God’s Work & Way

Acts 11-12

The past couple of days we have really focused on Saul/Paul, and for very good reason!  Today, we get to highlight another very important figure in the New Testament – Peter.  Peter was seen as one of the pillars of this new Christian movement in the city of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem served as the central hub for the Jews.  Therefore, it served as a central hub for the Christians as well, as many of the Jesus followers were simply Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah they had been looking forward to for so long.  Peter was instrumental to share this news with other Jews.

            In chapter 11, Peter went up to Jerusalem.  When he arrived to Jerusalem, he received a lot of flak for eating with and associating with the uncircumcised.  Jews were circumcised, as they followed the law of Moses.  Therefore, Jews did not want to be seen around those who were uncircumcised, but Peter ate with them regardless.  Sounds like Peter learned some lessons from his teacher – Jesus.  Peter shared how the uncircumcised Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so who was he to stand in God’s way?

            While Jerusalem was the central hub, we see in chapter 11 that many people who believed in Jesus as the Messiah dispersed because of the persecution.  This was quite common as the early Jesus followers received persecution from non-believing Jews and from the Roman Empire.  Some of the Jesus followers escaped to Antioch, and it was there that the disciples were first called “Christians”.

            In chapter 12, we see more persecution of this Christian movement.  This time, the persecution was directed against two key leaders and figures – James and Peter.  James (the brother of John, not Jesus) was killed at the hands of the treacherous King Herod.  While Herod was at it, he decided to arrest Peter because the Jews were pleased with Herod’s persecution of the Christians.  Evil!  Herod wasn’t able to persecute the Christians for much longer though, as God struck him down and killed him.

            Peter, fortunately, did not spend too much time in prison, as he broke out.  God sent an angel of the Lord to help Peter break out.  This was a semi-common theme in the New Testament of early Christians breaking out of prison, thanks to God.  After breaking out, he was then able to go meet with John, and the mother of John.  What an emotional instance that must have been.

            Praise God for leaders like Peter and James who were willing to suffer for the sake of God and his Son Jesus.  We could see more of this attitude today in 2020.  There is certainly much to take away from their relentless attitude of spreading the gospel message.  

-Kyle McClain


Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 11-12

Tomorrow we will continue with Acts 13-14.

Epilogue of John

John 21

John 21 17 b

The twenty first chapter of the Gospel of John is a fascinating chapter.

Far be it from me to correct the story-telling ability of the author, but why end here? It feels like the story was wrapped up with a nice bow when the author wrote the words we looked at yesterday. Then, almost as if the author forgot a couple stories, he tags on these last couple bits. My fascination with the narration, however, does not diminish what it teaches. Of course, there is both an author and an Author, and so much is given to us in this last chapter.

What I want to focus in on, though, is what happens with Peter? Peter, Peter, Peter. He walks on water, but he doubts. He asks Jesus to wash his whole body when he only needs his feet taken care of. He says “I’ll die for you” but denies him three times. What are we gonna do with Peter?

Of course, you and I are JUST LIKE Peter.

I’ve denied Jesus.

Haven’t you?

I had my doubts after a huge moment of success, when I “walked on water.”

Haven’t you?

I put my foot so far in my mouth my toe tickled by tonsils.

Haven’t you?

So the question is not, “What are we gonna do with Peter?” The question is, “What is Jesus gonna do with Peter?” because that will let us know what Jesus is gonna do with us.

And the answer is exciting.

He makes us better.

He finds Peter and the other disciples fishing, and after helping them perform a miracle, Peter swims to shore. While ashore, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”

Every time, Peter says “Yes!”

And Jesus responds with “Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

When a person fails to live up to the standard Jesus sets, Jesus forgives and works with us. We look at one of the most flawed characters in the New Testament and see, time and again, his failures, his misunderstandings, his sins. But because Peter trusted Jesus and wanted to follow him, Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter. Jesus lets him know that he will be with him, even in the difficult days ahead. He gives him the power and ability to lead, and Peter becomes one of the leaders in the church. He expands the mission of the church beyond Jews and to the Gentiles. He trains other Pastors/Shepherds in how to care for the people of God. (See 1 Peter 5.)

The next time you wonder “Am I useless? What can God do with me?” look to the life of Peter. Take encouragement in the beautiful truth that, if we trust and love Jesus, or even WANT to trust and love him, he will not let us go. He will fight for us, care for us, and ultimately, he will change us into the kind of person God wants us to be.

-Jake Ballard

Holy Week and Dirty Feet

John 13

John 13 14 (1)

Today is Palm Sunday. Your pastor probably talked about it, and the kids probably sang about. In the Christian tradition writ large, the names of the days of the week are used to express different stages of the auspicious moment. Palm Sunday kicks off everything as the day that the crowds celebrate Jesus and call him their king. Monday and Tuesday don’t have special names. Wednesday is called “Spy” Wednesday, signifying the betrayal of Judas to seek a time to sell out his master. Friday we call “Good”, not in that it is a happy occasion, but in that it was a day when the goodness of God was revealed and we were able to be saved. Holy Saturday comes next and then it is Easter/Resurrection Sunday.
Today, in John 13, we read what is traditionally associated with Maundy Thursday. Jesus takes off his outer garment and gets down and washes his disciples feet. To give context, in a culture where everyone walked it was dusty, baths were not as common as they are today and soap was less aromatic – touching feet would be gross. The disciples knew that the one who washed feet would be a servant. But Jesus, the master, the rabbi, the Christ, the King who was just regaled with Palm branches and crowds shouting his praise, is now quietly washing their feet. The disciples, being with him for at least 3 years are used to his weird antics and personal teaching style.
But Peter, never one to be silent, says “No way Jesus!” And who can blame him. The king doesn’t do the slaves’ work. The king has his slaves wash his feet. That’s how the world works. But Jesus lets Peter know that his kingdom works differently. The King serves, and the King’s advisors should serve, and future rulers should serve. If you want to be like Jesus, it’s not about being a King and being served. Jesus said “I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” He expects us to do the same. “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.” (John‬ ‭13:14-15‬ ‭HCSB‬‬)
I’ve got a challenge. Actually DO it. Jesus gave us an example in this moment. Of course this means we should make ourselves servants and try to serve people everyday. But one way to make yourself humble is to grab your stinky younger siblings, or your mom or dad or grandparents or friend, and actually wash their feet. If you can, today or this week, actually get a group together and have the oldest person wash the next oldest person’s feet and down the line. It is a humbling experience. After you wash their feet and dry them off, pray for that person, and then pass the bucket and the towel until everyone has been washed. Then talk about the experience. Was it weird? Did you think it was OK? Do you think it made sense for Peter to feel a little weird? How would you react if Jesus tried to serve you?
Once you answer these questions and any others, read John 13:1-38. Remember that Jesus served people he knew would betray him and deny him; how much more should we serve those who we know love us: our friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, moms and dads, brothers and sisters… even when they’re stinky.
Jake Ballard

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

Just Go Have Faith

Matt 14 28

Today has been a long day. Actually, this whole week has been pretty busy. There is a part of me that actually likes staying busy though because it forces me to stay focused on my next task. I have this sense of constantly forgetting something so I keep checking and finding something else I need to do. I think the main reason why I like staying busy is it helps me focus on Jesus. Hear me out.

I feel like the story in Matthew 14:28-33 always gets the attention where Peter is saved by Jesus because of his lack of faith. I think that it’s amazing that Jesus didn’t need to save Peter until he was almost underwater because he had great faith. I think that some of us aren’t seeing any improvement in our faith because we are unwilling to step out in faith. I don’t do it very often but I do best when I am most challenged. Not because of my own skill or talent, but because it forces me to rely on Jesus more.

So when your day feels a little busy or challenging just rely on Jesus. If your day feels boring, slow, unproductive, or lazy maybe its time to hop off Netflix or Facebook to go challenge your faith by showing love to someone. Maybe go start a local mission, donate extra clothes, go visit an elderly person in your church, help your pastor with church stuff or maybe just pray for your enemies. Whatever you decide to do remember do it until it makes you uncomfortable enough to rely on Jesus to save you.

 What can you do to step out in faith like Peter?
-Jesse Allen

Acts – His Witnesses at Work

Acts 1 8 b.png

The book of Acts is one of the most exciting reads you will ever come across: action adventure, good guys, bad guys, left for dead, miracles, jail breaks, courtroom drama, angry mob, shipwreck, dramatic monologues, and some of the most fascinating characters of the early church.  The author, Luke, was the same Gentile doctor who wrote what is now the 3rd gospel – an account of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Here, in the book of Acts, his story continues with the Acts of the Apostles – the story of the early Christian church age.

 

Luke opens his account in Acts with the crucified and resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples for 40 days, speaking about the kingdom of God (1:3) – obviously a topic near and dear to Jesus – so it should likewise be a topic we are passionate about.  Then, Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8). And as he ascends into the clouds, two men in white reassure the disciples that Jesus will return the same way that he rose.  And, throughout the rest of Acts, we see what happens when Jesus’ witnesses are faithful.

 

The promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they were able to do many miracles and wonders, even speaking in languages that men from all parts of the world would understand the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  Most of the first half of Acts follows the disciples, particularly Peter, as they teach and preach and grow the early church.  Even amongst strong opposition the church grows, with many new believers being baptized and committing their lives, homes, finances, and families to following Jesus.  Some, like Stephen, even gave their life – as he was stoned to death for speaking the truth about Jesus, the Son of God.

 

Most of the second half of Acts tells the incredible – and true – stories of Paul.  It starts with the conversion of Saul who was persecuting Christians.  BUT – he changed and became the great apostle who went on 3 missionary journeys and wrote much of what would become the New Testament (but more on that tomorrow when we cover the 3rd Division of the NT – Paul’s Letters).

 

There are so many great passages in the book of Acts you just have to read it for yourself!  Not only are there amazing action stories, but you also get some wonderful sermon snippets and see what is most important to the early church.  You see their teachings, courage and priorities.

 

We are still waiting for that day when the clouds will part and our Lord and Savior will come down to greet his followers.  What a day that will be!  If you have read the gospels to see Jesus in action – then you are his witness.  If you have felt Jesus’ peace in the storm – then you are his witness.  May we be faithful witnesses ready for his return.

 

-Marcia Railton

Who is the Son of God?

 

Luke 22

luke 22_46

Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it.  And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution.  He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.

But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb.  And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin.  Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes.  Communion services are a great reminder of this promise.  At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant.  Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.

I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail.  And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,”  Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping.  I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?

Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal!  And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.

Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands.  Beware of what you expect from the Son of God.  Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!

-Marcia Railton

 

 

A Fisherman to a Fisher of Men: How to Follow in the First Apostles’ Footsteps

Luke 5 Pic final

 

Luke Chapter 5 introduces us to the first disciples of Jesus. By this point, Jesus’s ministry caught on fire! Multitudes of people were coming to listen to him speak. After he is finished speaking to the crowds, we are introduced to Simon, more commonly known to us as the apostle Peter.

 

What I love about this section of scripture is how real it is. All of us would like to say that if the Lord Jesus told us to do something as he told Peter in verse 4 of Luke 5, we would listen and obey. We wouldn’t ask questions and doubt. But, Peter does. He replies by saying, “We’ve worked all night long and caught nothing!”. Now, this does not stop Peter from being obedient; however, it is clear that he was slightly confused as to why the Lord would ask him to lift their nets. Because of this, imagine Peter’s reaction when loads of fish came out of the nets! In just a few minutes, Peter went from a plain, most likely poor, fisherman to one of Jesus’s close friends and disciples. It even says in Luke 5 verse 11 that “then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed him.”

 

This account brings to light many things the first being this: In order to make us trust in the Lord, sometimes he has to give us crazy signs. Peter needed to see their empty nets become full in order to completely believe and trust in the Lord. He needed that proof.

 

I say this because it is important for us to realize that it is okay for us to need that kind of proof. It is okay to pray that he will show us that he is there! Sometimes, we need that in order to know that he is still tangible in our lives.

 

This account also brings up this point: Peter was nothing more than a fisherman. When we read the work of these mighty apostles it is easy for us to start to believe that there is no way that we could ever emulate them. We make them heroes in our minds to the point where we forget that they we just simply people. They didn’t hold special jobs. They didn’t have any special talents. What made them special is that they were chosen by the Lord to share the word of God!

 

So, no matter how sinful, how small, and even how worthless you feel, get ready. Because, the Lord has the ability to call whoever he wants. In our weakness, he is our strength.

 

-Leslie Jones

 

 

Bold

Peter

When being bold can be a flaw

Matt. 14:22-31, Matt. 16:21-23, Luke 22:31-34

I think we all know someone, it may even be the person in the mirror, who seems to have the Frank Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way” playing as their anthem. I believe one such person in the Bible is Peter. Peter seemed to try to be the exception to every rule and push boundaries that the other apostles didn’t dream of.

Remember when Peter walked out on the water to meet Jesus? It doesn’t mention anyone else volunteering but Peter in faith and boldness offered to meet Jesus on the water. This is just one of many stories of Peter stepping up and speaking out. While many times his boldness was a good thing there are times the contrary was true.

In Matt 16 Jesus explained that he would suffer and be killed but Peter rebuked him! Can you imagine taking Jesus to the side and telling him that he was wrong? Jesus set Peter straight on the matter but Peter still didn’t seem to understand.

In Luke 22:31-34 Jesus tells them again that he must suffer and that they cannot go where he is going. Peter boldly proclaims that he would follow Jesus even to death. Later in the chapter (vs54-62) Peter boldly denied Christ three times just as Christ told him he would. I can’t imagine the sorrow in Peter’s heart as he looked into his Savior’s eyes knowing that he had denied that he even knew him.

Peter’s boldness when not thought through was a flaw but Jesus knew there was potential in Peter and even prayed that his faith would be strengthened so he could also help strengthen his brothers (Matt. 16:32). After Jesus’ resurrection Peter boldly spoke about the death and resurrection of Christ and proclaimed the gospel message.

God answered Christ’s prayer and helped shape Peter into an evangelist. If Peter, Jesus and God chose not to focus on Peter’s flaws that tells us that we should also choose grace and not focus on our own flaws or the flaws of others.

-Lacey Dunn

Boldly Be His

Saturday –

Boldly Be His & Who He Made YOU to Be!

Let’s recap who you are.

You are a new creation in Christ, created with a purpose.

You are God’s masterpiece, His poem.

You are an overcomer!

Once we begin to see who God had in mind when He created us, and we agree with Him to lean in to that (as opposed to running from it), we are then able to start living boldly for Him.

One of the dominant themes of the book of Acts is the boldness of the believers.

A short aside here:  Boldness does not mean crazy, irrational, illogical, or rude behavior.

Boldness is when we truly know something and our actions are determined by that belief.  The Greek word translated as ‘boldness’ in Acts is “parrhesia” and it conveys the idea of confidence, assurance, courage and acting without fear.

Remember Peter, who we talked about the other day.  The early Peter was characterized by bold intentions followed by timid actions.  (Example, “Hey Jesus, everyone else may abandon you but not this guy, not me.”…..Proceeds to deny knowing Jesus repeatedly).  Yeah, that guy.

BUT, not long after that, Peter preached one of the boldest messages in history and said things like, “You are a corrupt generation.  Turn from your sin, repent and get baptized!”  (Acts 3-4)

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

The word that’s translated ‘ordinary’ is the Greek word “idiotas.”

Any guesses what that means?

Yup, Peter and John were idiots.  Idiots for Christ.  So we could give the book of Acts the subtitle, “The Idiots Guide to Boldness.”

When’s the last time someone was amazed at your boldness?

I think we often put the cart before the horse when it comes to boldness.  We want so badly to be used by God, to serve, to be bold…that we run ahead.  The key is that boldness that accomplishes something, boldness that matters, comes from knowing who we were created to be.  It comes from everything we’ve been talking about this week.

Your boldness won’t mean anything if you don’t know who you are…or should I say, whose you are.

And if I can offer one bit of advice from someone a bit further down the road…this process is not quick.  As we seek Him, God reveals bits to us.  It’s a lifelong pursuit, not an assignment to check off of our to-do list.

But that’s also kind of cool.  That there’s always more to know, more ways to grow.

Praying for you to see yourself through His eyes.

-Susan Landry

 

Note:  These lessons this week were drawn from Craig Groeschel’s book, “Altar Ego”.  If you’re looking to read more on the subject, I highly recommend it.