Acts 13: The Battle for Your Soul

More and more these days I’m learning to preach not just teach. Teaching in the church setting is relaying information about the Bible or life. Preaching does what the text is trying to do. Luke’s story in Acts 13 seems to want readers or hearers to see that there is a war going on in the early church for the soul of the church.

I began Sunday, March 9 with the statement, “There’s a war going on between the Holy Spirit and the evil one for the soul of the first church . . . and that war continues today for the soul of our church, for your soul and mine.”

I want us to take God’s role in this war seriously, not the devil or ourselves too seriously. Following David Fleer’s sermon on the same text in Acts 13, I repeated the phrase, “When the Holy Spirit enters the house, the devil slips through the door.” It happens in Luke 4 with Jesus in the temptation, in Acts 5 with a charitable but dishonest couple, in Acts 8 with Simon the Sorcerer, and again in the text of the day when Elymas tried to prevent proconsul Sergius Paulus from believing in Christ. Evil Elymas didn’t just scoff or ignore the situation; he actively tried to prevent the government official from believing in Jesus. So the Holy Spirit through Paul confronts this “son of the devil” and strikes Elymas blind. Sergius Paulus believes.

What does the Holy Spirit, Luke in this text want us to know and do? Remember, there is a battle going on for the soul of the first church for our church’s soul today. When we choose to serve, love, give, have joy, Satan or a “son or daughter of the devil” will attempt to snatch that service, giving, love, or joy away. But the devil is no match for the Holy Spirit! Jesus triumphed over Satan in the wilderness and at the cross when he died for the love of humanity and rose from the grave to conquer death. The devil tempted Ananias and Sapphira but they died and the church grew in spite of the fear instilled in them over that event. The devil worked in Simon the Sorcerer, but he was invited back to hell and to take Simon and his money along with him when Simon asked to buy the power of the Holy Spirit to heal and do wonders and signs.

I’ll never forget the day I was walking on a village path in Uganda with a man I had become friends with, and we had visited a seance or spirit medium ceremony. A particular family had paid a shaman to get in touch with the dead and find out why sickness and death had attacked their home lately. It was a gruesome scene with drunk people rolling in the dirt, and the feeling of the underworld and darkness hung over the trees they sacrificed animals under and poured libations in order to “feed” the dead spirits so they would communicate. This scared the friend I was with as much as me, and as we walked back to the church meeting location, we spoke of this important verse from 1 John 4:4: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” At that moment, my friend took a stick and scratched 1 John 4:4 in his leg so he would not forget. He didn’t have a pen and paper, and he didn’t want to forget the verse to read when he got home. He and we all really need to know and remember this everyday! He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world!

We also watched this incredible video in order to help us emotionally believe what we intellectually are being convicted of: that a war is going on for the soul of the church. Watch this and see what you feel and add that to what you think. God wants your soul, but for whatever reason so does the devil. I’ve never really understood why the devil needs or wants to tempt and persuade people away from God, but we can see this in humanity. The sin nature impacted the devil too, and he has done evil and wants company in his misery. If he can’t have heaven, no one can.

Watch this Lifehouse Drama performed for communion at Hillsong in 2009.

God bless you, and please write me with any questions or comments you might have.

By Greg Taylor Posted in Acts

Acts 3-6: “They had been with Jesus”

About 100 Christians gathered for a snowy Sunday to worship, communion, fellowship. We were to celebrate and say goodbye to Jonny Williams, but he got sick and was not able to attend his going away worship, so perhaps he and Makayla can come back for another time and Jonny can lead worship then. Another gathering is planned with mainly the praise team at the Erwins, and they plan to give the Williams a money tree, so if you’d like to give to that, please give money to the Erwin family.

We did get to pray for Ben and Beth West, who are heading to Uganda, Ben for a month and Beth for half of that. Ben is working with Kibo, and Beth is going to continue deepening friendships with the Garners, Ida, Ronald, Abraham and others there. We gathered around Ben and Beth and several prayed for them. Jacob and Jill Taylor had made chapatis in honor of Ben and Beth but because of snow did not make it with the chapatis, so they put them in the freezer and we’ll have them another Sunday.

So I preached on Acts 3-6 and the theme was “They had been with Jesus. I discussed four points, each beginning with “C” and all centering around a key idea, that the apostles had been with Jesus, and that’s what gave them the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to do the things they did. We learned that in order to do great things for Jesus, we must be with Jesus!

In Acts 3 the apostles cared for the lame and sick like Jesus did, and this led to what happened in Acts 4: they had conflict with the religious leaders, just like Jesus did. But in their persecution they greatly rejoiced, and there is a powerful prayer for boldness in Acts 4. I showed a great scene from the musical, Upside Down, where John and Peter are released from being held and threatened by the Sanhedrin, and they call the disciples together for the prayer for boldness.

In Acts 5 we see a great contrast to the Christians “sharing all things in common.” Ananias and Sapphira sell land and claim they are giving all the money to the church leaders, but they have secretly held some back. Separately the apostles question the couple, and both claim they’ve given the whole amount. It’s not that they had to, but it’s not right to act or claim as if they have given all when they haven’t. They both drop dead. This is the early church’s first burial. We learned that the apostles confronted disobedience and dishonesty and this brought great awe and fear among the early church members.

Finally in Acts 6, the apostles chose helpers to distribute food. Some Hellenistic Jews who had become Christians were being neglected in distribution of food. The “sharing all things in common” was again in jeopardy, and yet the apostles did not want to get sidetracked on taking up more of this responsibility, so they chose men and assigned them to this task to make sure all were taken care of, no one had needs unfilled, and they attended to the ministry of the word and prayer as they were called to do.

How did the apostles care for the sick, conflict with religious leaders, confront disobedience, and choose more servants? How did they have the wisdom and power to do these things. As we learned the first two weeks of our Acts series, the Holy Spirit is the star of Acts, and by the power of the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Christ — they did all these things. Christ had given them a monster task, and they prayed, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and one more thing . . .

In Acts 4:13 Luke records the thoughts of the religious leaders after seeing the courage of Peter, John, and the other apostles. They noted that these men were ordinary, not highly educated, some fishermen, and the one unique quality they noted was this: “they had been with Jesus.”

So I related this to our church. As we are choosing elders, we need to choose men who “have been with Jesus.” They have a relationship with Jesus. They have been with Jesus, are still, and continuing to deepen that relationship with Jesus. Maybe the person you are thinking about writing down as a candidate is a “good guy,” nice, a handy man, a good business man, wealthy and seems to handle his affairs well, seems to have good kids or grand kids. All these qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are important, but the sum of them is this: “Have they been with Jesus?”

I’m so happy that the elders selection committee had their first meeting Sunday morning, and so the process continues, and they will inform us soon what the next step is for selecting 4 new elders.

We had one new member, Charlene Calhoun, declare that she’d like to join the journey with us at Garnett, and we rejoice with her. The next step when you make this declaration by writing your information on a bulletin card is to meet with Greg Taylor and the elders. We want to share our church’s journey, our own faith journey, and learn what your journey is. The main way that we enter the church is to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, so if someone is already baptized, they do not need to be baptized again into our church. We try to keep the entry requirements of our church the same as entering into the Kingdom of God, in belief and baptism upon the name of Jesus Christ.

Welcome Charlene!

By Greg Taylor Posted in Acts

Acts 2 Church

Sunday, January 26 we talked about what it means to be an “Acts 2 Church.” I love what Bill Hybels says about the local church: “The local church is the hope of the world.”

Many Christians, and certainly non-Christians, don’t understand the importance of the church. Many say, “I love Jesus but I hate the church.” This, Ed Stetzer says, is like someone saying to a friend: “I love you but I hate your wife.” Paul in Ephesians 3:21, after a great prayer about how he prays the Christians in Ephesus will know how immense God’s love is, has this “throw away” line we often miss: “to Him be glory in the church.” The church is the glory of God, the presence of God in the world. That’s incredible. We get to be God’s glory in the world through the church. The church is not perfect, it is the glory of God who is perfect.

So in the sermon we saw the Holy Spirit as the star of Acts. I told a story about how when I was young, I had a Bible I highlighted in Acts, and I only highlighted verses on baptism. I missed everything else. The Holy Spirit is mentioned sixty plus times, while baptism only about a third of that. Not that counting words really helps us determine meaning, but missing sixty plus mentions of the Holy Spirit can sure make you miss meaning!

The Holy Spirit is a sign of the Restoration of Israel in the Church, a sign the Gentiles as well as Israel would be included, and a sign of rebirth, God’s love for all nations, forgiveness of sins, and continued presence of God.

I gave four points, each starting with Holy. The next one was Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence coming upon us. As John Mark Hicks and I discuss in our book, Down in the River to Pray: Baptism as God’s Transforming Work, in our earlier lives we thought baptism was a line in the sand between us and other denominations. Many denominations baptize, but we argued how we baptize, the efficacy of it, whether or not it was necessary for salvation, etc. What we missed and many still miss who see baptism as a line in the sand between other denominations, or just something we do because God commanded without any deep understanding of the meaning, is that baptism is a touchstone of God’s presence in our lives. In a real way God’s Spirit comes upon us when we are baptized upon the name of Jesus, we’re forgiven of sins, we have a touchstone to look back to and remember as a divine moment like the moment Jesus was baptized and the Father said, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.

The next is Holy Fellowship. Acts 2:41-47 describes an incredible fellowship unlike anything the world had seen, one that would lead to Jews and Gentiles worshiping together later in Acts. This Holy Fellowship is still important today, and the reason we take seriously the “all nations” part of our gatherings and openness to sharing good news with all people. It’s part of the gospel that it’s for all people and no one gets to be the dominant and holy people better than others. It’s now for all people.

Finally, Holy Spirit, Holy Baptism and Holy Fellowship are wrapped up in this one word: Church. The Holy Church is the bride of Christ, the continuing glory or presence of God in the world. That’s pretty heavy and significant for those who have ears to hear: we do not just have the Holy Spirit for a personal guide — though He does guide and counsel us — but the Holy Spirit shows us we are in the church, the glory of God in the world. This completely changes our view of the church and our calling, our mission.

In class we discussed Acts 2 and sent a group of three women and one guy out of the room to discuss how to act out in a skit the story of the Pentecost and the first church sharing all things in common. They humorously and joyfully acted the word, and in turn we were called to enact the word in our lives.

Meanwhile, we asked good questions of the text, and this is an important part of learning how to rightly divide the word, understand it for ourselves, in our faith journeys, our families, when we’re reading individually as well. Here are some of the questions and some responses I can give to them right now.

  1. Did Pentecost already exist as a festival of the Jews or was the day of baptisms in the first church now called Pentecost because of the Holy Spirit coming? Pentecost existed before the “birthday of the church.” It still exists in Judaism and it was originally the “Feast of Weeks” and Greek Jews called it Pentecost because it signified 50 days after the Passover. It was a harvest feast. There’s also a tie to the giving of the Ten Commandments. The church, however, has taken the day as the “birthday of the church” and the coming of the Holy Spirit, so the word, “Pentecostal” is important in many charismatic churches as the dawn of the new age of the Spirit. This is important in our church, too, as the beginning of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus had told his disciples to wait for.
  2. Was it only the apostles who spoke on Pentecost in 12 languages? Weren’t there more countries/languages represented than that. I don’t know. You can count the languages or regions in Acts 2:9-12 but it’s hard to make it all work out to be 12 exactly and to know what languages and dialects existed. Then in v. 14 it says Peter stood up with the Eleven, so it seems for sure the 12 are leading things, but there’s no specific mention I can see that other disciples of the 120 (1:15) did not also speak. Acts 2:17, Luke quotes the prophet Joel saying “sons and daughters will prophesy.”
  3. Did the prophecy of Joel reflect the end times or the coming of the Holy Spirit. New Testament writers often used prophecies, psalms, Old Testament texts, to make their points. I believe Luke wanted to show what was happening is tied to prophecies, but it doesn’t mean Joel wasn’t referring to something else in his day. Prophecies are elastic by use in the Bible. They could mean something in the Old Testament times in which they were spoken, be used by a gospel or early church writer, then also mean something important for how the second coming of Christ will happen. I believe we can learn that what’s important is “the day of God’s coming” is something all God’s people in all times needed to learn how to expect and prepare for, whether in the Old Testament, in New Testament expectation of the Messiah and Restoration of Israel, or for us and the second coming.
  4. Are there two different ways the Bible speaks about tongues? Yes. One is intelligible, as in Acts 2, understood actual language, and unintelligible language spoken about in 1 Corinthians 11-14. Sometimes the word tongues in English is a different Greek word. There’s “glossa” and “dialectos” and both can be translated “tongues” but in 1 Corinthians 14 there’s another word inserted, “unknown.” Because of the situation in the church where it seems tongues were confusing people, and they needed translated, it has caused many to believe this means this second kind of tongue speaking, unintelligible, is a prayer language. There is wide disagreement about this, and some Christians speak in tongues, others do not. Paul took the position that this is not a huge and necessary practice like other gifts of the church, particularly gifts of hope, faith, and love.
  5. Were the events of Acts 2 in the temple courts or in a house? They started in the house, a big house from a report from John Stalcup, who gave us a report from his trip to the Holy Land, and that house still stands today. He said the room is huge, so 120 people and those amazed and perplexed could definitely fit. It seems later things progressed out into the temple courts and temple mount where they baptized in already established ritual washing baptisteries, and Acts 3:1 records Peter and John going up to the temple courts and Christians meeting there.
  6. How did the people of the temple, high priests, react. Read Acts 4. Not well.
  7. What is the symbolism of the Holy Spirit, fire, tongues, and wind? There is certainly a lot of symbolism that reminds us of God showing up in fire at the burning bush, a pillar of cloud over all of Israel, so I’m thinking about the tongues of fire over the 12 apostles just like he was over the 12 tribes, leading them forth. So also the Holy Spirit led the apostles forth. Wind is directly connected to the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word, Ruach, is one of the first words in the whole Bible: “. . . and the Spirit (Ruach) of God was hover over the waters.” Ruach here is like the word for wind or breath and that’s how the Spirit is expressed at various times in Scripture, as a wind.
By Greg Taylor Posted in Acts

Acts of the Church 1

Garnett Church of Christ is going through an important movement right now. We are selecting new elders, we are selling our building, and we are seeking some restructuring in our staff to more fully live out our mission “to invite all people into Christ-centered lives.” We believe all people–inside and outside of the church, staff, elders, members, non-Christians–must take steps closer to Jesus. We want to become less self-centered and more Christ-centered everyday.

As part of this new movement in our church, we are returning to the roots of the church in the book of Acts in the New Testament. So January 19, we began a new preaching series on Acts, then directly after the worship at 10, we are digging deeper into study of the book of Acts in an all-church auditorium class.

In this auditorium class I’m teaching like I taught in villages in Uganda. Different men, women, teenagers will read the text we are studying, some will go out of the room to practice a skit they come up with to act out the text, others will ask good questions of the text. We will pray over the text, be confessional, ask our honest questions, be willing to say, “I don’t know,” and focus on questions that help us become more Christlike.

During this study, we are also looking for themes about leadership, because our elder selection process calls for study of elder qualifications and selection. Acts contains good stories about how the early church selected leaders.

Sunday we enjoyed laughter, good questions, and a skit by three men–Conner Fields, Clarence Davis, and John Dickmann–that showed how the apostles prayed, asked the Holy Spirit to direct them, nominated two men, then drew straws to select one man to replace Judas so there would be twelve apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes and a continuation of Christ’s selection of twelve apostles who would lead the first church.

Here are the questions class participants asked with any comments I can give right now.

  1. Where does it say 120 followers? (Acts 1:15)
  2. Should non-apostles cast lots to make decisions? While the idea of apostolic succession has been strong in the Catholic Church, in order to keep biblical interpretation and direction of the church strong, the weakness of this approach is that it leaves the 99% of non-apostolic leaders weak. I believe Christ left us the Holy Spirit to fill us and lead local communities of followers, and apostolic succession tends to rely on men and not the Holy Spirit.
  3. How were lots cast? This can be easily looked up online. I don’t know exactly how, but it was a kind of chance, like drawing straws or throwing dice, but the apostles nominated, prayed, then considered this method the word of the Lord.
  4. Is this the last time angels appear in the New Testament? Not the last time there is a vision (Peter received a vision and heard “a voice” in Acts 10; Paul received a vision from Jesus, later “a man” telling him to go to Macedonia, then a messenger to encourage him, “I have many people in this city,” one time when he was discouraged.
  5. Is Acts the last book written chronologically in the New Testament? No, written around AD 64, and books were probably written from AD 50 – 94.
  6. Why is Judas’s death account again added to Acts and does it agree with what’s in the gospels. Acts is more of a commentary and reason given for needing to choose another man.
  7. Who are the women disciples? Acts 1:14 says “women and Mary the mother of Jesus.” It’s significant that the women are mentioned, that women would take a role in the new church, an increasingly important idea throughout the gospels, with Jesus often interacting with women, women following, caring for Jesus, being the first to witness and tell of the resurrection.
  8. Why so little written about the 40 days of appearing? We find some mention and additional stories in the gospels, particularly John’s gospel (John 20-21), very powerful stories.
  9. What was the difference between John’s baptism and the baptism the church practiced beginning in Acts 2. For a discussion of this, see the book I co-authored with John Mark Hicks, Down in the River to Pray. Basically, John’s baptism was about preparation for the Messiah and repentance. The baptism in Acts is baptism characterized by three important things: into the name, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for forgiveness, and to impart the Holy Spirit.
  10. What is the significance of the twelve apostles? Without a doubt the twelve was a significant number because of the famous 12 tribes of Israel, so it’s no accident that Jesus selected 12 apostles, and it’s no accident the apostles wanted to remain 12 as long as possible as the new church began.
  11. Was there an apostle from each tribe? I don’t think so; this is not explicitly said or denied in Scripture, but these guys are not the famed patriarchs of their tribes but fishermen, tax collectors, and they probably would not have been considered as leaders of tribes at that point in Jewish history, but I have not researched this good question much.

Next week I’ll preach on “An Acts 2 Church” and we’ll look at what it means to be an Acts 2 Church more deeply in our class, act out the pentecost events, and ask more good questions. See you next week.