What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Be Intentional: Acts 13:1-`5

We start to be observers of Paul’s ministry for the remainder of Acts. Paul starts with the Jews in the various cities he travels to, and when the established Jewish leaders reject the message about the Messiah, he shares with the Gentiles in those areas. A couple of things stand out to me as I review this beginning of the missionary journeys.
It appears as though Paul, along with Barnabas, had a strategy for their first missionary trip. They started in Antioch, traveled to Cypress by ship, walked across Cypress, sailed to Asia Minor and continued to move from familiar territory (Barnabas was from Cypress) to the unfamiliar territory in the Roman Empire. They were intentionally picking places to go share the message of Christ. They also made their first stops at the local synagogues in each town. I’m struck by their intentionality and planning. Why? Because I don’t really have any plans or strategies for sharing about Christ in my world. I need to be more intentional. This means thinking about where I have a witness and planning how I will present the message per each situation that I find myself in on a regular basis.
The second concept that struck me was based on Paul and Barnabas’ example once they are in Galatia (still in Asia Minor). They went to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch “and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.” (13:14) We don’t know how many Sabbaths they had done this for or what made them stand out among the worshippers. But something caused the leader of the synagogue to approach them and say, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” (13:16) Paul and Barnabas were actually invited to speak to the worshippers (and, of course, they took advantage of the opportunity). What made them appear worthy of such an honor to the synagogue officials? Was it the way they listened on other Sabbaths? Was it the way they dressed (appearing as a rabbi and/or Pharisee)? Was it something they said in passing? Something opened the way for them to share (of course, it could be God’s intervention, too).
So I ask myself, “What do I look like, sound like, act like that would grant me an audience of listeners?” I don’t really know the answer to those questions, but it causes me to think about my life and if I should be doing something different. Possibly I’m already doing what God wants me to. I try to share Christ/God to those in my sphere of influence either with my blog articles or with those in Alcoholics Anonymous that I come in contact with. But, should I (and you) be doing something else, too? Just something to be thinking about.
Both of these applications require intentionality on my part. I need to put more effort into being intentional for God’s sake. That’s a purpose worthy of my attention.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Eagerly Waiting

This week I finished Acts chapter 12 in my Bible study. It’s a good place to stop and pause to reflect on what has been happening and what is about to happen. Basically, the first 12 chapters told us about how the Holy Spirit used the apostles to spread the good news of Christ to the Jews in Jerusalem and the Jews (with a few Gentiles) in Judea and Samaria. The focus was mostly on the apostle Peter. Now the book moves on to telling us about how the Holy Spirit moved in Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles throughout the remotest parts of the earth. I’ll pick up on that starting next week.
For this week, as part of my reflections, I paused to think about the true importance of Christmas. Basically, it’s a remembrance of the Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled. Yet not all the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and deeds. There are other prophecies, from both the Old and the New Testaments, which are yet to be fulfilled. We learn early in Jesus’ story, when He was presented at the temple after His birth, that there were people throughout the land who were waiting for the birth of the Savior. Two of those people were in the temple that day.
Simeon, a righteous and devout man who was looking for the consolation of Israel, was there. Luke tells us that, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (Luke 2:25) Simeon’s response to seeing the baby Jesus was an example of something that would be said by someone who was waiting expectantly for the arrival of the Messiah. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32) Because of Simeon’s faith and trust in the truth of the Old Testament, he knew what he was looking at when he saw Jesus – because he was expecting God to show him.
The other person was Anna, a prophetess, who was “advanced in years.” She was also in the temple that day and upon seeing Jesus she, “began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38) She also, like Simeon, had kept herself faithful to God and was ready to believe in the Christ child. She, too, knew what she was looking at when she first saw Jesus.
We too have the Scriptures telling us of a time we should be looking forward to: The Second Coming of Christ. It’s been a long time since Jesus rose from the dead. Are we still waiting expectantly for His return? Sometimes I am patiently waiting and sometimes I’m grudgingly waiting. Neither of those responses correspond with what Simeon and Anna were doing. They were eagerly waiting (the original word for waiting implies an active and eager action). Am I eagerly waiting for Christ’s return? Not as much as I should be.
So, as I celebrate Jesus’ first coming to earth, I will remember that His second coming is soon. When? We don’t know the answer to that, but it is sooner each day than the day before. And, I will try to be eagerly, expectantly, actively waiting while I celebrate the salvation He has already brought us.
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Five Points About Prayer: Acts 12:5

Acts 12 recounts another miracle escape from prison by Peter. That’s the outward story, the public story. However, there is a inward, private story going on at the same time. It doesn’t get the same amount of space as Peter’s escape, but without this part of the story, Peter’s rescue may never have happened.
The inward, private story was taking place among the followers of Jesus gathered together in private rooms and houses all over the city of Jerusalem. In spite of the renewed persecution of the church in Jerusalem, the believers continued to gather together. One of the main reasons they gathered together was to pray.
Acts 12:5 says, “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” Here’s the one sentence in the whole chapter about the church praying for Peter’s release and wellbeing. However, there are five points made it that sentence which all of us should take to heart about prayer.
1. Prayer should be intense and purposeful, not casual or haphazard. I often do what I call “arrow prayers.” On the spot, at the moment, one-liner prayers lifted up to God while I’m on the go. I don’t think that kind of praying is wrong, but it shouldn’t be the kind of prayer we are involved in.
2. Prayer should be ongoing, continuous. That doesn’t mean that all of us are praying together all the time. I think it means that groups of people are praying and rotating in new people into the group as others have to go about the business of living. Someone should be praying at all times especially when there’s an urgent and important need.
3. Prayer should be made to God, the one and only true God. It should come from a genuine contact with the living God through Jesus Christ. Jesus told us this in John14:6 (“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” It is not meaningless, empty repetition to a vague God that has no real power. (Matthew 6:7-8)
4. Prayer should be specific, not vague. The believers in Jerusalem were praying specifically for Peter and his situation. They asked for exactly what they needed. (James 4:2-3)
5. Prayer should be communal, corporate, done together as a group. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” God expected us to pray together. We were instructed to do so by Jesus. I think there are too many in our churches today who are unwilling to be involved in corporate prayer. They won’t pray out loud for whatever reasons when they are in groups. I wonder if they pray to God in private or if they are just so out of the practice of prayer, that they just don’t do it at all. I’m at fault in this, too. I do not encourage prayer in the groups I’m involved in because I don’t want to embarrass anyone. But I think we are missing out on seeing God work in mighty ways because we do not pray together enough.
Those are some thoughts about prayer. If you want to pray together, write me a comment or send me an email (thetootsierolllady@yahoo.com). I’d love to pray with you in one way or another.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Restore Hearts and Minds: Acts 11:19-30

Acts continues to record the spread of the message of Christ. In Acts 11:19-30, Luke, the writer of Acts, gives an account of the conversion of Gentiles in Antioch. The first witnesses to the Antioch Gentiles came from Hellenistic Jewish believers from Cyprus and Cyrene. It specifically says that while others who were dispersed from Jerusalem preached only to the Jews, “there were some of them . . . who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” [vs. 20]
The Jerusalem Church heard about these conversions and sent Barnabas to check things out. “Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.” [vs. 23]
My first question to myself is, “Do I encourage others in the faith to have resolute hearts and to stay true to the Lord?” But then the second question I had was, “Am I resolute in heart and mind to the Lord?” That question caused me to wonder what my life should look like if I’m to be resolute of heart and mind. And, what sets me apart from the general population that makes it obvious to others that I am true to the Lord Jesus?
Barnabas’ encouragement to the Antioch believers is also an encouragement to us. We should have resolute hearts and should do everything as Jesus would have us do to remain true to the teachings of Jesus. Some manuscripts translate “to encourage” as “to exhort” or “to plead with.” It has a sense of urgency to it. It is something we are to be about on a regular, daily or moment to moment, basis. Our lives should be set apart by our zeal for doing the right things (according to Jesus’ teachings and according to the Word of God).
I’m challenged today by Barnabas’ example and by the exhortation to be resolute in heart and mind in serving Jesus. How can I be an encourager today and how can I keep Jesus’ teachings before me at all times? This will take some thought and prayer, but it is something I must do.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

God Uses Others: Acts 10

So, I’ve been studying Acts 10 and 11. Part of the story is how God worked in the lives of people to lead them to other people. Cornelius was told to seek out Peter and Peter was told to go to Cornelius. Yes, there are the miraculous visions from God that each of those men had received. But the visions only contained part of the message from God that each man needed to carry out God’s will.
To complete God’s message to Peter about saving the Gentiles Peter needed to converse with and fellowship with Cornelius. To give Cornelius what he and his household needed to be saved, God used Peter. Without each other, God’s message would not have been clear to either man alone. God often completes His messages to us through our fellowship with other believers. We need each other to get the total message from God. God uses people to confirm what the Scriptures tell us to do. God uses other people to give us insight into the Scriptures. God uses other people to direct us to appropriate passages of Scripture. God uses other people to encourage us as we learn to fellowship with God in deeper ways.
Without other wise people in my life, I would take off in the wrong directions often. I need others to encourage me, support me, guide me, and instruct me with God’s Word. I also need people who may be thinking more clearly about my situations and feelings. I think of when I first got sober, back in college. God put people in my life to bring me His message of salvation and hope. Those people knew me and had seen my dysfunctional life in action. Those people taught me how to read God’s Word, pray, study (my college academics as well as the Scriptures), and relate to other people. They brought me the Truth just as Peter brought the truth to Cornelius.
When I needed help getting sober again (about 20 years later), He again put the right people in my life. These people hadn’t necessarily seen me drunk like the first group of people in college, but they were sent to give me a message. One woman, Cathy, was used by God to bring me a specific message: Go to Alcoholics Anonymous. And, I did , with her help in finding meetings. At those meetings, I met other people I believe God put in my path. They were able to say and do the right things to help get me sober, again. Basically, God uses people to speak to us, and we should listen carefully t what they have to say.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Best Kind of Congregation: Acts 10:33

In Acts 10:34 – 43 we are given an overview of Peter’s sermon to Cornelius (Roman Centurion) and his gathered friends and family. Cornelius had a vision to send for Peter and Peter had a vision to go with Cornelius’ messengers. As Peter arrived at Cornelius’ home, there was a crowd gathered. This crowd were the people Cornelius had invited to come hear God’s message as told by Peter.
I was struck by the description of these congregated people found in verse 33 as mentioned by one of the commentators in my notes on Chapter 10. This commentator said that this was, “the best kind of congregation a preacher can have.” And went on to describe them for us. Before I get into the commentators description, let’s look at verse 33:
“And so I [Cornelius] sent to you [Peter] immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
At first I didn’t see anything significant in this verse. Cornelius, in fact, is describing the spirit in which this group of people gathered. The commentator (Spurgeon) breaks it down for us. This describes what we should be like in our church congregations or wherever Christians are meeting together.
First, “Peter’s congregation was unbroken.” Taken from the phrase “we are all here,” it means that they had come together with the specific purpose of hearing God’s message. They weren’t scattered or wandering around. They were an unbroken group. Possibly also meaning that they were all of one mind.
Second, the group was “devout,” taken from the phrase “present before God.” When I looked up the word in several dictionaries some common descriptions came up. One said, “Having or showing a deep religious feeling or commitment.” Another said, “loyal to something : devoted to a particular belief, organization, person, etc. : serious and sincere.” I’m getting a sense that these people were not uninterested bystanders. They were devout to what they knew about God, mostly from studying the Old Testament. They were ready to hear a message from God. They were prepared.
Third, they were “attentive.” In the King James Version of the Bible it says, “to hear all things.” They were not daydreaming or talking among themselves. They were eagerly waiting to listen to Peter. They were not distracted by their own concerns or problems. They were set to be attentive to what Peter had to say.
And, finally, they were “teachable, for they desired to know  “all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” The commanded implies they were ready to obey. Many of these people were probably soldiers under Cornelius’ leadership. They understood the meaning of “commanded” and they were ready to do whatever was necessary to obey the Lord. There is a definite willingness to obey.
So, I can’t make everyone in my church have these four characteristics, but I can be prepared to have a spirit like those gathered at Cornelius’ home: Unbroken (unity), devout, attentive, and teachable. I can do my part and maybe show by example the spirit with which we should approach our Sunday celebrations.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Needing Many Lessons: Acts 10:1-22

Sometimes I feel and think I’m going nowhere; that I’m not growing, learning, changing. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get “it,” whatever “it” might be. I’m not talking about how to work the various remote controls for the television. I’m talking about knowing how to live a healthy, happy, joyous, content life. I feel like God is trying to teach me how to do this and I just don’t get it. I’m afraid He will give up on me. Have you ever felt that way? Take courage. We are not that much different than the apostle Peter.
In Acts 10, we see people getting instructions from God through the Holy Spirit (or angels or some other messenger from God). One of those people is Peter who is staying in Joppa (a seaport). God had instructed a Roman Centurion (a Gentile) to send messengers to Joppa to ask Peter to return with them to Caesarea to give a message to the Centurion (again let me emphasize, a Gentile). While the messengers are on their way to Joppa, Peter has a vision. This vision showed Peter a bunch of “clean” and “unclean” creatures and a voice said to Peter, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter’s response was, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” (vs. 13, 14) Then the voice said to Peter, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (vs. 15)
But what encouraged me the most was verse 16: “And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” Peter had to be told three or four times the same thing, and then he still didn’t get it. He was still “greatly perplexed in his mind as to what the vision . . . might be.” (vs. 17) So, even Peter had to be shown/told multiple times in multiple ways what God wanted for his life.
I might not get what God is trying to do in my life right now. He may have to show me and tell me from His Word, multiple times before I get what He wants me to do. When I feel like it’s all hopeless, I can remember that God may just be in the process of teaching me a hard to get lesson. However, there’s progress if I look for it. In earlier times, it seemed like nothing could lift my spirits and bring me out of a depression. It would run its course, including my being hospitalized to keep me safe from myself. Then a new med might start working or I’d start to feel better and less depressed (possibly on the way up to a manic state). Now I feel like I have tools to combat the downswings. Certain people are in my life that can encourage me. I have David and his Psalms. And I have a greater understanding of and commitment to obey God’s Word. As I’ve learned that God is greater than all my troubles, I am more likely (and possibly more quickly) to turn to praising God and acknowledging that He is in control and I have value in His eyes.
So even though I’m not great at “it” and will probably have to be taught again (and again), God has worked. Looking back at the ways He’s worked in the past in one of the tools He has given me as I am perplexed, right along with Peter, as to what God has in mind for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Use Our Gifts For God: Acts 9:36-43

This section of Acts returns to Peter’s story and the situations that lead up to sharing with Gentiles. Peter performs two miracles in this section: 1. Heals a paralyzed man, and 2. Raises a woman from death. Those miracles are interesting enough, especially the raising of the woman from death because this is the first record of the apostles doing that. However, what I want to look at is the characteristics of two people mentioned in this passage.
First, we are introduced to Dorcus (Tabitha) in verses 36 – 39. Several things are said of Dorcus. She was a disciple living in Joppa (36). She abounded with deeds of kindness and charity (36). She was a seamstress who apparently made garments for many widows (39). The Scriptures don’t tell us that she held Bible studies in her home or spent massive amounts of time in prayer or preaching. What it tells us is she used her gifts to serve the people she was in contact with. It does say she was a disciple, but what characterized her in the Scriptures was her service to others. And what was her gift? Sewing. That’s plain and simple. God used what He gave her to reach out to the those who were in need. She continually performed acts of kindness and charity. That’s a mark of a disciple.
Next, a man is mentioned in verse 43. He is characterized by his occupation: tanner. His name was Simon, and later in Acts 10:6 we are told he lives by the sea. We don’t know much more about this specific man, however, tanners were generally seen as undesirable to hang around with because of their contact with “unclean” things (hides, blood, sinews, etc.) But, God uses this tanner to serve Peter as Peter stayed in Joppa for many days. We can only speculate why Peter would hang out with someone the established religion of the time considered to be unclean. But, one thing is certain. Simon the tanner had the gift of hospitality and was willing to and able to house Peter for many days.
Neither of these gifts, sewing or lodging others, seem to be great spiritual attributes, yet God used these people and their gifts. And they were willing to use their gifts in service to God however He directed them. So, that brings me to a question. Do I use the gifts God has given me to serve Him? Or am I still waiting for God to endow me with some miraculous, powerful, showy gift that will reach millions of people in one fell swoop? I’m probably not going to be the next Billy Graham, but that doesn’t mean that the gifts God has given me are not just as important when used in service to God. Serving God is what gives my life purpose and meaning. My hope is in using the gifts God has given me in service to Him.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Anyone and Everyone Might Be Saved: Acts 9:13-15

Last week we were introduced to Ananias, the God-fearing and Scripture-believing man in Damascus. He had many positive characteristics, but he also exhibited fear of going to Saul. He knew Saul was a man that had come to Damascus to persecute and arrest believers. He may have viewed Saul as being so far off from Christ that nothing could change him. He may have felt he was putting is life in danger by going to Saul.
He actually questioned God as he saw Him in a vision. “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name.” One commentator said that essentially Ananias was saying, “Lord, not him; that’s impossible. He could never become a Christian.” [Clarke] Yet, God told Ananias to go anyway because He had big plans for Saul, plans that could not be carried out if no one was willing to share the truth about Jesus with Saul.
Before I was a Christian, some may have looked at my lifestyle and listened to my words, and said, “She’ll never become a Christian.” In fact, I was viewed as being a long way off when it came to being open to the Christian message. However, several women persevered in befriending me and eventually one of them did share the gospel message (salvation through Jesus Christ) with me. And I believed. Those women may have thought that their efforts might be in vain, however, God had a plan. Those women were obedient to God and shared with me in spite of my apparent reluctance and antagonism toward spiritual things. Just like Ananias, they did what seemed impractical and a lost cause, and God worked, having prepared me for His Word and hope.
So, I’m challenged today to never say a person is beyond hope. Everyone and anyone is within God’s reach and might be saved. My job is not to judge or decide the path of others. My job is to share as I have opportunity and let God work. No one is beyond God’s reach, not even the persecutor of Christians, then or now.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being Available to God: Acts 9:10

So we already know that Saul/Paul was a zealot in regards to the Torah (Old Testament). However, he was caught up in believing the various commentaries by Rabbis of the past. He knew the Scriptures, but he couldn’t see how they related to Jesus the Messiah. He thought that the very idea that Jesus could be the Messiah was going against the Scriptures.
Then Saul met Jesus while he was on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus. This encounter profoundly affected Saul’s ideas about what was right and wrong about Jesus and the Scriptures. He was blinded and heard Jesus’ voice telling him what to do. After three days had passed, with Saul still blind, God sent a man to Saul to further explain the way of the gospel of Christ.
This man was Ananias. Ananias was described in Acts 22;12 as “a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there [Damascus].” Ananias was also a devout zealot of the Torah. Ananias was a man to whom Saul could relate. Ananias had the “credentials” required for ministering to Saul in a way that Saul would appreciate and be willing to listen.
I don’t think every believer needs to have “credentials” i.e. college education, years of Bible education, to witness to another person, even one “above” them in stature, but I do think we need to be sensitive to the preparedness of their hearts and minds. Saul was prepared to listen to Ananias because he had been praying and hoping for some instruction. God provided a learned man to give Saul the instruction he needed to become a full-fledged follower of Jesus Christ.
There are a couple of lessons for me in this passage. First, would I be identified as someone who is “devout by the standard of the Law? And would I be characterized as being well spoken of by those to whom I was trying to witness? Second, am I prepared and listening to God to be of service to Him, and open to sharing the gospel message with whomever God places in my life? It doesn’t matter what my schooling, or my status in life: am I willing to share Christ as I go about my daily life? All these questions need some pondering and praying about. And I need to open my heart and spirit up to God’s directions in my life and be willing to serve Him however He directs.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Being Scriptural Fact-Checkers

Now we enter into a new era in the New Testament story. Acts 9 gives us the testimony of Paul’s becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. I’ve only studied the first 9 verses so far. There were a lot of interesting things in the Scriptures, and I found out that there are some things I believed about Paul’s story that are not accounted for in Scripture.
So, mostly this section of Acts was a fact finding and fact checking experience for me. In this season of elections and debates, we are hearing a lot about fact-checking. People are digging into newspapers, previous video, social media, magazine articles, tax returns, and going to sources directly to verify what statements are true and which are false.
Where as I’m getting tired of it all in regards to the elections, I challenged to never get tired of doing it when it comes to the Scriptures. I need to be as zealous as the election fact-checkers are when it comes to knowing the truth about Jesus and His message. To do this I need to be willing, even eager, to read and study the Scriptures, to look at cross-references, to clarify and verify the things I’ve come to believe. I also have to be open to acknowledging when I’m holding onto incorrect knowledge or beliefs. I need to be willing to change those beliefs to line up with the truths found in Scripture.
I was challenged this week to be more diligent in being a Scriptural Fact-Checker. I need to be careful to know Scripture and share truth from the Scriptures, not just spouting things I believe to be true but don’t know where I learned those things. As I continue to study Acts (and any other book of the Bible after this), I will be eager to observe the truths and check them against my long-held beliefs. I think that’s something every Christian should be doing. I don’t think we do it enough.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Meet People Where They Are

Continuing my study in Acts 8 I was reminded of a principle that was taught to me early in my Christian life. We need to develop relationships with people in order to know where they are in their spiritual quest. Some may appear to be ignoring the spiritual part of their being, but even that tells us something about where they are at.
In Acts 8, Philip (the evangelist) is sent to a desert road where he meets up with an Ethiopian eunuch (a leader in his society). The Ethiopian was reading from the Scriptures in the passage we now label as Isaiah 53. This passage talks about a suffering servant whose life was removed from the earth. Philip asked the Ethiopian if he understood the passage he was reading and the eunuch said how could he if there was no one to guide him.
Acts 8:34-35 tells us how Philip responded to the Ethiopian. “And the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?’ And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” Philip started with the questions the Ethiopian had. This is Philip meeting the person with where they are in their understanding of Scripture and God.
That’s what the women who shared with me in college about the good news of Christ started with. They had spent some time getting to know me, and figuring out where I was spiritually. I didn’t give them much to go with, but eventually, one of the women were able to speak to me in private and discovered all my doubts about the ability to be clean before God. She started from there and shared the gospel message from the Word of God, showing me from the Word, that Jesus was the only way to measure up to God’s expectations for us. Due to her meeting me where I was, she was able to present the gospel in a way that made sense to me . . . and I responded to the Word and came to believe.
I need to be that kind of person also . . . one who gets to know people, build relationships with them and, because of the knowledge of them and the leading of the Holy Spirit, share with them about Christ in a way that meets their needs. I also need to start and end with Scripture because God’s Word has all the answers to life’s questions. I, too, like Philip, need to meet people where they are.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Follow Spirit's Leading: Acts 8:26

There’s a couple of applications I got from studying this verse and its context. The verse says, “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza (this is a deserted road)’”
I usually ask the question, “What does this verse/passage indicate I should do in my world?” We have to be careful to not take the (true) stories of the Bible’s history books, but sometimes there’s an example to follow. In this case this story is another example of the Holy Spirit directing Philip to further ministry. Philip was probably content, even excited, to be part of the Christian experience and explosion in Samaria. Things were happening there. It was an exciting place to be and there were lots of people becoming Christ-followers. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that excitement and celebration!
However, Philip was still open to the Spirit’s leading. And the Spirit (called in this passage “the angel of the Lord”) told Philip to leave the party, leave the ministry in Samaria to someone else, and go somewhere else. That somewhere else probably didn’t make a lot of sense to Philip. The Spirit told Philip to go to a deserted road where there were few, if any, people hanging around. But Philip did what he was led/told to do.
The application for me is three-fold. First, am I listening for the Spirit of the Lord? Sometimes when I’m reading the Word of God I will be pricked to do something. It’s not often but I think it probably happens more than I think and I’m just not listening. I need to pray before reading, during reading, and after reading for God’s guidance in my life.
Second, am I willing to do what the Holy Spirit tells me to do? Philip left immediately for the Gaza road. I need to be as obedient as that . . . taking action immediately. I’m not talking about leaving to go on a mission around the world (or even across the state). I’m talking about doing the things God has told us to do in His Word. I can’t just read about proper thinking and meditating (Philippians 4:8 – whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellence . . . let your mind dwell on these things), I have to train myself to turn my thoughts to those kinds of things instead of all the negative thoughts I, naturally in my sinful nature, tend to think about. There are many other things that are clearly the will of God as explained in Scripture that I need to be doing something about.
Third, am I willing to do what the Holy Spirit tells me to do even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to me? Philip was told to go to a deserted road. Presumably there would be no people there and Philip would be all alone. What I need to remember is that God has a purpose for us doing, thinking, going to the things and places He directs us. When Philip got to the desert road, there was a God-fearing man from Ethiopia who needed to hear the whole truth about Jesus. God may be sending us out to reach one person or a multitude. Our job is to take the next step in obeying Him, be all-in, and wait expectantly for God’s purpose to show up.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Acts 8:13-24: God Judges Sincerity

It’s not my place to judge the sincerity of another’s confession of faith. I can ask God for discernment so I know how to share with someone who may be seeking God, but it’s not my job to “make” them believe.
We have an example of this in Acts 8 when Luke records a situation involving a magician named Simon who was astonishing the people of Samaria with his tricks. He saw Philip preaching and many of the Samaritans were believing in Philip’s message about the Christ. Then Simon saw the apostles arriving from Jerusalem and laying hands on the new believers and the new believers received the gift of the Spirit. Simon wanted the power to do that, too and thought he could buy it from Peter and John. Scripture says in verse 13, “And even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip . . .” So it appears to us that Simon was a believer.
However, later we find out that Simon is still thinking in terms of money. Verses 18 - 19 says, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” Again it’s not clear as to Simon’s motives or to what extent Simon believed. That belief was to be determined by the Holy Spirit (through the apostles) and not by Philip. Philip’s job was to preach the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, there is one that is not fooled and can determine who are true believers and have received salvation. 2 Timothy 2:19 tells us, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His . . .’” That’s a relief to me. I don’t have to worry about whether or not someone truly believes. I can focus, as Philip did, on the preaching of God’s Word, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit knows who is sincere and who is not.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Message Wherever I Go

Persecution. Scattering. That’s what has now happened to the disciples in Jerusalem. Many theologians believe that the Hellenistic Jews were the ones being persecuted in Jerusalem, being imprisoned and beaten (and in some cases put to death as Stephen was). So they scattered to other parts of the region to avoid the persecution. Some may have been returning home since they were visiting Jerusalem for the feasts and just hadn’t left yet because they heard and believed the message of Christ.
Acts 8:4 says, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” The next few verses give an account of one such person, Philip. “And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.” [Acts 8:5] They were forced out of Jerusalem but didn’t go quietly. They were preaching the word. Wherever they went, they were preaching the word. Philip went to Samaria (not necessarily his home) and preached Christ to them. Philip probably could relate to the Samaritans since both the Hellenistic Jews (especially those who believed in Christ) and the Samaritans were outsiders to the Jewish elite of Jerusalem. Also, the Samaritans had had experience with the Christ as Jesus also had witnessed there.
So Philip went to the Samaritans (half Jewish and half other). They were still considered Jewish, but were called half-breeds. They didn’t like the Jews of Jerusalem and the Jews of Jerusalem didn’t like them. That was also true of Philip and the others who had been scattered. So Philip built upon their commonalities and preached Christ. He also performed “signs” (miracles) among the Samaritans and the Samaritans could see the similarities between the message Philip was preaching and what they had witnessed Jesus doing.
That is all very interesting and challenges me to find common ground with those I desire to share Christ with. However, that’s not what struck me the most about this passage. I was convicted of my lack of sharing the gospel wherever I go. Now I’m not being persecuted or forced to go to another city, state, or country, but the example is still the same for me: preach Christ wherever I go. I can do that if I’m open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and take advantage of the opportunities the Holy Spirit supplies.
One such opportunity is present as I write this blog. I don’t know who I’m writing to or who reads it every week, but I should be making it clear that Christ’s salvation is available to everyone. All it takes is belief in Him and confessing Him as Lord. What benefit does doing that have? What I notice most on a day-to-day basis is the possibility for peace or serenity in my life. Not everything goes the way I want it to, but I have peace knowing that there’s a God who is all powerful who has provided a very positive end result . . . new life in Christ and eternity with Him in a world where there is no pain or suffering.
So today, I proclaim that to you. I’m also going to pray that I become more conscious of the opportunities the Holy Spirit provides for me to preach the word wherever I go.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Stoning

As I continued reading in Acts 7:54 – Acts 8:3, the description of violence captivated my imagination. I tried to place myself within hearing distance of what was going on before the Sanhedrin. Stephen had just made a great speech highlighting the history of Israel and their continual disobedience to the laws of God. He highlighted that the Sanhedrin was doing the very same things as their “fathers” (the founders and leaders of Israel) had done. They were persecuting God’s prophets, those who were exclaiming Jesus as Messiah. They were refusing to believe and were putting those who believed in prison or were, even worse, persecuting them to the point of death.
The crowd’s response? “. . . they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him . . . they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse. And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him and the witnesses laid aside their robes . . . they went on stoning         Stephen . . .” [Acts 7:54 – 58] Violence! Blood! Gore! And people stood around watching and cheering. There were “witnesses” whose presence was an attempt to legitimize the proceedings. No one stood up and tried to protect Stephen. No one stood up for the truth. They just aggressively attacked Stephen or passively witnessed what was going on.
This scene, as I imagined it in my head, convicted me. There are people who are preaching God’s Word and are standing up for Him, who are getting persecuted for it. And I passively watch as it happens. I read the article on my computer or view the story on the news. And, in passing, I might say a prayer silently in my head. But, I’m not really standing up for them. I’m not collecting money for them. I’m not actively doing anything. Now, I realize that I can’t physically support every cause for Christ. I don’t have the finances, the health, the influence to affect much at all. But, I am convicted about not speaking out for Christ in my realm of influence.
Just something to think about and maybe I will take action next time the opportunity appears. In the meantime, know that I’m a Christ-follower and a Bible-believer. I stand up to proclaim the saving good news of Christ to any who will hear.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Listening: Acts 7:2-53

Do people hear you the first time you say something? Probably your answer is “no, but I wish they would.” God probably says that about us. The example in Scripture of people listening to God is discouraging. We have the many examples of the Israelites not paying attention to God’s prophets. And in Stephen’s “defense” before the Sanhedrin where he’s been accused of blasphemy against God, Moses, and the law, he outlines several examples of when the people of Israel failed to listen to people God sent with His messages.
The first such example Stephen uses is found in Acts 7:9-18 where he discusses the example of Joseph. A key verse is Acts 7:13, “And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh.” This verse implies the rest of the story: that when Joseph’s brothers first came to Egypt and saw Joseph, they did not recognize him. It took a second visit and Joseph’s revealing himself to his brothers for the people of Israel (Jacob’s offspring) to recognize God’s salvation for them. They were unable or unwilling to believe that God had a plan for them and they rejected Joseph (first when they sold him into slavery and then when they met him in Egypt). Yet, God provided salvation for them anyway.
The second such example is found in Stephen’s quotations recounting the life of Moses. God again sent Moses but at first the people didn’t listen to him. Verse 25 gives a possible insight into this situation. “And he [Moses] supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand.” As a result of the lack of understanding, Israel had to endure 40 more years of bondage to Egypt. Even then, when Moses had led the people out of Egypt, they still questioned Moses’ message, and wanted to turn back to Egypt (Acts 7:39: “And our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him [Moses], but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.”) The people rejected God again by rejecting Moses again, which led to another 40 years of wandering in the desert. Yet, God provided salvation for them anyway.
Stephen ends his sermon in verses 51-53:
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who receive the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.
Stephen’s point: Israel and especially its leaders, failed to listen to God through His prophets on many occasions, and now they were doing it again when it came to Jesus (whom they murdered).
What I got out of this is this: people may not hear the message of Christ the first time I tell them. I may need to repeat the message a number of times, in a number of ways. And they may need to hear it from a number of different people. And belief still may not come to them. However, for me, it means I need to continue to share through my words, my actions, and through my love before someone will listen. My children, and I, do not listen the first time someone shares or directs me to right action. I shouldn’t expect other people to listen the first time either.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Finding Topics

So, I haven’t gotten much of my study of Acts 7 done, so I don’t know which insights I want to share with you. As a result, I’m feeling topic-less.
There are several things I can do to come up with topics to write to you about. One of those things is to just wait and pray, hoping God will lead me to something. This often works. Turning to God often works in many areas of our lives. I think it’s probably the one most important thing I can do anytime we are struggling in our lives. That’s not saying we don’t have to do our part. There’s always the “footwork” to do, even if it’s just doing the next right thing, whatever that might be. Sometimes that might be making dinner or doing the laundry, but sometimes it’s making us available to someone who needs a friend to talk to. I find that in doing the next right thing(s), God brings to mind ideas about what to write about. Often those topics deal with a struggle I am having preventing me from doing the next right thing. However, I have to remember to seen God in all things, and wait on Him to bring me to the next topic or the next activity.
Another thing I do to come up with topics is review my Quiet Time notes, my letters to a special friend, or my Bible study notes (especially the application section). Trying to come up with topics actually draws my attention back to something I maybe didn’t learn the first time I looked at a certain passage of Scripture. I find it’s a good policy to review my notes and letters occasionally (to be honest, I probably should do this more often). I often see patterns of things that God has shown me over the course of a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. Those things are only apparent after time has gone by. I would miss the patterns if I never reviewed my various notes.
My final resource for coming up with ideas involves talking to people and finding out what they think I should write about (or what they want to hear about). Actually, that’s where the idea for this blog article came from. I was mentioning to one of my daughters that I didn’t know what to write about this week. She suggested I write about what I do when I don’t have a topic readily in my thoughts. I thought about that for a few minutes, came to my computer, started typing, and out came this blog. There are other times this happens when talking to friends. Friends are a valuable resource in my writing and in encouraging me throughout my days.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Anxiety Update

So, I’m home safe and sound. My adventure to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan went off without a hitch, for the most part. We did have an engine light come on when we were only 1 ½ hours from home. We found a car repair place and they said if it isn’t blinking then we had nothing to worry about. Well, it wasn’t blinking so we said a prayer, laid everything in God’s hands, and continued our drive to Marquette (another 5 hours away). We got there just fine, and my brother was able to help us unhook the battery to try and reset the computer. That worked. When we hooked everything back up, the light was gone and we had no further problems the rest of the trip.
I remember my anxiety over driving across the Mackinaw Bridge that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. There were many God sightings during that 10-minute part of the trip. Answers to prayer to be exact. There were no thunderstorms (there was a 40% chance). There was a High Wind Warning instructing semi-trucks to proceed at 20 mph. I was worried that we’d get stuck behind a truck and have to take that much longer to get across the bridge (cars could drive 40 mph). That didn’t happen. God arranged for us to have nobody driving around us. There was no one within a hundred yards of us before or after. It felt like we were all alone on the bridge. That was a good thing in my book. No pressure to drive faster or slower or to drive on the grated lane on the bridge. Smooth sailing. However, I did notice that the paved lane on the southbound side was closed for maintenance for quite a long strip of the bridge. I prayed that it wouldn’t be there on our way home or that God would work in me to give me the courage and peace of mind to drive on the grated lane of the bridge. God answered both prayers in a way: some of the paved lane was closed, but not as much as when we went up on Friday. And, I did not get stressed, panicked, or afraid when it came time to change lanes and drive on the grates. Besides, I was in the middle of the bridge and could not stop driving or go back. God gave me the courage I needed when I needed it. I praised Him as we were driving and when we reached the end of the bridge.
It all reminded me of the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Trusting God is the only real way to gain security and peace in this world.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Acts 7: Stephen's Sermon

I’ve just started my study of Acts 7 and have only gotten through a couple of verses. However, I did read the whole chapter (verses 1 – 60) to get a feel for what Luke was going to tell us in Acts 7. Basically, Luke gave an account of Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin after Stephen was publicly accused of blasphemy in four ways (Acts 6:11, 14). The accusations were partially true, but warped the intent of Stephen’s preaching.
The four blasphemes are listed as such:
1.  Blasphemed Moses by making Christ greater thn Moses.
2.  Blasphemed God by exalting Christ greater than the temple or the law.
3.  Blasphemed the temple by saying that Christ would destroy it.
4.  Blasphemed the law by sying that Christ had abolished the law and made a new covenant.
Did Stephen defend himself regarding these charges? No he didn’t. Instead of going on the defense Stephen went on the offense. His sermon to the Sanhedrin by telling them “you are doing just as your fathers did.” What did the “fathers” do? First a side note, when the New Testament preachers (and the Old Testament, too) refer to the “fathers” they are saying “those who came before you in the faith” i.e. the patriarchs. The basic point of Stephen’s speech is highlighted in the Ryrie Study Bible in the footnotes like this: “Stephen recited the privileges of the nation Israel and their rejection of God’s messengers; then he laid blame for the slaying of Jesus squarely on his hearers.”
Stephen quoted Scripture (Old Testament) and recounted several of the foundational stories of Israel’s forefathers. I will be interested in exploring those passages more carefully in the coming weeks. He started right off in verse 2 discussing the calling of Abraham (before there was the covenant, the law, or the temple). He started with the foundational beliefs of Jewish history.
I’m not sure starting off with Jewish history would be beneficial today with the populations I regularly come in contact with; as a matter of fact, I think it would turn modern Americans off and cause them to discount the message as something for the Jews but not for them. However, I am challenged to use appropriate Scripture as I interact with people, especially those passages (mostly in the New Testament) that explain the human condition without Christ leading to the passages that promote Christ as the Savior of everyone.
I’m sure more will be revealed to me as I continue the study in Acts 7. I’m looking forward to what will be revealed and how I can apply the concepts to my own life.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


I’m writing a special blog today to talk about anxiety. I can’t afford to let anxiety rule my life. And I can’t afford to use unhealthy coping skills for alleviating the stress (or forgetting all about).
I didn’t grow up in an environment that taught me how to effectively cope with situations that bring anxiety into my life. I recognize, after being told many times, that everyone has anxiety to one level or another, but some people learned coping skills that are effective. I developed coping mechanisms, however they were not healthy. In fact, they usually added to the stress and were deadly if I continued to use them.
I’m talking about drinking, withdrawing from others, self-harming behaviors, not eating, eating too much, etc. Sometimes those techniques worked for a while – a short period of time – however, the long term effects were worse than the original anxiety. I’ve learned to play the tape all the way through to the end. The final scene in the movie of my life is a very sad one should I choose to use any or several of the dysfunctional skills. I didn’t really learn that until I was almost 40 years old.
So, I’m experience some anxiety over several situations happening (or will happen soon) in my life. Today, I share about those feelings and get some guidance on what to do or think so I make healthy choices in my behaviors and thoughts. For instance, one of the things causing me anxiety is an upcoming trip I am making to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’m okay with the trip except the part about driving over the Mackinaw Bridge. I’ve been a passenger many times, but I’m in somewhat of a panic about actually doing the driving. It was pointed out to me that the same conditions apply to that segment of the trip whether I’m driving or not. All the catastrophes I think about are not really very realistic. It was pointed out to me that they close the bridge if conditions are unsafe. I was reminded that the bridge authority is constantly maintaining the bridge. It was suggested that I don’t look at the “scenery” but keep my eyes on the road. And finally, I was reminded that God is in ultimate control and He has my best interests in mind. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
If I believe that God is all powerful, in control, and loves me, I cannot then say I don’t trust Him in my current situation. That thought brings me a certain amount of peace – for a time; it doesn’t always last very long. I can go back to Him as many times as it takes for me to get over the bridge or past any troubling situation in my life.

Acts 6:1 -15: About Stephen

As I’ve been studying Acts 6, I was struck by two verses and their possible applications to my life. The first verse is Acts 6:7: “And the word of God kept on spreading and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

This verse comes directly after the apostles and the congregation appointed 7 men to be the distributors of the communally held assets so the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews would not be slighted. So the apostles were relieved from having to handle the daily tasks and could focus on studying and preaching the word of God. Somehow, doing this lead to an increase in disciples and impacted a great number of priests so that they came to believe.

I don’t know if the increase in disciples resulted from the apostles being freed up to preach the gospel (instead of dealing with internal dilemmas within the church). Or possibly the increase happened because these 7 men impacted the community in such a way as to draw attention and respect from the people in Jerusalem. Possibly Stephen and the others, learned valuable lessons from their service which enabled them to become exceptional preachers of the message (as seen in verses 8 and 9). It’s possible they learned from serving God in this behind-the-scenes way more about power, faith, wisdom and grace (6:3, 5, 8), which led them to be powerful and effective proclaimers of the word.

This can be applied in my life by recognizing that the seemingly menial tasks I do (especially volunteering in a couple of ministries at church, and writing my blog, and even getting healthy) may become (or are) a platform for sharing the truth of God's Word and work in our lives. I need to be faithful, diligent, and responsible for doing the tasks ordained to me by God, so the Word will be proclaimed. Specifically for me, today, this means writing my “weekly” blog article (which I haven’t done for a couple of weeks now).

Then as I finished up Acts 6 I was challenged by the second verse that stood out to me. Acts 6:15 says, "And fixing their gaze on [Stephen], all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel." This is an incredible description of Stephen as he's being accused in front of the Council of blasphemous acts and speech. I asked myself what a "face like the face of an angel" would look like. I also asked myself if I, in a similar situation having to defend Christ and His Word, would I have a similar countenance as Stephen did. The first question was answer by several commentators. Together they indicated that the phrase "face of an angel" could mean several things. First it could mean, "God permitted His glory to shine through the face of Stephen to convince all the people that what he had said was the truth." That's what I always believed in the back of my mind. However, other commentators said that it was not some miraculous sign of God. They tended to say that the look on Stephen's face (a face like an angel) was "denoting that {Stephen] manifested evidence of sincerity, gravity, fearlessness, and confidence in God . . . calmness and dignity and confidence in God." That led me to some possible answers to the second question (would I have a similar countenance?)

I'm not sure what my face would look like. I hope and pray I would appear to others to be calm, sincere, serious, fearless, dignified, and having confidence in God. I prayed this morning that God would develop those characteristics in me. When all is said and done, I want it to be obvious to everyone – nurse, doctor, mental health worker, policemen, family, friends – observing my dying days that I have faith in God and belief in the principles of Christ right up to the last moment I'm alive. And today, I am trying to develop that character in my life through reading and studying His Word, as a way of applying these two principles to my life.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Acts 5:1-42: Persecution, Again

This chapter of Acts addressed two things: Purging from within (the results of Ananias’ and Sapphiras’ lies); and Purging attempts from without (the Sanhedrin persecutes the apostles again). I saw two things in the second part that made me take notice.
The first thing was found in verse 32: “And we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” In the study notes, it mentioned that we all have the capacity for the Holy Spirit to work through us in miraculous ways. Why don’t we see the kinds of miracles the apostles witnessed and performed? I think the answer is in how much we are obeying (or not obeying) Christ’s commands and words. Are we as nearly devoted to sharing about Christ’s resurrection to a world that doesn’t know Him as the early Church was? Are we sharing communally with our fellow believers as the early Church was? Are we willing to rejoice in the midst of persecution as the early Church was? I don’t see that today in our churches (or in myself). I think my obedience and belief are tempered by the supposed sophistication of modern ideas and philosophies. So my commitment and behavior are not what I would call “filled with the Holy Spirit.” I think there are elements of unbelief in my heart that are thwarting the Holy Spirit from giving me the same power that the early Church had. And therefore I don’t see the same results the apostles saw.
This brings me to the second thing that stood out to me in this passage. In verse 41 it tells us the response of the apostles to the persecution they had just gone through. “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” When I encounter suffering or persecution (in no way as severe as the apostles suffered), do I rejoice in the midst of it? Do I rejoice after it? For that matter do I rejoice at all? If I had the same power of the Holy Spirit working through me as the apostles had, would I rejoice then? Possibly but I won’t know unless I give myself completely to His cause.
I don’t see persecution as a blessing or something to rejoice about. One of the writers of the reference notes I was looking at for this verse pointed out why this may be so. Basically, when we don’t focus on the reward in the world to come (i.e. heaven), we don’t see anything to rejoice about. The suffering seems pointless and purposeless and just part of the grind of life. However, when the suffering comes and we view it as part of God’s plan for our lives, and recognize that we are suffering the same as Jesus did, we can rejoice because we will receive the same reward Jesus received: eternal life. And, not just any eternal life, but a life filled with joy, glory, blessings, painlessness, without struggles, and basking in the glory of the Lord. When I focus on the reward to come, I am better able to accept the suffering in my life. I need to take it one step further and rejoice in it.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Acts 4: Courage and Boldness

So, continuing from last week’s blog about the first recorded incident of persecution, much of the rest of the chapter deals with what happens after the hearing before the Sanhedrin. Verses 24-37 record the prayer the early Church prayed once Peter and John were released from prison and joined them in their meeting place.
The prayer starts out with praise and moves into their requests. They didn’t pray for protection against persecution. They didn’t pray that God would wipe out all enemies of His message. They didn’t pray for their next meal. What did they pray? Acts 4:29 tells us what they prayed: “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence,” [NASB] They asked that God grant them the boldness and courage to speak about Christ in spite of the persecution.
Several commentators (Fronczak, Clarke, McGee) address this verse. One commentator (Fronczak) said that what the early Church was praying was, “Now Lord, give us power to speak and to confirm Your Word.” Another (Clarke) said, “While we are endeavoring to fulfill thy counsels, and can do nothing without thee, sustain our courage, that we may proclaim thy truth with boldness and irresistible power.”
Clarke said this about “take note of their threats”: “It is not against us, but against thee, that they conspire; it is not to prevent the success of our preaching, but to bring to naught they counsel; the whole of their enmity is against thee. Now, Lord look upon it; consider this.” Fronczak put it this way: “Their threatenings are against You, not us. They are determined to bring to naught Your Word and course.” We also need to remember that the attacks against us are not really personal attacks on us; they are attacks on the truth of God’s Word and the truth of the resurrection of Christ. Those that persecute us, are in fact, denying the Godhead. It is against Him that they argue and choose not to believe.
What else can I say? We need to be more like the early Church and pray for boldness and courage, not escape plans for possible persecution. The early disciples walked head on into situations that might bring them persecution. Everything from prison, beatings, and death would come their way. They did not pray to be rescued from those situations. They prayed for the courage to face those situations in such a way as to be able to speak God’s Word in the midst of the persecution. What do I pray for today that is significantly different from the early Church’s example? I pray for protection. I pray for peace and no conflicts, I pray I will not have to suffer. I pray for health and happiness. I rarely pray for the boldness and courage to share Christ without being defensive or timid. I need to make sure I’m praying for the most important thing: to proclaim Christ with courage and boldness, no matter what situations I find myself in. The whole modern day Church needs to be praying for that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Acts 4;1-12: Whose Authority

This chapter highlights the first incident of persecution against the believers of Jesus. There are a couple things of note and they lead to one application for me.
First, verse 2 states what the persecution was initially about. Starting at the end of verse 1 this passage says, “. . . the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them [Peter and John] being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Those leaders in the temple were upset because these uneducated, untrained men were teaching (vs. 13) AND because they were proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. They also didn’t appreciate these common men doing miracles (healing the lame man in Acts 3). They really didn’t want to bring attention to the resurrection of Jesus – especially the Sadducees – because that would just fuel the idea of the resurrection and they didn’t believe in resurrection or miracles of any kind.
When the disciples were put on trial the next day, possibly after the Sanhedrin (the judging body of men) had a chance to discuss how they were going to accuse and prosecute Peter and John, they inquired only one aspect of what had upset them: “. . . By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” (vs. 7) The apostles knew they were talking about healing the lame man, so Peter responded by telling them all about whose name they were trusting in: “let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by this name this man stands here before you in good health.” He fully gives all the credit to Jesus. Just as Peter preached the gospel focusing on Jesus and His resurrection, that should be the focus of our gospel messages as we share Christ with those who don’t know Him.
Also, stemming from that, I had the thought (and some discussion with my Bible study partner, Kris) that we need to make sure we are not glorifying the Holy Spirit first. Some of our songs say things like, “Holy Spirit we welcome you . . .” I feel we should be asking Jesus to send His Holy Spirit to us as we may have need. I’ve heard many people (including some pastors) pray to the Holy Spirit asking the Holy Spirit to “fill us” when the focus should be on praying to Jesus and the Father, and He will send His Holy Spirit to be our Helper in whatever way we need help. The Holy Spirit only acts at Jesus’ and the Father’s commands. We need to make sure our focus is on glorifying and praying to Jesus as we keep Him the focus of our lives and ministries.
I was challenged by these concepts to observe and adjust how I share Christ with others and how I should be praying for Jesus to send His Holy Spirit to meet my needs. If you want to get an idea of how to share the gospel message with someone, study the sermons of Peter in the first 11 or 12 chapters of Acts. A good example is found in Acts 4:8-12.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Where Does Power Come From: Acts 3:1-11

Acts 3:1-11 is the telling of an incident in the life of Peter and John, and of a lame man. Basically, there was this man, lame since birth, sitting near the temple in Jerusalem begging for alms. This was his regular spot and the people going in and out of the temple recognized him as they passed that way. One day, the lame man turned his attention on Peter and John asking for alms as they passed by. Peter and John were not men of wealth – not even earning enough to give some away to this man. So what did Peter and John do? What would I have done?
What Peter did was recorded in verses 6-7: “But Peter said, ‘I do not possess sliver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.” Peter provided healing from Jesus. He could have used this as an opportunity to promote himself and/or John, but he didn’t. It put all the focus on the true source of power: Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The man and the people nearby all had heard of this man, Jesus Christ the Nazarene. By this time they had probably heard the rumors and observations of Jesus’ teachings, death, burial, and resurrection.
The people who saw the man walking and leaping and praising God were “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Verse 10) The man kept walking with Peter and John into the temple where even more people saw him and were amazed. In fact a crowd began to form. This healing, through Jesus’ power and working through the Holy Spirit, opened up another opportunity for Peter to preach a message to the gathered people. That’s what the rest of Acts 3 is: Peter’s second sermon in Jerusalem.
However, what I want to think about is where Peter’s and John’s healing power came from and what the purpose of the healing was. The power was a continuation of Jesus’ power and a continuation of the healings Jesus had performed during His ministry on earth. It was still Jesus doing the healing. It’s still Jesus today who gives us the power to heal and grow and mature. And the purpose of the healing? To provide a platform, an opportunity, for Peter and John to share more about Jesus. Today the purpose in healing –whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – is so the message and power of Christ might be shared and create a platform for witnessing of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.
I find it hard to see the power of Jesus working in my life through the Holy Spirit. Yet, I know it to be truth. And I know I often fail to take the opportunities God provides for me to proclaim the power of Jesus in my own life situations. I don’t believe I’m alone in my struggles in this area. And, I don’t have any solutions to it, either. However, reading about the apostles and the lame man, encourages me to proclaim Christ’s power whenever I am given the platform to do so. I can only imagine what my life would be like without His power in my life . . . I’d probably be dead and long buried. That possibility is enough to focus others’ attention on the true source of power.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughts From Acts 2:14-47


As I studied Acts 2:14-47 this week, I discovered or rediscovered several thoughts that requires specific action from me. I call these required actions application because these are ways to apply God’s Word to my own life.
My application for this week comes from a familiar verse. Acts 2:42 (in the NASB) says, “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” There are several aspects of the Christian life that are highlighted in this verse, however prayer caught my attention this week.
First I looked up the meaning of the word prayer and found out that for the early church, prayer had two aspects. There were the formal prayers involved in the practice of Judaism, and the spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving and worship. The formal prayers were the prayers the apostles would be continuing to say as they worshiped in the temple. The disciples didn’t give these prayers up; they continued to worship according to the Old Testament, seeing and understanding them more accurately now that they had the Holy Spirit to help them.
From the time I was a young Christian, I came to believe that formal, recited, repetitious prayers were anti-Christian. So I rebelled against remembering and saying them. This was still true as I listened to my colleagues in AA say that they prayed the 3rd, 7th and 11th step prayers every day. I have held back from engaging in that practice. However, I’m second thinking that this week. Those prayers are full of truth and insight, and if I pray them from my heart they are as good as my spontaneous prayers.
The 3rd step prayer goes as follows: “God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”
The 7th step prayer: “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I prayer that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”
The 11th step prayer: “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace – that where there is hatred, I may bring love – that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness – that where there is discord, I may bring harmony – that where there is error, I may bring truth – that where there is doubt, I may bring faith – that where there is despair, I may bring hope – that where there are shadows, I may bring light – that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted – to understand, than to be understood – to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”
I’ve printed those prayers out and posted them by my computer. I plan on praying them each morning as I start my day. Of course, I’m not going to stop praying the spontaneous prayers, either. The formal prayers just give me focus for my day and remind me why I’m on this earth.