Part 7: Blessing in the Testing

Pastor Terry Inman

05-18-15

 

What we love the most about the book of Acts is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Apostles and the emerging Church. Who isn’t amazed by the Spirit’s power shown in unusual signs and wonders?

 

In tonight’s episode persecution in Jerusalem scatters the followers of Jesus throughout Judea. Some even find refuge in Samaria. Phillip preaches the good news and performs miracles. A magician named Simon is so impressed that he offers the apostles cash for the Spirit’s power.  

 

We love power gifts like faith, healing, and miracles. The bible tells us to seek spiritual insight through knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. Spiritual expressions like prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues are convincing and encouraging. (1 Cor. 12.7 NIV)

 

The AD TV series also highlights the Spirit’s power for perseverance, in the face of peril and persecution. We would prefer the power with out the problems! For the early believers there was a price to pay for power.

 

Last week’s episode featured the aftermath of the stoning of Steven and the onset of violent persecution led by a religious extremist named Saul.

 

The slaying of Steven sent shock waves through the ranks of Jesus followers. They now had to face their fears and their questions. Why wasn’t Steven a young inspiring leader raised from the dead just like Jesus. Where were the miracles now? What did the future hold?

 

This was a test. We call them trials. There is a Blessing in Testing. James the brother of Jesus begins his book with this.

 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

Perseverance is Holy grit, the ability to hang in there. It’s Holy because it also comes from the power of the Holy Spirit!

Acts 1.8 says

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

The ancient Greek word translated, “witnesses” is martyr. Originally it was used to describe the apostles who gave powerful testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were ultimately put to death for their faith. So the meaning of the word changed. Here’s a good definition.

 

“Martyrdom is the power to undergo suffering for the faith even to death while displaying a joyous and victorious attitude that brings glory to God.”

 

This describes Stephen. As he gave powerful testimony before the Sanhedrin, his face was angelic. (Acts 6.15) He was God’s messenger.

He was full of the Holy Spirit and received a vision of an open heaven. He said,

“Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7.55-56 NIV)

 

What an incredible power encounter in the face of persecution. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed,

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7.59-60 NIV)

 

Saul’s conversion was the answer to Steven’s prayer for forgiveness!

 

Today’s passage, (Acts 8) opens with this,

“And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8.1 NIV)

 

Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8.2-3 NIV)

 

It’s easy to overlook the pain and suffering. Godly people faced intense  grief, fear and doubt. They desperately needed power for perseverance.

 

In the next chapter Saul is still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He is deputized by the High Priest to hunt down believers taking refuge in Damascus to incarcerate them in Jerusalem.

 

But there’s Blessing in the of Testing. The persecutor is prosecuted--Saul is knocked to the ground by a blinding light. He can’t see a thing. He can hear his Jesus, his interrogator, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

 

Saul’s transformation from a brutal extremist to a passionate missionary began at Steven’s stoning! Saul experienced a martyr with a fearless face—who saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

 

Saul’s mission to destroy the church actually enlarged the Church because Steven passed his test. There is a Blessing in the Testing!

 

Persecution hasn’t gone away, but it does seem remote to us in America.

Our persecution is usually pretty tame—name-calling, anti-Christian media, legislation that violates our values, lawsuits or maybe a lost promotion.

 

But every month an average of 322 Christians are killed, more than 200 churches or properties destroyed, and more than 700 acts of violence are committed against believers somewhere in the world.

 

ISIS is the latest pawn of the enemy attempting to destroy the church in the Mideast. Saed Awaad grew up a rock throwing angry Palestinian. He is now one our missionaries to both Jews and Arabs in the Mideast.

 

He just returned from Egypt and Iraq where he had the opportunity to encourage persecuted believers. He told me he saw a brief clip of a young girl, his daughter’s age, weeping over her father’s beheading at the hands of ISIS in Libya. He wept and prayed. As he did he heard the Lord tell him to go and find these believers in hiding and encourage them.

 

He was guided miraculously to find them in a remote Egyptian village.

Saed found this girl and told her that she now has many fathers. One man told him he watched is son die. As the captors took his life, his face was focused on heaven. He was seeing something beyond this world!

 

The media would have us believe that Christianity is getting wiped out in the mid-east. However Saed preached in churches in Egypt and Iraq that are persecuted but flourishing!

 

The Holy Spirit gives the persecuted--power for perseverance! There is blessing in testing! We may not be facing this same kind of harassment, but we all experience trials on a daily basis of one degree or another.

 

Some trials are life threatening medical issues, stressful financial situations, or just adversities that drive us to the point of despair.

Trials happen, but what exactly is a trial? It’s life’s bad stuff. We use the word “trial” because there can be a purpose to our hardships. A trial is “the act of trying, testing, or proving.”

 

We use it in a courtroom setting. Someone is on trial to prove the truth. In the Olympics there are “trial” runs to qualify the competitors. We also use “trials” to perfect something. Trials test and perfect our character.

 

If we are honest, painful suffering still stinks, it hard, it hurts its bad! So why does God permit bad things to happen to good people? I was thinking about that again last week.

 

I am positive that God arranged the circumstances that led to my successful spine surgery. I have had low back pain for over thirty years and this last year it became unbearable at times. I was losing sleep.

 

I was in severe pain while praying for young campus leader at a conference in LA. As it turns out his father-in-law was head of Orthopedic Surgery in Kaiser. After years of frustration getting though the system I was referred to the regional chief of spine surgery in San Jose and my lower back pain is gone!

 

Then two weeks after the surgery when I thought all was going well I suffered a heart attack and had to get a stent in one of my by-pass arteries. I am also dealing with relatively new and annoying neck pain.  

So I’m thinking--what is all that about? I was walking and complaining a couple days ago when I came across this wild rosebush on the trail.

 

I snapped this photo as the thought came to me. “When your dealing with thorns, don’t forget to smell the roses”. I was so busy posting it on Facebook that I actually forgot to smell them myself.

 

James says there is something good in the bad stuff for all of us. We have to look for it. Here the passage again.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”
(James 1:2-4 NIV).

 

 

God doesn’t bring harm our way. He is not sitting in heaven dreaming up ways to test us. He doesn’t always intervene ether. But he does work for our good. He works out His purposes in the middle of our circumstances.

 

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom. 8.28-29 NIV

 

Bottom line--trials make us more like Jesus! There is really no comparison between the stuff we face daily and the persecution faced by the early Christians. But our trials are still very real to us. They hurt, they cause doubts, fears and confusion. But they also work for good when we let God in.

 

Paul was concerned that his readers would become discouraged by his mistreatment, imprisonment and illness. He writes,

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4.9 NIV)

 

Experiencing the Blessing in the Testing is all a matter focus. Paul says,

 

We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Cor. 4.16-18 NIV)

 

Steven was executed and persecution broke out. The church was scattered. I love this line. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
(Acts 8.4 NIV) They don’t sound like victims to me. They suffered I’m sure. But they were focused on something eternal not temporal. The power of the Holy Spirit turned their tears to joy!    

 

Phillip preached in Samaria. Earlier the disciples wanted Jesus to burn it down. Now filled with the Holy Spirit’s power Phillip healed cripples and paralytics and freed the demonized. The bible says these people of another race and religion paid close attention to what he said and the city was filled with joy! (Acts 8.5-8 NIV) God changed a racist to a revivalist!

 

Simon the great, a very popular magician, was so impressed the miracles that he was baptized along with every one else.

However when he tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit his heart was revealed. He was captivated by bitterness not blessing. But even he was called to repent and receive forgiveness.

 

Trials can make us bitter or better! It’s a matter of focus. I have been hearing a few things from the Lord during my time of recovery. I have been forced to slow way down and be quiet.

 

Friday morning I snapped this photo of my quiet place on the trail at Quarry Lakes. I heard this scripture.
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46.10 NIV)
I would like to close this message by reading Psalm 46

 

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.    

 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

 

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  

 

Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.

 

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.