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.

Ephesians 3:14-21 – A Prayer for Every Believer

A mosaic of the Apostle Paul in St Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

For this reason, I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.

To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen. (Good News Translation)

In Jesus Christ, the believer has been given incredible blessings – adoption into God’s family and belonging with God, redemption through Christ’s cross and experiencing freedom from the power of sin, and intimacy and help by means of God’s own Spirit.

Today’s New Testament lesson is a prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Church. After three chapters of describing who we are and what we have in Christ as Christians, he goes to prayer, asking that the new life we have in Christ will be pressed firmly into our heads and our hearts so that this reality of spiritual blessings will be practically realized for the believer.

Here’s a quick remedial grammar lesson: a “verb” expresses an action between two things; a “participle” or “participial phrase” is a word or group of words which help describe the action of the verb.

There are two main verbs Paul uses: “I ask (pray)” for God “to give.” The participles all explain or modify the action of pray and give. In other words, the following actions are what Paul deeply desires that God will do for us as believers in Jesus….

To Become Mighty Through the Spirit

God grants us all the blessings of being in Christ. We are delivered from sin, death, and hell so that we will live into God’s purposes for this new life of freedom.

We live into the Christian life, on a practical level, as our faith is strengthened, and our inner person becomes powerful. This is the Spirit’s work in us – to strengthen our spiritual spine so that we can bear and carry our cross in this life, despite whatever the adversity or difficulty.

We are not alone. The Spirit is with us always. God is present. The believer is never promised that life will be a bowl of cherries and that being a Christian is all rainbows and unicorns. However, the believer is assured that God will be with us through the trouble – which is why we need a strong and robust faith.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5, CEB)

To Dwell In Christ Through Faith

The “heart” in the New Testament is a reference not to the physical muscle in our chest but the seat or center of our inner person.

Paul’s prayer is that God gives or plants the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of people. Those good seeds then take root and become anchored firmly in the soul. They grow and mature, producing a harvest of love.

Not only do those roots grow down and deep, but they also grow out and connect with all other believers everywhere.

To Grasp God’s Love in Christ Through the Spirit

Enjoying this mystical union with Christ and connection with Christians, we come to experientially grasp together the vast dimensions of God’s love for us. God’s love is a multiverse of blessing. In fact, an eternity in heaven will never reach the bottom or top of the God who is Love itself.

When God our Savior made his kindness and love for humanity appear, he saved us, but not because of anything we had done to gain his approval. Instead, because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal. God poured a generous amount of the Spirit on us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:4-6, GW)

To be filled with all the fullness of Love, is to be filled thoroughly with God – because God is Love.

My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. (1 John 4:7-8, CEV)

Conclusion

Prayer is a gift. Like a little child bursting into her daddy’s office at work and crawling up on his lap, so we have the wondrous privilege of coming to God without hindrance and asking for whatever we need and want.

And what God wants and enjoys hearing, is us asking for spiritual strength, faith, and love. Because it is these things which create a thriving inner person who blesses others.

May it be so, to the glory of God, for the edification of the Church, and in the proclamation of the gospel. Amen.

Matthew 10:16-25 – The Place of Trouble

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
 
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (New International Version)
 
Take a moment to let this statement from Jesus sink-in: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”… 
 
To name the obvious: A pack of wolves will attack a flock of sheep because a wolf is a hunter, and a sheep is the prey. In short, wolves eat sheep.
 
So, when Jesus said this to a group of guys who are familiar with rural metaphors, they clearly got the message: The Lord is putting us in a place of danger. We are at risk. We could lose our lives.
 
From the mere human perspective, Christ’s words to his disciples are outlandish. Here we have a group of people who are following Jesus. But they likely didn’t sign-up for this! Perhaps they began to think their Lord was a bit off his rocker. Maybe he ate a piece of moldy bread or a leftover fish that didn’t agree with him.
 
Sometimes, followers of Jesus Christ completely lose sight that he was a troublemaker and warned us about trouble in the world. 
 
It’s not that Jesus was intentionally pressing everyone’s buttons; he was just being himself, and that sent a whole lot of people, at the worst, gnashing their teeth and caballing to kill him; and, at the least, causing them to question why they are even paying attention to him. 
 
Then, when you throw into the mix that Jesus also tended to get all up into people’s grill and confront them with bold assertions that they can only be rightly related to God through himself, on his terms, there ends up being a large chunk of folks who simply walk away, believing Christian discipleship isn’t for them.
 
Yet, Jesus wasn’t presenting something brand new. He was lifting up a truth which has been with God’s people throughout the ages: God never promises to keep us from trouble.
 
In fact, the Lord does just the opposite: He promises we will face a great deal of trouble because of our spiritual commitments. However, there is a further promise: God will be with us through the trouble, and not apart from it. We don’t even need to worry about what to say because God’s very Spirit will speak for us.
 
This is one reason why Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Yes, Jesus is sending out his disciples like vulnerable sheep among ravenous wolves. However, he forever stands as the divine sentinel, watching over the flock, keeping them safe, going after the strays, and challenging the predators.
 
We may be in a difficult place of trouble, yet Jesus is present with us by means of the Holy Spirit. We do not fear and instead live with confidence in the middle of hard circumstances because God is with us. And if God is with us and God loves us, nothing can separate us from our Lord – no matter how cunning and intimidating that big old wolf is.
 
Therefore, we should expect opposition and trouble. There are going to be times that we unintentionally disrupt and upset our families, our co-workers, and those around us. 
 
It’s not that we are trying to be obnoxious or malicious; it’s just that by simply loving Jesus and seeking to follow him, we are going to upset some people – and, as Christians, we need to be okay with that reality. 
 
Facing trouble is really not the worst thing to be experienced; to be separated from God is the most terrible thing that could ever happen to us.
 
My friends, it is okay to rock the boat, shake the tree, upset the fruit basket, stir the pot, and make waves if you are doing it because you are committed to God’s will and you are truly living into the words and ways of Jesus. 
 
Because Jesus faced a great deal of trouble, opposition, and suffering, he is able to help us through our own overwhelming stuff.
 
So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will actually find it – and find that you are saved and safe.
 
Holy God, you are jealous for your Name to be honored and adored. My life is yours. Use it for your glory in this fallen world. If trouble and persecution occur, I’ll consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus and an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to show up. Amen.

Ephesians 4:7-16 – Be Mature

Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
    to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
    and gave gifts to people.”

When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so his people would learn to serve, and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Contemporary English Version)

The Body of Christ, without love as its skeletal structure, would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch. 

The Apostle Paul, a concerned spiritual father, was encouraging the Church toward maturity, to act as adults in the faith and not like immature children.

Just as the physical body begins small, then grows and matures over time, so the spiritual body (the church) is to focus on incremental slow growth across the years so that it realizes maturity. And the consummate evidence of that spiritual development is strong bonds of love.

Ten days after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the Day of Pentecost occurred. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding. (Acts 2:1-47)

The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian so that growth and strength will come to the Body of Christ through love. Each spiritual gift might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.

Without any bones or skeleton, the church will be weak and ineffective. It might look like a church but will not be able to do anything in the world. 

For spiritual maturity to happen, it is necessary for every single Christian in the church to discover their spiritual gift, and then, use it in love to build up the entire Body. This is the God-ordained means of realizing a healthy functioning church. 

It may appear that you and I, as believers in and followers of Jesus, have the luxury of pursuing other interests rather than providing loving and gifted service to Christ’s Church. After all, church attendance, Christian mission and service are all voluntary, right? A volunteer can choose to sit out, right?

Uh-hem (clearing of throat). Wrong. That sort of thinking is based in the goofy notion that the Church is a voluntary society which we choose to become a part of, or not. It isn’t. The Body of Christ, the Church, the people for whom Christ died, was chosen by God – and not the other way around.

Before we chose God, God chose us. We can no more choose to decline Christian mission and service anymore than a physical heart or bodily organ can decide it needs to go do something else – as if they could simply leave the Body or just stop doing what they’re doing without consequence.

No, my friends, for the Body to function, it must work in concert, paying attention to the unique parts which keep it alive and thriving, while at the same time, maintaining the overall health of all the Bodily systems.

Bottom line: We need one another. Going off and continually doing my own thing or picking up my marbles and going home because I’m mad or frustrated, is what children do. When adults act like children, we rightly discern they are immature and need to grow up.

So, instead of lacking self-awareness or being pouty about my blog post, focus on the following questions:

What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church? 

What issues stir you emotionally? 

What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach? 

What area of Christian mission or church ministry would you most like to influence? 

Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore? 

Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry? 

Will you speak and serve in the name of Jesus through the enablement of the Spirit?

Loving God, I ask you to give me a heart of faith to trust the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in my life. I ask for a heart that desires the gifts of the Spirit for the common good of all persons. I ask you to help me be open to the gifts of the Spirit in others. I ask for jealousy of others’ gifts to be quieted in me. I pray that my gifts would build up the church. Most of all, I ask for the gift of love. Use me for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for a positive influence in the world. Amen.