Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rejoicing in Jail

Paul was writing from prison when he said, Now I want you to know, brothers, that what happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. (Phil. 1:12 NIV) He explained that because of his imprisonment the palace guard and others realized he was there only because he was a Christian. They respected Paul. And because of the jail sentence, the Word of God was brought to people who would normally have been outside his sphere of influence.

Furthermore, Because of my chains most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God. . . . (v. 14a) Those dependent upon Paul for spiritual leadership were forced to step out on their own.

So although prison continued as an uncomfortable reality, Paul could write to the Philipians, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (v. 18b)

Imagine. He rejoiced. He knew God could take aspects of life which are difficult—perhaps even devastating—and use them for good.

Originally published October 7, 1983.
Picture: Pansies, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Julius, a Centurion

A centurion named Julius had the job of delivering Paul to Rome. A tough job because at least one of his prisoners—Paul—was unjustly incarcerated, and because some of his prisoners were surely dangerous.

Julius respected Paul. They'd become friends of sorts. When the ship stopped at Sidon, he arranged for Paul to receive assistance from friends.

Yet he failed to heed Paul’s revelation from God. When the owner wanted to make up for lost time, Paul recommended waiting out the winter in a port named Fair Havens, but Julius agreed to leave. [He] was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship. . . . (Acts 27:11a NKJV)

Of course, they had problems. During a storm, Paul received another revelation: all must stay aboard until the ship ran aground. Meanwhile, they should strengthen themselves by eating.

The soldiers routinely planned to kill all prisoners. But Julius, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purposes, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard . . . the rest, some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land. (v. 43a,44)

Paul prayed, trusted God, and shared his insight. And so, after making a mistake, Julius adjusted and God's plans prevailed.

Originally published May 27, 1988.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Becoming Established

People often decide they will trust Jesus in a specific problem area such as overeating or smoking or gossip or procrastination—only to discover they cannot overcome the deeply ingrained habits of sin in their own strength or power. The discouraging aspect of this is that the struggle continues throughout our Christian experience. After victory in one area, we quickly realize problems in another.

Paul identified the struggle and lamented, For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Rom. 7:19 NIV)

Yet he was not discouraged. He directed his attention beyond his sinful nature into the person of Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus. He wrote, “[H]e who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit . . .” (Rom. 8:11b)

There is victory! Although individuals cannot overcome sin, the life of Christ can do all things. It is the Spirit of Christ that establishes the life of Christ within a person.

Originally published October 1, 1982.
Picture: Potted flowers for a deck, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Do You Believe the Prophets?

Is it possible to believe without faith? Perhaps knowing truth and walking in truth are not the same? Look at the cases of Governor Festus and King Agrippa.

By way of background, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, Christians welcomed him gladly but the religious leaders seized him on false charges. Roman soldiers arrested him to avoid a riot and, to avoid certain death at the hands of locals, Paul appealed to the Roman governor.

After languishing in prison for a season, a new governor named Festus came to town. Then King Agrippa, a king with a Semantic heritage, visited Festus. The two rulers reviewed Paul’s case together and Paul was brought before them. Paul used the event as an opportunity to tell the men about Jesus.

Each of the rulers responded based on their unique backgrounds, and each put their spin on Paul's message. Festus had a Roman viewpoint and Paul challenged everything he had learned and believed. He saw the reasoning of Paul’s argument, but he said, “Paul, you are beside yourself. Much learning has made you mad!” (Acts 26:13:NKVJ) He could not—would not—allow an intrusion into his personal views or mindset.

Agrippa, a man acquainted with Scripture, thought differently. Paul asked, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?”

Agrippa couldn't discount Paul and he knew the question was not an idle question. Yet he wasn't willing to follow the God of Scripture. “You almost persuade me to become a Christian,” he said. (v. 27,28) He knew Paul spoke truth.

One man rejected truth because he could not comprehend it. The other rejected truth because he did not want to submit to its claims.

Originally published May 15, 1987.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Purposed in the Spirit

Paul was on his third missionary journey when he purposed in the Spirit . . . to travel again to Jerusalem. . . . (Acts 19:21b NKJV)

The phrase purposed in the Spirit (note the capital “S” in Spirit) is one of those sticky or controversial spots in Scripture. The New International Version of the Bible reads, Paul decided. . . . These translations do not quite agree.

The New American Standard Bible reads, Paul purposed in the spirit (note the small “s”). The small “s” has a footnote telling the reader the translators will not commit themselves to whether “spirit” means Paul’s human spirit or God’s Holy Spirit.

Did Paul decide in his own spirit or did he respond to a leading from God’s Spirit? Or a combination of the two? Whatever the case, from that point on Paul received many warnings telling him he would end up in a prison if he went to Jerusalem. But he went to Jerusalem anyway, regardless of the consequences. He had decided or purposed in the Spirit. He either would not—or could not—turn away from God’s call or God’s claim upon his life.

Originally published May 20, 1988.
Picture: Hollyhocks near Lindenwood Park, Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"This Babbler"

While in Athens, Paul went to the square. There he learned that the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:21 RSV)

This has to be one of the funniest verses in the Bible. Picture cronies daily rehashing the tiresome latest trends. Standing around with no concept of useful activity, they reacted to Paul with, “What would this babbler say?” (v. 18b) They looked for whatever diversion they could find, even listening to people they identified as babblers—because they needed something to fill their boring, idle hours.

With great grace, Paul saw this as an opportunity. He presented the gospel.

Reactions varied, especially when he told them about Jesus’ resurrection. Then, some mocked, but others said, “We will hear you again about this” (v. 32b)

Paul did not push his message of Jesus. He quietly moved so he was no longer the center of attention. Some followed him and became believers.

Originally published March 19, 1982.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And Your Household

A Philipian jailer was desperate. The foundations of his prison had been shaken by an earthquake and the inmates were set free. Assuming everyone would escape, the jailer planned to commit suicide to save his good name.

Paul and Silas were in the prison that night. When the earthquake struck, they had been singing praises and praying while the other prisoners listened. No one tried to leave. And when Paul realized what the jailer was about to do he let the man know that even though doors were open and chains were broken, the prisoners were still there.

Why would prisoners remain instead of try to escape? The scene is surreal, but God was apparently reaching the prisoners through praises and prayers of Paul and Silas. When the jailer realized what was happening, he fell down before Paul and Silas . . . “Men, what must I do to be save?” (Acts 16:30b RSV) Paul and Silas shared the gospel: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (v. 31)

The jailer responded to the invitation. But why? And why so quickly? Because his prisoners were present and accounted for?

Could it have been the Holy Spirit? Whatever our interpretation, we know God met both the jailer and the jailed in an hour of crisis. In fact, God’s love extended beyond the jailer himself to touch his entire household or family.

He can do the same for us.

Originally published August 21, 1981.
Picture: Young Geraniums, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not a Failure

Paul and his new traveling companion Silas had a relatively brief stay at Thessalonica. While they were there, they went to the synagogue as they did in all the cities they visited. For three Sabbaths Paul taught from the Old Testament and encouraged discussion, all the while explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. (Acts 17:3 NIV)

It did not last. Some of the Jews, . . a large group of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women accepted Paul’s teaching. (v. 4) When that happened, leaders of the synagogue were both jealous and threatened, so they incited a riot by riling up ne’er-do-wells from the city marketplace.

According to most standards, the events of those few weeks were not a successful missionary effort. But Paul was not discouraged. He knew God could do great things even when it did not look good.

As a result of those few weeks, a church was established. And Paul could later write to the Thessalonians, You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. ( I Thess. 2:1)

Originally published July 15, 1983.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Proven Failure

Barnabas had a young cousin named John Mark who traveled with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. However, when they were in Pamphylia, John Mark returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13) For that reason, Paul did not want to take John Mark with him on a second missionary journey. (Acts 15) John Mark was held accountable for his failure.

But God is in the business of redeeming and restoring failures, and He both redeemed and restored the young man and his ministry. We know that Paul came to appreciate him, too, because he said to the Colossians, My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you greetings, as does Mark . . . if he [Mark] comes to you, welcome him. (Col. 4:10 NIV) In another letter, Paul told Timothy, Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful. . . . (II Tim. 4:11b)

John Mark was also Peter’s friend. The early church believed (and scholars generally agree) that John Mark wrote Peter’s gospel account—the book of Mark in our Bible.

God took John Mark, worked in the life of the proven failure, and turned him into a success.

Originally published January 27, 1989.
Picture: Pansies, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Violent Reaction

After he became a Christian, Paul spent some time in Antioch. Then the church of Antioch sent him on the first official missionary journey with another disciple named Barnabas.

In the city of Lystra, Paul began ministering by performing a mighty miracle. A man who was crippled from birth was healed. (Acts 14:8-10) The crowd of the city went wild. They exalted both Paul and Barnabas as gods; they even prepared a sacrifice of oxen before them!

Then Paul and Barnabas became excited. They tore their clothing and ran into the crowd. They cried, “why are you doing this? We also are men . . .” (v. 15a RSV) Paul added, “turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth . . .” (v. 15b)

Perhaps the admonition to turn from vain things explains what followed. Just days later, when influenced by adversaries from city they had visited earlier, the people stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city. (v. 19b) Then they left him there for dead.

The rapid turn-around of the people makes no sense to a rational mind. But a rational mind would not try to make a person a god. When people are deceived, they are easily swayed.

Originally published December 11, 1981.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When We Forgive

Sometimes God asks us to do hard things and we would rather disobey than obey Him. It was not easy for Ananias to pray for Saul. He objected when God told him to meet the man. He even listed Saul’s activities before God. Saul had persecuted Christians in Jerusalem—and he had authority from religious leaders to send Christians to prison. (Acts, 9) Surely God knew that Saul’s character made him an obvious enemy of God’s people.

But God overruled Ananias just as He had overruled Saul: “Go, for he is a chosen vessel . . . .” (v. 15a ) Ananias had to put personal feelings and fears aside. He had to forgive a man he thought was his enemy.

Ananias struggled, but God knew Saul’s nature, and God knew Saul’s future—how Saul would respond. Saul’s conversion was both immediate and drastic. He began preaching in synagogues and everyone was amazed because the man who persecuted them had become a believer.

Saul went on to become Paul. He traveled the Roman Empire for Jesus and he wrote much of our New Testament.

And Ananias? He is remembered as the person who obeyed God when it wasn't easy. Through his obedience he helped launch the ministry of the remarkable apostle Paul.

Originally published November 13, 1992.
Picture: Commercial landscape, Grand Forks, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

He Regained Strength

The man named Saul traveled to Damascus with a plan. He would take Christians as prisoners and deliver them to Jerusalem where they would be judged and found guilty. But he was in for a surprise. As he traveled, a voice and a bright supernatural light overcame him. The voice said, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4b NIV)

What could he have thought when the voice identified itself as the voice of Jesus? To make matters even worse, Saul was affected physically: For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. (v. 9)

But nothing was outside God's plan. Paul followed the instructions of the voice by going to Damascus and staying with the very people he'd planned to persecute. Then God sent Ananias, a human instrument of healing and encouragement. Ananias laid his hands on Saul and said Jesus sent him so Saul's sight would be restored and so Saul would be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (v. 18)

God had prepared everything in advance. With new eyes Saul would receive revelation. It was a beginning. Strength would be important for the man Saul who was about to become the disciple named Paul.

Originally published June 7, 1985.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sent to Antioch

Tumultuous events occurred in the early church. A young evangelist named Stephen did remarkable things for God. When religious leaders from the Temple could not stop him any other way, they turned violent. They stoned him. Another young man named Saul of Tarsus—not yet converted to Paul—approved of the stoning. (Acts 6 and 7)

As events unfolded, many Christians fled from Jerusalem, traveling as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch . . . . (Acts 11:19b NKJV) But God used everything that happened. When the dispersed Christians reached their new locations, they established themselves and shared the Gospel in their new settings.

The Christians initially reached out to other Jews in the area—they were comfortable with their own kind. But the Christians who went to Antioch were more open. They shared with Greeks as well. And many Greeks accepted Christ.

This required a response from the still-infant church. When leaders in Jerusalem heard what was happening, they commissioned Barnabas to go to Antioch to encourage and teach the new converts.

Perhaps they chose Barnabas because he was a native of Cyprus who understood people outside the Jewish heritage. Perhaps they sent him simply because he had a gentle temperament. Whatever the reason, When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord . . . And a great many people were added to the Lord. (v. 23,24b)

Originally published March 20, 1992.
Picture: Tulip, West Fargo, 2209. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Out of the Heart

Have you ever tried teaching a child to say the right thing? Perhaps to say, Thank you. Or, I’m sorry. Parents must keep at it because children forget—usually because they do not have a truly thankful or sorry heart.

Or, perhaps we try to keep a child from expressing a selfish thought when they proclaim, Mine. Or, Give it to me. Again, words reveal the attitude.

Adults are somewhat better at controlling their words, but sometimes they slip. Again, the best way to say constructive words to people—or about people—is to think constructive thoughts. Because eventually, we will say what we think. The attitudes of the heart have a way of revealing themselves.

Jesus said, For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk. 6:45b NKJV) What we do and what we say reveals our inner life—our character.

Originally published June 9, 1989.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Abba, Father"

The father image of God has come under attack in recent years—perhaps because the father image itself has come under attack. It has deteriorated. Macho doesn’t usually blend well with tender love.

But the relationship of father to child is often portrayed tenderly in the Bible. Children were answers to the patriarch’s prayers. Even Jacob—who, admittedly, played favorites—demonstrated loving relationships with each of his children.

In the Old Testament, the prophets portray a positive father image. Elisha cried, My father! My father! when he saw a chariot of fire snatch his teacher. (II Kings 2:12 NIV)

Jesus always addressed or referred to God as the Father who provided for every need.

And Paul wrote, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15)

Sonship and fatherhood are good things.

Originally published May 17, 1985.
Picture: Fern-leaf Peonies with Creeping Phlox foreground, Patty's Garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Heavenly Minded

We’ve all heard the old adage, She—[or he]—is so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good. It’s one of those familiar sayings passed off as truth that isn’t actually truth.

When people think heavenly mindedness is an impractical approach to today’s problems, it’s because their concept of being heavenly minded is distorted. It’s based on false images unrelated to seeking God and His Kingdom. Or, perhaps, they just don’t appreciate qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22 NIV)

Paul told the Colossians to focus on heavenly things because, your life is now hidden with Christ and God. (Col. 3:3b) This may seem like an exalted image, but if a life is focused on Him, He affects everything we do—and His influence is always a good influence.

In a society where everyone is increasingly eager to grab his or her share of the pie, a little heavenly mindedness could do a great deal of earthly good.

Originally published July 16, 1982.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Deep Calls to Deep

Psychologists tell us that feeling accepted by others is a basic human need. But for many, acceptance from others seems like an impossible goal. Their self-image has been damaged by injustice, by unfair treatment.

Scripture has much to say about acceptance. Paul instructs Christians to accept others just as Christ also received us. . . . (Rom. 15:7b NKJV) But if we’ve felt unacceptable for years, those thought patterns are firmly entrenched—and they aren't easily released. Christians are not exempt from these struggles.

An unknown psalmist cried, My tears have been my food . . . Deep calls to deep . . . your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Ps. 42:3a,7a,7c NKJV) The psalmist’s images are powerful because they describe helpless feelings when overcome by powerful currents. The images also help us release pent-up emotions.

If the psalmist could cry, perhaps I can cry. And perhaps I’ll even be able to move on with him into a statement of faith: I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (v. 11b) By joining our expression with the psalmists expression, we find acceptance from the God who receives hurting people.

Originally published December 7, 1984.
Picture: Pansies, Patty's Garden, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Day of the Lord

Old Testament prophets provided many prophecies about end times, and the disciples could turn to them as a reference. Some referred to the end as the Day of the Lord.

Then and now, the end of the world means different things to different people. Some think of it as a time of hope, others think of it as a time of fear.

The Gospel of Luke records some of Jesus’ words concerning the last days. Jesus let the disciples know it would be a difficult time. He described, Men’s hearts failing them for fear . . . for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (Lk. 21:26 KJV)

There are several schools of thought within the Christian groups today concerning the world’s final events. There are also areas of agreement. Jesus said, Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. (v. 33 KJV)

When Paul began his ministry, he wrote about the day of the Lord in his letters. He said to the Corinthians, Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling off an eye, at the last trumpet. (I Cor. 15:51 NIV)

Originally published September 3, 1982.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The End of the Age

Early Christians looked forward to Jesus’ second coming. Although Jesus had not said a great deal about the final events, He didn’t ignore the subject, either. Before His death, when the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age, He provided a general overview.

Matthew 24 records some of what He said: nation shall rise against nation . . . false prophets shall rise . . . the love of many shall wax cold . . . And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then the end shall come. (v. 7a,11a,12b,14a KJV)

Jesus also said that when the end did come, people would be surprised. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be . . . Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. (v. 38-39,42)

Originally published March 6, 1992.
Picture: Commercial landscape, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Miraculous and the Mundane

Peter had more than one brush with a prison break. At one point he lay bound between two guards because Herod planned to kill him. Then an angel visited him in the night. The angel came with light and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands (Acts. 12:7b NKJV)

Peter and the angel passed through two guard posts and doors opened without a visible source of power. Soldiers slept through it all, and he was miraculously restored to the church that had been praying for his release.

But in spite of the surreal scene, God did not let Peter lose touch with mundane reality. The only additional recorded words of the angel: Gird yourself and tie on your sandals . . . Put on your garment and follow me. (v. 8)

The power of God released chains, opened doors, and kept soldiers asleep. Surely God could help the fellow get dressed when overwhelmed by so much excitement. But no, Peter was told to dress himself. He could not lose his connection to everyday life.

Originally published January 9, 1987.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

No Partiality

Leaving prejudice behind is never easy; it’s part of our human nature to desire superiority over others. Rich are prejudiced against poor and poor against rich, educated are prejudiced against uneducated and uneducated against educated, men are prejudiced against women and women against men, ethnic groups are prejudiced against different ethnic groups, etc.

The Apostle Peter was prejudiced, too, and he couldn’t change his mind on his own. He needed a revelation from God to do the work for him. When on the roof of Simon the Tanner in Joppa, he experienced a trance. He saw a sheet come down from heaven not once but three times. Each time the sheet was filled with creatures that he, a Jew who observed dietary laws, could not eat. Then he heard a voice say, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. (Acts 10:13b NKJV)

Almost immediately—while he pondered the meaning of the trance—men sent by a Gentile named Cornelius who was a Roman centurion came to the door asking for him. They told their story and said God had revealed he should preach to them.

But the Gentiles were not Jews. They were of a different ethnic group and a different religion. In that moment God gave Peter opportunity to receive and obey the revelation he received as well as the revelation the Gentiles received. And he rose to the occasion. In truth, he replied, I perceive that God shows no partiality. (v. 34)

Peter recognized that the kingdom of God through Jesus belongs to all people.

Originally published April 14, 1989.
Picture: Tulips, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Surprised by the Message

God knows how to make life interesting by surprising His followers. Peter had no desire to minister to Gentiles. After receiving the Holy Spirit, he traveled around Palestine where he shared the gospel of Jesus with fellow Jews. In Lydda, he healed Aeneas who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. (Acts 9:33b NKJV) In Joppa, he raised Dorcas from the dead and presented her alive to the saints and widows. (9:41b)

When he was in Joppa, however, life changed. While staying with Simon the tanner and waiting for dinner one evening, he went up on the housetop to pray and fell into a trance. (10:9a,10a)

God spoke to Peter in the trance, and the message was couched in food. But its significance extended beyond food into every aspect of life: What God has cleansed you must not call common. (10:15b)

Peter had always lived an observant Jewish lifestyle. He resisted the message because it offended practices he'd learned as a child and lived as an adult. But when Gentiles came seeking his help, he capitulated: "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." (10:28b)

Only God can bring about deep, abiding change in people. Peter's worldview was forever altered; he had to leave his former mindset behind.

Originally published June 12, 1992.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Give Me this Power"

Philip the Evangelist went to Samaria to tell the people about Jesus the Christ. When the people responded to his message, many were healed from their afflictions and set free from demonic spirits.

A fellow living in Samaria named Simon the Sorcerer also believed key facts about Jesus. He submitted to baptism and then followed right alongside Philip, amazed when he saw the many miracles and signs. (Acts 8:13) But although actively involved in God’s work, Simon’s heart remained impure. He still loved the power he had exercised as a sorcerer, and now he wanted to exercise power under Jesus.

It all came to a head when Peter came to help Philip. After Simon the Sorcerer saw Peter laying hands on individuals so they might receive the Holy Spirit, Simon tried to get in on the action by offering money. He said to Peter, "Give me this power also. . . ." (v. 19 NKJV)

And at that point Peter received a revelation of Simon’s motives. "Your money perish with you. . . ." he said. (v. 20a) And, "your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent. . . ." (v. 21b)

We do not know what happened to Simon the Sorcerer, but he did ask for prayer "that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me." (v. 24b)

Originally published May 6, 1988.
Picture: Lilacs long the Red River of the North, Wahpeton/Breckenridge, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

God's Instruments

Miracles originate with God, but He often uses people as His instruments to bring miracles about.

When Peter and John were just beginning to deal with their new life after all that had happened through Jesus—after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension—after they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost—they saw a lame beggar sitting by the gate of the temple. Peter said, Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk. (Acts 3:6 NKJV)

We don’t know if Peter stood there for awhile, waiting to see if the man would get up on his own. We do know Peter took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. (v. 7)

The lame man received healing as he stood with Peter’s assistance. Peter was God’s instrument both when he spoke the Word of faith and when he helped the man respond to that Word.

The result was a miracle. So he [the man who had been crippled], leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. (v. 8)

God is sovereign, and He uses people.

Originally published October 3, 1986.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Why Can't I Follow?"

Before Jesus’ death, Peter didn’t understand what would happen or how he would respond in a time of crisis. During his Last Supper with Jesus, Peter asked, Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you. (Jn. 13:37 NKV)

How typical of the normal human response. We want to serve God immediately—according to our will, according to our desires, according to our unrealistic understanding. But impetuous desire is usually inconsistent with a person’s spiritual reality. Although Peter wanted to be a dedicated follower of Christ, he was immature. Although he loved Jesus, he was not ready to live sacrificially.

Jesus understood Peter and He understands us. Because He loves us, He allows circumstances to expose our nature as He allowed circumstances to expose Peter’s nature. Will you really lay down your life for me? Jesus asked. (v. 28a) Then he foretold Peter’s imminent denials.

A heart-rending series of events along with a revelation followed. But through it Peter learned to emphasize God instead of his personal human response—God instead of himself.

Originally published October 11, 1985.
Picture: Apple blossoms, West Fargo, 2009. Photo by Solveig.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Opened Doors

The first Pentecost was a remarkable occasion. But the weeks and months that followed were equally remarkable for the disciples and the people who listened to them. Amazed political leaders wondered what to think and what to do when uneducated men began proclaiming God’s Word with power. The leaders wondered even more when miracles followed the men's words—because the men were led by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, the people listened to the message and witnessed everything that happened. Many responded. Then, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NIV)

The jealous, stymied leaders felt they had to do something. So, They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. (5:18) Imagine the leaders consternation the next day when they learned that during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors. . . . (5:19)

For the disciples and for all people, a new era—the era of the Christian Church—was underway. Nothing could stop the spread of faith in Jesus when the disciples proclaimed God’s Word. God’s Church became a living reality.

Originally published June 3, 1983.