Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Week 4, Day 1 - Understanding Our History

Acts 7:1-53

History is important; however some people hate studying history. Personally, I enjoy reading and learning about history, but I have to admit that it depends on the source. When I was a music major in college, the text book that was used for music history was used by most music schools and was terribly dry. It was so dry that I found that I couldn’t read beyond one page before I felt myself nodding off to sleep; combine that with the topic being Gregorian chant and I was set up for a nice afternoon nap. In high school, I had a great American Military History teacher that brought it to life. While we still needed to learn dates, the dates were not as important as understanding the political and cultural environment. We found ourselves not only learning about events, but we understood why those events happened and the significance to us today. Today, we are picking up Stephen’s story when he was brought before the Sanhedrin. He shows us how important it is to understand our spiritual history; please look up Acts 7:1-53.

I know that this is a lot to read today, but please read through it. Stephen was questioned by the Sanhedrin whether or not the accusations against him were true. Stephen didn’t answer their questions directly; instead he began telling them their history starting with Abraham. The difference between Stephen’s accusers and Stephen is like the student who learns dates and events and the student who is taught to understand the entire story surrounding the dates and events. Stephen’s accusers learned the stories; Stephen understood the significance behind the stories. When Stephen was questioned, he was not backed into a corner because he knew what he was talking about. The Holy Spirit had given him an understanding of the purpose of the law and the purpose of the tabernacle. Our obedience is to be fueled by our faith and God wants to live in the hearts of believers.

I have heard of people who only read the New Testament and there are those who focus on the law and the Old Testament. The problem with both views is that we only learn a portion of our history. The more I study, learn, and understand my spiritual history; the more I can recognize the significance to it for me today. My feeling is that if God felt it important to have both the Old and New Testaments together, then we need to ask for wisdom and understanding of both. When we look at both together, we see a beautiful history of God drawing us closer to Him. Without the Old Testament we cannot completely appreciate and understand the significance of the new covenant. Without the New Testament, we have no hope.

Are you studying your spiritual history? Do you believe God has a purpose giving us the opportunity to learn it?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Week 3, Day 5 - Rumors and Lies

Acts 6:8-15

I have seen people I know have their reputations destroyed by lies. When I was a teenager, there was a guy I knew that was completely devastated by a rumor that he was gay even though he was not. I have watched people suffer the consequences of rumors and lies and have learned that they are powerful and destructive. Today, I want to look at how someone’s life was threatened by lies in Acts 6:8-15.

Stephen’s opposition was cunning how they used the volatile religious and political climate to their advantage. The Sanhedrin was already struggling with trying to determine what to do about the early church, so they started rumors that Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God and the temple. As we look at Stephen’s answer to the accusation tomorrow, we will see that this is not true; however, today the result was that he was on trial unfairly before the Sanhedrin.

We looked at Stephen yesterday when he was appointed as one of the overseers of the distribution of food. According to this section of scripture, we see that Stephen was described as a “man full of God’s grace and power,” and did “great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” According to yesterday’s reading, we also know that the qualifications for the leadership position he was in required that he was “full of the Spirit and wisdom,” (verse 3). Being full of wisdom, grace, power, and the Spirit didn’t stop opposition from coming; in fact, I believe it attracted opposition. We can read that his opposition could not stand against his wisdom, so they resorted to rumors and lies.

When we are doing what God wants us to do, lies may come. It is important that we keep our relationship with God strong so that when we are facing the opposition, we can withstand the pressure. It is not easy to be lied about, but the enemy is the father of lies so we know that this is something that he will use. Please look at what Jesus says of our enemy in John 8:44. Jesus also tells us how the world feels about us in John 15:18-19. But then we have His beautiful promise in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Praise God! He has overcome!

Are you facing lies and rumors? Trust in the promise that Christ has overcome!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Week 3, Day 4 - Ministry Leadership

Acts 6:1-7

I think one of the hardest aspects for a leader to deal with is growth. Growth brings many challenges and begins to stretch a leader in many directions. Structure and procedures become vital not only to continued growth, but to keep from decline. The Bible has some examples of how a leader needed to delegate responsibilities to other people in their ministry in order to keep providing for everyone’s needs. Today’s story reminds me of the importance of good leadership and structure as a ministry is growing. Please look up Acts 6:1-7.

The issue with the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews isn’t what I want to focus on; I want to look at how the apostles responded to the problem. The apostles found themselves in a position that if they didn’t do something to delegate this task to someone to oversee the process, their time and energy was going to be taken away from what they were called to do. They suggested that seven men be chosen that were full of the Spirit and wisdom to oversee this situation. Seven men were chosen, and everyone seemed happy with this solution. The apostles prayed over the men. And while the last verse has been said about the numbers growing in other chapters of Acts, it was interesting that it was said after telling about the addition of structure in the leadership. Verse 7 says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Even the priests were becoming obedient to God’s call! I just think of what this verse might have said if the apostles didn’t have the wisdom to see that they needed more structure and needed to delegate this responsibility to someone else. Every growing ministry faces this; and I’m sure that if you asked leaders of large ministries they will say that at some point they faced the realization that there were some responsibilities they had to learn to let go. That is so much easier said than done; sometimes we have to delegate or let go of something that we enjoy but may be keeping us from doing what we were called to do with excellence. The apostles didn’t hand this responsibility over because they didn’t care about the conflict or unfair treatment; rather, because they cared so deeply they saw the need to give the responsibility to someone who could devote time and energy to the matter.

What is in your life that may be keeping you from doing what God has called you to do? What do you need to do to create more structure and leadership support so you can do your call with excellence?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Week 3, Day 3 - How Do We React To Opposition?

Acts 5:17-42

No matter what we are doing, there will be opposition. In fact, my experience has been that when we are doing what we feel led to do by God the opposition becomes all the greater. While we know that we will eventually face opposition, we don't always know how or when it will come. Sometimes opposition meets us with a small trickle and other times it feels like we are standing under a great waterfall and we can bearly catch our breath. The question is, if we feel that we are following what God has called us to do and it matches with what the Bible says, how do we react to opposition? Please turn to Acts 5:17-42 to see how the apostles reacted to the opposition they faced.

Verse 17 tells us that the high priest and his officials were filled with jealousy. Jealousy is dangerous because we don't make wise decisions when they are based on jealousy. Jealousy can lead to unhealthy decisions that are based on feelings rather than reality. That seems to be the case here because the Bible doesn't say that the high priest felt strong convictions that the apostles were wrong. When the apostles were given the opportunity to answer for their actions (of creating a scene by healing people), they took the opportunity to speak the truth to the high council. They did not back down from opposition.

My instant reaction to opposition is to back away and create peace. But this example shows that there are times when that is not the right solution. When it is a call that God has given me and it is a matter of truth or lie; I need to take a stand. Verse 41 tells us, "The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus." I don't think I ever rejoiced for the opportunity to face opposition before. It is a convicting thought that I don't want opposition and the apostles rejoiced because "God had counted them worthy."

What is your reaction to opposition?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Week 3, Day 2 - Creating A Scene

Acts 5:12-16

I think there is an issue that the church is forever facing as culture is always changing: how do we bring people to God? What can we do that will bring people to a place to see that they need a savior? How do we build excitment so that people want to see what is going on? It is interesting because the early church saw many people come to Christ, so what is the difference? Let's look at what was happening at Solomon's Colonnade, which we read about last week. Please turn to Acts 5:12-16.

I know I have said this a few times since studying the book of Acts, but can you picture the scene? Stop for a moment and picture the commotion that must have been happening at Solomon's Colonnade while many people were coming to be healed. The Holy Spirit was at work through the apostles and people were seeing many miracles and healings. Look at verse 15 where it says, "...sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter's shadow might fall across some of them as he went by." The apostles were not creating the scene; however, God was! I think that is a very important point to remember. We cannot control how God wants to move, but we can be a willing part of His movement.

Having grown up in a very large church and seeing my husband on staff at some very large churches, it is easy to get caught up in attractional models. I enjoy excellence and quality, and I do believe that the church needs to do the best it can with the resources that it is given; however, we need to be careful that we do not focus soley on material things and programs to attract people to church. There is something to be said that in our culture, people enjoy an experience. Think of how McDonald's has worked to update and redecorate it's existing restaraunts and how so much of a coffee shop's success is based on the atmosphere it creates. But that isn't necessarily what draws the most unsaved people to the church. Overall, atmosphere is enticing, but the coffee still needs to be good. Please keep in mind that this is my own observation and I am not currently backing it with any data; but what I have witnessed in the churches we have attended is that when we go out and do God's work by loving people and helping people that draws more people to meet God. I think a church still needs to do quality, but quality in and of itself will not bring unsaved people in its doors. Creating a scene by showing God's love to the hurting will bring people to God.

The world desparately wants to see a difference between the world and those who follow Christ. Just as the coffee shop needs to make good coffee, we need to be doing good works so that we shine for Christ. I love the way the NLT translates James 3:17, "So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless."

What is the church doing to show the world that faith makes a difference? Are you being used by God so people sees a difference?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Week 3, Day 1 - A Fear Of God

Acts 5:1-10

Up until the 5th grade, I was raised Lutheran and went to a Lutheran school. At the school, part of the curriculum was memorizing the Ten Commandments and memorizing Martin Luther’s definitions of them in the Lutheran Catechism. For every commandment, Luther started his definition with “We should fear and love God…” As a fourth grader this confused me because I always knew God as a loving God, so why do I need to fear Him? I asked my mom why I needed to fear God and her answer was that we needed to respect the fact that He is God. This was a good answer and probably the best way at the time that I would understand. Later, when I read the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis described it well when he was explaining Aslan to Lucy. She asked if he was a gentle lion, and Mr. Beaver explained that he was a good lion, but he was still a lion so a person needed to respect and fear him. Our God is a loving, caring, and merciful God, but He is still the most powerful being. Today’s story is a reminder of how God is God and we need to have a respectful fear of Him. Please turn to Acts 5:1-10.

I think the important thing to remember is that this story’s point has very little to do with whether or not Ananias and Sapphira gave all that they earned from selling their property. This story is more about how they attempted to lie to the apostles, which meant they were lying to God. I think the issue is a heart issue of forgetting that God knows and sees all and He wants us to approach Him with an honest heart. Do we need to walk around in fear of retribution? I believe this is a heart issue. God knows where your heart is and what your intentions are. We are going to have struggles with our new selves and our humanness; that isn’t the issue. The issue here was that Ananias and Sapphira were intentionally trying to lie to God.

We are going to make mistakes, and we have an incredibly merciful God. But we need to have a healthy respect and fear of the fact that His greatness is bigger than anything we can imagine. Do you have a healthy fear of God?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Week 2, Day 5 - One In Heart and Mind

Acts 4:32-26

As I was watching football yesterday, the Minnesota Vikings were excited to have Brett Favre come back to their team earlier in the week. The reporters were talking of how much the coach and team wanted him back this season to the point that the coach sent three of his players to Brett’s house to encourage him to come back and not retire. While this was going on, an “unnamed source” on the Vikings reported how some not so nice things were said about the coach by other team players, Brett included. Brett didn’t address this in the press; however, when he came back he warned the team how doing things like that can be dangerous to the team. Reporting complaints to the press will destroy a team’s unity, everyone needs to be able to trust each other; this was an issue that should have been discussed as a team. Please look at Acts 4:32-26.

We read that, “all the believers were one in heart and mind,” in Acts 4:32. Luke then went on to explain what that meant: they shared everything they had. Verse 34 says there were, “no needy persons among them.” Their hearts were for each other as they learned to love one another just as God commanded. Our culture in America isn’t necessarily a “sharing” culture. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen incredible generosity here in America; I think of our response to Haiti as a perfect example. I just think of the idea of sharing and I think we could all do that a little bit better (myself included). How often do we share our talents and skills with others; how often do we loan out something to someone in need? I think we do okay at this; most people are willing to share, but does God want to stretch our comfort zones a little bit more? Are we thinking of our possessions and talents as God’s?

I find it interesting that as we are sharing and meeting each other’s needs, it helps unify us. Perhaps that’s why no one has everything. No one can do it all. We are unified when we share our possessions and skills. We become “one in heart and mind.” When we look around and see how God can use us to meet a need for someone else and we love that person, we become unified with that person. Please read how Paul expresses gratefulness to the church in Philippi for their willingness to share in Philippians 4:10-20. When we share and no one has need, we see a glimpse of God’s glory (verse 20).

Are you sharing what you have? How is God stretching your comfort zone today?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Week 2, Day 4 - Pray For Boldness

Acts 4:23-31

We have all experienced it; when we are new to something everything starts out great. Whatever it is, there seems to be a “honeymoon” period where things seem to be smooth and there doesn’t seem to be any major problem. After a bit of time; however, flaws begin to show and adversity sets in. When that happens, it is shocking and even if we know that adversity will come at some point we are still blindsided by it. When that happens, how do you react? Peter and John and all the believers were shocked back into reality when we read yesterday how the religious leaders put them in prison and threatened them not to preach about Jesus. This was the first time since Jesus’ death that someone was imprisoned to speak the truth. Please read the reaction of the believers in Acts 4:23-31.

The believers reacted by turning to prayer, which is the best response. Please notice how they prayed. They didn’t pray for the chief priests and other religious leaders to leave them alone; they could see in scripture that adversity would come. They witnessed how they put Jesus to death on the cross and that God has victory over death. They also saw that it was part of God’s plan. They prayed that they could be bold through their adversity; they prayed that others would see God’s power through miracles. In a few days we will see how God answered that prayer. But today, we read that, “the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” God gave them the Holy Spirit to embolden them to live and speak the truth.

I think of my reaction to adversity, and I often pray for it to go away. That prayer isn’t always the way God wants things to happen and I should be praying for strength, wisdom, and boldness through the adversity. It is in that prayer where God can use me the best; that prayer is where we get to witness firsthand the power of God in our lives. Remember what Christ promised us in John 16:33, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We get to witness Christ overcoming the world!

What is your reaction to adversity? Do you turn to God and ask for strength and boldness?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Week 2, Day 3 - An Introduction

Acts 4:1-22

The other day, a friend and I were talking about how our minds go blank when we introduce people. I know this has happened to me and it is a strange sensation because often times I may be introducing people that I may not hang out with but I’ve engaged in several conversations with them and know them by name yet my mind blanks when I go to do an introduction. On the flip side, I have never forgotten my husband’s, children’s, or best friend’s name during an introduction. Maybe this is because they are such a huge part of my life that I know their name even when I am nervous. The story I am looking at makes me think of how well do we know Jesus when we introduce Him; please look up Acts 4:1-22.

This section of scripture is another extension of the original story I looked at when Peter and John healed the beggar in chapter 3. They spoke of Jesus in Solomon’s Colonnade and that is where we pick up today. The priest and Sadducees had Peter and John arrested and brought them before the religious leaders the next day. I love the question they ask them; it is if they are asking for an introduction: “By what power or name did you do this?” We read that Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 8) when he answered and proclaimed the name of Jesus in verse 10. He didn’t give a big speech, but what he said was powerful. He didn’t shy away from the introduction and this is the same man who denied him just months before! What is the difference? Peter is emboldened by the Holy Spirit.

When Peter denied Christ, he was not empowered by the Holy Spirit and he was afraid. I am amazed how God took that weakness of fear of the religious leaders and empowered him to stand before them with boldness to proclaim the name of Jesus. God takes our weakness and makes us strong so that we can witness the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. That empowering the Holy Spirit gives us allows us to introduce others to Christ. Another key to Peter’s introduction of Christ is that he knew Jesus. I’m not just talking about the fact that he was His disciple; Peter knew who Jesus is. Peter knew that Jesus is God and He is the only way to salvation.

We can know Christ intimately as well. When we spend time in prayer and in the Bible, we build our relationship with Him. When our intimacy is deeper and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can give an introduction to Christ that is powerful and effective. Not everyone will listen as we see in this story, but the truth can be given in love.

Do you know Christ? When given the opportunity, are you introducing him with power of the Holy Spirit?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Week 2, Day 2 - A Common Place

Acts 3:11-26

There always seems to be a common place for people to “hangout” in our workplace, community, church, etc. Conversations at these places can range from gossip to political or religious discussion. I think when we go to the popular hangout place, we need to be careful of how we engage in the conversation; we need to be careful not to join in the gossip. I want to look at how Peter and John used the hangout to tell others of Christ and how he used an opportune moment to do so. Please read Acts 3:11-26.

Please remember that this is an extension of the story we looked at yesterday when God used Peter and John to heal the beggar. Keep in mind that the beggar was making a scene, “walking and jumping and praising God.” The people who saw him were amazed. In verse 11 we see that the people ran over to the place where Peter and John were which was called Solomon’s Colonnade. This will not be the first time that we see reference to this place in the temple area. When I looked it up, I found out that Solomon’s Colonnade was an area that was like a covered porch. This seemed to be an area that people lingered in (much like the area outside the sanctuary of a church) and engaged in conversation. This wasn’t the only time a scene was created in this area; please look up John 10:22-42.

I find it interesting that this was the place that Jesus revealed who He was and it was the same place that Peter talked of who Jesus was. I can’t help but wonder if some of the same people were there because this event took place shortly after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. People didn’t move around much in this culture, so it was very likely that some of the same people that heard Jesus in Solomon’s Colonnade were the same people that witnessed the miracle and heard Peter’s speech. I get goose bumps thinking of how God was giving them another chance to hear and witness the truth. I also love how God used a common place that people gathered to reveal Himself.

We can learn from this example. What places do people gather in your workplace or community? Every moment you’re there doesn’t have to be a big religious discussion, but God wants us to engage with people where they are. Peter and John were not strangers to that place; they were probably there several times a week. People will listen when we come to them and engage in their lives. We cannot expect to affect our community if we are not going out into the community!

Where does God want you to be?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Week 2, Day 1 - True Help

Acts 3:1-10

One thing I learned as a music therapist is that it isn’t always easy to provide the care the client really needs. It is so much easier to provide a service that helps the symptoms on the surface; however, when I was a therapist writing out goals and objectives for my clients I had to dig deeper and look at the cause of the symptom. Sometimes, in order to reach the long-term objective those surface issues needed to be taken care of first, but I often found that if I treated the issue causing the symptoms therapy was much more effective for my clients. Today’s story reminds me of that because Peter and John chose to by-pass what was on the surface and dug deeper to give a man something better. Please look up Acts 3:1-10.

Peter and John were going to the temple for their afternoon prayer time when a beggar asked for money. This man was begging for money because he couldn’t earn money due to his physical condition. Peter saw that this man needed more than money; he needed healing. So Peter prayed and the man and his feet and ankles were instantly strong and he jumped up. The man began praising God and went into the temple with Peter and John. Can you imagine the scene? He was “walking and jumping and praising God.” There is an important lesson here that is beyond the amazing healing power of God; sometimes in order to help someone we don’t give them what they ask for, we give them something better.

I have mentioned this in a past post, but the book, When Helping Hurts Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert explains how we sometimes do not provide what people really need but we provide what they want on the surface. For example, we could just give money to someone struggling in another country and we will find that we will always need to give them money in order to keep surviving. A better way to help may be to give them a micro loan to start a business and teach them sound financial business practices and they will be able to provide for their family for life. My church is currently running an instrument drive (ZIP Drive – Zambia Instrument Project) to help a music academy in Choma, Zambia. For each instrument collected another student is able to attend school. These children then learn life skills, obtain an education, and learn about HIV/AIDS and human trafficking prevention. This is so much better than giving the child money! They receive hope and learn of eternal hope in Christ.

When we help it is important that we look at why they need help. As I have said before, sometimes we need to treat the symptom in order to reach the heart of the matter. The Buffalo City Mission does exactly that when they provide a meal and shelter to the homeless. Once they have helped the problem on the surface, they begin to help the homeless turn their life around. Find an organization that doesn’t just treat symptoms but treats the problem and partner with them. That is the best way to make a difference.
Have you looked to see how you can help?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Week 1, Day 5 - Fellowship

Acts 2:42-47

In America, our culture is busy and quite honestly a bit self centered so we don’t leave much time for fellowship with others. Career obligations, children’s activities and other things can leave us so busy that we don’t have time for fellowship; it just becomes one more thing that we have to do. We can even become too busy by doing “good” things at church, but if it takes time away from God and from fellowshipping with fellow believers, we are in a dangerous spot for our spiritual growth. Please look at what believers were doing together when the church was experiencing an amazing movement of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:42-47.

There are several points in these verses that show why the church was growing:
  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
  • They devoted themselves to fellowship
  • They ate together
  • They prayed together
  • They helped fellow believers in need
  • They worshipped God together
  • They were glad to be together

    We most definitely grow in our alone time with God, but He created us to need fellowship. When we are with fellow believers, we grow and learn from each other and are encouraged by what God is doing in the lives of the people around us. I just recently talked with a friend, who is facing a serious health issue, but she shared with me what God is doing in her life and I was very encouraged! Not only am I praying for her, but I am encouraged at how God is working in her life despite what she is facing. It is encouraging to see faith in action.

    When we are doing what God wants us to do, we have a joint purpose and goal. We have unity. When we are united, it is amazing what God will accomplish within the church and outside its walls. Please look at the last half of verse 47, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Fellowship with a foundation in Christ changes lives and the world notices. Please look up Galatians 5:13-15. We are to serve one another in love.

    Are you enjoying loving fellowship with other believers?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Week 1, Day 4 - A New Testimony

Acts 2:14-41

Earlier in chapter 2, we see what happened to the believers who were gathered together on Pentecost and I wrote how the scene must have been absolutely incredible! Today, I am looking at Peter's testimony to the Jews who were looking at the results of the Holy Spirit's work in the believers lives and they thought they were drunk. Peter explained that what was happening had nothing to do with anything a person could do, they were witnessing a fulfillment of scripture. Please read through Peter's testimony in Acts 2:14-41.

I want to point out that Peter's audience were Jews not Gentiles. I am pointing that out because I believe understanding our audience and what they believe changes how we present the message of hope. Notice the amount of scripture that Peter uses during his testimony; this is effective because he is using prophecy with which the Jews were familiar. To show that God was at work in the believers, Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32 to point out that this was something that God said would happen. Peter's method continues with the idea that the Jews were witnessing a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel and points out other prophecies about Christ that had already recently been fulfilled. The Jews were amazed and 3,000 were baptized and added to the church!

Please keep in mind that this was the very same Peter who denied Christ three times on the night before His crucifixion. The Holy Spirit was working in him and gave him the boldness and the understanding of how to address the people that were questioning what was happening. Peter also could relate to them because he was a Jew himself, so he knew what they were familiar with and which scriptures they would be able to relate to the best. There will be spontaneous opportunities that we were not expecting to share our testimony, and what I have found is those spontaneous moments are usually with someone that I know. This probably means that it will be someone from a similar cultural background as me. But not everyone has gone to church and is familiar with the scripture. I am not saying that using scripture is ineffective when that happens; however, I am definitely saying that when we are with someone who is familiar with the Bible but are not practicing a live and active faith walk using the Bible to help them find God can be very effective.

Know who you are talking to! It will change how you share your testimony. I will look at other examples of this thought when I get further into Acts.

Do you use scripture as a way to point someone to God?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Come Back Saturday!

Thank you for visiting today! Unfortunately, if you are reading this message, it means that I was unable to get access to the internet while I am on vacation. Come back Saturday for the next post. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Week 1, Day 3 - Empowered By the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:1-13

Please look up Acts 2:1-13 and look imagine you in this scene. I think of the scene in Acts 2 and picture both an amazing and amusing scene. I cannot even imagine how awesome it was to be one of the believers on the day of Pentecost to visually see the Holy Spirit at work in each one of them. I wonder what it was like to feel the Spirit’s wind on their faces and to hear the commotion that followed. I wonder if the believers realized that they were speaking another language and not just sounds or gibberish when they opened their mouths to speak. The scene must have been amazing!

One thing I want to point out is that Pentecost was a required feast and a time of sacrifice and assembly. You can read about it in Leviticus 23:15-22. This was also known as the Feast of Weeks and happened at the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. The significance was to show joy and thanksgiving over the bountiful harvest. During this feast, they were to offer a fellowship offering to the Lord along with other sacrifices. I just find it interesting that God chose the day of Pentecost to gift the believers with the Holy Spirit. Jesus often referred to the Holy Spirit as the Counselor (John 14:25) and a gift (Acts 1:4) and the day that the Holy Spirit came was on a day that the Jews were to offer a fellowship offering to the Lord.

When the Holy Spirit came, the commotion began as everyone began to speak in different languages. They were enabled by the Holy Spirit to speak in different languages (verse 4). I think this is an important point: verse 4 says, “as the Spirit enabled them.” They spoke different languages as they were given the ability by the Holy Spirit. Too often, we try to do things on our own without the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit’s enabling, these believers (most of whom were not educated) would not have been able to speak in other languages. God used the Holy Spirit to spread the word of the hope in Christ by giving them the ability to speak to more than just those who spoke their own language. When we are facing a road block that seems impossible to get around, we can let God do His work and do the impossible.

One last point is found in verse 13. Not everyone felt that there was a miracle happening in their midst. They decided that the believers were drunk and looked foolish. When we are empowered by the Spirit, it may not always seem impressive to onlookers. Not everyone will find the work of the Holy Spirit to be an exciting thing to take place.

Are you working in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Week 1, Day 2 - Seeking God's Direction

Acts 1:12-23

During my prayer study and yesterday starting Acts, I wrote how I have learned that we need to wait on God’s timing for an answer. Sometimes; however, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to make a difficult decision immediately, such as after interviewing candidates for a job a decision needs to be made. The blessing we have with our amazing Father is that He understands our timing just as well as He understands His own timing. He understands that there are things on earth that need immediate attention and He helps us through those times. We left off yesterday with Jesus telling the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to empower them, and today we pick up with them coming down from the Mount of Olives together. Please turn to Acts 1:12-23.

In verses 13-14 we read that they gathered together and were “constantly in prayer.” They didn’t know what they were facing or what was next, so they immediately turned to prayer; after finishing my look at prayer, I can appreciate this! I know I have been there asking God, “What’s next? Why am I here and what am I supposed to do?” During this time of prayer, Peter felt it was important to organize a little bit and said that it was time to replace Judas, who betrayed Jesus. I do have to chuckle a little because it almost seemed like a job interview as they chose who should fill the spot. They had some criteria that the person needed to fit, and the disciples used those criteria to narrow it down to two candidates. Isn’t that what we do when we’re filling a job opening? Sometimes when we are in spot like this, we find a few people that could equally do the job that needs done, but a choice needs to be made. They didn’t make the choice on their own; once again, they turned to God through prayer. This was a situation where they saw an immediate answer to their prayer so they could make a decision that couldn’t be left hanging.

Don’t you love how God can appreciate and understand that we do have some circumstances that require an immediate answer? Our Father has a timing that is all His own; timing that we will never fully understand on earth, yet He still sees our need in our timing as well? Doesn’t that just make you love Him all the more? I do think that sometimes we have needs that we feel require immediate attention, and God makes us wait. Those spots can be difficult, but they can also be times of great growth spiritually. It is later when we can see that God, as always, has the best timing when He chooses to move His hand. I am so thankful that we have a Father that knows the best course of action! I am so thankful that our God cares enough to know when we need help now.

When it is time to organize, we can trust that God will lead us in the right direction. We just need to turn to God in prayer; remember the disciples did not go into this decision blindly. Are you trusting and turning to God when a decision needs to be made?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Week 1, Day 1 - Acts: A Command To Wait

Acts 1:1-11

This summer, I had the opportunity to read through the book of Acts as part of a committee seeking direction. As I read through Acts, I saw some prevalent themes throughout the book and I decided that I wanted to dig deeper and see how the early church followed God’s direction. Some of the major themes I noticed were:

  • We need to wait on God’s timing.
  • We need to pray for God’s direction.
  • We need to have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
  • We need to meet the needs of others.
  • God will help us when we face opposition.
  • The Holy Spirit will make us bold.
  • Unity in the church is important.

Today, I want to begin by looking at Acts 1:1-11. As I started reading through Acts, I was struck how this book reads as a narrative, even though its purpose was for historical documentation. Luke wrote Acts as well as the gospel of Luke; and he started writing Acts right where he left off in Luke. He gives a brief synopsis in the first few verses, reminding us of the climate in which Acts takes place. The Roman Empire was over Israel; however, the Jews were able to still practice much of their religious rites. When Jesus came, He did not meet the expectations of the Jewish leaders. They thought the Messiah was going to restore Israel; instead, Jesus brought heaven to earth and turned everything upside down by talking of a spiritual kingdom. This is where Acts enters: political and religious tension. Keep in mind that Jesus is talking to the very disciples that split and fled during Christ’s crucifixion. These were men that were afraid of their opposition. With that in mind, please read Acts 1:1-11.

I want to focus specifically on verses 4-5 and think about the command that Jesus gave them. They were in Jerusalem which seemed to be the center of the religious tension. Jesus was commanding them to wait in Jerusalem for the gift that was promised to them – the Holy Spirit. In verse 8, Jesus says, “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.” They were told that they needed to wait for God’s timing to receive His gift to them and they needed to wait in a place that despised Christ’s message. Our life is like that as well; sometimes God puts us on hold because He has something better in store for us. Sometimes He has us wait in an environment that is not comfortable or even opposing and it can be difficult to understand why while we are there. Be encouraged! Think of how much the disciples and early church leaders would have missed out on if they would not have been obedient. God’s plan is always so much better than anything we could ever think of.

Does God have you in a place where you need to wait? Are you being obedient and waiting for the empowerment that the Holy Spirit gives?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Week 6, Day 5 - Prayer: A Review To Finish

Thank you to those of you who joined with me in looking at prayer. I hope you used this as an opportunity to search the scriptures and learn more on your own time! If we pray for God to teach us something fresh and new so we can grow closer to Him, He will answer! I would like to take today as a time to wrap up my study on prayer. This has been a wonderful study for me because it pointed out how much I have been missing in my relationship with God as a result of a weak prayer life. I have been encouraged through this study and have already taken some steps to strengthen this area of weakness. What a blessing that God makes Himself accessable to us through prayer; we get to approach the throne of the King of Kings! Are you amazed by that?

Some things I am taking away from this study are:

  • God gave us the gift of prayer to develop a closer relationship with Him.
  • God gave us the gift of prayer so we can ask!
  • Prayer shifts our focus to God.
  • God wants our prayers to be open and honest.
  • God does not always answer our prayers in the way we expect.
  • Prayer helps us plan and be ready for whatever storms may come.
  • Prayer gives us stability.
  • God expects us to pray for others and wants us to ask others for prayer.
  • We need to wait on God's timing
  • Our requests change as we are walking in God's will.

Basically, prayer is a life-changing gift that God has given us and no one is the same after they develop a life style of prayer. Are you developing a life style of prayer?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Week 6, Day 4 - What To Pray For

Matthew 7:6-12

I am nearing the end of my study on prayer and I wanted to look at what we can ask for. Jesus never really told us point blank, “You can ask for this but not that,” but He did give us some ideas that God has discernment so when we ask for something that would not be good for us He will not give it to us. There have been many times that I did not receive what I asked for, and looking back it is a good thing I didn’t receive it! Maybe my motive was wrong, or it just would not have been good for me to have what I was asking for. Either way, God being a good Father, knew what was best for me. Jesus taught us that we can ask for good things. Please look up Matthew 7:6-12.

Even though verse 6 seemed to be a part of the other section of scripture, I feel it leads in very well to the rest of the verses I am looking at. Verse 6 tells us not to throw “pearls to pigs,” which is a phrase we still use today: “Pearls before swine.” When Jesus used this phrase it is important to remember that pigs were considered an unclean animal and we were not to teach holy concepts to people who do not want to listen or to give good things to people who do not care. Jesus then tells us to ask and it will be given to us and talks about how our Father in heaven knows how to give us good gifts. Then I came to a question: why did Jesus mention the “Golden Rule” at the end of all that? I think it is important to know because everything Jesus says in the Bible is relevant and is put in certain spots for a reason. Please turn to John 15:7 and see what Jesus says there (this will be familiar to you if you followed along with me and studied the Fruit of the Spirit). We need to remain in Jesus to receive good gifts we ask for. How do we remain in Jesus? Look down a few verses to John 15:9-10. So our command is to love others as we love ourselves and then we can ask!

I want to pull these points together in a summary. God is not going to give good things to those who are not following His commands (Matthew 7:6) but He will give good things to those who are in Christ and ask for them. I want to point out something that we need to consider; God is only going to give good gifts. When we are in Him and following His commands, we will be asking for good things from Him and our motives will be good. If we ask for revenge, we are really not loving others and it is not a good gift. If we ask God to help us forgive, it is a good gift. As God works on our hearts and changes us, what we feel we need changes. That is a good gift!

Do you love others? Are you asking for good gifts?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Week 6, Day 3 - God's Timing

2 Chronicles 6:12-42

Our timing definitely does not match God’s timing. I guess when you think of the idea of His timing, He does not operate on the same time line we do. Think about eternity for a little bit; I know when I think of the idea of forever it is impossible to comprehend. I cannot understand that God forever was and forever will be, but I can believe by faith. My life so far is a timeline; I had a beginning and I can comprehend beginnings and endings. The way I look at it, think of how slowly time passed when you were a child and think of how much faster the years roll by the older you get. It is perspective. I was talking with a friend a while back on the perspective of time and I think the perspective changes because we have that much more time in our past to compare. For example, one day to a newborn is going to feel like forever because that is all they have experienced compared to you where one day may feel like a very short amount of time because you have experienced thousands of days. So, when we are impatiently waiting on God’s timing we need to trust that He sees all and knows all and has a very different perspective on time. Please look up 2 Chronicles 6:12-42.

Solomon is praying a prayer of dedication to God for the temple that he had just completed. I hope you read the whole prayer because it is a powerful request that God would reveal Himself to all who prayed to Him at the temple. If you recall, on Monday I looked at God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. I want to focus for a moment on 2 Chronicles 6:26-31 and then look at 2 Chronicles 7:11-16. Now I want to point out the timing of God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. Solomon prayed this prayer after he completed the temple; however, God’s answer came to Him after the temple and palace were completed (2 Chronicles 7:11). It is unknown how much time passed between the completion of the temple and the completion of the palace, but we do know that Solomon spent twenty years on both projects (2Chronicles 8:1). God’s answer may have been months after his prayer or even years, either way, Solomon did not receive an immediate answer.

We tend to get impatient when we don’t have an immediate answer. It can feel like God isn’t listening, but sometimes I wonder if He is waiting for us to be ready to hear His answer. I know there have been times where in the waiting period, my perspective changed and I became ready to hear the answer He wanted to give me. There have also been times when I received an immediate answer. I have learned that there are things about God that I will not fully comprehend but I can trust that God knows what is best. Please remember that not receiving an answer in your timing doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you!

Are you patient with God’s timing?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Week 6, Day 2 - Pray For Your Family

Job 1:4-5

I have been exploring prayer for five weeks, and I have not yet looked at how we can pray for our families. Whether or not you have children or a spouse, you still have an extended family you can pray over. I grew up in a broken family and not just with my parents’ broken marriage; we were all broken from the effects of alcohol and abuse. I know first-hand the long term effects of that kind of brokenness, and it is only deliverance and healing from God that can bring wholeness. My point is that I had people in my life praying for me; praying that I would forgive and be whole, and I know that made a difference. We can and should do that for our own families! Job was a man who honored God and he prayed for his children; please look up Job 1:4-5 to see how he prayed for his children.

He had an interesting approach by taking the responsibility of sacrificing for them, which we obviously do not need to do today, but I want to look at the fact that he was acting as a mediator for them. Christ is our mediator today, but we can appeal to God for our families. I once read an interesting short story written by Philip Gully in his book Front Porch Tales: Warm-Hearted Stories of Family, Faith, Laughter and Love. In this story he recalled how a neighbor refused to water his newly planted tree so that its roots would grow deep. He wrote how years later when a terrible storm came through and knocked down most of the trees, that tree stood tall and strong because it had deep roots. He then wrote how we need to pray that our children’s roots would grow deep in God because life’s storms will come. We can pray that over our family, both immediate and extended. Looking back on my post from Week 5, Day 1 I saw how Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-14 was a wonderful example of how to pray for others. We can continue praying for our unsaved family members that they would come to know Christ. I have begun praying more intentionally for my immediate and extended family because I feel that it truly is a responsibility given to us. I pray these over my family:

· For their faith to grow
· For their spiritual roots to grow deep in God
· That they would bear fruit in every good work
· That they would grow in the knowledge of the Lord
· Be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might
· Having great endurance and patience
· Able to joyfully give thanks to God
· That would understand and obey God’s will
· For their needs at that moment

Are you praying for your family?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Week 6, Day 1 - Pray For Our Country (Part 2)

2 Chronicles 7:13-14

Last week, I ended with the thought that even though God controls who is in power and how a country is succeeding, God still wants us to participate and pray for our country. Today, I want to look at a promise that God gave to the Israelites when Solomon finished building the temple that we can pray over our country. Even though this was a promise given to Israel, it is still a promise that we can pray for when we pray over our country. Please look up 2 Chronicles 7:13-14.

This blog is not going to be a political rant on decisions that have been made because rants do not fix anything. I will say that we do not pray enough for our country (myself included). Each year, we celebrate the national day of prayer which is a wonderful opportunity to have a national corporate prayer for our country; however, we need to remember to pray for our country more than once a year. When the national day of prayer was created, it was to remind people of the importance of praying for our beautiful country. If you spend any time watching the news, things change in this country quickly and we need to be in constant prayer. We need to pray for the safety of our country and that the people who live in our country will learn of the hope they have in Christ. We need to pray for the safety of our troops in other countries. We need to pray that those who follow Christ can have the strength and courage to stand up for what is right without a judgmental heart and attitude. We need to pray for the people that are unable to find a job. We need to pray that the church will look beyond its walls and see that people in this country are crying out for help and that the government cannot possibly meet all the needs that are out there. We need to ask for forgiveness for the self-reliant attitude that we often have as a country; we have become so self-reliant that we forget that we are here because God has allowed it.

I believe in practicing religious freedom, which is one of the reasons I love this country; however, we also need to realize that we often forget why people came to this country in the first place: to not only practice religious freedom, but to spread the hope of Christ to all nations. Perhaps if we spent more time praying for our country and remembering that where we live is our mission field we would see our country looking toward God again. We can pray that God heal our country.

Are you humbly praying for our country?