he traveled among the Gentiles preaching the Kingdom of God. It is good to review what God has done in your life every so often. You don’t want to wait until the end of your life to do this, because then it may be too late to make any changes. Paul did this every time he came back from his missionary trips. You see this again in Acts 15:4 and 21:19.
When you take the time to see what God is doing in your life, then you can rejoice and glorify God like the early church did when they heard Paul’s stories. It is healthy to rejoice in the things that God has done in your life. We are told in Nehemiah 8:10, that the joy of the Lord is your strength. Some people don’t ever stop to rejoice and give thanks. They just keep moving on to the next thing ahead of them. They are missing out on experiencing that joy of the Lord which makes us strong!
There is a delicate balance of being able to rejoice in what God has done in the past to draw encouragement from it, and living in the past and only talking about all the great things that we did. We need to draw strength and encouragement from the things God has done in our past but we cannot live in the past. We need to be able to live in the present and be able to say what God is doing with us right now. There is something very fulfilling to know that you are making a difference. To know that people’s lives are better because of what you did gives a person a sense of destiny and purpose. That is so much better than looking at your life and saying, “Well I made a lot of money last year, I bought a nice new car last year, I bought a nice new coat last year, I went on a great vacation last year, etc.” How much better to be able to say, “I was part of a move of God that actually saved people’s lives last year or I gave money to help support a move of God that caused many people to give their lives to Jesus or helped people who were really in need.” I believe being active in your local church is a great way to make sure we are living lives that are making a difference. We all have that desire to be part of something that is a little bigger than ourselves so we can corporately do something big for God, that would be very hard to do by ourselves. How was this year for you? What are your plans for next year?
This week’s reading is in Acts 11:25. It is the story of a man most of us know very little about. It is about a disciple whose name was Barnabas, which meant, “Son of encouragement.” He was sent to oversee a great move of God that was taking place among the Gentiles. This was something new to the early church since all of the early disciples were all Jewish. We are told that Barnabas went and “sought out Saul” and brought him along to help in this new work. It was this effort of reaching out to Saul and discipling him that changed Saul’s life. It was because Barnabas used his gift of encouragement, that Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, was used by God to write thirteen books of the New Testament and plant churches all throughout Asia and parts of Europe.
It seemed that Barnabas had almost a sixth sense when it came to recognizing people’s value. He saw something in this new convert whose name was Saul and took the risk of giving him a go when others only wanted to write him off. Barnabas saw what others couldn’t see, or perhaps what others refused to see, because of their prejudice. He saw through a different lens. He saw color when others only saw black and white. Two different times, in scripture, we find him standing beside the new convert, Saul, when he needed a friend. Barnabas learned to see the good in people but he learned it from his Lord, Jesus Christ. When you study the life of Jesus you see Him standing by people that others rejected. Jesus saw the good in the woman who was an adulteress in John 8. Jesus saw the good in Zacchaeus, the little man that everyone loved to hate in Luke 19. Jesus saw the good in Matthew, the man that all Jewish people saw as a traitor because he collected taxes for the Romans. Jesus saw the good in the woman at the well who had five husbands and live-in boyfriend.
Christianity is a faith built on second chances. Do you see the good in others or do you only see their shortcomings? Are you quick to judge others or slow to judge them? Are you willing to give someone another chance after they may have failed you? You never know the impact of an encouraging word or the impact you can have on a person by believing in them and encouraging them, especially in the things of God.
There was a young Sunday school teacher once named Edward Kimball. He was somewhat timid, but he desired to be obedient to the Lord. He had a heart for evangelism. He had a young man of about 18 in one of his classes once. This boy was not the brightest in the class but Edward sensed that he really needed the gospel. He went to his place of business, where this man was selling shoes and shared the gospel with him. He received Christ. His name was Dwight L. Moody. He would later be a Sunday school teacher himself, and go on to give his life to full-time ministry becoming one of the greatest evangelists of the 19th Century. A timid teacher spiritually influenced a young man who would later spiritually influence thousands of souls.
You may never be famous. You may never be the president, or a general or a movie star or a millionaire, but you can make a difference in this world. How? Be an encourager. Look for the good in others. You may never know the impact you have on a person by believing in them or encouraging them, but it can have a powerful influence on them and will ultimately help to advance the Kingdom of God.
This week’s reading is in Acts 9. We read that in the city of Damascus there was a “certain disciple named Ananias.” We don’t know much about this disciple except that God called him to go and talk to the Christian persecutor, Saul. God gives Ananias specific instructions about where to find Saul and tells him that Saul has been converted.
This is called a “word of knowledge.” It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Many of us have had this experience and have not recognized it as a word of knowledge. As a result, we attribute this to something else, like a good guess, coincidences or intuition. If we do not understand this gift we will not grow in our use of it. This can happen to anyone. It did not only happen to Jesus or the apostles. It can happen to average Christians. Ananias was just like us, “a certain disciple.” We need to be open to this gift whenever we are praying for people or just in our everyday life as we relate to family, friends and even strangers when we are about our daily business. The gifts of the Holy Spirit can be manifested through you and if we are open to receiving them someone’s life can be affected for good. The word of knowledge came, in this instance, through a vision. It can come through an inner voice or an impression or a thought that comes into your mind. God can give you a person’s name or just some specific information about that person. The word of knowledge often precedes a miracle of healing. It increases the individual’s faith. It gives the person in need the extra faith to believe God for the healing or for the need to be met. This has happened to me on numerous occasions throughout the years. I especially try to stay open to words of knowledge when I preach on Sundays. Have you had this experience of a word of knowledge?