Boldness

Acts 4

I’m fired up to be studying the book of Acts. Although some of the financial advisors and interns I coach joke with me that I use the term “fired up” a lot, I chose those words strategically here. We moved to Bloomington-Normal, IL in 2011 and began attending Eastview Christian Church during a yearlong study of the book of Acts. Although I’ve attended church most Sundays my entire life (except for a hiatus away in college which I pray our children don’t do), I didn’t know much about Acts except for the story of Saul, who was later called Paul and wrote a good portion of the New Testament, going blind for a brief time. Reading and learning about the disciples’ dangerous witness and the new church’s ridiculous love caused me to catch “fire” for the Lord like never before, and I’m praying I recapture that contagious excitement again and that you do as well.

I believe one the biggest pieces of proof that Jesus was who he said he was, the one true Messiah who was resurrected from the grave, lies in the fact Peter denied Jesus three times and most of the disciples were not to be found during and right after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were scared for their lives. Yet here in Acts 4, Peter and John speak boldly (that’s putting it lightly) to the same Jewish Council who just scourged and killed Jesus when questioned about a lame man they just healed in Jesus’ name in Acts 3. Can you imagine being captured and questioned for speaking in the name of the same person they just tortured and martyred not long ago? Still, Peter says in Acts 4:8-12…

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus[a] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.[b] 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men[c] by which we must be saved.”

I can just see Peter sending a text message to a friend a few days later telling him of what he said followed by Bitmoji of himself dropping the mic with #Boom after! Would Peter, who just denied knowing Jesus three times not too long ago, really have spoken at all, let alone with the boldness he does here, to the those who just killed Jesus if he had not seen Jesus alive with holes in his hands and side? To me, there is almost no greater proof in the Bible of the Resurrection and everlasting life than this!

Have you ever made a statement or done something under pressure in the heat of the moment that worked out really well and then thought after, “That was really dumb! What was I thinking? I’m glad that worked out ok, but I would never do that again!”? Well, Peter and John do the exact opposite here. After releasing them, the Council brings them back a second time to question them and tell them to not speak of Jesus and to go on with their lives threatening punishment. Still, they say in Acts 4:20, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Wow.

It may seem strange, but I’ve often thought about what I would do if someone put a gun to my head threatening my life and asked me if I believe in Jesus. I’ve always believed I would speak with courage if I faced this situation. Instead of asking myself this question about the scenario which is (I hope) is highly unlikely to ever happen, I should be asking myself if I will tell my neighbor, co-worker, friend, or even a family member about the love and saving grace of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on Easter. We will talk with them about the game last night (as I have the NCAA Men’s basketball championship on right now and will probably be discussing it tomorrow), a TV show, a movie we just saw, or even a controversial political or social issue, but not about our knowledge, faith, and relationship with Jesus. Gang..this is serious stuff! We are talking about where they will spend eternity…as in “for-ev-er!” I had to lighten a serious topic up a little bit with The Sandlot reference there for movie fans. We must trust the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say as the Bible states here in Acts 4:8 and Acts 4:31. Let us not stop speaking boldly to others about what we have seen and heard today and every day. It may be the difference in where they spend eternity. I know that sounds like a lot of responsibility, but it’s NOT ON YOU once you decide to speak, it’s on the Holy Spirit, and most importantly, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU either!

The Gospel of John

 

Ephesus, Feb 2016

Good morning Monday readers! How did I get so lucky to get to introduce not one but two of our gospel authors this year? I’m very excited for all of us to dive into John’s words in this Easter season. God’s timing couldn’t be more perfect for us! The apostle John wrote his Gospel around 85 AD after the destruction of Jerusalem and before his exile to the island of Patmos. John’s Gospels are different from the three previous synoptic Gospels in that over 90 percent of its material is unique. Rather than focusing on miracles, parables and the public words of Jesus, the Gospel of John emphasizes the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. Research suggests that the most likely place of writing was Ephesus.

John’s main purpose in writing his gospel is to prove Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God. In fact, he reveals Jesus’ deity to us in the very first verse:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” John 1:1

 How many times have you breezed over those words in your reading? I know I have! John gives us the plot line to one of the best true stories ever told in verse one! Together with the Gospel of Matthew, John provides what I think is the most compelling proof of Jesus as the messiah. I’m not afraid to admit that there have been times in my journey with Christ that I have doubted power of Jesus. The Gospel of John is an opportunity for us as Christ followers to truly walk with Him and see the Messiah that John knew. Chapter 2 reveals the seven messianic signs beginning with the wedding at Cana. In Chapter 6 we hear his first of seven “I am” phrases:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and who believes in my shall not thirst.” John 6:35

 John goes on to reveal Jesus through six more powerful “I am” statements throughout his Gospel:

“I am the light of the world”

“I am the door of the sheep”

“I am the good shepherd”

“I am the resurrection and the life”

“I am the way, the truth, the life”

“I am the true vine”

 Of course what comes at the end of this beautiful and powerful writing is the death and resurrection of Jesus. I invite you go deep in your study of this last Gospel. I know that we will all find evidence of our Savior there. Perhaps more than any other writing about Jesus, it will be painful. When we allow ourselves to calm the voices of this world in order to enter His, we’ll see Jesus for the man and Messiah he truly is. We’ll see and hear his closest disciples betray him. We’ll have the opportunity to see ourselves as disciples and understand how we betray him with our everyday sins. We’ll also have the opportunity for redemption in Him.

May you be blessed by this season of quiet, intentional study of the Gospel of John.

 

 

 

 

Grow Up

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 7; Ephesians 4; Ezekiel 37; Psalms 87–88

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  Ephesians 4:15-16

In both a “loving” and “non-loving” manner I have heard the phrase “grow up” on many occasions. I’m sure I deserved them all and if I had a quarter for each time I was told this my student loans would have been paid off by now. To those who shared these spontaneous heartfelt words with me I understand now and in most cases I’m sure you were right.  I had a lot of “growing up” to do in Christ.  Prayerfully, I continue this journey to put on a new self, created in a likeness of Him. Ephesians 4:24

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and to us is to strengthen and encourage all believers. Ephesians 4:1 urges us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Ephesians 4:4-6 There is only one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all.

God has chosen us to be his representative on Earth. He wants us to live worthy of the name “Christian” meaning Christ’s one. For me, I know there has been plenty of times I fell and fall short of doing this.  But, the phrase “grow up” in the the sense of speaking the truth in love is what I needed.  In all my situations, faith based words didn’t always follow the word “Grow up David” but, I realize now their frustration with me.  We can all make mistakes and need a little “truth in love” from others.  In striving to be more mature Christians we need to also speak truth in love with others. This doesn’t come easy.  Some people are good at telling the truth and some are good at being loving but can we do both.  Speak the truth in  loving manner.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

Dear God,  Thank you for our unity into your family. We pray that as examples of Christ we model truth and love to others. That we put away our evil desires and submit to your perfect will.  help us to always continue to grow up to be more like you.  Amen

Song for start of day.  Resurrecting

Righteous

Righteous: acting in accord with divine or moral law :  free from guilt or sin. Unrighteous: not righteous :  sinful, wicked (Merriam-Webster)

Judges 19; Acts 23; Jeremiah 33; Psalms 3–4

We’ve got another binary pattern here. We can be either righteous, or unrighteous. As sinful humans, on our own we become unrighteous. Since God is perfect, just, and righteous he cannot tolerate unrighteousness or sin. Knowing that we are sinners in need of a savior, he sent Jesus, the righteous Branch to save us, to forgive our sins so that we may become righteous through him before God’s throne.

The following verses are prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ and in line with Isaiah 11:1. Jesus is referred to as a branch in various places throughout the Bible.

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 33:15-16)

Will you take time and pause to reflect on how Jesus was, and is righteous and how he can make us righteous today? Along with that, here’s a good prayer to call out to God and honor him for his righteousness.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
    You have given me relief when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! (Psalm 4:1)

Jesus can be called righteous because he is perfect. He never sinned and that made him the perfect sacrifice to take our place. Do we take it for granted that Jesus rose from the dead? He rose from the dead. Say it with me… Jesus rose from the dead. He voluntarily subjected himself to betrayal, torture, and a brutal death, but the grave couldn’t hold him. The one who has power over the grave has power over all things in our lives; sin, pain, depression, emptiness, brokenness, as well as all the great things such as joy and love. We praise you God for all these things!

Next week (Friday 8/12), Cooper Wilken will be a guest author in my place. Cooper is a fine young man; strong in his faith, has a great personality, and is mature beyond his years. Please welcome and encourage this brother in Christ!

Consider it Pure Joy

Today’s Readings: Numbers 17-18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7 and James 1

James!!!! Oh friends, it’s Monday and I’m so joyous because today we are starting the writings of James. For once I know a whole lot about this particular scripture and I’m so excited to share it with you. Let’s begin at the beginning:

 “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ”Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:53-55)

 There you have it. James was the brother or more accurately the half brother of Jesus, the one and only. Doesn’t that change your perspective a bit? More research shows us that at first James wasn’t a believer. In fact, he didn’t become an “ambassador for Christ” until after the resurrection. In Acts 1:14 and then in 1 Corinthians 15:7 we learn that Jesus appeared to James and then his twelve apostles shortly after the resurrection. This appearance convinced James that Jesus was indeed the Christ, he later went on to lead the Jerusalem church. The book was probably written around 48-52 A.D. James died somewhere between 62-66 A.D. James’ letter was written to address the broad audience of Jewish Christians living in or around Palestine. These early believers did not have the support of established Christian churches, James wrote to them as a leader, to encourage them in their faith during difficult times. He opens with this:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 I first studied the book of James from the NIV translation which begins with: “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds….” I LOVE that sentence. I say it to myself all the time. When my infant is just screaming in the back seat on the way somewhere, or when work stress is just crashing down on me. Notice that James does not say, “consider it pure joy IF you face trials” it’s “whenever you face trials!” When I think about the point of view of our author today, it puts these words into even more perspective. Imagine growing up as the younger brother of Jesus. As Jesus grew, the gospel of Luke describes his evolution into a young man filled with wisdom and gaining the favor of God and fellow man. How did his lowly younger brother feel then? Is it possible that he spent some of his young adulthood jealous of Jesus? Did part of him want to deny Jesus’ perfection? Do I ever deny God’s plan despite knowing that it is right and perfect for me simply because I want to exert my child-like will?

It’s not until after the resurrection that Jesus appears to James. We can infer from the scriptures that they are alone. (1 Corinthians 15:4-7). It is then that the transformation occurs. James, who had a history of persecuting Christians is now a Christ follower. James becomes a fearless leader of the Jerusalem Church, a witness to what later cannot be seen or heard for the people living as Christians among the Gentiles. I love this story because it reflects my own. Before I really knew anything about Christianity, I was a Gentile living among Christ followers. People that quoted scripture and met in little groups at home studying the word of God seemed strange and somehow naïve to me. Now, here I sit surrounded by 3 different bibles and book on James at my desk. I’m no modern day James, but what I am is someone that can tell my “turn around” story. It was me that was so naïve, in fact the truth is; I didn’t experience Christ until I let go of my jealousy of the Christian’s around me. Of course I didn’t know I was jealous. I only know now that the silent persecution I waged was really just a mask covering my inmost desire to be part of that chosen group. If only I had realized sooner that you don’t have to be asked to become a Christ follower, there is no audition.

Finally we arrive at the part that I find most comforting. James gives the best advice if we can just see past ourselves and take it: Count it all joy when you meet trials. In other words, we are going to have had times, James is encouraging us to use them as learning opportunities. He goes on to say that these trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness. The NIV uses the word perseverance in the place of steadfastness. Isn’t that encouraging? Imagine for a moment that you are in a large room with other Christians when suddenly all the lights go out. Then imagine that James is there with you. Instead of turning on the light, he hands you a flashlight so that you can find the switch and turn it on yourself. That’s the purpose of this message. James is giving us a flashlight so that we can bathe our trials in the light of Jesus’ promise. Our daily struggles aren’t just for the purpose of frustrating us, they are to strengthen us so that one day we will be “perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” James ends this first section with these words:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)

 Of his own will he gave us little flashlights so that we could shine a light on the truth. How many of us are carrying these flashlights in our pockets, never bringing them out and flipping the switch. I consider it pure joy that He gave me enough trials that I had no choice but to find my light. He is after all the Father of lights. I hope you’ll consider turning yours on today.

Named

Melting pot people walking on zebra crossing and traffic jam on 7th avenue in Manhattan before sunset - Crowded streets of New York City during rush hour in urban business area

 

Today’s Readings: Exodus 32, John 11, Proverbs 8, Ephesians 1

As I sit down to write tonight I’m filled with joy and contentment. I’m 35 today. I slept in just a little, had some favorite foods, received gifts from my husband and children, went to church and then celebrated with my small group. As I reflect on the day, the thing that sticks with me is my Facebook feed. Ordinarily, I would have lots to say about the false idol that is Facebook but today I feel differently. Today, 122 people took the time to call me by name. One hundred and twenty two people wrote genuine, kind, heartfelt messages to me. Throughout the day I read and re-read my bible passages for the journal and in between I would read some of the new Facebook messages coming in. I realized tonight that what is most significant about these messages is that each of those people called me by name.

In John 11 we learn that Jesus’ good friend Lazarus is very ill. John is careful to tell us that Jesus stayed for 2 extra days despite the mounting risk he faces for his preaching in Judea. Mary and Martha are rather desperate. They tell Jesus that “he whom you love” is ill. Jesus replies by saying:

 “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God. Hello. Hello. I’ve been transporting myself to this moment in time all week. What Jesus says here is so important. I’ve challenged myself to write down at least two things each day that I believe is an “illness” in my life. An illness that I may feel is for the purpose of my own suffering. An illness that I believe is for the purpose of an end or a death. Then I ask myself, “how is this circumstance or situation for the glory of God.” Guess what…there’s been an answer every time. If I am silent and wait, I get the answer.

What happens next is the real meat and potatoes of the story. After learning that Lazarus has been dead for four days, Jesus goes to the tomb and calls him by name. He says,

“Lazarus come out” John 11:43

The irony here of course is that as Jesus gives life through the act of giving up his own. In fact, by performing this miracle the plot to kill Jesus is set in motion by his enemies. Jesus knows that the time is drawing near. He hastened his own death by calling his beloved Lazarus by name. Is he calling me today? As Easter approaches am I present in this Lazarus moment, am I listening for the sound of my very own name?

Later in today’s readings Paul writes to the Ephesians,

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-14

 There it is! The post-resurrection testimony from Paul about the true inheritance we have as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice. He tells us right here in this scripture that we are his chosen ones, he has named us on the biggest Facebook wall of all time. We have been predestined for his love and will inherit our forever with him. Here is the promise that each and every one of us is special, is unique, is intimately known by Him. By his action we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to write to the Ephesians,

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” Ephesians 1:16-18

 Father,

Bring our hearts close to yours this week. Give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of you. Don’t let the spirit of eggs and chocolate and rabbits distract us from your voice calling us by name. Give us hope in the daily situations that we feel are insurmountable earthly illnesses. Draw me close to you, Lord. I know the time is near. Help me to stop, listen and respond. We thank you Lord for building our community of other Christ followers, for giving us strength to live in our modern Judea’s while praising you. Thank you for calling us each by name.