Church Growth (thru death, jail, and beatings) – 2-16-22

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29 NKJV

RELATIONSHIP:

Do you already have a relationship with a powerful God who cares about your every need because He loves you? Did you know my God can communicate with you and protect you – He has a plan for you to prosper if you just submit to His will and let His plan play out in your life!!! God wants a relationship with you and has already made a plan for your life. He loves you so much He sent His son to this world, to die as a sacrifice for your sins and rise from death with victory over sin and the ability to have a personal relationship with you.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 NIV
Here is a prayer for you to pray:
Jesus, I believe you are the way, the truth, the life, and the only way to the Father. I believe you are the son of God, you came to Earth and lived. That you died on the cross as a sacrifice for my sins, and rose again so that I may be saved from my sins and be able to get to know you. I declare: Jesus, you are Lord!
Therefore, I confess that I am a sinner and I ask that you forgive me of my sins and come into my life. Help me to turn away from my sins and transform me into what you have lovingly created me to be. Help me through a real personal relationship grow and accept your will for my life – that I may live in your blessings. Please walk with me, and talk with me – I accept a relationship with you and with our Father God, through you. In the name of Jesus I pray ~ Amen

BIBLE READING:

Dear Heavenly Father – Please give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of who you are, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. Open the eyes of our understanding, please, so we may know the hope of our calling and the vast sovereignty and power of the grace of the cross. Please do not let us miss out on what you want and need from us today. Lord, I pray that your word prepares us and not scares us! We forbid the works and influences of fear over your word and our sound mind. And please keep us and bless us and shine your face upon us and pour out grace over us and give us peace! Thank you! – In Jesus name we pray, Amen

Today’s reading is the Book of Acts chapter 5 (embedded below for your convenience in the NKJV). 

Lying to the Holy Spirit

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

Continuing Power in the Church

12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. 14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Imprisoned Apostles Freed

17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with [a]indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. 19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the [b]council together, with all the [c]elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

Apostles on Trial Again

22 But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23 saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing [d]outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 Now when [e]the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. 25 So one came and told them, [f]saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Gamaliel’s Advice

33 When they heard this, they were furious[g] and plotted to kill them. 34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them: “Men of Israel, [h]take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, [i]joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”

40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for [j]His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Footnotes

  1. Acts 5:17 jealousy
  2. Acts 5:21 Sanhedrin
  3. Acts 5:21 council of elders or senate
  4. Acts 5:23 NU, M omit outside
  5. Acts 5:24 NU omits the high priest
  6. Acts 5:25 NU, M omit saying
  7. Acts 5:33 cut to the quick
  8. Acts 5:35 be careful
  9. Acts 5:36 followed
  10. Acts 5:41 NU the name; M the name of Jesus

MEMORY VERSE CHALLENGE:

Matthew 5:16- “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

STUDY/DEVOTIONAL

Did you like the title of today’s post? Well, as you read chapter 5 – you saw the church was growing and they were not following the fog machine, electric guitars, pop culture references and hyper technology, etc. methods of church growth from 2019’s books and seminars.  (In the pandemic – no one worried about growth – stay home and let the church die was the strategy.) Anyway, let’s look at the church growth strategies of the early church.

Today we pick back up with the problems of socialism. The biggest problem is that the hearts of men are bent to do evil, it is the curse. And though, through Christ we can overcome and we have a way out of temptation – we are still bent towards evil. Particularly greed. Immediately after saying they were going to try socialism, it starts to fall apart with greed.
Remember Acts was written by Luke – in an attempt to defend Paul in a Roman court. And by the time Paul gets to court, the finances and collection of money was a topic of interest to the Romans. Luke laid some interesting ground work by showing the decline of socialism in the early church. And if you read through the book in one sitting you can clearly see its decline. Broken up by one chapter daily, you may miss it – since usually we search for spiritual nuggets and not historical ones.
And nothing frustrates me more than people saying the end of yesterday’s reading means we must be socialist and that today’s reading shows we must or we will be killed by God. That statement is so wrong. The reason it frustrates me is that it is a scripture taken out of context for their own agenda – that is evil and corrupt and what could be more insulting to my Jesus, THE WORD, Himself.

If socialism is NOT ordained by God, why was the Holy Spirit SO invested in the sale of Ananias and Sapphira’s property? You’d think He wouldn’t care if they lied about the sale price. But there are spiritual things at work here that have nothing to do with socialism. One of which is the lie. You see, liars are of the devil, the father of lies. And whenever the devil tries to infiltrate – at some point the Spirit reveals him and justice is served.  

So let’s talk about An and Saffy (Can I shorten their names?). They obviously had the enemy influencing them.  It was not that they lied alone. If that was the case – they could have been redeemed and the demonic influences cast out. They thought the Lord wouldn’t know.
I have lied in my life – especially as a child to my mom and the most common lie was: “It wasn’t me.” But never did I think God didn’t know that it was me and that I was lying. AND I know that many times I had to repent for it.
An and Saffy thought they not only were tricking the church, but they honestly thought they could get away with it and God himself wouldn’t know. The matter here was more pride – more of an attitude of: ‘I can lie to God himself and He will not know better’.
Socialism leads to the temptation of greed and hording… but the real spiritual problem was a hardened heart who thought it could outsmart God – as hideous a sin as the original sin of the devil himself raising himself up against our God, claiming to be better.  Never, act or think you are better than God. That is the quickest way to become like An and Saffy. Out and buried the same day without any ceremony.

It makes me think of the actions of the Canadian Prime Minister, who has now claimed he will freeze the bank accounts of all participating in the trucker’s convoy.  He is acting as if God Himself cannot intervene. Waiting for him to cross the line.
Like the governor of NY. Cuomo finally crossed the line and said God isn’t in charge, instead he is – as well as other comment about him being above God. It was a couple weeks until Cuomo’s house of cards began to fall and his kingdom fell into the hands of another. 
God will not tolerate anyone raising themselves above Him. And that is really the lesson of An and Saffy.

Now our reading switches to the next thing.
Signs and wonders overflowed and people came for healing from all over. Verse 15 says they would line them up in the streets hoping if nothing else Peter’s shadow would come over them and heal them.  Did Peter’s shadow actually heal? I like to think the power of God was powerfully upon him. Moreover the presence of the Lord encircled him – and it was the Lord overflowing that healed them and that yes, they were healed for their faith. But it doesn’t say that any of them were healed just by the shadow passing over them. As much as we all like the thought of it. Now if I hear someone say Peter’s shadow was so full of God it could heal – I will not disagree with them. It is completely possible in both the Spirit and in the flesh that such could happen. I want to be so filled that even my shadow is overflowing His power!

It would seem God answered their prayer for more boldness, anyway. If that last section wasn’t enough to prove it – let’s look at the next.

The apostles were thrown in jail, this time, it was because the Sadducees were mad.

“But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” Verses 19-20

Whenever it comes to dealing with the Pharisees and Sadducees – it seem Jesus, the Spirit and God all love to play with them a little. Like a cat playing with a mouse before making a kill. So God sends the apostles to preach in the temple the next morning after their jail break. Now, if these priests knew what was happening in their own temple they would have known, but instead the call to the prison for the apostles. They should have known. Let’s read it again. It’s delightful how God exposes their incompetence while mocking them by their own words and actions being revealed!

“But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” verses 22-25

So the priests again find themselves walking a thin line so they do not make the people mad at them, but they are angry at the apostle for preaching in Jesus Name after they were told not to and beaten. So they talk amongst themselves plotting to kill the apostles until Gamaliel’s very wise thought was presented:

And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” Verses 38-39

Such a deep and powerful statement – even for us today.  Some say we are to be watchtower whistle blowers pointing out the speck in everyone else’s eye. But let’s look at the Biblical example – You do not touch the Lord’s anointed. He raises them up and pulls them down. Now what about false teachers and warning others. Well, man can misspeak or teach from a place where they were deceived. How much grace or not do we extend? I saw all the Christian in an uproar on social media about a preacher who criticized another, and everyone was taking sides and criticizing, which was the initial problem to begin with! What a train wreck. Then later, just as that calmed down, I saw everyone bashing some other preacher for saying something dumb. As if we all haven’t said something we were taught wrong and ended up sounding dumb.
I heard a preacher say that since God was in him he was God – The preacher never released an apology statement or said he misspoke. I do not listen to that preacher anymore. I used to tell people – now I am ashamed and have repented for touching the Lord’s anointed. Like we see in verses 38-39 – leave it alone. If it is man it will fail – man will burn out. If it is of God, well, we can’t win a fight against Him. As I grow I leave it alone and bring it to God in prayer. I do not know the journey the Lord has them on. And I certainly do not want to sow that into my own journey. I will call out actions and the church in general – as lesson so we can learn the easy way (from other’s mistakes).

So the council beat them, threatened them and commanded that they stop speaking in the name of Jesus – then sent them home.

Well the apostles rejoiced and worshiped God that they were counted worthy of sharing in Christ’s suffering. I am sure they again prayed for boldness – because it is obviously an effective tool against an oppressive leadership. And let’s read the last verse again together:

“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Verse 42

It did not stop them. They obeyed God over man.
So the early church has hundreds and thousands healed, saved, and following Jesus’s teaching.  It is hard to find good historical date calculation of the Book of Acts, at least one that I trust. Therefore, I am not sure how many are dead other than An and Saffy – but having a body count is not really a good way to start a ministry.  Imagine helping start a church and there are now two dropped dead in church and the leaders have been in prison 2 times and beaten both times.  I suppose if this isn’t of God – this definitely will NOT work out.

So – now that we have a few years of pandemic to look back on, let’s see if this jail, beatings, and death alongside of miracles works for church growth. We already know that masks, social distancing, temperatures, remote access to church, and mandated vaccines do NOT grow a church. Most of those churches have closed or are struggling.
The Pastor in Canada, Pastor Artur (I cannot spell his last name well enough to even google him!) Pastor Artur was thrown in jail for holding church during the pandemic. His church has grown and flourished. They were important to the development and execution of the trucker’s convoy (which he is now being charged with and is in jail again). But his congregating grew and miracles are happening and his internet reach has grown.
Let’s look a Pastor Rodney Howard Browne. He is a pastor in Florida. He was arrested for holding church during a pandemic. He then held a Stand at his church of daily services and today is the 614th service of the Stand. With no sign of him backing down – they have built a pavilion for their growth and now they are putting up a balcony area to hold all the people. They have opened a healing school – a week camp meeting style ‘classes” teaching and preaching miracles and healings which has a 100% healed rate of attendees and then those attendees are so full they go out and heal others. And at the nightly meetings – God moves and delivers and transforms people. You can literally see the changes in them.

There are so many more – unsung heroes, all over the world, who are experiencing jail, beatings, and thanks to the pandemic, even deaths – all while their church is growing and miracles are happening.  Do we really want church growth? We can’t wait for our pastors and leaders to show us the way. We must follow God and be prepared for the beatings and possibly jail and maybe even death. But that is the cost for the power of healing and deliverance to flow through you.

Are you ready to answer the call? Give it all to Jesus – do not be surprised if he takes it – takes it all away. That would just be Him getting you into position and preparing you. Are you ready for the process? Are you standing there saying: Here am I Lord, send me?  Lot’s to think about today.

***

Thank you for reading in 2022 – a Year of Wisdom and Salvation
May the God of peace keep you and bless you. May you stay focused on Christ and covered in grace.
Maranatha ~ Come Lord Jesus!

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