Friday, Oct. 31

Friday

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”  When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.   - Acts 5:1-6

One of the saddest things about this story is that their sin was so unnecessary!  Peter said to Ananias, “while it remained unsold, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?”  Ananias was free to use the money for whatever he wanted, except as a means to inflate his own spiritual pride.

Satan had filled the heart of Ananias, yet Peter could ask why he had conceived this thing in your heart. Satan can influence the life of a believer, even a spirit-filled believer, but he can’t do your sinning for you. Ananias had to conceive it in his heart.

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last: Peter did not pronounce a “death sentence” on Ananias. He simply confronted him with his sin and Ananias fell down dead. It is NOT the business of the church to pronounce a “death sentence” on anyone!

Notice that Peter said no word to Ananias about his death. I wonder if Peter wasn’t more surprised than anyone when Ananias fell down dead!

God struck Ananias dead for his sin. Doesn’t this seem rather harsh?
The greater wonder is that God delays His righteous judgment in virtually all other cases.  We don’t like to think about this in our culture because it offends our sensibilities, but Ananias received exactly what he deserved; he simply could not live in the atmosphere of purity that marked the church at that time.

The physical means by which Ananias died was probably a heart attack. Ananias lived in a time, and among a people, who really believed there was a God in heaven we must all answer to. It frightened him to have his sin exposed and to know he was accountable before God for it. How many people would be frightened before God if confronted with sin like this? Today, too many people would yawn or debate or simply shrug.

We also have to see this incident in the context of its time. This was a critical juncture for the early church, and such impurity, sin, scandal and satanic infiltration could have corrupted the entire church at its root. 

“The Church has never been as harmed or hindered by opposition from without as it has been perpetually harmed and hindered by perils from within.”  - G. Campbell Morgan

The shock of being exposed was too much for Ananias. For many Christians in compromise, their greatest fear is not in sinning itself, but in being found out.
i. As much as anything, the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira is that we presume greatly on God when we assume that there is always time to repent, time to get right with God, time to get honest with Him. Any such time given by God is an undeserved gift that He owes no one; we should never assume it will always be there.


God’s purpose was accomplished in the church at large, the story ends with these words, So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. Surely, this is one of the great understatements of the Bible!

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, Oct. 30

Thursday


 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,  and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet.  But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?

 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?   - Acts 5:1-3, 9

It is easy to ask why God dealt with Ananias and Sapphira so severely when He does not do so with other hypocrites in the church. One reason is that it was because the church was still in its infancy, and He needed to set before us a sober lesson of the seriousness of this sin among God’s people. God did the same thing in the Old Testament in the story of Achan (Joshua 7).

The charges that Peter brought against the couple reveal just how serious the sin was.  First, Ananias told a lie. Lying is the sin especially characteristic of Satan. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between God and Satan is that God is Truth, whereas Satan has no truth in him. 

Jesus said of Satan,  “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). God was deeply concerned when lies and deception, the mark of His enemy, had entered His beloved church!

Ananias lied to God, not man. Specifically, he lied to God in the person of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he and his wife had lied to the church, but Peter identifies the church with the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit indwells the church and is responsible for its existence. 

In saying that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, Peter meant that Ananias actually imagined that he could fool God. Ananias thought that God Himself would fail to detect the lie and would bless the couple for their generosity. 

Before we think that Ananias was completely foolish for thinking he could get away with this, we should pause and recognize that he was no more foolish than any of us who think that God (and others) are not aware of our own little hypocrisies.  


What about us in the church today? We have the whole Bible, and our understanding of it is enriched by two thousand years of Bible study. This means that we have more knowledge than Ananias and Sapphira, do we really think that God will view our pretense and hypocrisy lightly!?  

In His mercy, He may not strike us down. Yet He will surely remove His favor from our attempts to serve Him, and our work will amount to nothing.  And He will absolutely work to wake us up to the true condition of our hearts. He may even bring pain and guilt into our lives to show us that we have taken the wrong path - all because He loves us too much to let us drift into cold and hypocritical lives.


Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, Oct. 29

Wednesday

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”  When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”  But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.  - Acts 5:1-11


The word “church” first occurs in Acts in verse 11 (out of 16 times). The word means an assembly or congregation of people. Luke wants us to know that the church should live in the holy fear of God and especially should be on guard against this serious sin, hypocrisy. 

Liberal commentators are shocked at this sudden, severe punishment. Ananias is not given a chance to repent, even though his sin seems not all that serious. His wife is not even told of her husband’s death and of what will happen to her if she lies. The instant that she agrees with her husband’s lie, she is struck dead. In this age of tolerance, we might think, “What’s the big deal?”

But we need to learn to view this sin from God’s holy perspective, not from our world’s relativistic view. Jesus always hit hypocrisy hard. In Matthew 23, He pronounced a series of woes on the scribes and Pharisees, whom He repeatedly called hypocrites. 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.   - Matthew 23:27-28

In Luke 12:1, Jesus warned His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy”.  Like leaven, hypocrisy starts small and unnoticed. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal. But if it is not quickly checked, it spreads. It deceives the person into thinking that things are right between him and God, when in reality, things are very wrong.
The leaven of hypocrisy can soon infect an entire church. 

The church at Laodicea thought that things were going well. They said, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But the Lord’s perspective was, “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17)


We might think that their sin was minor. After all, to give the church any proceeds from the sale of their property would have been a good deed. Their only offense was to exaggerate how generous they were. Who was hurt by their boasting? Don't we all do a little boasting from time to time? When we stand before the church and give a testimony, do we always tell the exact truth about ourselves? Or do we, like Ananias and Sapphira, exaggerate our good works and our devotion to God?


Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, Oct. 28

Tuesday


Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.  But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”  When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.   - Acts 4:36-5:6


This is one of the stories which demonstrate the almost stubborn honesty of the Bible. It might well have been left out because it shows that even in the early Church there were very imperfect Christians; but the Bible refuses to present an idealized picture of anything. The story is told of the artist who painted the portrait of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was disfigured by warts upon his face. The painter, thinking to please the great man, omitted the disfiguring warts. When Cromwell saw the picture, he said, "Take it away, and paint me warts and all." It is one of the great virtues of the Bible that it shows us its heroes, warts and all.  There is a certain encouragement in this story, for it shows us that even in its greatest days the Church was a mixture of good and bad.

We are not told whether or not Ananias and Sapphira were true believers in Jesus Christ. Some argue that they were; some that they were not. Perhaps we are not told because if we knew that they were not true Christians, we would shrug their story off as not applying to us. If we knew that they were true Christians, we might say, “Thank God that this was just a one-time occurrence!” We would not pause and ask ourselves, “Is my faith in Christ genuine? Do I need to deal with the sin of hypocrisy?” We do know that Ananias and Sapphira were a part of the early church. Their story applies to us all!

We need to be clear on the exact nature of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. Their sin was not that they had sold their property and had given only a part to the church. In fact, Peter makes plain (5:4) that it would not have been a sin for them to have sold their property and not given anything to the church. Their sin was that they conspired together to deceive the apostles and the church into thinking that they were giving the entire amount, when in fact they kept back a portion for themselves. In other words, they were trying to impress everyone with a higher level of spirituality and commitment than they really had.  We’ve all been guilty of trying to impress others with our commitment and devotion to Christ, even though we know in our heart that we are exaggerating.

"What we want is to be real. Let us not appear to be more than we are. Don't let us put on any assumed humility, but let us be real; that is the delight of God. God wants us to be real men and women, and if we profess to be what we are not, God knows all about us. God hates the sham."   - D. L. Moody


Oh Lord God, protect from the great sin of hypocrisy.  Keep our hearts open and authentic before you and before each other.  Let Your Holy Spirit convict us of any pretense in us and draw us ever closer to the center of your heart - Amen.

Jeff Frazier

Monday, Oct. 27

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Monday

In the fourth chapter of Acts is a beautiful glimpse of what life was like in the early church. After the dramatic events of the day of Pentecost, the healing of the lame man, and the great response of multitudes in Jerusalem, the church faced life in the world of that day -- a world of darkness, despair, and death on every side -- and met it with a flowing out of the life of Jesus Christ. 

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.   - Acts 4:32-33

What a picture of true, genuine Christianity. Unfortunately there is also a counterfeit Christianity. It came in shortly after this in the early church, and evidences of it will be seen on throughout the book of Acts. Wherever the true church has gone throughout the world, counterfeit Christianity has gone right along with it.

Counterfeit Christianity can be recognized externally as a kind of religious club where people, largely of the same social status or class, and bound together by a mutual interest in some religious project or program, meet together to advance that particular cause, or to make each other feel better about their lives.  But that is a far cry from true Christianity which consists of individuals who, because of Jesus Christ share the same divine life, who are made up of all ages, backgrounds, classes, and status-levels of society, and who, when meeting together, regard themselves as what they really are - brothers and sisters in one family, in the family of Christ. 

That is what we have here at the end of Acts 4. "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common." 

The last word is the key. Community, commonness, everything in common. This is not a reference to government enforced communism, this is a description of people willingly sharing their lives with each other.  For those of us living in 21st century American culture, with all of its individualism, consumerism, and materialism, this concept of community is almost impossible for us to grasp.  In fact, I think it is impossible for us without the power of the Holy Spirit.  


These believers were of one heart. Here the word "heart" is used for the human spirit. It denotes the deepest part of our life. It is the unconscious level of existence, the spirit, the most essential part of our nature. These were people who, by the Holy Spirit, had been united into one life. They were of one heart.  At the very deepest level of their lives they belonged to each other, and that is only possible by means of the Holy Spirit. 

Oh Lord, open our eyes to see the deception of selfishness in our culture and in our own hearts.  Let us so radically love and serve one another that the world will not be able to deny the power of your gospel.  Grant by your Holy Spirit, that we might be truly united together as brothers and sisters in Christ - Amen.

Jeff Frazier

Friday, October 24th

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Friday, October 24

Acts 4:23-31

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'-- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

In February of 2010 my wife and I woke up in the early morning hours to the sound of picture frames rattling on the walls of our bedroom. Our bed and the floor underneath us seemed to be trembling as well. After what seemed like minutes, but was really only a few seconds, the  shaking stopped and everything became quiet again. It slowly dawned on us that we had just experienced our first earthquake. By morning all the news shows confirmed that a large swath of Northern Illinois had felt the low-level quake.

While the quake was minor; nothing even fell of our walls; we still remember that moment. In Acts 4 Luke describes a much different kind of quake!

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Notice the similarity to the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The believers are gathered together for prayer. God shows up in a powerful and unmistakable way through the person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is experienced as wind and fire in Acts 2 and as “shaking” in Acts 4.

Next, notice the connection between prayer and the Spirit. Prayer seems to be the precursor, dare I say prerequisite, to the experience of the Spirit. Now we know that every believer already has the Holy Spirit dwelling in his or her heart. That’s a promise found in God’s word (Ephesians 1:13). So we certainly are to experience the presence, encouragement, conviction and direction of the Holy Spirit when we pray all by ourselves. What we see here, however, is that we can also experience dramatic manifestations of the Spirit when we join together in prayer.

Finally, we see a connection between the Spirit and boldness.

Perhaps we have somewhat misunderstood, or at least underestimated, the purpose of prayer. Perhaps the primary purpose of prayer is not to make our lives easier or to remove us from difficult circumstances, but rather to make us more bold in our witness for the gospel.

Perhaps the role of the Spirit is to shake us up; to awaken us to the power of the gospel; to get us up out of bed and into the world!

Are you willing to be shaken by the Holy Spirit?


Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, October 23rd

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Thursday, October 23

Acts 4:23-31


When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'-- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.


On a recent trip to visit potential ministry partners in the middle east I was blessed to attend a prayer meeting at the Evangelical Church of Dubai. The meeting had already begun when we arrived and there were about 30 people worshipping together as they were led by a guy on a keyboard and two women singing up front. They were singing in Arabic but the Spirit of the gathering needed no translation; they were lifting their voices and hearts to Jesus.

After 15 minutes or so or worship they began to pray. The keyboardist continued to play softly in the background which gave the prayer time a very worshipful feel. What I noticed right away was the intensity of the prayer being offered. I couldn’t understand a word that was being said but even though I was fighting the drowsiness of jet-lag I was caught up in the passion of their prayers.

At one point a man stood up to pray and prayed with such force that I whispered to the woman sitting next to me, who spoke Arabic, “What is he praying about?”

She whispered back, “He’s asking God to pour out his Spirit on the people in dreams and visions so they can know who Jesus is.”

It struck me that these believers, most of whom had faced rejection and persecution from their own families, were not asking God to make their lives easier or better but rather to send the Holy Spirit to reach those who did not know Christ! What I experienced in that prayer meeting in Dubai was what I see happening in Acts 4.

"And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

They ask God for more miracles like the healing of the man born lame (Acts 3), but not miracles for themselves. They ask for healing, for signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, but they are asking God to do these things for those who do not yet believe in Jesus so that they can then use those miraculous events to share the gospel!

So often my prayers tend to be focused on my own needs or the needs of those I love. And, again, there’s nothing wrong with lifting our needs and cares to our heavenly Father.

But how often do I pray for boldness with regard to sharing the gospel? How often do I ask God to do something miraculous in someone else’s life so that I will have the opportunity to share the grace of Christ with that person?

I think we are being challenged by these early believers to stretch our experience of prayer. Are you ready and willing to pray revolutionary prayers? Are you ready to ask God for the opportunity to share the truth of the gospel with a friend or neighbor? Are you ready to ask for boldness?


Pastor Brian Coffey