How’s your soul? Are you caught up with the circumstances of your life or are you caught up in the Spirit of God?
How can you make it through dark times of life and still be joyful? The condition of your soul has much to do with how you respond.
A healthy soul has less to do with how perfect people think you are and more with who you rely on. Jesus is the sure foundation for life. If you lean on Jesus, then you will still be joyful even when your emotions and physical body feel pain. Can you keep your eyes on Jesus Christ or are you swamped with the circumstances of life?
When you think of the life of Paul, what comes to your mind? Maybe: transformation, mighty servant, passionate, zealous. He’s remembered for transformation and zeal because he once hunted for Christians because they dishonored God according to his understanding of God. At first, Paul had much knowledge about God but he missed the greatest piece of knowledge; Jesus as the Son of God. Although he knew much about God and lived a moral life, he ultimately proved that he didn’t know God because he thought Jesus was an enemy. That all changed when he encountered Jesus as the Son of God. He went from a zealous enemy of Jesus to one of the most passionate friends of Jesus.
The surprising fact is that Paul spent some three years after his encounter with Jesus before he began the work he is known for today. It’s easy to assume that Paul was an effective Christian from the first minute of meeting Jesus. As if he started writing parts of the Bible the minute he received his sight after the Damascus road incident. Yet, even he had to go through a time of basic training and growth before he became known as the great Apostle Paul.
A transformed life takes time to achieve and we often forget that. The transformation process is full victory but also full of failure and mess. As a church, we often expect a person to go from terrible sinner to perfect saint the minute after a prayer is said all the while forgetting that it took each of us many years to get to where we are currently at – still far from perfect practice. There is always a time of reorientation and learning. A transformed life is one built though many experiences that teach humility and wisdom. God walks with each of us on our own specialized learning plan to teach us who he is and how to depend on him. The Christian life doesn’t mean smooth sailing, but it does mean that God is with you and for you.
Scripture References: Acts 9:19-30. see also Galatians 1:11-24; Philippians 3:3-7
The royal treasurer of Ethiopia heard about Jesus, he understood the way to salvation, and then he asked Philip, “Why can’t I be baptized?”
The Ethiopian was a religious man, he traveled across the continent from Northern Africa to Jerusalem to learn about the God of the Jews. Yet, he wasn’t a Christian just by studying the prophets and praying at the Temple. He wanted to honor and obey God, but he didn’t yet know the Son of God. He became a Christian when he trusted in Jesus as the Son of God. That day, the Ethiopian heard and responded to Jesus the person, not Jesus the religious system. The first fruit of the Ethiopian’s decision was his question, “Look, there’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”
Philip showed him that there was nothing stopping him from being baptized. He declared his faith that Jesus is the Son of God and he responded in the first step of obedience Jesus expects; baptism in water.
The book of Acts is filled with stories of mass evangelism. Three thousand people became a Christian at one event, at another some two thousand became Christians, and many other events saw the conversion of hundreds to thousands. Then we come to an event in which only one man becomes a Christian. This story was very much a divine appointment setup by God. A politician from Ethiopia was traveling back to his home country from Jerusalem and he was reading the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah. God sent Philip to the road on which the man’s carriage was traveling. Philip walked beside the carriage and overheard the man reading Isaiah. With one simple question from the man and one act of simple obedience by Philip, one man’s life was forever changed and he took that new life back to the court of the Ethiopian queen.
The story of one man’s conversion highlights the salvation message and our surrender unto God.
Philip was known to other Christians as a man filled with the Spirit. He was gifted and successful at evangelism. Yet, as he led a revival in Samaria he was able to teach about Jesus and even baptize people in the name of Jesus, but he did not baptize them in the Holy Spirit. The apostles, Peter and John, came down to lay hands on the new Christians so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. Why could the apostles do this but Philip could not?
This question has become such a dividing point in modern Christianity that many teachers and pastors prefer not to focus too much attention on it. While it is not certain why the apostles could bring the Holy Spirit and Philip did not or could not, it’s helpful for our understanding of the Holy Spirit to take a look at the story.
Persecution is real, scary and causes problems for the persecuted. Yet, God uses persecution to grow and strengthen his people. If persecution leads to scattering, then the gospel has an opportunity to scatter too. Like a farmer planting a crop, seeds are scattered across the field so that a new crop will grow.
Not only does the good knowledge of Jesus go with the scattered people, but so does his power. Christians are not only equipped with knowledge about Jesus but are also equipped with the very power of Jesus. Living by faith includes the use of spiritual power; the power of God provided to you by the Holy Spirit of God. The same power (the whole package) that was available for Jesus to use is the same power every single Christian has. We just have to believe that and learn to use it.
The power of Jesus was spread into the whole world because the original Church was persecuted in Jerusalem and the Christians were forced to scatter. Their joy of Jesus, their belief that he forgives and saves us from our sins and their trust in his healing power never disappeared. They took it all with them and continued to tell their story.
If persecution causes you to run and hide, then you’re thinking of it in the wrong way. Persecution may cause you to run and get out of town, but as you go look for ways to take the gospel with you. Persecution does not create happy times, but it creates circumstances for the power of Jesus to change people’s lives.
The apostles continually told people about Jesus. This did not make the governing officials happy. The Christian message was threatening to undo many pillars of society that the faithful Jews spent so long building. The desire to protect the norm and good traditions turned into a jealously for power and influence. Thinking (or imagining) they were doing the will of God, the leaders of the religious council arrested Peter and the apostles. Arrested and put to public shame, the apostles continued to speak about the love, joy and truth of God through Jesus Christ. God even broke them out of jail so they could continue to “give the people this message of life”.
Just like them, once you know the love and truth of God you should always let that joy and love come out in your actions and speech. Trust God to handle the opposition – that’s his job. Love God and speak about that love and show that love to whomever you can – that’s your job.
The Bible instructs us to do things that are not easy to do. Paul encouraged, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!” As easy as it sounds, we all know joyful living is hard. Christmas is supposed to be the season of joy and merriment, but how many are caught in stress, anxiety and depression produced by an attempt to be happy and make others happy. Yet, God wants us to rejoice always and in every circumstance. How would your life be different if you rejoiced always at home, at work, and while you’re in your community? Frustrating events will always occur, but God says rejoice even then. You will still feel frustrated and annoyed but Joy must be in charge of those feelings. Joy can only be in charge of your emotions when Jesus is in charge of your life. An unending joy is only possible by the power of Jesus given to his friends through the Holy Spirit. Jesus must be your King and Lord in order for you to be always full of joy. This is not self help. You can produce many happy moments with self help programs, but a program and positive thinking will not enable joy in every circumstance. Self help reveals the power you have, while joy is revealed by the power Jesus has. Follow Jesus to learn joy. Start at the cross, make Jesus your leader and you will steadily get to a joyful life. It’s not a matter of working harder with Him, it’s a matter of submitting your work to Him.
Scripture references: Philippians 4:4; James 1:2-4; Romans 5:2,14:17
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