Acts

Tuesday Devotional: Acts 8

bibleRead Acts 8:26-40

A relationship with Jesus is one of ongoing inquiry and curiosity.  We are repeatedly confronted with questions concerning his sacrifice, his teaching, his person.  Yet, it seems that for as many questions with comfortable solutions, more questions arise, and our search to know more continues.

The Christian’s pursuit of knowing does not arise out of a desire to arrive at a singular conclusion, thus completing our search.  Our pursuit is a result of looking upon something that we cannot look away from.  The glory of pursuing the living God is unlike anything we’ve ever known.  It surpasses what we know to be beautiful and forces us to redefine the word beautiful itself.  Love is redefined.  Peace is redefined.  Hope is redefined.  Victory is redefined.  You think you know, and you think you know, but then you realize that you will never fully know until you are with him, made like him in a place where there is nothing but him.

Protect and defend this childlike nature that persistently asks why and how.  We were designed to learn, but we were ultimately designed to learn about all things in order to increase our love for our creator.  To learn with any other motive or objective leaves us with information that we cannot take with us when we part from this world. Any knowledge but this will, over time, wither and fade just as the grass and the flowers of the fields.  Knowledge is of this world, but truth is eternal.  Open up the scriptures seeking to behold the glory of the Son.  Seek to know truth and the truth will set free: not because it is moral, virtuous or logical, but because truth itself is embodied in the physical manifestation of the living God in Jesus Christ himself.

The Resurrection: Saul to Paul

empty-tomb

While the debate concerning the identity of Jesus Christ as God himself as historical fact or fiction will forever continue, the figure of Paul is much less easily argued against. Paul comes down to us from the 1st century as a real man who wrote real documents, who preached faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Paul is a historical figure: very few people will object to that statement. However, while some attempt to legitimize the life of Paul and reject the life of Jesus, a closer look at the life of Paul will lead to the truth that Paul cannot exist as history presents him without the existence of Jesus as history presents him as well. The life of Paul without the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not worthy of anyone’s study. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul is simply another Jewish Pharisee destined to be remembered only by his family, friends and colleagues. As we have it, with the resurrection, the name of Paul is possibly the second most important name in human history, second only to Jesus himself. The reason Paul is worthy of anyone’s study is because of his radical transformation on the road to Damascus.

Acts 9:1-22

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

Over the course of three days, Paul transformed from Saul of Tarsus, a fiery Jewish Pharisee, devoted to the destruction of the Christian heresy, to Paul the Apostle, preaching the good news of Christ and changing the course of human history through his many missionary journeys, church planting and frequent correspondence with the early Christian Churches, comprising more than two thirds of the entire New Testament. We must ask the question, why?

Why would Paul suddenly change and become a member of the sect he was committed to destroy? Why would he forfeit his wealth and status to become poor and persecuted? Why would he endure hardships such as shipwrecks, stoning, floggings, imprisonment, and sickness for this heresy of Jesus Christ? Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the actions of Paul are those of a man gone insane. His transformation without the resurrection is unlikely and unreasonable. With the resurrection, the mission and promise of Jesus to Paul that he preach salvation in Christ to all nations, Jew and Gentile, suddenly thrusts the reality of Paul’s conversion into the reality of the Gospel, with the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day.

The Resurrection: Respect to Worship

empty-tomb

As discussed previously, belief in the resurrection must not rely on the fact that it is mentioned in the Bible and therefore must be believed. We must look at how the resurrection is described, how that moment changed the attitude of the disciples and the course of human history forever with the emergence of the Christian Church. Along with the analysis of the before-and-after behavior from the disciples, in regards to their hope in Jesus being the long awaited Messiah, we must analyze their behavior in regards to the reality that Jesus was in fact the Messiah they had been waiting for. More specifically, one must observe how their attitudes shifted towards Jesus, alive as the human Messiah, and Jesus, alive as the risen Lord.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, the disciples were faithful in their loyalty to Jesus as their leader and teacher (that is, until his arrest and crucifixion, where only one disciple that we know of was present at Golgotha to witness his actual death). They spoke deep belief in Jesus as the true Messiah and son of God. However, according to their sheepish actions in the face of trial and persecution, these words of  faith prove shallow, spoken out of excitement and naivety.  Against Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion their words are little more than well-meaning lies, their faith in him quickly reduced to respect for him as a great teacher, or possibly a prophet, as believed by the disciples on the road to Emmaus. However, their faith in him as the Lord himself, as the creator God, as Yahweh, is a difficult argument to make.

The disciples’ belief in and understanding of Jesus Christ’s true identity did not settle at the stage of respect. The disciples quickly began to worship Jesus as the risen Lord himself, come down from Heaven as the Son of God. They also began to observe the resurrection as the culmination of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Following the resurrection, the disciples had no doubt that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be. With that truth, their faith exploded and the course of human history was forever changed. Even Peter, who denied Jesus repeatedly before the resurrection, overcame his fear and was convinced of what the resurrection meant:

Acts 2:14-36

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants[b] and female servants
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
   before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
   “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
   Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

In the face of the resurrected Christ Jesus, the attitude of the disciples changed dramatically from respect and honor to unparalleled and unprecedented worship of a human teacher who suffered, died, was buried and then resurrected, as God himself.

Tuesday Devotional: Proverbs 19

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Desire without knowledge is not good—
how much more will hasty feet miss the way! -Proverbs 19:2

A false witness will not go unpunished,
and whoever pours out lies will not go free. -Proverbs 19:5

A false witness will not go unpunished,
and whoever pours out lies will perish. -Proverbs 19:9

A corrupt witnessmocks at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil. -Proverbs 19:28

 

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. -Acts 1:6-9

Do you call yourself a Christian?  Why?

A Christian identifies with Jesus Christ and believes confidently in his claims.  While those who actually saw Jesus in person have long since passed away, to be a Christian is still to be a witness.  A Christian is convinced in head and heart that what they have seen in the Bible and in their own life is evidence that Jesus Christ is who He said He is, and that His Spirit remains with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.  To be a witness, a person has to have seen someone or something personally.  To be a witness of Jesus Christ, and therefore a Christian, a person has to be a witness of His presence in history and in their own life.  Before you answer “yes” to the question “Are you a Christian?”,  ask yourself a much more important question: “Am I a witness?”

Have I personally witnessed the presence of Jesus Christ in my own life?  Do I believe that the Holy Bible testifies to the evidence of Jesus Christ in history as a man and the incarnation of the living God? Are YOU a witness?  If the answer is still yes, we must then understand and count the cost of what it means to be a witness.  We must understand that we have been shown the living God in Jesus Christ, and that we are commanded to testify to our experience in His life, death and resurrection and what we hear Him say in the Gospels.  Just as a witness in a court proceeding puts their right hand on the Bible and promises “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”  This oath poignantly and convictingly speaks from the place of Christian identity.  Jesus identifies Himself as, “the truth and the life.”  Therefore, as Christians we are not only proclaiming to the world that we have seen and believe in the presence of Jesus Christ, but we are also promising to share only what we’ve seen and heard, so help us God.  We not only share what we’ve witnessed in the Word, but we primarily show what we’ve witnessed in bearing the Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our daily lives.  Our faith in Jesus Christ MUST replicate His spirit in our own.  If we allow His spirit to become our own, we provide the world with the most honest and powerful testimony to what we’ve witnessed.  If our lives bear witness to the life of Jesus Christ, we are loved by God as a true witness.  But if our lives conflict or contradict the life of Jesus Christ, we stand condemned before a God who warned us not to bear false witness, so help us God.

 

 

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Promise

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here. 

The Power of the Promise

For many, there is a disconnect between the stories of the Bible and everyday life. We read stories in the Bible that are supernatural, unbelievable when compared to our own experiences. However, amidst these stories we also read God’s promise to never change his nature, although time passes and people change. Repeatedly God promises that he was, is and always will be the same:

Your word, LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Psalm 119:89-93

If we are to actually take the Word of God seriously, and believe in it with our whole hearts, these promises should not feel fantastical or far-fetched. Rather, if our experience with the living God is real, it stands to reason that our experience with the promise of God must be real as well.

Now, that is not to say that since God separated the waters of the Red Sea for Moses, he will respond in precisely the same way for us today. However, it does mean that the personal and intimate experiences that Moses experienced with God in person are there for us to experience as well. In Acts, while gathering in the Upper Room, the Apostles experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Acts 2:1-13

Their experience was unique in that it found them speaking in various tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit moving among them. While the act of speaking in tongues easily becomes the focus of their baptism, it is not the act of speaking in tongues that marks their experience as being baptized by the Holy Spirit. They were being personally introduced to the living God that knew them at their most personal level. In that moment they became powerfully aware that God knew them, that the God of old who made promises throughout the ages had always known them. Thus it is for anyone today who is baptized in the Holy Spirit. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit we realize that the promises in the Word are not simply words to hope in, but are words intent on being found, experienced and fulfilled in us.

Tuesday Devotional: Acts 2

bibleRead Acts 2:42-47

When we consider the Church as “the body of Christ” we must understand one thing and one thing alone: “of Christ.”  Without these last two words a church is simply a building, little different from any other structure. These words capture something holy, capable of transforming the world we live in. “Of Christ” indicates that a body of believers needs only one focal point, to be a product and a reflection of Christ.

First, a fellowship of believers “of Christ” wholeheartedly devotes itself to the Word of God, and stewards that Word in the world.  This first requirement is not to be taken lightly.  Just as Jesus Christ taught that man does not live on bread alone but on the words of God, this word of God is life.  We must understand that with the word of God is life, just as there is life in nutritional sustenance.  In the same way, lack of God’s Word brings death just as a life without food will cause the body to shut down.

Devotion to the Word of God does result in clarity, purpose, and direction, but more important than these, it is the means by which we enter into a deeper and more complete understanding of God himself.  Without this personal understanding of his character we will never fully trust and faithfully love him.  Devotion to the Word provides a path to follow and the hindsight for where we have already been and God always was.  It reunites us with our first Father, giving us insight into where we came from: we were created to be like him, with him and to be loved by him.

Second, a fellowship of believers must reflect the character of Christ.  This character is always aware of worldly temptations and their effect on the gospel of Christ.  Few worldly temptations throughout Scripture garner more warning than money.  Money has the power to displace the value God created us with and substitutes its own deceptive, illusory perception of value.  The closer we move in partnership with money as our primary end, the further we distance ourselves from God as our ultimate authority.  A fellowship of believers can change the world through money by approaching it as a means to transform this world, but they must be united in the truth that the power of money should only be measured in how fast it is being applied to a need.  Uniting both of these characteristics is love, the essence of Christ himself.  This love is in all and for all, is charitable and supportive.  Furthermore, this love is not a character trait.  It is the character of a believer transformed by the love of Christ. And in a group of believers, this character multiplies, yielding a body of believers overcome by the love of God, resulting in “the body of Christ.”