What is Your Act?

Acts 1

April 19

The first few verses of chapter one constitutes an introduction to the book of Acts, giving us the key to the book. Here we have revealed the essential strategy by which Jesus Christ proposes to change the world, a strategy which is the secret of the character of the church when it is operating as it was intended to operate. I strongly suspect that most Christians suffer from a terrible inferiority complex when we confront the world around us. We have bought the idea of many around that the church is quite irrelevant, an archaic group that is irrelevant today. That view is false. The church is the most important body in the world today because whatever happens in the world happens because of something that is, or is not, happening in the church.

Now, in his first statement here, Luke gives us the great strategy by which the Lord works among mankind. He says, “In my former book…I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach… ” The Gospel of Luke is the record of the Son of God. Jesus, the man, came to begin something, to do and to teach, and the record of that beginning is in the Gospels. But this second book is the continuation of what Jesus began to do. In a very real sense, Acts is not the acts of believers, but the continuing acts of Jesus. It is an account of what Jesus continues to do and to teach. In the Gospels he did it in his physical body of flesh. In the book of Acts he is doing it through the bodies of men and women who are followers of him and endowed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whenever God wants to get a message across to men, he does not simply send someone to announce it; his final way of driving it home is to express the message in flesh and blood. He takes a life and aims it in a certain direction and, by the manifestation of his own life through the blood and flesh of a human being, he makes clear what he has to say. That is the strategy of the book of Acts. It is the record of followers of Christ endowed in the Holy Spirit; men and women,  owned by him, and thus manifesting his life. That is the secret of authentic Christianity. Anytime you find a Christianity that is not doing that, it is false Christianity. No matter how much it may adapt the garb and language of Christianity, if it is not the activity of human beings possessed and indwelt by the life of Jesus Christ it is not authentic Christianity. That is the true power of the church, as we shall see in this book.

The book of Acts therefore is an unfinished book. It is not finished but is still being written. The book abruptly closes with an account of Paul in the city of Rome, living in his own hired house. It just ends there as though you might turn over the next page and begin the next adventure. What is your act?

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What is your act?
  2. How would you rate yourself as a follower of Christ? What role does the Holy Spirit have in your life?
  3. Looking at Acts 1 what do you find the disciples of Jesus doing? What is their mission? What is their hope? Is this an appealing group to be a part of? Explain.

You Follow Me!

John 21

April 18

After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. He answered yes three times. Then Jesus told Peter how he would die—apparently by crucifixion. Peter wondered about how it would go with John. So he asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Jesus brushed off the question and said, “What is that to you? You follow me!” Here’s the whole exchange.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at the table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:18-22)

Jesus words “None of your business, follow me” are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. Of looking at someone else’s life and feeling inadequate.

I was encouraged by Jesus’ word to me (and you): “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a very hard word. You will die…painfully. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life, will he get to?

That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others.

That word landed on me with great joy. Jesus will not judge me according to my superiority or inferiority over anybody. No sibling. No friend. No ministry. These are not the standard. Jesus has a work for me to do (and a different one for you). It is not what he has given anyone else to do. There is a grace to do it. Will I trust him for that grace and do what he has given me to do? That is the question.

I hope you find encouragement and freedom today when you hear Jesus say to all your comparisons: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

Learning to walk in freedom with you.

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In what areas do you most often fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others? When you compare yourself to others, do you more often see yourself on the shorter end of the stick or above others? What is the danger in either direction?
  2. How can we remember and put in action Jesus words: “What is that to you? You follow me!”
  3. What adjectives would you use to describe Jesus in this chapter? What are his priorities? Page through the previous chapters of John asking the same questions? How can you seek to be Christ-like this week? What work does Jesus have for you to do?

Do You See?

John 20

April 17

Do You See? Have you recognized Jesus’ resurrection? Is it a foreign idea to you?

Here’s the issue: In verse 8 it says, “Then the other disciple [John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). What did he see? What did he believe? Jesus wasn’t there—just some cloths that he left behind.

Compare this to Mary in verse 18: She has met Jesus in the garden and spoken to him. She returns to the disciples and says, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). We don’t have Mary’s direct evidence. We are more like John in the tomb—there is evidence, and either we see through it or we don’t. The issue is: Do you see? The issue is: Do I care? Do I find that idea helpful? Do I feel that it helps me flourish as a human being? And if it seems like it doesn’t, then I will just view it the way I view UFOs and possible life in some distant galaxy—I just don’t need to bother with it.

Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers, goes to His tomb only to find that He’s not there! Jesus appears to Mary and several others, fulfilling all that He had said about rising from the dead.

Either you see Christ risen and that changes you or Christ’s death is some obscure event that happened in the past.

The reality is Jesus is alive! He is risen! He can change us like he promised. We have no hope of changing ourselves. The only way we can put away sinful habits is through a relationship with Jesus made possible by His death and resurrection.

On the cross, Jesus clothed Himself in our sin. When Peter and John looked into the empty tomb, they saw Jesus was not there and He had left His burial clothes. John 20 shows us that Jesus left our sinful nature in the grave when He rose from the dead.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

We do not have to be controlled by our desire to sin. Not only do we not have to be clothed in sin, the resurrection means we get to be clothed in something better. In Colossians 3:12, Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Following Jesus allows us to put away our old lives and begin new ones.

If you think this does not matter to you, remember, those who are in Christ—that is, who believe on him, and belong to him, and receive forgiveness and reconciliation from him—will be raised with him. And Paul says in Philippians 3:21 that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” This is not a UFO, or irrelevant life on another galaxy. This is what will happen when God judges the world by a man, Jesus Christ.

Do you see?

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do you see that Jesus is alive? What evidence leads you to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is living today?
  2. What does it mean to you that you don’t have to be clothed in sin any more? Are you still? What does one do to make the transition from living the old life to the new? If you aren’t sure, who can you talk to about it?
  3. Who do you know who needs to see? What can you show them about Jesus – today?

The Unlikely Pair

John 19

April 16

Each year, we talk extensively about Jesus’ death on Friday and resurrection on Sunday. The in-between often gets skipped in our remembrance, those long hours of grieving—and for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus—burying Jesus’ body.  

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. 

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both secret disciples. They feared making their public allegiance to the controversial Jesus. Both were members of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council—the same institution that crucified Jesus. They used their status as religious elite to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body to bury properly. 

They used to follow Jesus in hushed voices and under the veil of night. Now, they are boldly professing their faith in the same circle they once feared persecution. 

Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.  At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)

Although Joseph and Nicodemus were an unlikely pair to care for Jesus’ body, they were chosen by God for two apparent reasons. 

First, belief in the resurrection hinged on the testimony of those who witnessed Jesus’ lifeless body. Joseph and Nicodemus weren’t one of Jesus’ ragamuffin friends whose testimony would likely be questioned. No, they were respected and trusted as members of the religious elite. In this way, Joseph and Nicodemus were two of the first agents of Christian apologetics. 

Second, ordinarily, crucified criminals like Jesus would have been buried anonymously in a field. Joseph, however, brings the body to his own designated tomb. This fulfilled the prophecy that Jesus would be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9)

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9)

Ultimately, God positions people for His purposes. Joseph and Nicodemus were perfectly positioned for this holy task, which begs the question: what has God positioned you to do? 

Child of God, you are chosen and well-equipped. 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What has God positioned you to do? Can you recall any circumstances in your life that God used for His purposes?

Hello My Name is Barabbas

John 18

April 15

About 43% of the Bible is told as a narrative—like a story. From our favorite Old Testament heroes to Jesus’ parables, scripture is full of stories. Of course, how we read a narrative is different from how we read one of Paul’s letters or David’s songs.

To take away practical life application from the Bible stories I read, I ask myself two questions: 

  1. How can I see myself reflected in the characters portrayed? By using scripture as a mirror, I see facets of myself reflected—my personality, my tendencies, my sin, my thoughts, my feelings, and my potential.
  2. What can I learn about God’s character? The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humankind. Since God does not change (Malachi 3:6), the God of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Daniel, and Jesus that we read about is our God, too. 

Let’s practice this process with the story of Barabbas. 

According to Jewish tradition, during the time of Passover, one prisoner was pardoned from their impending execution. Although Pilate was a Roman, to gain favor with his Jewish constituents, he decided to let one prisoner free. Having not found a reason to charge Jesus, he offers Jesus or Barabbas, an actual criminal, to the crowd. (see also Matthew 27:17)

Pilate went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the ‘king of the Jews’?”

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (John 18:38-40).

When we hold up the mirror to scripture, we see ourselves in Barabbas. We’ve committed horrible sin, we deserve to die, yet Jesus died in our stead.

Barabbas deserved to hang on the cross, but Jesus took his place. 

You deserved to hang on the cross, but Jesus took your place. 

In this story, Just as we learn about who we are, we also learn about who God is. He is rich in mercy and forgiveness. He fulfills his promises. He longs for our salvation. He sacrifices the one he holds most dear for us. 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Take a closer look at some of the other characters portrayed in this chapter: Judas, Peter, and Pilate. How do you see yourself reflected in their stories?
  2. Examine the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection as a whole. What does God reveal about his character? 

Bring God Glory

John 17

April 14

Jesus spent most of his life hidden. From his first 30 years of life, only three events are recorded in the Gospels: he was born, strangers brought him presents, and he got lost on a road trip. Even during his few years of public ministry, he ordered his disciples to keep his identity a secret. After healing lepers and giving sight to the blind, he instructed those who witnessed such miracles not to tell anyone. 

It’s clear that Jesus wasn’t about glory—not his own glory, anyways. He kept his head down and sought to fulfill his appointed mission. He recruited twelve loyal friends, challenged tradition, performed miracles, preached the Kingdom, and submitted himself to death on the cross. 

In the final moments before his arrest, he prays—for himself, for his disciples, and for us. One of his first remarks is this: 

“I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). 

What a beautiful reminder for us of how we should live each day. Have you carried out the work God has for you today? Have you given God the glory? In the final moments of my life, I hope I can say that I’ve brought God glory on earth by finishing the work He gave me to do. I hope the same for you, too. 

Jesus eventually got his glory. In fact, that same night he prayed for his glory to finally be revealed. Now, he’s seated in his throne at the right hand of God. 

God intends for us to follow the same path as Jesus: to live quietly and to be rewarded greatly. In the meantime, let’s keep our heads down, working, and our hands lifted up, praising God. Let’s soldier on, continuing the cause of Christ. 

Not to us, LORD, not to us

but to your name be the glory,

Because of your love and faithfulness 

(Psalm 115:1). 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is the work God has given you to do? 
  2. We live in a culture that emphasizes building your own name, fame, and following. How is that message contradictory to how God wants us to live?  
  3. What does it mean to give God glory?

Object Permanence

John 16

April 13

Object permanence is a milestone babies hit when they begin to understand that an object still exists when they can’t see or hear it. When their mother leaves the room, she still exists; when their favorite toy is hidden under a blanket, it still exists, too. 

Object permanence is a skill Jesus reinforced in his disciples on their final night together, before his arrest and subsequent death. 

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (John 16:16).

The disciples mourned Jesus’ death, and they rejoiced at his resurrection just three days later. Even though they could not see Jesus, he wasn’t gone forever. Just like a baby’s favorite toy hidden under a blanket, Jesus was merely out of sight for a little while. 

You and I have never seen Jesus, yet the disciples’ hope is our hope, too. We can’t see Jesus now, but we will someday—when he brings his Father’s Kingdom down to Earth. We have faith that even though we cannot see him, he is real and he is working. After all, faith is the certainty of the things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). 

Although we’ve never seen Jesus, we can see the impact of his life all over our own lives—the freedom of forgiveness, peace in unfathomable situations, victory over temptation and sin. 

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). 

We have the same hope as the disciples. We can’t see Jesus now, but we will soon. 

Jesus is coming soon. 

We will see Jesus face to face. 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Even though you’ve never seen Jesus, have you seen evidence of his existence in your life? How so? 
  2. How would you live your life differently if you were constantly reminded of Jesus’ coming return? 

The Scary Gardener & Reckless Vine

John 15

April 12

I have a story to tell you. It’s the scariest horror story and, simultaneously, the greatest love story. I’m not talking about ghosts falling in love. No, I’m talking about a garden. 

We’re all little branches in a big, beautiful garden. It’s our job to grow fruit to please the Gardener. 

A day is coming, however, when the Gardener will cut off the fruitless branches—the diseased, dead, good-for-nothing twigs. 

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned”(John 15:6).

It’s scary to think about the judgment that is coming—about the branches thrown into the fire. The Bible is filled with examples of people meeting God’s wrath, like a flooded Earth, a pillar of salt, a plethora of plagues, and people dropping dead. That day is coming for us, too. This begs the question, are you living in a manner that is consistent with your calling to be holy, to bear good fruit? 

I have good news for you, Little Branch. There is a Vine who is crazy about you. His job is to keep you close, to hem you in, to wrap around you, and cover you in grace. This Vine is Jesus, and he says: 

“Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).  

I took this picture of a vine in my sister’s backyard. Look at the way it twists, turns, and loop-de-loops to seek out and envelop a branch. The love Jesus has for you is the same. It’s reckless and unrelenting. It’s the well that never runs dry, the shepherd that leaves the ninety-nine to rescue the one, and the blood-stained body on the cross. 

The same Jesus who first told us to “Come,” also tells us to “Abide.” To remain. To stay. To obey. 

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10a). 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion & Reflection Questions: 

  1. As the old hymn says, are you ready for judgment day? Are you bearing good fruit? 
  2. What commands do you struggle to obey? Where in your life do you need a good pruning? 
  3. How has Jesus’ love changed your life?

Together in Love

John 14

April 11

Still gathered around the table in the upper room—the same table where the last Passover meal was shared—Jesus gives his disciples a series of encouraging remarks. One such remark has left many Biblical Unitarians scratching their heads:  

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11a). 

What does he mean… in? Jesus in the Father? And the Father in Jesus? 

I teach English to sixth graders for a living, so I’m well aware of how tricky prepositions can be. In, the supposedly simple, two-letter word, has 18 different usages according to the Oxford dictionary. Now consider we’re reading the translation from the original Aramaic words Jesus spoke to Greek to English, which has muddled the meaning even further. 

Fortunately for us, Jesus uses similar language just a couple pages later, in John 17: 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). 

I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26). 

In these passages, in refers to a tight bond. The intimate relationship between God and Jesus is available to you, too. You can have close communion with the church body, with Jesus, and with God himself. 

Now, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t pointing to a trinity, but a… billionity. Okay, I made that word up (I have an English degree, so I get to do stuff like that). Through Jesus we have unity with God and unity with each other—with all the believers on earth. We’re perfectly bound together with love.

In love. 

Jesus is the glue that holds us all together. He takes a billion broken people and makes us Church. 

From him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion & Reflection Questions: 

  1. Why did Jesus place such high importance on Church? What can we accomplish together that we cannot do on our own?
  2. Are you doing more than just sitting in the same row with people at Church? How are you, personally, contributing to the mission of the Church? 
  3. Thank God for your Church family. Pick a few fellow members and send them a card or a text, telling them of the impact they’ve made on your life. 

Known by Your Love

John 13

April 10

Do the people you pass in your daily life know that you follow Jesus? Your coworker in the adjacent cubicle, the cashier at the grocery store, your neighbor down the street? How do they know? It’s probably not the length of your prayers, the Bible verses you have memorized, the fancy church jargon you use, or the gourmet casseroles you bring to your church potlucks. 

They will know you by your love. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Following Jesus isn’t about knowing the most, but loving the most. 

Love is our faith in action. It might not always make sense to unbelievers, especially in the midst of our self-obsessed culture. 

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). 

Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33). 

Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10).

Look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). 

Carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). 

We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). 

When we love—even when it doesn’t make sense—we show our allegiance to Jesus. He is the perfect personification of love. This week, we celebrate the love he showed on the cross, where he bled and died to win your heart, where he was scoffed at by a world who couldn’t make sense of such great love. 

If we’re followers of Jesus, we’ll do as Jesus did. We’re called to pour even when our cup is empty, to give when it hurts, to expect nothing in return, and to lay down our lives for others. By this, the world will know you belong to Jesus. 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion & Reflection Questions: 

  1. Who will you show this nonsensical love to this week? How will you do it?
  2. Loving others cost Jesus his life. What might loving others cost you?
  3. By being known as a follower of Jesus, people will make assumptions about who Jesus is based upon how they see you act. What implications does this have for how you live your daily life? 
%d bloggers like this: