A Spirit of Boldness

ACTS 8

Acts 8 4 (2)

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from Acts 8. Here are two that stood out to me:

1. Go forward in a spirit of boldness, not one of fear and timidity. If you know me well, you know I LOVE the movie The Princess Bride. (Yes, I realize this movie is now a classic!) Spoiler alerts ahead! If you have ever seen the movie, you will recall the scene where Wesley is leading Buttercup into the Fire Swamp and Buttercup fearfully exclaims to Wesley, “We’ll never survive” and Wesley replies to her, “Nonsense. You’re only saying never because no one ever has.” True to Buttercup’s fears, they encounter the widely known dangers of the Fire Swamp: fire, quicksand and R.O.U.S.’s (Rodents of Unusual Size). In reading Acts 8, especially on the heels of Stephen’s stoning that we read about in chapter 7, one might imagine an atmosphere of fear and timidity could have easily festered in the Christian community. In Acts 8:1 we read about a great persecution that began against the church. We read of Saul who was waging war against the Christ followers, going from house to house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. One might think Christians might have chosen to go underground and keep a low profile. As we continue reading the chapter, we find just the opposite to be true. Christians were scattered about because of this persecution, but we read in verse 4 that they continued to preach the word. In verse 5 we read how Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. This wasn’t a clandestine type of preaching, his bold proclamation of the gospel was also accompanied by miraculous wonders such as healings and driving out of demons.

In John 15:20 Jesus tells us, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” We are not promised a trouble-free life. Jesus assures us this life will bring us trouble and persecution if we follow him. What should our response be to persecution? Do we shrink back and try to keep a low profile? Or do we move forward with boldness like Wesley and Buttercup in spite of our fears? 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Jesus assures us we will have trouble in this life, but we are never ever alone. He reminds us of this in John 16:33 when he tells us, “I have told you these things, to that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


2.  Be sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Your Christian life is unscripted. In many ways, it is a wild adventure. We have the most excellent advantage of knowing how the story ends and that the good guys do win after all, but there will be many plot twists in between. In verses 25-40, we read about how an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip sees an Ethiopian eunuch and we read in verse 29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’.” We continue reading that Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch and the eunuch declares his belief that Jesus is the son of God and gets baptized by Philip. We later read that Philip gets snatched away by the Spirit to Azotus and preaches the gospel in all the cities on his way to Caesarea. Following the lead of the Holy Spirit means we will lead life unscripted and we will often be pushed out of our comfort zones. What is the Holy Spirit stirring you to do? Be sensitive, be open and be bold. A grand adventure awaits…

-Kristy Cisneros

Are You Opposing God – 0R – Facing Opposition for Him

acts 6 9a 10

Acts 6b and 7

Yesterday, we left off with the 7 qualified individuals being chosen to take a load off of the apostles. One is given more attention than the rest. We see that because the power that was once seen in Christ, started to be seen in the disciples and now has moved on to other believers. Stephen is said to be full of grace and power and he started performing wonders and signs among the people.
Again we see the religious leaders take offense and try to squash any threat to their power and authority. As they stood up to dispute Stephen they quickly realized they could not outsmart or outwit him. So, as with Jesus, when they were unable to come up with a way to take him out on merit they made something up. They lied – and created a plan with multiple witnesses aligned with a fictional story to take out their problem.
All of chapter 7 is Stephen giving a summary of a year’s worth of children’s Sunday school material. He gives the details of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. He shows how God was at work throughout time and the constant opposition that faced Him, and then Stephen throws these man into that group. Stephen calls them uncircumcised in the heart and ears. He then points out that again God has been at work and when the story is retold – they would be the bad guys that opposed God and further the ones that killed the promised righteous one!
And like Jesus – he was put to death. They raised up stones to kill him and also like Jesus he asks for their forgiveness. Wow – to stand in the face of opposition and talk with conviction. He didn’t back down when it got difficult.
Our Christian walk at times has become too easy. As Stephen’s speech indicated; all throughout history, whenever someone made a stand for God, they eventually faced opposition. If we are not facing opposition, maybe people do not know where we stand. In John 16:33, Jesus tells us we will face  trials, trouble, opposition, suffering, sorrows, tribulations (depending on your translation). Not a maybe or some will – instead a certainty that we will all face.  As we make a stand for what is right we prepare for opposition knowing we can have peace while dealing with it because the verse doesn’t end there. It continues to say “Take heart, for I have overcome the world”.
What I pull most from the first few chapters of Acts is this: God has given His spirit, His power, so that we will go out into the world with BOLDNESS proclaiming the truth with love.
-John Wincapaw

Serving – and Delegating

Acts 6

Acts 6 3 4

At first glance it appears that some of the old behaviors of the disciples are creeping back in. It almost sounds like they are saying “we are too good to serve tables.” But we see that is far from the truth. They are actually so busy serving that they are not keeping up with all of their other duties and people are going hungry!

They were actually listening when Jesus said things about the greatest being servants – maybe it kicked in the night before Jesus was sent to the cross, when Jesus got down and washed their feet. Either way, they finally understand the importance of service.

So in light of being overwhelmed with too much to do they take a page out of Jethro’s playbook. (Exodus 18) They realize more work could get done if they find qualified leaders to take over some of their duties. They find 7 people who can take care of serving the tables, which will allow the disciples to focus on their other responsibilities. Specifically, they could focus on their calling – “prayer and ministry of the word.”

While it frees up the disciples it also allows others in the church to be involved. It is important to get involved in your church – to share the load so it is not just a few people overburdened. We each have and bring different talents that make up the body.  The church is most effective when all of the body is working together.

Is your church missing it’s hands, feet, ears…etc. because you are not involved? Or is it possible you are too busy doing good things that you are missing out on what God has really called you to?

I challenge you to find your place in service.

 

-John Wincapaw

 

His Agenda, Not Ours

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.Acts 5

As we see the disciples growing in their boldness, we see them start acting a lot like Jesus. They are going to the temple to teach and preach, they heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor. The church is growing – and it seemed inevitable that as things were going so well there would be a hiccup.

The church became the popular place where some people looked to make a name for themselves. A wealthy couple came in to the church looking for applause for their great gift. The crowd quickly learns that God’s church is not a place for self promotion and corruption as they both drop dead for their wrong doing.

Side note: They did a great thing for the church. If some random person walked into any of our churches and said “I just sold some property and I want to donate $100,000”, we would all be super excited for the great gift. The problem was not the size of the gift – instead the intent of the gift and lie. They were seeking attention and tried to make an already good gift better for the sake of looking good.

Before long the church did not only face internal problems but also outer opposition. The religious leaders began fighting back as their power and influence was threatened. They conspire against the disciples and often try to get them prosecuted. Seems crazy to have the religious leaders try to take down those who are healing the sick and pointing people to God. Even so, they beat and arrest the apostles on made up charges.

Gamaliel, a wise old Pharisee, gives advice – “Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men.”

If we are doing the works of God, we cannot be stopped! If we are seeking our own desires we will fail.

-John Wincapaw

Be Bold with Truth and Love

Acts 4 19 (1)

Acts 4

Despite the change we see in the disciples, the Jewish religious leaders have stayed the same. They continue in the same disbelief they held when Jesus was with them. And because of that, here we see the first of many imprisonments the disciples will endure through the book of Acts. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to silence Jesus, they will try to continue to restrain his message from his followers. Yet the news of the resurrected Messiah continued to spread.

Despite imprisonments and persecution, the apostles speak out with a growing boldness. We see new converts believing from all neighboring areas. The church that we know, started here and had a passion for what is right and true.

I do not think they were intentionally looking to offend but they were also not afraid to tell the truth if it was offensive. I think today’s church has softened its stance on too many issues to avoid being offensive. There are somethings that we cannot waver from. One being found in our passage today “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Don’t be the one that rejects Jesus but further do not be the one that is ashamed of the truth either. Go and share the message of Jesus with love – not looking to offend but not wavering from truth if it could be offensive.

-John Wincapaw

Give Hope – Give Jesus

Acts 3

Acts 3 6b

We continue to see the change in the disciples that was produced by the holy spirit. As Peter and John are headed to the temple to pray, a beggar asks for money. These men – like many of us today – are used to seeing pan handlers standing alongside the busier intersections.

This draws us to a conundrum that many today face. What do we as Christians do? Depending on who you talk to, you will get multiple well thought out different answers. (If you have – give, never give – they should get a job, or sometimes it is somewhere in between.)

What if there is another option? With the new change since the arrival of the holy spirit, they take another angle. They do not toss a couple coins or keep walking and continue on with their business. Instead they stop and make eye contact with the beggar. Both men stopped what they were doing and looked at the man as a person worthy of respect.

Then they do what they have struggled with in the past. They heal the man in an instant, through the name and power of Jesus Christ. Just as the miracles of Jesus did, this miracle draws a crowd. Peter takes this opportunity to teach and preach the Gospel. He teaches the people about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His message continues: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord and he may send the Christ…at the time for God to restore everything as he promised long ago.”

My biggest take away is this: They could have dropped some coins or ignored the beggar. But they would have missed the opportunity to take part in a miracle. They would have missed the opportunity to share the hope we have in the restoration of God’s kingdom. They looked at the man and saw his biggest needs: respect, love, healing, forgiveness and hope. He needed Jesus!

We need to look for opportunities to share the reason for our Hope – and sometimes that means we may have to stop what we are doing and maybe do something that makes us uncomfortable.

-John Wincapaw

The Real Gift that Keeps Giving

Acts 2

Acts 2 38 39

On the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, the disciples get the gift they were waiting for. The power of God – at work in their lives. The disciples go out with a new bold style that has forever changed our world. They have become the talk of Jerusalem and because of so many visitors hearing the message in their own language, the message is becoming available to the rest of the neighboring countries.

The former coward disciple Peter, who denied Christ three times, has a new found confidence and fearlessness as he takes on the authorities he once feared. He stood and proclaimed Jesus as the promised messiah. The fulfillment of all the Jewish peoples’ hopes and dreams. That day three thousand people respond to the message and the Christian church begins.

The church is a movement – notice how I said “is” not was. The church is not supposed to be a stale environment only catered to a small group in a small location. Instead a movement that moves – active, involved and growing. The new church did just that – it was moving fast. To the annoyance of the Jewish leaders, the message spreads through out Judea and Samaria.

It is our mission to continue that movement – keep growing the church and continue to share the message of Christ. Like the early believers we need to devote ourselves to the teachings (truth), fellowship (getting together with other believers) and prayer (communicating with God).

-John Wincapaw

Waiting for the Gift – and His Timing

Acts 1

Acts 1 4

It is amazing for as much time this group of men spent with Jesus, they were still confused. Just as we long for the kingdom, the disciples were ready for it. And like us – they didn’t want to wait. After the resurrection, Jesus spent forty days popping in and out on the disciples. While he was with them he was calming their doubts and promising a future gift. When he left, they were preparing his take over to free them from Roman domination.

On one of his visits he gives one of the hardest commands – wait! Stay where you are and wait. This prompts multiple questions that have been on the minds of all the people: Has the time finally come? Are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel? How long do we have to wait?

His response: it is not for you to know – or in other words; none of your business! He then picks up where he left off – the promised gift – the holy spirit. Following his answer and promise, he was taken up before their eyes never to be seen again.

The disciples get the lesson of patience we all need. God is at work but is not working on our schedule. Christ was preparing his followers to join the work God was doing while they were distracted with their own plans.

We often face trials in life that are less than desirable and we long for the problems to be taken away. We know of God’s overall plans but want them to be done now! We want insight and details – the who, what, where, when, why and how – and often times the response is that is not for you to know. Stay in your lane, bro!

Like the disciples we are given what is needed to do the work that has been set up for us to do. They were given the same power that was at work in Christ and told go be a witness to the world. We also have access to that power and are given that same mission.

-John Wincapaw

God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

God’s Presence and You and Me

Text: Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 22.png

We’ve been talking about the presence of God, temples, places where God dwells, and the intersection of heaven and earth. We’ve made stops at creation, the garden, the tabernacle, and the exile. Yesterday we talked about Jesus and how he was the new and improved temple.

 

This Jesus character, as it turns out, is pivotal in the biblical narrative. He changes everything. He turned the world upside-down and left everyone trying to put the pieces together and figure out what it all means. Ever had one of those moments when you learn some new information that forces you to rethink much of what you know? Everybody at the time was sorting out the reality that Christ died and was resurrected.

 

As you can imagine, Jesus is a pretty big deal when it comes to our topic of the presence of God. He changed that too. Not only was he the new and improved temple, but he was ushering in a new age of the temple. I am not sure what version of the temple we are on now, but this one is bigger. You can’t really have a better temple than Jesus himself, but you can make it bigger and distributed more widely.

 

Mark 15:38 mentions that as Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. This veil was like a barrier before you can get into the holy of holies in the temple. It was like a layer between us and the presence of God. The veil being torn symbolizes that God’s presence is no longer contained in a special room. Jesus, being our high priest, paid an offering of blood once and for all, for all of our sins. There no longer needs to be a separation between us and God’s presence. Because of what he did, we are all acceptable in God’s presence. Hebrews 9 is a great chapter talking about Jesus being our high priest and making this sacrifice for us.

 

Yesterday I left you with a prediction from John the baptizer (yeah, because saying “baptist” sounds even weirder) that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The most dramatic fulfillment of this happens in Acts 2. There’s a sound of a violent rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on people, people being filled with the Holy Spirit, and speaking languages they don’t even know. People are left trying to make sense of it, even supposing they were all drunk, until Peter stands up and explains. What is happening is a fulfillment of what is written by the prophet Joel. God is pouring out his Spirit on everyone. Peter drives it home with this statement in Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This hurt to hear. Peter follows up by telling them to repent and be baptized, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

With this strange event and Peter’s speech, God has started a new kind of temple. It’s me and it’s you. Now with the barrier of sin being dealt with, God can live in each of us as his temple. We are now his temple, individually (1 Co 3:16-17, 6:19) and collectively (Eph 2). His presence has been made highly accessible to us, through what we call the Holy Spirit, or the power of God, living in us.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are the church, and we are called to work together using the different natural abilities and talents we have, and using the special abilities God gives us through his Holy Spirit. Paul says to the Ephesians in Eph 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

 

So this is where we are. I feel that passage is more about bringing the gentiles and Jews of the time into the same fold together, but it has a beautiful application for the church today. We are being fit together and built into a temple where God dwells. How privileged we are, and how amazing it is! Praise God that he has made the tent big enough to include all of us in his presence.

 

As good as this all is (and it truly is!), it gets even better. Paul calls the Spirit in us a down payment or a deposit for what is yet to come (Eph 1:4, 2Co 5:5). Just an appetizer. What God is working on is going to exceed all of our expectations of what our future with him looks like. All of them.

-Jay Laurent