The Motivation of a Christian (Acts 4:1-12)

The Great Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council) by Edouard Moyse, 1868

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so, the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (New International Version)

What motivates you? What is it that moves you to speak and act? What is your motivation in life? 

The answer to the question of motivation says a lot about the person. 

People are motivated by all sorts of things: to prove someone else wrong; to make a lot of money; to become famous; to help underprivileged kids in the inner city; to take on the problem of the world’s sex trade; to quietly make God known in everything. 

As you well know, our motivations can be rather selfish, or quite altruistic. Or both.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Peter offered to the nation’s leaders his motivation. Peter was moved to have a dedicated ministry of proclaiming Jesus and healing in his name. 

Whereas the ruling religious authorities thought Jesus just another man, Peter’s conviction was that Jesus has the power to save. The name of Jesus Christ is the one which saves.

Our words and actions – what we actually say and do in life – comes from our deepest motivations. 

Peter’s proclamation the gospel through both word and deed came from his deep wellspring of knowing Christ. Peter believed that Jesus could deliver on life’s most pressing problems of guilt, shame, and sin.

For Christians everywhere, motivation comes from knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and him crucified, died, risen from death, ascended, and coming again. This, ideally, is an intrinsic motivation – and not simply something we feel we “have to” believe.

Intrinsic motivation is an internal desire, inspiring us to perform particular tasks. When we are intrinsically motivated, we start enjoying even those tasks that we never thought of as bringing joy.

I’m not particularly fond of housework. I don’t get an internal kick out of pushing a vacuum, doing laundry, or cleaning the house. But because my dear wife is limited in what she can do, I find that I actually enjoy these tasks. You see, I clearly link what I’m doing with my love for her – which, for me, makes all the difference. My intrinsic motivation to love my wife works it’s way out in the loving service of doing the necessary mundane tasks around the house.

An intrinsic motivation allows me to connect the task at hand as the good and beautiful thing to do.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external factors exerting themselves on our lives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When someone holds us accountable for following through on expectations, this is a good thing. Laws exist, ideally, as positive extrinsic motivations to do the right thing.

Being motivated to get good grades, a better job, or a trophy can be a powerful means of acting and speaking for good in the world. It’s just that sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, In those times, we then fail to connect with our original intrinsic desires to make a difference.

Unfortunately, a lot of churches get stuck here – simply doing the same things over and over and forgetting why they’re doing it – maybe acting a lot like the religious leaders of Peter’s day. Churches can too easily stray from making disciples of Christ to making followers of tradition. And then they wonder why they aren’t reaching anyone.

If we lack motivation, then we need to run to Jesus. When the believer’s deepest needs are met in Christ, the supernatural by-product is being moved to make Jesus known in every sphere of life. 

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Saving God, you have made your glory and grace known to me through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May I know him better and better so that the motivations that impel me in life are pure, holy, righteous, and, above all, gracious. Amen.

Acts 17:1-9 – Beware of Jealousy

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

But other Jews were jealous; so, they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. (New International Version)

Inevitably, whenever someone makes a splash and does something which receives a great deal of attention and/or kudos, there’s somebody else grumping in the background with jealousy.

A jealous person is a dangerous person. They seek to topple the object of their jealousy so that attention can be diverted on them.

It is an insidious game which the jealous play. Often, gaslighting is their major tool of choice – to spin circumstances in such a way that others will accept the jealous person’s view of events.

There is a difference between persuasion and gaslighting

Paul sought to persuade people that Jesus is the Messiah by understanding his audience, connecting their spiritual values with his, demonstrating competence and compassion, being clear and concise, and exemplifying a genuine spirit of integrity. Paul painted a compelling picture which was winsome and benefited the people.

Whereas his fellow Jews observed Paul’s success at persuasion and chose to gaslight the crowd by telling outright lies, playing on people’s fears, questioning motives, creating doubt, and withholding information. It is an emotionally abusive form of speaking which paints an awful picture of what will happen if the other person (Paul) has his way.

Paul had the people’s (and God’s) best interests at heart…

…the other Jews were looking out for themselves and had their own interests in mind.

Jealous persons often try to use gaslighting techniques to get their way. It’s what Satan tried to do with God, more than once.

We live in an age of envy

Jealousy is rife in our world, especially in the envy-laced West. Westerners have job-envy, food-envy, body-envy, house-envy, and a hundred other jealousies, mostly fueled by capitalist marketers who are, either knowingly or unknowingly, economic gaslighters – picturing for us a world of things we supposedly need.

And social media ups the ante by allowing millions of people to put forth a reality of themselves to others which isn’t real, at all – which ends up fomenting jealousy in others who believe they deserve this picture, as well.

If this all sounds weird and convoluted, well, it is. But that’s what jealousy does. It twists things to such a degree that we don’t even know what’s real anymore.

Jealousy survives and thrives through comparison – looking at another and deciding I need what they have. Then, unfortunately, the next logical step, for many, is to knock that other person down a few pegs so that I can get some of that attention and receive some of that stuff.

Jealousy and envy can take a very dark turn, at any time

Going beyond disparaging a person, there can be a malicious and underhanded bent to destroy what someone else has. Not just wanting it for yourself but wanting other people not to have it. This is a deep-seated resentment which breathes hatred and destruction. It’s the kind of jealousy the Jews had for Paul.

We all get jealous, at times; it’s part of the human condition. So, here’s a healthy way of dealing with it, instead of going dark and vengeful: Just as our hunger tells us we need to eat, the feeling of jealousy, if we will listen to it in the right way, can show us what is missing from our lives that really matters to us.

Acknowledging and naming the jealousy for what it is, then opens us to determine what my real need is, which perhaps, might not be getting met. We all have legitimate needs for love, belonging, and purpose. It’s just that we sometimes seek to meet those needs in illegitimate ways – like envy.

In a society where expressing needs may be looked upon as selfish or weak, many people opt to hustle for those needs through convincing a bunch of rabblerousers that another should get beat up and disparaged.

Let’s not do that… Let’s not start a riot.

It’s both okay and vital that we learn to ask for what we need and want – because the alternative isn’t going to end well.

Lord Jesus, fill us, your people, with charity, compassion, faith, gentleness, hope, humility, joy, kindness, light, love, mercy, modesty, patience, peace, purity, security, tranquility, trust, truth, understanding, and wisdom. Help us to walk in light and in truth, illuminated by the Holy Spirit so that together we may praise, honor, and glorify Our Father today and throughout all time. Amen.

Acts 7:44-53 – Pickle Barrel Christians

“The Holy Tent where God spoke to our ancestors was with them in the desert. God told Moses how to make this Tent, and he made it like the plan God showed him. Later, Joshua led our ancestors to capture the lands of the other nations. Our people went in, and God forced the other people out. When our people went into this new land, they took with them this same Tent they had received from their ancestors. They kept it until the time of David, who pleased God and asked God to let him build a house for him, the God of Jacob. But Solomon was the one who built the Temple.

“But the Most High does not live in houses that people build with their hands. As the prophet says:

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
So do you think you can build a house for me? says the Lord.
    Do I need a place to rest?
Remember, my hand made all these things!’”

Stephen continued speaking: “You stubborn people! You have not given your hearts to God, nor will you listen to him! You are always against what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you, just as your ancestors were. Your ancestors tried to hurt every prophet who ever lived. Those prophets said long ago that the One who is good would come, but your ancestors killed them. And now you have turned against and killed the One who is good. You received the law of Moses, which God gave you through his angels, but you haven’t obeyed it.” (New Century Version)

Every year it’s a guarantee that some folks will complain about the weather. In the summer it’s too hot; in the winter, too cold. Can’t wait for autumn to come, then when it’s here, the murmuring comes out about how the weekend weather won’t cooperate with personal plans.

No matter the season, no matter the weather, somebody will be grumbling about it.

A big reason why I personally hold to the Christian Calendar with its liturgical seasons is that it helps shape me spiritually so that I can avoid being a stubborn complaining fool.

It seems like some folks have been baptized in pickle juice and inhabit a church resembling a pickle barrel. They have something negative to say about everything. And even when they acknowledge they don’t really understand something, they’ll still give a stone-faced retort, “I’m against it.”

They’re, ironically, surprised when they find themselves in a pickle.

The liturgical calendar, when properly observed, keeps us grounded in faith, hope, and love. There are plenty of things in this old fallen world which can take our eyes off our calling as Christians. Pandemics, politics, poverty, and pain can mess with us.

If we aren’t on solid spiritual ground, all the misfortunes of this life can take a significant toll on us. And for all the tangible things we see which creates angst within us, we miss the invisible God because our spiritual eyes are blind from all that vinegar in the pickle barrel.

Like the ancient Israelites for whom Stephen railed against in our New Testament lesson for today, we might become stubborn, hard-headed, and inflexible. We get lost in doing things our own way, and wanting our way, to the neglect of what God wants. 

Whenever that happens, there is damage to God’s people, God’s name, and God’s law. Rather than tongues being used for praising the Lord and encouraging others, God’s prophets who are calling us to holiness are verbally decapitated.

Anytime someone believes they have piously figured out everything, they will soon find themselves fighting against God.

The Lord of All has not called us to figure out every mystery and nail down each uncertainty. Those who claim to have done it are living in a pickle barrel. Perhaps they will eventually discover how large and immense God really is – much bigger than our puny thoughts and misguided practices. 

How then shall we live?

Let go of our illusions of power and privilege.

Submit afresh to the Lord for whom we must bow in all things. 

Open our spiritual eyes so that we can see the God who made the universe.

Take up our holy calling as Christ’s ambassadors, instead of expecting Jesus to be the ambassador for us.

If we can do that, then we are well on our way to seeing the grand and immense God of all.

So be humble under God’s powerful hand. Then he will lift you up when the right time comes.

1 Peter 5:6, ERV

The following practices can help us become more spiritually flexible and open to the Spirit’s work:

  • Stretch your faith muscle. Physical muscles which get little to no use will atrophy – which is why people who are confined to bed or with limitations need physical therapists to help work the muscles. Spiritually, if we are rarely or never in positions which work our faith muscle, then that faith will diminish and eventually atrophy. Faith is not static, but dynamic. It needs to be worked.
  • Breathe deeply. Proper breathing is essential in using our bodies. The same is true spiritually. Fear, worry, and anxiety cause us to have shallow breathing and unable to think straight. When we are amped-up about something, focus on doing some breath prayers, i.e., breathing in saying, “More of you,” and breathing out saying, “Less of me.”
  • Avoid extreme positions. A hyper-extended muscle will tear and cause a lot of damage. An acceptance of limitations and an awareness of our body’s true capacity prevents us from trying to do something our body simply cannot do. Our faith will not support extreme positions which alienate people and put God to the test.
  • Move more. Getting in bodily shape does not have to be dramatic and involve triathlons. Most of us simply need to get out of our chairs and move a bit more and we would be a lot healthier. Faith is mostly lived in the mundane daily decisions of life. Consistently taking small steps of faith each day will go a long way toward our spiritual health and vitality – not to mention helping us see a big God at work.
  • Listen. It is always best to listen to your body— only push it as far as it can handle, even if it is little by little. Many people would be better served if they would just listen to their gut and the spirit God put within them – rather than pushing themselves and others beyond what they can handle. Behind the attempt at doing too much is typically an issue of wanting the kind of control God possesses.

To do the will of God, we must have a growing awareness of a big unlimited God who cannot be contained in a tent or a building; and a small, limited self who is dependent upon God.

This will take relaxing the puckered pickle face and opening to greater flexibility. If you are not in the habit of following the Christian Calendar through the year, now is a good time to start. After all, nobody wants to smell like they just crawled out of a pickle barrel.

Holy God, heaven is your throne and the earth your footstool. You cannot be kept within any one church or any single place.  You are much too big for that!  Forgive me for my small thoughts of you and my weak faith. I humble myself before you so that you can live in and through me for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

Acts 2:22-36 – From Flake to Fearless

Statue of St. Peter in Rome

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’

“Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (New International Version)

Throughout my ministerial life, there have been individuals who have come to me a bit discouraged because they have not experienced a changed life. After trying, time and again, to be different, they say to me, “Nobody ever really changes. We’re basically the same people throughout our whole lives.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

In the New Testament Gospels, the Apostle Peter was a flake. He sometimes was discerning and got it, and sometimes didn’t. 

Peter could understand Jesus was Messiah, but then turn around and refuse that Christ had to die on a cross. He would get bold and walk on water, but then also end up afraid, needing help from drowning. Peter stood tall for Jesus, ready to take on the world, and then turn around and deny the Lord three successive times.

However, when we come to biblical book of Acts, Peter is a completely changed man. Peter gets it. He is brave and fearless. He boldly confesses Christ. And all the while he does not falter, flinch, or back down. 

So, what in heaven’s name, happened and made the difference for Peter between the Gospels and Acts? 

The Holy Spirit, that’s what, or rather, who.

God’s Spirit comes upon Peter, and he is never the same again. He is a changed man. Peter goes from flake, to fearless.

Everything falls into place for Peter, who preaches with such boldness and effectiveness that thousands turn from their previous ways of thinking and living and turn to Jesus as the hope of the world. They changed, too.

Peter was all-in with a simple and straightforward message of good news, that God raised Jesus from death. He went on to insist, without wavering and with firm conviction, that this was so, because it was not possible for the Son of God to be held by anything, even death. The proof being the resurrection.

If it was impossible for death to keep a grip on Jesus, then there is absolutely nothing that can deter Jesus or hold him back from accomplishing what he wants to accomplish. 

Flaky believers are not going to frustrate Jesus or upset his plans; he’ll just send the Holy Spirit. 

We may too often imprison ourselves in self-made spiritual jail cells. Like the pre-Pentecostal Peter, we flake and flip-flop in the Christian life. Once-in-a-while we are spot-on, but cannot really explain why, like a golfer who hits an amazing shot but can’t reproduce it no matter how hard he tries. 

The truth is that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell. By faith, we have forgiveness of sins in him, and have the way opened to a new life in the Spirit. It isn’t a secret; it’s a new reality.

At the front end of the Christian season of Ordinary Time, we are reminded that God’s Holy Spirit is with us. We remember what good old Peter said so long ago, which is still relevant for us today:

We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. (2 Peter 1:3-4, CEV)

The message Peter proclaimed was powerful, not only because it was inherently potent, but also that the gospel dwelled mightily in Peter and inhabited a central place within him.

We, too, have that same opportunity and privilege.

Loving Lord Jesus, I confess my faults, shortcomings, sins, and rebellious acts, and ask you to forgive me. I embrace you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for your atoning death on the cross in obedience to your Father’s will to put away my sins. Be in charge of every part of my life. Indwell and empower me with your Holy Spirit, so that I may live as your faithful follower, now and forever. Amen.