The new Church has just exploded in growth. Powerful displays of God’s grace have been witnessed, lives changed, and miracles being performed. Within one day, some three thousand people came to believe and trust in Jesus Christ as their Messiah. We witnessed in Peter’s bold message to the Jews, perhaps the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him in Matthew 16:18.

If nothing else has been shown to us in the previous passage we reviewed, it’s that God can do a mighty work. With every high though, we must come down at some point. This is where we pick up and finish Chapter 2.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:42-47

Wrapping up our study of Chapter 2 is a short section, but it is rich. While coming off the spiritual high of the previous passages, we should note how they conducted themselves. Their descent from the high was not one to a deep valley, one of sadness or depression as Elijah had experienced. This in part could have been because of their choice in conduct. Notice in verse 42 that they wasted no time. They quickly “devoted themselves” to study and community. The Greek Luke uses for devoted is προσκαρτερέω (prŏskartĕrĕō), which can be defined as to be earnest towards, constantly diligent, to adhere closely. The new Believers were committed at a deep level to understand the teachings of the Apostles, handed down by their Savior, and to fellowship with each other. We get a fuller idea of what this devotion and practice looks like in the following verses.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

– Acts 2:44-45

We see here the first charitable movement of the new Church. Believers putting the needs of others before themselves. To have things in common meant they shared what they had. There was a sense of community not only in their fellowship, but their belongings as well. If a brother or sister needed something, it was available. More than the practice of communal sharing, they freely gave up what they had to provide for the needs of others. They did this without grumbling, without hesitation as to how it might effect them. It points to the position and condition of their heart, one changed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

As noted above though, their change in attitude and practice was not limited too material things. There is important attention given by Luke to the communal aspect of relationships within the Church as well. The new Believers did not simply wait till the next Sabbath to worship, study and learn about their Lord. They did not reserve just one time a week to gather together in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:46-47

The new Believers made it a habit right away, to be in community with one another. They understood from the very beginning the value and importance of being in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. But notice this community aspect was not just simple conversation. It was studying, going to the temple, it was sitting around the table together for a meal. The fellowship and community of the early Church was deeply and intimately relational. They did not hesitate to invite one another into their homes, their most personal space. Notice also the attitude in which they did these things. It was with a heart and mind postured towards God with thankfulness and gratitude! What a lesson for us! And it was because of this that they first found favor with the people around them, and God blessed them by increasing their number daily.

This short passage challenges my heart and mind, and I hope it does the same for you. If I call myself a Christian, is my heart and mind postured towards Him with thankfulness? Am I willing to invite others into my home, to let down my guard and be willing to allow my brothers and sisters in Christ know me at a deeper and more intimate level? Am I willing to put the needs of others above my own, to make sacrifices of plenty to meet the needs of those less fortunate than me? The early Church understood what it meant to follow Christ at a level that seems too often be missed today. Following Jesus is more than personal Bible Study and Devotions. It’s more than dropping some change in the offering when we feel like it. Following Jesus should bring us to a whole new level of understanding charity, community and service.

These were aspects of a new life that the early Church was fully devoted to. The practices they exhibited became engrained in their life, so much that this is what the early Church became known for. It was something many were willing and often did, die for. How willing are we to go to the lengths the first Believers did? Christ calls us too much more than Sunday attendance. He calls us to full devotion seeking Him. Studying His Word, supporting the local Church and its Shepherds. Opening our homes to others, diving into community and relationship with other Believers.

Following Jesus isn’t easy, and it’s often messy. But for me, I’d rather dive in without hesitation and reap the blessings in full, knowing I had a part in growing the Kingdom for God just like the Believers of the early Church!

Check out our latest series at The Anchor Church in Lawrence! Watch the third message below.

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The second chapter of Acts can be easily and logically broken into 3 parts. Chances are, your Bible has already done this for you. In the last post we looked at most of the first part, minus the last verse. I intentionally left that verse out because it sets up the miles part of the chapter, which is a powerful message Peter delivers. Verse 13 gives us an idea of what some present when the Apostles spoke in tongues thought of the miraculous display.

But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

– Acts 2:13

While most were amazed at the miraculous display of power, others were accusing them of being drunk. Their false and inaccurate criticism of what they were witnessing became the best setup for Peter to step forward and preach a powerful message to a crowd in need of truth.

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.

– Acts 2:14-15

Peter was quick to address those making accusations. Knowing that their accusation was that they must be drunk, he is quick to point out the absurdity of their claim by noting the time of day. In their time and culture, the new day began at 6 in the morning. The identification of the third hour means it was only 9 in the morning, far too early for anyone to have drank enough wine to become drunk. By squashing this absurd accusation, Peter further emphasizes the magnitude of what the people have witnessed, a miracle of God.

Peter wastes no time now that he has the full attention of the crowd. He moves on from addressing the accusation to preaching a sermon highlighting one primary theme: Jesus is the Messiah. With the beginning of his message, Peter explains what they have witnessed as a fulfillment of the Prophet Joel, something they as devout Jews would have been familiar with.

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 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.’

– Acts 2:16-21

By quoting the Old Testament Prophet, Peter captivated the attention of the crowd. He knew how to reach the people around him, something we should take note of. Just like Jesus ministering to those He came in contact with, Peter understood how to connect with the people in his midst while still communicating truth. With the start of the Prophet’s words, Peter launches into the heart of his message to the crowd.

He continues on making clear to the crowd that Jesus was the One prophecies about so many hundred years before. It was Jesus that David spoke of when he spoke of his Lord in Psalm 110:1. It was this Jesus, the Messiah they had been waiting for, the One that they crucified. Peter connected with the people, and he delivered the truth they needed to hear. But he didn’t just deliver the truth, he called them to act upon it. Check out how he ends his message!

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

– Acts 2:36

Peter finished his message to them with a concise review of what he had just preached. This Jesus you condemned and crucified is the One whom you had been waiting for. He is the Lord and Christ of which the Prophets spoke of. He is the Savior of the world. What are you going to do about it?

The crowd erupted with response when Peter finished his message. Luke’s account says “they were cut to the heart” by what Peter had said. The Greek Luke uses for the word “cut” here is κατανύσσομαι (katanyssomai), and it has such a strong literal meaning. What Luke was saying is that the words of Peter struck so hard and deep in their heart’s it was like being pierced or stabbed with a sword. Language and imagery that was vivid and familiar in that day. It paints such a picture of the impact God’s word did and can have on the listener. Being overcome with conviction by Peter’s words, the crowd asked what they should do in response. Peter wasted no time in giving them direction:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

– Acts 2:38-40

Repent and be baptized. Simple, direct. Peter recognized their understanding of his message, the truth about who Jesus was and what He did. And because of that, Peter knew that they had to act on their knowledge. To be baptized is a fairly easy thing to understand for us, but the concept of repenting can be a little more difficult. The Greek μετανοέω (mĕtanŏĕō) carried the idea of changing your mind, to turn in your ways. Peter was instructing the crowd to change their thinking based on the message they had just received. Change your unbelief in who and what Jesus was and did, to belief! Believe He is the Messiah, He is the Christ that was foretold long ago! And in response to this change, be baptized!

Peter follows up this instruction by encouraging them to save themselves from their wicked generation. In other words, repent, be baptized, and don’t fall back into the old sinful habits Jesus has redeemed you from. Change your ways and continually seek after Jesus! Peter did not just give them instructions, he provided them with a promise as well. It was the same promise He and the other Apostles received from Jesus! The gift of the Holy Spirit after they followed the instructions to repent and be baptized.

What a response Peter and the other Apostles see from the crowd! Luke tells us that after Peter’s message and instructions those who heard and accepted it were then baptized and counted as part of the group of believers. Over 3000 new believers and followers of Jesus Christ were counted that day. Not people who recognized Jesus as a great teacher, or prophet, but as their Messiah.

Luke gives us such incredible insight into the very beginnings of the Early Church through the book of Acts. As we continue to dive into this, it’s important to remember how it began. Peter, a man who was often times quick to speak and act, landing himself in tricky situations has now stepped up as Jesus called him too. Giving what you could call the first evangelistic sermon, the hearts of over 3000 people were convicted by the Spirit that day, significantly expanding the Church. Peter shared his testimony with the crowds, testifying to the sovereignty and omnipotence of God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Peter is not the only one with a testimony that can move hearts. You and I have one also. It’s easy to be intimidated and fearful to speak about our experience following Jesus, and I’m sure at some level Peter wrestled with this too. The beautiful thing though, is that he didn’t rely on his own strength to communicate his message, and neither do we. The Holy Spirit in us, as followers of Jesus Christ empowers us. Your story might be the one thing someone in your life needs to hear. You sharing how God has changed your life by following Jesus might be the push someone needs to put their own trust in Him. You and your story might be the catalyst to pierce a heart with conviction, and lead someone to the feet of Jesus.

Are we trusting the Spirit to guide our words? Are we trusting God to give us the courage and strength by His Spirit when we feel afraid or nervous to speak? Just like the Spirit empowered Peter to speak to the crowd in Jerusalem that day, He can do the same for you. Don’t let your fear hold you back from speaking into the life of someone else. Trust that the Spirit in you as a follower of Jesus is the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead. Through Him your testimony can be just as powerful!

A Study In Acts: The Promised Arrival

Throughout the Gospels, the term Disciples is used heavily to refer to the 12 men who were the primary followers of Jesus and sat under His teaching. However, this is not the only term used for them, and as the New Testament writings and history progressed a different title often was used. The term Apostle we have today is translated from the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apostolos), which is derived from another Greek word ἀποστέλλω (apŏstĕllō) which means to be set apart, or sent out. In other words, an easy definition of an Apostle is someone who is sent as a delegate or ambassador of Christ Jesus and His message. Among the 12, Paul and James were also given the title and recognition.

Chapter 2 of Acts kicks off with the Apostles and other believers gathered together for the day of Pentecost. This was the 50th day after the Passover, our word coming from the Greek πεντηκοστή (pĕntēkŏstē) which means fifty. For the Jews, this was a day of celebration going back to the times of the Old Testament. Certain feasts and celebrations prescribed and recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were culminated on the 50th day after Passover. This was a time in Jerusalem when the city was filled with Jews from all over the Roman Empire, as Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts after the time of Exile. For the Christian Church, Pentecost signifies the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit to the Apostles and Believers gathered together.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

– Acts 2:2-4

The coming of the Holy Spirit was no small thing. The Greek word for wind used here is πνοή (pnŏē). The Greek used here for Spirit is πνεῦμα (pnĕuma). I know it’s a lot of Greek, but there is significance in both of these words. Do you notice how similar they are? That’s because they are both derived from the same Greek word, πνέω (pnĕō) which means to breathe hard. It denotes power and force, which is exactly what the gathered Believers experienced at that moment. 

Luke gives us such a descriptive account of what took place in that home. The power and force of the moment was not the only amazing detail of the experience. In verse 3 the appearance of the Spirit is described as “divided tongues of fire” that “rested on each one of them”. What an amazingly descriptive display of God’s power! I find the use of fire significant here, as fire was often a mode of display God used throughout history. In Genesis 15:17 we see this when God interacts with Abraham, making His covenant concerning the land for Israel. In Exodus 3:2-6 we see God’s power and presence before Moses in the burning bush in the desert, and after their escape from Egypt God guided His people by night as a pillar of fire. Other examples exist as well throughout the Old and New Testament. 

There is one more word in this passage that a lot of people get hung up on. The subject of “tongues” is one heavily debated within many Christian circles, specifically what Paul meant by the term used in his letters. That topic of discussion is for another time, but just as in those cases, context in our passage is critical to help us properly understand what Luke is communicating to us. The Greek word he uses here is γλῶσσα (glōssa), which literally means tongue as an organ of speech. This can also be translated as language, as the tongue is used as an organ in the communication of language. With respect to the context following our passage, the situation here was that the Believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped to speak in languages they previously had not spoken in, but were already in use by other people. Not only was this occurrence amazing, the timing was as well.

Remember the significance of the timing? The event of Pentecost was a celebration that brought Jews from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem. The streets were filled with people who had been a part of Jesus’ trial, conviction and death. Filled with people who had heard the news of what took place. People who needed to hear the message of Jesus. Check this out.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

– Acts 2:5-12

The city of Jerusalem was full of Jews who held tightly to the tradition of Judaism. Men who were unwavering in their faithful practice of the Law. They came from every land surrounding Jerusalem and had their own languages from their region. This is the scene we find verses 5-12 taking place in. The languages the Believers spoke were real languages, understood by the multitude of Jews in their own languages. God not only displayed His power by the coming of the Holy Spirit, but by the work of the Holy Spirit through His people.

I love how in this small section of Scripture we see such a basic yet profound truth: God’s timing is perfect! When Jesus told the Disciples and Believers with them to wait in Jerusalem, there was purpose behind His instruction. Could they have gone out into the city and began spreading the message of Jesus right away? Yes, but the reach and effectiveness would not have been as great. They would have been acting on their own power, not that of the Holy Spirit. God knew the perfect time to reach the most people was at that moment, not before.

Trusting God’s timing is a hard thing. It’s so natural to jump the gun, rush into something thinking we have it all figured out and know the best approach. God shows us time and time again in Scripture, as He does here, that He clearly knows best. If we believe He is all knowing, as He says He is, doesn’t it make sense that He would know the best timing and course of action in everything we do? As Believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to trust Him in everything. From the big to the small, God can handle it. If He was capable of enabling the Apostles through the Holy Spirit to speak multiple languages instantly to share the message of Jesus Christ, I promise He is capable of directing you in perfect timing.

The question for us will always be, do we trust Him? Are we willing to let go of our perceived control and really trust Him with our life? Maybe that promotion you want isn’t passed to you because God has something better. Have you considered that? Maybe you were not offered that job you really wanted because God has a better employer for you. Maybe you find yourself wondering what God has in store for you. I get it. Being patient is hard, trusting can be difficult.

Can I encourage you to act in faith? The Apostles and Believers with them waited faithfully as they were instructed, and God delivered. He delivered exactly as He planned, in His perfect timing. What does God have in store for you? What is God preparing you for? How is He going to use you to further His kingdom? I don’t know the answers to those questions, and you might not either. But I do know that it will be in His timing, and it will be perfect to impact His kingdom the most. Will you trust Him in that?

A Study in Acts: In the Waiting

Luke opens his second book in a very formal way, fitting I guess for a doctor. He addresses the original recipient, Theophilus, reminding him of the intent and contents of his first letter known to us as the Gospel of Luke. He doesn’t waste time doing a lot of in depth recapping, but does still recount the very end of his first letter in a bit more detail.

Luke’s focus at the opening here in, is in expounding on the interaction and instructions of Jesus with and to His Disciples from the time He visits them in the Upper Room to His ascension. Luke tells us that this time frame lasted for 40 days; Jesus was not in a big hurry to leave His friends! But when it was time, Jesus took a moment to stress to the Disciples His instructions and the importance of them. Check out what He instructs them in Acts 1:4-5.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

– Acts 1:4-5

I love this whole idea of waiting that Jesus stresses to them. The Greek word here περιμένω (pĕrimĕnō) is only found in the Bible right here in verse 4. It is in part derived from another Greek word, μένω (mĕnō), which is a primary verb (think active) meaning to continually dwell, remain, endure, be present. Jesus was not simply telling them to hang out for a little bit in Jerusalem. He was instructing them to intentionally and continually wait with a sense of anticipation until what He promised them arrived.

 After Jesus gives this instruction, the Disciples in their classic fashion, ask Him about the restoration of Israel in verse 6. If you haven’t noticed throughout Scripture, Jesus often had a pointed way of answering a question while guiding the person’s attention back to the more important issue. Jesus didn’t want His Disciples focused on the timing of the coming Kingdom; He wanted them focused on fulfilling their mission. Look at what He says.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

– Acts 1:6-8

Jesus knew that something amazing was coming for them. In fact, this gift of power, the Holy Spirit would equip them to fulfill the mission Jesus was giving them. It’s the same power that we as followers of Christ have in us today! The Greek used here for “power” is δύναμις (dunamis) meaning specifically a miraculous power. It denotes strength and mighty work, both a very fitting description for what the Holy Spirit gives and does!

But this isn’t the only word of significance here. Jesus not only tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come, but He gives them purpose as well. They are called to be witnesses once they have received the Holy Spirit. Now, it’s really easy to look at the english translation here and get the impression we are supposed to just talk about Jesus. But the Greek tells us something very different. The word used here is μάρτυς (martus), and it has a much deeper meaning. The transliteration might even give it away to you. While witness is not a bad translation, the underlying idea here is to be a martyr. In two other locations (Acts 22:20 and Revelations 2:13) this is the very sense of the word being used. It’s the idea of giving a testimony of one’s faith before a tribunal and suffering the penalty. In their time, this was reality.

After this jam-packed interaction with Jesus, He is quickly taken up to Heaven right before their eyes in verse 9. Staring up in what must have been a mixture of amazement and shock, two angels tell them something profound.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

– Acts 1:11

Once again, the Disciples are reminded of hope. Even though Jesus didn’t restore Israel the way they thought He would or in the time they thought He would, He would one day return (check out Revelation for that!). There was no need to be stuck. It’s like the angels are telling them to keep moving! Just because Jesus has ascended doesn’t mean hope is lost and we don’t have a mission as His followers to accomplish.

So heeding the words of the angels, they returned to Jerusalem and after closing themselves in the upper room began to spend their time praying. Waiting as instructed for the coming promise of the Holy Spirit. Luke gives us a whole run down of who was present, and notes that their action of prayer was one-minded, or of the same purpose. The total number of people present was 120; could you imagine being in intense and specific prayer as a group that big? It was during this time that Peter stood up among them, and giving testimony of what had transpired concerning Judas Iscariot and how this fulfilled the Scriptures, he called for a replacement to be made.

Two men present since the baptism by John the Baptist and witnesses of the resurrection were brought forth as candidates. This distinction of being present, being a witness from beginning to end, was of great importance. Think about it, who would you believe more? Someone who witnessed an event firsthand, or someone who heard it down the line and was just passing it on? This specific requirement helps solidify the authenticity of the accounts of Jesus we have contained in Scripture! What we read in our Bible today about Jesus are the real life accounts from those who were there, physically present with Jesus from the beginning to the end of His earthly ministry.

With the selection of two before them, they took the matter up in prayer and cast lots. This idea can be foreign and confusing, but was a rather common practice throughout Ancient history and can be found in the Old Testament. This situation however was the last time it is recorded occurring in Scripture. The Greek word κλῆρος (klērŏs) presents the idea of doing something for a purpose. Notice that it was not used to conclude a moral decision, as the two men presented as options were fully qualified for the position as a Disciple. To cast a lot was a way of determining God’s divine will in a specific matter; in this case which of the two qualified men should take the twelfth position of the Disciples. It was after this occurrence that the Holy Spirit came, affirming the selection of Matthias, and provided divine guidance rendering the use of casting lots unnecessary.

Chapter 1 of Acts packs a lot. There is no doubt that you can easily read over it and move right along, but you miss so much! There are three specific lessons I glean from this chapter that I want to share, and I think they follow a pretty logical order aside form how they are outlined in Scripture.

I mentioned it earlier, how pointed Jesus was about waiting. For the Disciples He was telling them specifically to wait for the coming promise, the Holy Spirit. I think this is a lesson we can learn from though as well. There is something about waiting, the discipline of being patient. We can get so caught up in the things going on around us, the busyness of life, that we neglect the practice of patience. I remember living in downtown Chicago for a year when I attended Moody Bible Institute. When I would come home to visit, people would comment to me that I had changed. When we would be walking somewhere, I was 10 steps ahead of everyone else. I didn’t hesitate to plow through a crowd to get where I wanted to go. I had allowed my new environment to influence me in such a way that I had abandoned my more patient approach. I had become accustomed to the mentality of the city, thinking my time and needs were of greatest importance. I was reminded in those moments (and yes, there were many before this trend changed) of my need to be patient, to take control of my emotions and thinking and rightly align them with God’s. It’s been over 10 years, and our world has not changed much with respect to the importance and practice of waiting. Did you notice that everything after Jesus ascended took place while the Disciples waited? It makes me question, what could God accomplish in my heart if I would slow down more often. What is He wanting to teach me, if I would just be a little more patient. Stop pushing my agenda, and instead wait and seek Him. He might give me new insight, more clearly define what He has specifically called me to do. 

I know that I am not the only one with a mission. God has called each of us to something. Specifically, God has called me to pastor. Figuring out what that is for you will require you to spend time with Him. But there is a common mission He has given each of us. It wasn’t just for the Disciples and followers during the period of the Early Church. The mission Jesus gives the Disciples to be witnesses applies to you and I as well! Sure, we might not have the firsthand experience they did, but we have our own testimony. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, He has changed you. There is evidence of new life and transformation! This is your firsthand account. This is your witness. You and I have been commanded to share this with others, just as the Disciples were commanded to share their witness of Jesus Christ throughout the land in their day. Are we living up to our mission? Have we even acknowledged our mission? Most Christians are content sitting in the chair, listening to the message, and then going home. But we are not called to spectate; we are called to engage our culture and community.

I think a lot of Christians are honestly afraid to engage. I think if we were honest with ourselves, most of us who claim to be a follower of Jesus fail to engage with our culture and community to share Jesus, simply because we’re afraid of rejection. We (myself included) forget that our mission is not meant to be done alone. There is a key element we must implement, and that’s prayer. See, when we pray we engage God and open the door for His intervention. Look at the Disciples in chapter 1. Their act of casting lots was more about trust and faith than anything else. They removed themselves from the equation and left it in God’s hand. But they prayed about it first. They took the issue to God, and then trusted Him with the outcome. And the really cool think is, God honored them by confirming the selection of Matthias when he was filled with the Holy Spirit along with them! Selecting the next Disciple was not a small deal, and they didn’t hesitate to take it to God. Are we taking our questions, the things that concern us big and small before God? Are we trusting Him enough to provide the right answer, at the right time? For the Disciples, it was about trust. They knew God was faithful. Do we believe that?

If you are journeying along this study with me, I hope you are as overwhelmed by it as I am. What I wanted to be a post a day I’m realizing isn’t practical for me to construct. Blame it on theological and word-study rabbit holes I go down, but I am finding there is too much here to not give it time. I am challenged even in this to wait, be patient; don’t rush the study of His word. I hope that if you are joining me, you come to the same conclusion about that. Let’s slow down, seek Him in the waiting and have some patience. Seek Him and engage your community and culture. Invest in your prayer life with God, grow in your trust of Him. It’s what He longs for from you, and I promise He will not disappoint you.

A Study in Acts: Hope Restored

Over the next several days, I invite you to join me in diving into the Book of Acts. I think it’s a fitting study right after Easter, as the Book of Acts focuses on the foundation and growth of the Early Church immediately after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

Before we jump into Acts though, we should really wrap up the story of Jesus’ time on earth after His resurrection. See, Jesus did a lot on earth after He rose from the dead, but it’s often glossed over. Understanding the whole picture, what Jesus accomplished while still on earth before ascending to His throne again, sets the stage for Luke’s message in the Book of Acts. So lets takes a few minutes to catch up on Luke 24:13-53. I encourage you to take a few moments and read this passage yourself.

Jesus has risen from the dead. The tomb is empty, the guards have fled. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James are the three women mentioned by name, but they were not the only ones present at the empty tomb (24:10). After learning what had taken place at the tomb by the two angels, the women quickly returned to the eleven Disciples to inform them of the news. I’m sure much to their frustration, their news was not received well. Scripture tells us that the Disciples did not believe them; in fact Peter took off running to the tomb to see for himself, only to find their story was in fact true!

Jesus was already busy while the women and Disciples wrestled through what I can only imagine was a myriad of emotions. He wasted no time making His rounds visiting people. His first encounter was on the road to Emmaus, where we see Him engaging two travelers lamenting Jesus’ death and failure to rescue them from the hands of the Roman Empire. After traveling with and listening to them recount His trial and execution, their disappointment in dreams of being freed from Roman rule, and the Disciples not believing the women’s story of the empty tomb, it’s almost like Jesus can’t take their depressive moods anymore. We see Jesus then unload the entire Biblical story on them as they continue walking, starting with Moses and the Prophets making everything clear to them with relation to Jesus Christ. Walking almost 7 miles, that’s a lot of time to occupy!

At the end of the day Jesus agreed to stay with them, rather than continue walking as the sun sat. The Scripture says that when Jesus broke bread and blessed it, that at that moment their eyes were opened to who was in their presence. Up to this point, it was not revealed to them that the man walking by their side was Jesus! At this moment, they realized the significance of their journey and who was with them. Their eyes had been opened and belief took hold in their hearts. And as quickly as they believed, Jesus vanished from their presence. Without delay, the two men rose and went back to Jerusalem to find the Disciples and tell them about their encounter with the risen Lord, Jesus.

It was in this moment of testimony among the two men, the Disciples and others with them, that Jesus made His appearance again. Startled and unsure what they were witnessing, Jesus assured them that it was He, their risen Lord with flesh and bone. He encourages them to touch Him to put their doubts to rest, showing them the scars on His wrists and feet. He even went so far as to eat solid food before them, making it clear He was not just a spirit.

I can feel their confusion. Sure, they had heard the stories now from the women and the two travelers, Peter even saw the empty tomb himself. But now they were confronted with undeniable proof that their friend, who days before they saw die and be buried, was sitting before them alive and breathing. The confusion that must have been swirling in their minds as they tried in their finite way to make sense of everything, I can only imagine was overwhelming. Then Jesus, knowing their struggle with unbelief in the moment spoke and opened their minds so that all they had heard and witnessed became clear to them. They then understood fully what Jesus had taught them, and the significance of what He had endured.

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

– Luke 24:46-48

Everything came to a head in this moment. Jesus had fulfilled His earthly mission, the Disciples now believed and understood at a level previously not reached. Death was conquered, sin had been defeated and its grasp on us broken. Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a close, and His accession back to His heavenly throne was upon them. But as we know, that is not where the story ends. If anything, this is where the story really begins.

The hope that was seemingly lost with Jesus’ arrest and death has now been restored. Is it the way the Disciples imagined it would be? Not even close. They imagined an earthly king, with an earthly kingdom, one that would challenge and eradicate the Romans from their lives. Jesus’ mission, the prophecies He came to fulfill, was vastly different. But it involved them in a way they had not considered. And now, it involves us.

These are the days I love the most, the day after we think the story is over. What happens next? It’s like a good movie that abruptly ends and leaves you wanting more. With Jesus, we get more. A lot more. See, Jesus didn’t just come to earth, do some miracles, and then die on a cross just to rise from the dead and free us from sin.

He did it so we could experience change and proclaim His love to others.

The story continues; it continues for us, and because of us. We are witnesses just as much as the Disciples. Sure, we didn’t see Jesus’ resurrection first hand. But have you experienced it in your life? Have you been transformed by His power through repentance and forgiveness of your sin? If you have, if you identify as a Christian, you have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, no different than the Disciples. The same charge Jesus gave to them has been given to you.

The question then is rather simple. Are you doing it?

Is something holding you back from proclaiming the truth of Jesus? Are you believing that the story stoped with His resurrection? Are you letting doubts or fears get in the way of fully trusting Jesus, and moving forward in your faith journey?

We’ve seen in the last verses of Luke’s account the struggles and obstacles the Disciples faced the next day. We’ve seen how Jesus addressed them, opened up eyes and minds to see and understand the fullness of His mission. The story didn’t end that day. The Disciples moved past the issues of that day with a new passion and desire, fueled by the truth of Jesus Christ.

Will you join me in doing the same? Don’t let the story end.

The In Between

Good Friday has come and gone. We celebrate Easter tomorrow. Today, we wait.

Out of the three days, I think this one elicits unsettling feelings for me the most. I can only imagine how the Disciples felt today, some 2000 years ago. A sense of loss and directionless.

Think about it, when tragedy strikes we tend to be in a state of shock. It’s after the shock wears off, maybe a day or two later, that the pain is truly realized.

I remember when my dad died in 2010, I woke and sat straight up in bed just a minute before my phone rang. From that moment till the funeral, I was in a state of shock. I remember people asking me if I was ok, and I held myself together so well I was even convinced.

But at the funeral I lost it. The shock of this new reality had wore off, and my emotions couldn’t be held back any longer. It was the days after my dad’s passing that hit me the hardest, not the actual event of his death.

The day between Good Friday and Easter, I can only imagine was similar for the Disciples. The reality of what they had witnessed begins to settle in. Their King, the one who was supposed to rescue them from the Roman Empire and establish a new Kingdom, was dead.

What now?

Scripture doesn’t give us much insight into what the Disciples were thinking or doing that day, it was also the Sabbath. Something in me though, says they felt their hopes and dreams of a future vastly different from the life they had been living, now become seemingly trashed. Their best friend, teacher and leader, was gone. By all appearances, hope of any future was gone.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar spot of life. Maybe you haven’t just walked through the lose of a loved one, but perhaps you find yourself in a state of uncertainty. Like, it feels as if your plans are just falling apart. Maybe you’ve been laid off or furloughed from your job. Your kids are driving you nuts. That vacation you had planned and been saving for, now you’re not so sure it’s going to happen. How are you going to make ends meet?

There are moments in our life where much like I imagine the Disciples felt, we don’t know. We just feel lost. You know what, though?

That’s ok.

It’s ok to feel lost. It’s ok to feel like everything is crashing around us. It’s part of being human.

It doesn’t mean the story is over though, and that’s important to keep in mind.

While I imagine the Disciples felt lost after Jesus died, the reality is that the best part of the story was just around the corner. What they forgot in the midst of the tragedy, was the hope Jesus told them would come out of it!

When the reality of your tragedy hits, remember it’s not the end of your story. Stay faithful and trust God’s purpose for you as His child. Hope is just around the corner, and it will be better than anything you could have imagined.

Why The Struggle, God?

It’s really funny how God works in our life sometimes. I had this whole post written and scheduled to go live this morning, and something in my gut this morning said I needed to pull it and wait. So I did. No idea why, but the sense was very clear that I needed to wait.

So far I have been an observer of others facing more hardship than my family in the continued wake of this virus crisis. And as I reflected on this, several verses and a story came to mind. The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a familiar one for many. If you haven’t read it in the Bible, you have probably seen some movie or play depicting it. You can find it in Genesis 37-50, but the part that I am drawn to is at the end.

See, Joseph found himself at the end of the story having just buried his father Jacob, and reunited with his fearful brothers. They were afraid that without their dad, whom Joseph loved greatly, to protect them that Joseph would take his vengeance for their betrayal so many years ago. But Joseph responds in a way that is so counter to what they expected, and how I’m sure many of us would be inclined to do.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

– Genesis 50:20

Joseph did something I think a lot of us struggle with. He didn’t get tunnel vision with the circumstances of his brother’s betrayal. He didn’t let his hardship negatively determine his mindset.

He kept his focus on the big picture.

See, being sold to slave traders by his brothers wasn’t the only tragedy he faced. Later while serving in Potiphar’s house, he was falsely accused of rape by his Master’s wife. Potiphar responds quickly to the situation and has Joseph stripped of his position and thrown in prison. And it was there he waited until coming into the service of Pharaoh some two years later.

Joseph understood there was more to the suffering he endured, than just to suffer. There was purpose in the hardship and persecution he faced, even if he couldn’t connect the dots in the moment. It went beyond being a catalyst for development of his own faith in God; it became the catalyst for God to use Joseph for His purpose and His glory.

Through Joseph and his suffering, the Israelites survived a famine. Because of his endurance in the face of trials, he was placed in the second most powerful position of Egypt, allowing him to not only have restoration with his family but also provide for his people in a great time of need.

God used what was meant for evil by man, for His good.

Joseph’s story embodies Paul’s words in Romans so well. Read what he wrote to the church in Rome.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:28

See, there is no doubt Joseph loved God. Joseph trusted God. Regardless of what he was facing, he remained dedicated to God. Joseph had a purpose, and that was to be an instrument of God for His glory. He understood in a way I often struggle, the magnitude of the words James wrote thousands years later.

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

Joseph kept his eye on the prize. He wasn’t swayed by temptations, he didn’t neglect his gifts even though his circumstances were unfair. He persevered and remained faithful to God, trusting that in the end He was in control of it all.

I love Joseph’s story because it so pointedly reminds me of my struggle to keep the big picture in front. It’s easy for me to get tunnel vision when I’m faced with a difficult situation. If I’m not careful, my mind will race to a hundred “what-if” scenarios. I easily get wrapped up in the trial I’m facing, and can loose sight of God’s sovereignty in the midst of my chaos.

Joseph’s story reminds me that even when things are messy, God is still present with me because I am His child, and the end result will always be good not only for me, but for Him also.

He never leaves me or forsakes me, even when the circumstances around me seem hopeless. Is that something you believe? Do you believe that the messes in life you face, the hate and persecution from others you endure, that God can and will use it for His glory? That your suffering has a purpose?

See, if you love God and you are His child, He has a purpose for you. And that includes all of your story. Don’t get stuck on the present hardship, don’t let tunnel vision rob you of the truth that your Father is with you, and He will use the trials you face for good. That through them you will develop perseverance, and God will use you and your story to further His Kingdom.

Don’t let your trial convince you that nothing good can come from it. All that does is deny God’s power. It rejects the truth of His sovereignty and ability to redeem what is broken.

It rejects the accomplishment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The greatest tragedy to ever take place was Jesus facing a trial meant for me, condemned to death in my place. And yet, God planned it from the beginning of time for the sole purpose of redeeming me!

Jesus stayed focused on the big picture, God’s glory. Much like Joseph, He endured the evil that was against Him. And in the end, God used those moments of evil intent as a catalyst to make redemption a reality for us.

As we approach Easter, I encourage you to stay focused on God’s goodness. Remember that the hardships you face, the evil brought against you by others has a purpose in God’s hands. Joseph endured and was used by God to not only save his family, but his people as well. God raised him up through the trials and hardship he went through, to be an instrument of God’s grace to those who didn’t deserve it.

Jesus, after washing the Disciples feet and instituting the Last Super on Thursday night, looked ahead to the fulfillment of His earthly mission. Hours later He would be betrayed in the garden, and placed on trial rigged with false charges. Then, he would be condemned to die the next day in our place. I can’t help but read Joseph’s words again in light of what Jesus endured and accomplished in our place.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

– Genesis 50:20

Are you alive today? Have you been redeemed through the confession of your sin and acceptance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in your place? If not, make today your day.

As followers of Jesus, redeemed by His sacrifice, we can trust that in everything we face and endure God is working it for good. No matter how tragic the situation might be, how emotionally drained we might find ourself, God is present with us. Our needs will be met, and His purpose will be fulfilled. When we seek after Him in the midst of chaos, our faith develops. Enduring what is meant for evil against us is the catalyst for the development of perseverance, and being used by God to further His Kingdom for His glory.

We simply need to remain faithful and diligent in our pursuit of Him no matter what circumstances lie before us.