Friday, April 22, 2016, 4:44 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “Courageous!” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 26 (Select vv. ESV). Summary (Acts 21:27-26:11) Paul was in Jerusalem. Some Jews from the province of Asia stirred up a crowd against him. A mob of people tried to kill him, yet when the commander of the Roman troops showed up, they stopped. The commander arrested Paul. The next day he brought him before the Sanhedrin. Paul brought up the subject of the resurrection of the dead, over which the Pharisees and Sadducees were divided. A dispute broke out that was so violent, the commander had to remove Paul for his own safety, and so he took him to the barracks. The Lord then encouraged Paul to “Take courage.” God was not finished with him yet. After this, a group of Jews formed a conspiracy against Paul and plotted how they might take his life. His nephew learned of the plot, so Paul sent him to the commander. Then, Paul was transferred to Caesarea. False charges were brought against him before Governor Felix. Yet, Paul was permitted to make a defense for himself. He also spoke with Felix about faith in Jesus Christ. Paul was kept by Felix in prison for 2 years, but he sent for him frequently and talked with him. Then Felix was succeeded by Festus. Festus tried to encourage Paul to return to Jerusalem to face charges there, but Paul appealed to Caesar. King Agrippa then came to town. Festus discussed Paul’s case with him. The king asked to hear Paul, so Paul appeared before King Agrippa and his entourage. The king gave Paul permission to speak for himself. So, Paul shared his testimony with the king - of his previous life as a Pharisee, and how he had opposed Jesus Christ and had persecuted his followers. Then, he told of his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. A Light from Heaven (vv. 12-18) “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” Although Paul was working vehemently against Jesus Christ, and he was guilty of persecuting the Lord’s followers, and of approving of their deaths, still God had a plan for his life. Not only did God plan to save Paul, though, and to give him eternal life, but he purposed in his heart that Paul would lead many to faith in Jesus Christ and that he would become an apostle of Christ. As well, Paul was a planter of churches, a major authority figure within the church as a whole, and he was used of God to write, under the authority and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, much of what has become our New Testament. What a picture of being turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God! Amen! No matter where we have been, or what horrible things we may have done in our past life, if God has saved us by his grace, and he has called us to live holy lives, pleasing to him, then he can empower us to do great things for the advancement of his kingdom. After all, we are not saved by our own righteousness or by our own good works. When we believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and as Savior of our lives, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms us from death to life, from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, but only as we submit to God’s work of grace in our lives. When we believe, we are crucified with Christ, of the Spirit, in death to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We cannot affect our own salvation. It is the working of the Holy Spirit, but we must willingly submit to and cooperate with God in that life transformation process. And, that is what it means to believe. Not Disobedient (vv. 19-23) “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” Being a follower of Jesus Christ means that we obey him, and we do what he says. We don’t obey to get saved, i.e. we can’t earn our own salvation, but believing in Jesus Christ means following him in obedience and in surrender to his will for our lives. Jesus said that if anyone would come after him, he must deny self, take up his cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said if we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them, but if we lose our lives (die with Christ to sin), we will gain eternal life (Lu. 9:23-25). Paul taught the same. He said that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. He said that if we conduct our lives according to our sinful flesh, we will die. But, if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live (Ro. 8:1-14). And, Peter said that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). As well, repentance is part of believing faith. To repent literally means to have a change of mind, yet it is used in scripture almost exclusively in reference to forsaking our lives of sin and of living to self, and of discarding our idols in order to follow Jesus with our lives, in surrender to his will for our lives. This is the essence of the gospel of our salvation, that we are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that we can receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified (cleansed, made holy) by faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, God’s grace to us is not freedom to continue sinning without guilt and without remorse. His grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return (Tit. 2:11-14). When we testify to this gospel of salvation, as described above, which is the only true gospel, like Paul we will be hated and persecuted, and we may be falsely accused, too. We will be called hateful, bigoted, fear-mongers, intolerant, and extremists who must be silenced. Presently there is a global plot under way to silence us, and to bring the whole world under a one-world government and one-world religion, in which we all join hands together and agree to not try to persuade others to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ. Do You Believe? (vv. 24-29) And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” God has called us to be his witnesses, but he doesn’t promise that everyone will like us or that they will all receive the message with joy. Some will, but many will not. We may even be called “crazy” because of our testimonies for Jesus Christ and for his gospel, and because we don’t “go with the flow.” We think “outside the box” instead of following the lead of everyone else. We don’t compromise our faith and message to “make nice” with the world, either. But, the church, at least here in America, has largely compromised with the world of sin in order to attract the world to its gatherings, and thus they have also diluted the gospel in order to make it more palatable and acceptable to the world. And, so the world loves them. But, the world is not supposed to love us, because we are not of this world, for God has called us out of the world to live holy lives, pleasing unto him. So, we need to be strong and courageous in sharing the truth of the gospel, even in the face of great opposition. Courageous! / An Original Work / December 24, 2013 Based off Various Scriptures The Word of God throughout taught. Some people heard, but did doubt. Still others had faith in Christ. By grace He purified them. They turned from sin And they obeyed Christ. He opened up their blinded eyesight; Turned them from darkness To the true Light; Forgave their sin by His might. He strengthened them in their faith. He said, “Remain my faithful.” He called them to obedience. By faith, they were so grateful. By faith, they were to follow Jesus; To daily sit and listen to Him; To have such faith That mountains could move; To love those whom He gave them. Be on your guard; courageous. Stand firm in faith. Be thankful. Take up the shield of your faith; Protect against all evil. Do not move from The hope that you have. Your faith in Jesus let it endure. Hold to the truth; Your conscience be clear. Endure with perseverance.