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

God’s Presence and Jesus

 

Text: John 1

John 1 9

We’ve been studying the presence of God this week. We’ve seen how God made the heavens and earth, especially the Garden, to be a temple, i.e. where God’s presence rests or where heaven (God’s realm or dimension) and earth are connected. We saw how we lost the full access pass to the presence of God when we were exiled from the Garden. We saw how God worked through Moses to provide a new way to access God’s presence, the Tabernacle, which acted almost like a portable Eden amidst the Israelite people. We saw how God’s people were exiled because they kept breaking their covenant with God, but how God remained present among his faithful while they were in exile. And we saw that even after the return from exile there was still something amiss. The Old Testament ends with a longing for something better to come along.

 

As usual, God is up to things that are much bigger than expected. Yesterday I teased that there is a new temple, but it isn’t like any temple we have seen yet.

 

Today I want us to look at John 1. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have similar ways of giving us the story of the appearance of Jesus. We usually read these accounts around Christmastime. Well, John does his own thing and doesn’t follow the same pattern as the other guys. He doesn’t do it with genealogies, mangers, or wise men or John the Baptist. John hits us right away with something called the Word, or the Logos (the greek word used).

 

Who or what is the Logos? In the context of this passage, it seems like something highly conceptual and lofty. It’s a spoken word, or a thought, or a concept. You might think of it as God’s will, or outward expression, or his wisdom or reason. It is hard to pin down. I like to think it is connected to Genesis 1, when God creates by speaking his divine purpose, function, and order into the world. The Logos is something belonging to God, like an extension of his nature. We’re only scratching the surface of the meaning, but this gets us started.

 

With our working definition(s) of what the Logos is, it starts to make sense that in verse 1, we learn that it is there in the beginning, and that it’s with God, and that it is God. It’s God’s nature to express himself, and we see that even from the beginning, we can’t separate this nature from God. It’s just who he is. In verse 3, we learn that everything was made through the Logos, and in verse 4, it is described as being the light of all mankind.

 

Leading up to verse 14, this concept of the Logos starts to sound more and more like someone we know. Verse 14 explains that this Logos has been made “flesh” and dwells among us (it has tabernacled among us). This sounds strange, right? What it means is that this concept of the Logos has been made a physical reality with us here, in Jesus. To be clear, this isn’t to say that Jesus existed at the beginning of time with God, or that he created the world, or that he is God. It means that when we look at Jesus, we see a perfect representation and expression of who God is. He is the fruition of God’s will, wisdom, and expression among us. He is called “Immanuel”, or “God with us” (see Mat 1:23). Jesus is like God’s best idea fleshed out, the perfect embodiment of his will.

 

Jesus, being the representation of God walking among us, is the newer and better version of the temple. After he was baptized, the Spirit of God came down and rested on him in the form of a dove (see verse 32). This is imagery that reminds us of how God filled the tabernacle with his presence at its completion. In John 2:18-22, Jesus explains that a sign for his authority is that if they destroy this temple, he will raise it up again in three days, referring to his body being crucified and risen. Col 1:19 says that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”

 

Jesus says in John 14:9 that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. As Christians, we want to understand the heart of God and follow his will for our lives. Sometimes that can seem like a difficult task. What’s God really like? How do I know what his will is for my life? Thankfully, we can look at his son to get a better idea. Jesus was a human. He had struggles and temptations like you or I have (Heb 4:15). We’re able to read about the things he said, the miracles he performed, and what he thought was important. By figuring out what Jesus was all about, we get a much clearer picture of who his Father is.

 

We’re seeing this week that scripture gives us a long narrative of God’s attempts to be with us, to bring us closer to Him. He started by occupying a garden with two people and has gradually expanded out the circle to include tribes and nations as his children. Making the Logos near to us by giving us Jesus was the next step in continuing that process. Being the temple, Jesus carried around with him the presence of God, so that when people encountered him, they were also encountering the Father.

 

But God didn’t stop here. He’s relentless, wanting to be closer yet. In Mat 3:11, John the baptizer says of Christ, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

I’ll leave you with that as a teaser for what comes next.

 

Jay Laurent