Saturday, September 24, 2022

Jesus Brings Radical Changes

“Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on [Jesus Christ’s] name?”
– Acts 9:21

It was around the year 1920. There was a certain old farmer who lived with his family in the middle of nowhere. One day they climbed into their horse-drawn buggy and headed into the nearest big city to take care of some important business. When they got there, the farmer parked his buggy in front of a massive building. He turned to his youngest son and said, “Little Johnny, you can come with me if you want. But the rest of you stay here. We won’t be long.”

Johnny jumped at the chance to go inside the huge building with his dad. He’d never seen anything like it. Truth be told, neither had his dad. Inside, the receptionist directed them to the elevator that would take them to the fifth floor. The farmer and his son stood in front of the elevator, bewildered, watching the doors open and close as people got in and out. After a few minutes, they saw a little old lady shuffle into the elevator by herself. Once alone inside the elevator, she turned and faced the farmer and his son as the doors closed.

About 30 seconds later, the elevator doors re-opened, and the farmer and his son couldn’t believe their eyes. Before them stood a gorgeous young woman, who gave them a dazzling smile as she stepped out of the elevator. INCREDIBLE! A decrepit old woman went in, and a beautiful young woman came out. So, the farmer turned to his son and said, "Quick, boy—go get your Ma!"

That farmer was pretty shallow, wasn’t he? He wanted to trade his wife in for a newer model. It never even crossed the old codger’s mind to step into the elevator himself to become a better man for her. But when you think about it, you and I aren’t very different from that farmer. We work much harder trying to get the people AROUND us to change than we do trying to change OURSELVES.

Well, some two thousand years ago, a man stepped into God’s elevator and allowed himself to be radically changed: the Apostle Paul. In a matter of moments, Paul went from destroying churches to building them. He went from exterminating Christians to nourishing them. He went from hating Jesus to loving Him.

In Acts 8, Paul was a zealot who stood by, giving approval to the stoning death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. From there, he set out to arrest as many Christians as he could, often campaigning to have them executed. Saul hated Christians with a passion. Because, from the bottom of his heart, he hated Jesus Christ—so much that he tried to eradicate the name of Jesus not only from the lips of Christians in Jerusalem, but from the lips of Christians around the world.

But that all changed in Acts 9 when Paul met Jesus Christ. He was knocked flat on the road to Damascus, temporarily blinded. He gave his life to Christ and was baptized. And the next thing people knew, he was proclaiming the name of Jesus in the synagogues. The man who had been bent on getting rid of Christians was now trying to make more Christians. And during his years on the mission field, Paul traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 miles, spreading the word of Christ. Within about 30 years, Paul helped plant dozens of churches, wrote half the books of the New Testament, and through those books, he has led hundreds of millions of people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul changed the world. But before Paul could change the world, Jesus Christ had to first change HIM.

I’d like to share three powerful life lessons we can draw from Paul’s transformed life.

Life Lesson #1: Even the greatest Christians have checkered pasts. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you’ve strayed from God, there is hope for you in Christ. If you’ll let Him, God will forgive you. God will save you. God’s grace is greater than our disgrace.

Lesson #2: God doesn’t just SAVE hell-bent sinners. He RECRUITS them to change the world. Even after you’re saved, Satan is very good at whispering in your ear, “You’re a nobody. You don’t belong at church. You’ve got nothing to offer. You can’t lead anyone to Christ. You’re useless!” And that’s when Jesus calls you to stand up and say, “Get behind me, Satan! Jesus Christ has filled my life with purpose, and I will do great things for Him, not because I’m great, but because He’s great in me. ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!’”

Lesson #3: You have precious little time to impact the lives around you. So, hit the ground serving. Finish strong. Far too many Christians START strong and FINISH weak. Regardless of how badly you started your Christian journey, you can finish strong. Honestly, Paul didn’t start his ministry years very well either. In fact, as he saw it, he had been the worst of sinners. But he sure did finish well. Once he made up his mind to give Jesus Christ his all, he fought the good fight and finished the race strong. And so can you!

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook. Dane’s latest book, “Called to Persevere: One Man’s Journey to Overcome Pain, Disease and Disappointment with God,” is scheduled for release on Amazon in October.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Paul Stands Before His Accusers

“The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.– Acts 23:10

As much as we might hate to admit it, mob violence has been on the rise in the United States in recent years. It was just over 2 years ago, in June 2020, that a mob took over six city blocks in downtown Seattle. Over the course of 23 days, The Capitol Hill Occupational Protest (CHOP) evolved into CHAZ, The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. The mob chased the police out of their precinct, trashed public and private property, and several people were shot and killed. Just seven months later, on January 6th, 2021, we saw a horrifying scene in Washington D.C. as a mob of around 2,000 protesters stormed the Capitol building. In the melee, five people were killed. And a few months ago, in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft overturning Roe v. Wade, small mobs vandalized pro-life clinics around the country. Several were even fire-bombed. 

Sadly, in this world we live in, we are no strangers to mob violence. And neither was the Apostle Paul. Just a few days after his arrival in Jerusalem, a mob was calling for his lynching, and a Roman commander stepped in to save Paul’s neck. But since the commander couldn’t figure out what Paul was being accused of, he called on the chief priests and the Jewish Ruling Council—the Sanhedrin—to hold a hearing.

Some 25 years earlier, Paul had been carrying out the Sanhedrin’s orders to hunt down and arrest Christians. He was likely on track to become a member of the Sanhedrin before Jesus Christ shook up his plans. So, as Paul stood before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23, he probably recognized many of them. And what he said next immediately got him into hot water with their head honcho, the high priest Ananias: “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” (v. 1). Ananias promptly “ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth” (v. 2).

As Pastor Warren Wiersbe explains, conscience is our inner judge of whether we’re doing right or wrong. Conscience doesn’t set the standard—it only applies our own standard. “Conscience,” he writes, “may be compared to a window that lets in the light. God’s law is the light, and the cleaner the window is, the more the light shines in. As the window gets dirty, the light gets dimmer.”

Paul’s hearing before the Sanhedrin went downhill fast. Paul’s remarks came across to his accusers as arrogant and hypocritical. The slap across Paul’s mouth came across to Paul as petty and unbiblical. So, Paul retaliated by turning to the High Priest Ananias and saying, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (v. 3). These are pretty harsh words. They seem out of character for Paul, who usually submitted to local authorities as long as he could still preach God’s word.

Eventually Paul’s confrontation with the Sanhedrin sparked a heated dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their ranks. The Roman commander stepped in once again and ordered that Paul be taken to the safety of the barracks before this latest mob could tear him to pieces (v. 10). By now, Paul must have wondered if the Roman soldiers wouldn’t come to his rescue next time. He had dreamed of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Rome, but that was beginning to look like a pipe dream. So, Jesus spoke to Paul the following night with the perfect, timely message: “Take courage! As you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (v11). And that’s all Paul needed to hear.

Here are a few insights we can gain from this passage:

Insight #1: Treat your conscience like a close friend. Don’t allow it to be tainted and clouded by ongoing, unconfessed sin. In 1 Timothy 4:2, Paul warned Timothy about hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. That’s a tragedy—to have a God-given conscience that has been exposed to so much sin that it has become completely desensitized to it. Your conscience is a gift from God. So, make sure that you guard your heart from the hardness of sin, and stop filling your eyes and mind with immoral junk. Because if your heart is hard and your mind is full of trash, your conscience window will become grimier and grimier to a point where it doesn’t let the light in anymore. So, confess your sins and turn from your sins every day to keep your conscience clear and the light of God’s word shining through.

Insight #2: Even when your leaders do things that are disrespectful, God’s Word calls you to show respect to your leaders. Throughout God’s word, we are commanded to honor, respect and obey our government leaders. Not just the government leaders we like. Not just the government leaders we agree with. Not just the government leaders we voted for. ALL government leaders. Over the past few years, Christians across our country have come across just as divisive and disrespectful as nonChristians—in some cases, even more so. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve given Christianity a really bad name. The gospel is controversial enough. We don’t need to make it MORE controversial by acting like a bunch of hate-spewing, disrespectful jerks. Remember: Your number-one political duty as a Christian is to PRAY for your leaders. So, pray for our President, pray for our Governor, pray for our local leaders. And show them respect—even when they do things that you find disrespectful. 

Insight #3: God’s message to Paul is also God’s message to you: “Take courage! You still have important work to do. I’m not through with you yet.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook. Dane’s latest book, “Called to Persevere: One Man’s Journey to Overcome Pain, Disease and Disappointment with God,” is scheduled for release on Amazon in October.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Never Trample the Cross. No Matter the Cost.

They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place.”
– Acts 21:13

During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1899 and 1900, Chinese insurgents killed hundreds of Christians in their efforts to drive Christianity out of China. I have heard the following story about one of the many massacres that took place. The story may be embellished, but it’s based on historical fact. Insurgents captured a mission station that housed around a hundred Christians. They locked all the gates but one, and in front of that one open gate, they placed a cross flat on the ground. The people inside were told that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life. Anyone refusing would be shot.

Terribly frightened, seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to trample the cross. She knelt beside the cross in prayer for strength. Then she stood up and shuffled carefully around it, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining students followed her to the firing squad.

What would you have done if you’d been inside the mission that day? I’ll tell you what the Apostle Paul would have done: He would have prayed, walked around the cross and boldly shared the Good News of Jesus Christ until they put a bullet in his head. Regardless of what persecution came his way, Paul refused to stop telling people about His Lord who saved him. He didn’t steer clear of persecution. He faced it head-on. It was true when he was out on the mission field. And it was equally true when he stood before his fellow Jews in Jerusalem.

After finishing his third missionary journey, Paul and his missionary companions arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Day of Pentecost. They were received warmly by the Christian leaders in the Jerusalem church. But after several days, some of Paul’s critics from the province of Asia showed up and made a slew of false accusations against him.

A mob formed, dragged Paul out of the temple and tried to beat him to death. Immediately a military commander arrived with at least 100 soldiers, and the rioters stopped beating Paul long enough for the soldiers to arrest and chain him. Then, as the soldiers carried Paul up the steps leading to the barracks, Paul made a strange request to the Commander. Most prisoners in Paul’s sandals would have yelled, “Get me out of here!” But instead he asked, “Please let me speak to the people” (Acts 21:39).

Wow! Paul REALLY loved Jesus. And he REALLY loved his fellow Jews—even the ones who wanted to tear him limb from limb. The commander reluctantly agreed. So, bloody and bruised, Paul stood before the angry crowd and shared his beautiful testimony of how he met Jesus and what Jesus had done in his life. But as soon as Paul mentioned God sending him out to the Gentiles, the crowd erupted again.

What can we learn from this passage?

Life Lesson #1: Even when you live your life with absolute integrity , some people will still misjudge and falsely accuse you. God calls you to live a life of integrity anyway. During his first week in Jerusalem, Paul went to great lengths to demonstrate that he wasn’t Anti-Judaism, Anti-Old Testament or Anti-Temple. But he was false accused anyway. It happened to Paul, and if you are following Christ well, sooner or later it WILL happen to you.

Life Lesson #2: Whenever someone gives you the opportunity to trample the cross of Christ to save your bacon, hold fast to the cross, and surrender your bacon. I ask again: What would you have done if the Boxer rebels had threatened you? And what would you have done if the nationalists in Jerusalem had threatened you? We know what that young Chinese Christian girl did. And we know what Paul did. May God find you and me faithful to do the same—no matter the cost.

Life Lesson #3: Prejudice comes at a high price. It makes us deaf and blind to the truth that can set us free, both in this life and in the life to come. Bible commentator John Wade writes: “The tragedy of this situation [at the temple] was that prejudice against the Gentiles … prevented them from hearing the rest of Paul’s message. Had he been allowed to continue, there is no doubt that he would have conveyed to them the good news of the gospel, the good news that God has offered salvation to all men. Prejudice of any kind exacts a high price, but none higher than the price that these men paid.”

Let me say this plainly: There is no room for prejudice in a Christian’s life. Whether it’s prejudice because of the color of someone’s skin, someone’s social status or because of who someone associates with, there’s no place for it in a Christian’s life. EVERYONE needs Jesus. Therefore, God has called us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone: Jew and Gentile, young and old, male and female. We are called to tell ALL people in our lost and dying world: “You’re a precious creation of God. You were carefully and lovingly knit together in your mother’s womb. God knows EXACTLY who you are, and He has a PERFECT plan for your life. And if you’d like to know what it is, let me tell you about His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook. Dane’s latest book, “Called to Persevere: One Man’s Journey to Overcome Pain, Disease and Disappointment with God,” is scheduled for release on Amazon in October.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Jerusalem or Bust!

“Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 21:13

In one of his many inspiring books, Pastor Max Lucado tells the story of Chippie the parakeet. One moment, Chippie was peacefully perched in his cage. The next thing he knew, he was—in Lucado’s words—“sucked in, washed up, and blown over.”

It all began when Chippie's owner decided to clean his cage with a vacuum cleaner. She stuck the vacuum hose in the cage and flipped the switch. Everything was going fine until the phone rang. The owner picked it up, said "Hello," and … sssspp! Chippie got sucked in. Chippie’s owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the canister. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned and covered with dirt. She ran to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, when she saw that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she tried once again to help—by reaching for the blow dryer and blasting him with hot air.

A few days later, someone asked Chippie's owner how her pet was recovering. “Well," she said, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore—he just sits and stares." Poor Chippie!

On the surface, Chippie and the Apostle Paul had a lot in common. As he wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: “I have been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). Like Chippie, Paul was sucked in, washed up and blown over. After all that he endured for Christ, Paul’s friends and family would have understood if he had finished his life like Chippie—just sitting there shell-shocked, staring into the distance. But even after all that he had suffered, and knowing that more persecution awaited him in Jerusalem, Paul was just as determined as ever to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.

As they set off for Jerusalem, Paul and his team stopped in several towns, staying in the homes of fellow Christian disciples. In Caesarea, they spent several days at the house of a man you might remember: Philip the evangelist. Twenty years earlier, Philip had served as a deacon alongside Stephen, the first Christian martyred for his faith in Christ. Paul was at that execution … watching over the coats of the murderers who were throwing rocks at Stephen’s head. Think about that: Paul was an accomplice in the murder of one of Philip’s partners in ministry. Stephen might have been one of Philip’s best friends—and Paul had helped kill him. Surprisingly, in Acts 21, there is no hint of bitterness, anger or a grudge. There is just warm Christian hospitality. Isn’t this a beautiful testimony to the power of Christian love and forgiveness?

Before Paul’s group left Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus visited them to deliver a prophetic message to Paul. He took off Paul’s belt, tied it around his own hands and feet and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’” (vs. 10-11). The church’s reaction to this prophecy wasn’t surprising. Paul’s missionary buddies and the Caesarean Christians “pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem” (v. 12). Paul had now been warned multiple times that persecution awaited him in Jerusalem. But listen to Paul’s response: “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 13). Is it any wonder that this man is a hero of our faith?

I’d like to suggest three life lessons we can pull from this passage:

Life Lesson #1: If you follow Christ faithfully, you will be misunderstood. Follow Him faithfully anyway. The 19th century essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said it really well: “Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther…. To be great is to be misunderstood.” Even Paul’s fellow missionaries couldn’t understand why he was so dead set on going to Jerusalem when he knew full well that persecution awaited him there. So, Paul was misunderstood by many people, including his Christian friends. To be a great Christian is to be misunderstood.

Life Lesson #2: If you are a Christian, you have family and friends all over the world. Everywhere Paul traveled and encountered Christians, he had a place to stay. And the same is true of Christians today. No matter where you find yourself here in the United States, or in other parts of the world, go to church. You’ll find family and friends there who will receive you with open arms.

Life Lesson #3: As you walk in grace, the Holy Spirit gives you the grace to forgive. I believe Philip is an unsung hero. Most people wouldn’t have done what he did. In our world, where people hold grudges and harbor anger, bitterness and unforgiveness, Philip walked in God’s grace. So, God gave him the grace to forgive Paul. Remember, no matter WHO the person is or WHAT they’ve done to wrong you and your family, God has given you the grace to forgive that person. So, do it. Let go of the anger, the bitterness and the unforgiveness today. Jesus will give you the grace to forgive, if you’ll just hand over your unforgiveness to Him.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook. Dane’s latest book, “Called to Persevere: One Man’s Journey to Overcome Pain, Disease and Disappointment with God,” is scheduled for release on Amazon in September.