Praying for Great Boldness

Today’s Reading: Acts 3:12 – 4:31

Did life get interesting for Peter and John? Oh yes, it most definitely did! Now that the lame man was walking, leaping and praising God, they had the attention of a lot of people. An audience had gathered to see this miracle for themselves. So what does someone called to preach the gospel begin to do? Why preach, of course.

Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd, “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of all of our ancestors – who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact! – Acts 3:12-15

You chose to kill him, God chose to raise him.
You demanded his death, he died so that you could have life.
You choose to reject him, we choose to serve him.

Peter and John were speaking of the resurrection of the dead, one of the Sadducees least favorite topics. So here come the Sadducees, priests and Captain of the Temple Guard to arrest them. But they could not undo the power that was unleashed when Peter said, “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah” (3:19-20). After Peter’s first sermon, 3000 were saved. Now after his second sermon, the number of believers has increased to 5000 – not counting the women and children who came to faith in Jesus that day (4:1-4).

The next day Peter and John found themselves before the council of ALL the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law in Jerusalem. All the “big-wigs” were there – Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest.

“By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” – Acts 4:5-7

I wonder if Peter and John immediately pictured Jesus – their companion, friend and master. These were the same religious leaders who handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. I wonder if they remembered Jesus’ words to them:

“And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before the rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:11-12

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:8-11

Wow! Go Peter! A boldness came over Peter and the leaders did not know how to respond. Peter was saying that the only way to experience salvation was through Jesus, whom they had rejected and crucified. But Peter did not stop there. He made sure to add again that God had raised from the dead the man they chose to crucify. You can choose to believe it or not, Jesus is alive!

But what could the insulted leadership do? A man whom they all recognized as the lame beggar who had been sitting at the gate for more than 40 years was now walking and a crowd was outside the door praising God. In order to prevent a riot, they ended the conversation with a threat, to which Peter responded: “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20

The same Peter who had denied Jesus out of fear was now proclaiming his allegiance to Jesus regardless of the consequences. He went back to the believers to join them in praising God and then stopped to ask God to give all of them this same boldness and infilling of the Holy Spirit – the same things we can ask for today. Let’s pray this prayer together with confidence that God can respond in the same way for us.

“And now, O Lord hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:29-31

Last year the governor of Illinois signed a bill that takes away our religious freedom and violates the federal Right of Conscience Act. Effective January 1, 2017, all medical providers and pregnancy centers were told they must present abortion to women as beneficial and refer them to medical clinics that will perform their abortion for them. With the boldness of Peter, our response was: “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him?”

The faith-based organization I work for did NOT cave to these threats! Instead we prayed for great boldness, for miraculous signs and wonders, and for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Last month we rejoiced as a federal judge granted us an injunction against this regulation until the case can be heard in a federal court. To those who think they can take away the right to be pro-life I say:

You choose to kill, but God desires to raise to new life.
You demand death, but Jesus died so we can have life.
You choose to reject him, we choose to serve him!

Peter Shared Everything

Today’s Reading: Acts 2:42-3:11

I find it interesting to note what the believers were doing before they were filled with the Spirit. Acts 1:14 tells us that they were meeting together and constantly uniting themselves in prayer. They had a big decision to make (replacing Judas with either Joseph or Matthias) and they prayed for direction from God. They were united by spending time together, they were united in prayer and “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). That explains what they were doing before they received the Holy Spirit. Now what did they do afterward, now that they were filled with the Spirit?

LETTING GO OF EVERYTHING THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

The believers found unity, not only in time spent together and prayer but also in their generosity toward others. The result of this unity: each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Do we experience that kind of unity today? It is probably rare. We give of our time and join hands in prayer, but there is concern on how generous we can be without leaving ourselves in need or without the security of our possessions or income.

I saw this post on Facebook and I asked myself if I would have done the same.

Candace: Took a woman to lunch today who was begging for money on the street….my heart broke as I listened to her story of abuse as a child…and the many not so good adventures of life on the street, as well as the death of her husband…and yet she had a beauty and simplicity and genuineness about her that was refreshing…I actually thoroughly enjoyed our time together and getting to know the heart behind the tin can….Thank You Holy Spirit for prompting me to stop and take the time to look into her eyes and be a part of what You are doing in her life to bring restoration and healing and love.

Acts 3 tells us that Peter and John were approached for money by a lame man who was being carried to the Temple Gate to beg. As the man looked up at them eagerly, with expectation of receiving money from them, Peter responded, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you…” Of course he didn’t have any money, he had already sold all his possessions and given everything he had to the group of believers. So he was left with nothing to give, right? Wrong.

SHARING WITH OTHERS EVERYTHING GOD HAS TO OFFER

It was when Peter and John had let go of everything this world has to offer that they were able to extend to someone else everything that God has to offer. “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple ahead of them.

All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John. – Acts 3:6-11

When we let go of everything of this world and stop trying to protect ourselves or provide for ourselves, God steps in and we begin to see HIM at work. Self-preservation will get us just that – self-preservation. But letting go of this world and hanging tight to God, praying for wisdom and direction and then following His lead, will give us a life where we are daily astounded by God’s power.

DAILY GIVING GOD ALL I HAVE

That’s the kind of life I want – a life where I am daily astounded by God’s power, a life where I daily give God all that I have. Lord, open my eyes so that I can see the evidence of your work all around me. Lord, do your work through me so that you will be glorified today. Lord, help me to trust in you for protection and provision, instead of trusting in any earthly wealth I can obtain. This morning I let go and then I hang on tight to you. Empty me of all that is ME and fill me with your Spirit. Amen.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord our God.” – Acts 2:38-39

Peter Spoke Boldly

Today’s Reading: Acts 2:37-41

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter STEPPED FORWARD and preached what might have been his first sermon. Scripture says: Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord your God.” – Acts 2:37-39

I WANT TO BE BOLD LIKE PETER!

We have all been called BY God TO salvation WITH the promise that we will receive the Holy Spirit. I want to have a Peter-kind-of-life! I want to BE BOLD in my actions, stepping forward and speaking God’s truths. I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that hearts can be pierced by what HE has for them to hear. But when was the last time I was Peter-bold?

Lord, help me to grow in YOU. Forgive me for my immaturity and my sinful attitudes. Forgive me for my delayed obedience, fear and complacency. Lord, empty me of all that is sinful and fill me with your Spirit. I know that you have called me. Lord, I wholeheartedly say “yes” to your call.

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3000 in all. – Acts 2:40-41

Now that’s what I call being a fisher of men! Peter’s “catch” that day was great and here’s what I believe is the secret to his success:
– He accepted God’s call, took action and STEPPED FORWARD.
– He did not preach his own words but was filled with the Spirit…He got LOUD!
– This infilling of the Spirit was because he had confessed his sins and turned to God for the forgiveness of his sins.
– He persistently preached for a long time.
– He strongly urged his listeners with BOLDNESS.

How hard do we try? Do we simply live a good life and hope someone will notice and choose to follow God, or do we follow Peter’s approach? When was the last time I was “Peter-bold”?

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE BOLD LIKE PETER?

If I want results like Peter saw that day, not for my glory but for the sake of those coming to Christ for forgiveness, I must consider the possibility that there will be times when God is calling me to step forward without hesitation and be patient. It may take a long time and many discussions before a heart is moved. I may need to use persistence and passion in my approach.

PERSISTENCE, PATIENCE and PASSION – those are some powerful ingredients in my life. I need the Holy Spirit in order to have any of these. But there is one more ingredient I need – PURITY. I need the work of the Holy Spirit to purify my heart if I am going to be used of God.

If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer! Get rid of your sins and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten in innocence. You’ll be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery. It will all be gone like water under a bridge.” – Job 11:13-16

Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.” – Joshua 3:5

If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

If you keep yourself pure you will be a utensil that God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21

So, if I want the Master to use me for every good work, I must PREPARE my heart and PRAY to Him. I must PURIFY myself, but how? I cannot make myself clean. 1 John 1:9 says that if I confess I have sinned, God is faithful and will forgive me and He will purify me from my unrighteousness. Then the key ingredient is not MY purity but HIS holiness. I love that!

PERSISTENCE
PATIENCE
PASSION
PRAYER
PURITY

These are what I need to have to PREPARE myself for all that He wants to do in and through me today. This is what I need to do if I want to BE BOLD for God.

Peter Stepped Forward

Today’s Reading: Acts 2:14-36; Psalm 110

PETER STEPPED FORWARD.

After the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter stepped forward (Acts 2:14). We could stop right there, couldn’t we? What powerful words – Peter stepped forward. Peter, the one who left his nets and followed Jesus (Matthew 4:20), the one who walked on the water toward Jesus but lost courage and began to sink (14:29), and also the one who denied him three times and then walked away – this same Peter is now the first to step forward. He was no longer sinking in his faith or pulling out a sword to fight or opening his mouth and saying something foolish. Peter, when filled with the Spirit, was STEPPING FORWARD.

Peter began to preach the first of many sermons to the crowd. His sermons often included the same general message:

That Jesus was the Messiah and His death fulfilled prophecy

That the message of the apostles could be trusted because they were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry on earth and chosen by Him to continue the ministry

That the message they were called to proclaim is of our need to confess our sins and have faith in God by believing in Jesus so that we, too, will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.” – Acts 2:22-24

GOD KNEW WHAT WAS AHEAD.

There are no surprises for God; He knows all and is not bound by time as we are. For us, tomorrow is a mystery, but there are no unknowns – no mysteries for God. God knew the people would reject Jesus as God’s son and the promised Messiah. He knew they would cry out for His death and demand His crucifixion. But He already had a plan in place – a plan to resurrect Jesus from the dead. Peter pointed out that God revealed this plan to David long before Jesus was born.

“King David said this about him:
‘I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises!
My body rests in hope.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.
You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Dear brothers, think about this! You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today…So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:25-36

STEP FORWARD WITH CONFIDENCE THAT GOD KNOWS WHAT IS AHEAD.

My prayer for all of us this morning is that we can STEP FORWARD into our day with confidence that God knows what is ahead for us. If He can conquer death, He can reign over any situation or challenge that comes our way. I pray that we, like King David, can see that the Lord is always with us. We will not be shaken for He is right beside us. May our hearts be glad, our tongues shout His praise, and our bodies rest in hope.

Precious Father, you have shown us the way of life – fill us today with joy in Your presence. May your Spirit BE LOUD in our life as we STEP FORWARD in faith. Amen.

A New Volume

Today’s Reading: Acts 1:14-2:13; Psalm 109, 123, 125

They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. – Acts 1:14

As the followers of Jesus anticipated what was coming, they gathered together and united themselves in prayer. 120 believers came together and spent time seeking God in prayer.

Peter recognized that there was someone missing from this body of believers. Judas had been one of them. They had spent three years doing life with their brother and they were feeling his absence, still stunned from his betrayal. But they made the choice not to wallow in self-pity or hold on to their anger. They chose to give it to God and move on.

Let his years be few; let someone else take his position. – Psalm 109:8

Peter stepped forward and suggested they fill this empty spot with someone who had been with them the whole time, from Jesus’ baptism until now. Two men were nominated and Matthias was chosen by the casting of lots to become an apostle with the other eleven (Acts 1:23-26).

Now that this business was taken care of, there was only one more thing to do – wait for the gift Jesus had promised would come.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” – Acts 1:8a

Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and described the result as the receiving of power. The book of Acts describes the Spirit’s entrance as a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm and like flames or tongues of fire. The sound was so loud that it was heard across Jerusalem and everyone came running to see what was going on.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE?

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” – Acts 2:1-13

LET’S GET LOUD!!!

The gift of the Holy Spirit is available for us today and could make a powerful difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Imagine the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives being so “loud” that people around us take notice. Imagine how God could use us if the Holy Spirit put the words in our mouths so that those to whom we are witnessing or ministering could understand the message – not our message, but His. What if His presence in our lives hit a whole NEW VOLUME!

At the beginning of this summer, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday – the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today would be a great day to stop and consider the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and to ask God for a fresh infilling of His Spirit. To sit in our “upper room” and simply breathe in His presence and ask Him to empty us of all that is who we are and fill us with all that is Him.

Heavenly Father, fill us with your Spirit today. Give us a spirit of wisdom to direct our words and our actions. Give us a spirit of compassion to lead our hearts in the direction you pull. Empty us of our own selfish desires and give us a heart that beats for only you. May we be witnesses of your power in our lives today. Amen.

A New Ride

Today’s Reading: Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18

MAKING PLANS, CREATING LISTS AND SETTING GOALS

I am one of those people who likes to set goals, whether it is for today or this week or this month or this year. I am also a list person. I write out a list of all I need to do or want to accomplish. Because I am wired this way (as I am guessing many of you are), I already have this month pretty much planned out but I’m still working on my list of things I would like to accomplish.

There are also many things I would like to accomplish before this calendar year is over. But beyond my own heart’s desire, I find myself asking God this morning what He would like to do with the next few months of my life. I ask God this kind of question quite often, especially at the beginning of a new year or a new season, but sometimes even at the beginning of a new week or a new day. I give God permission to direct my ways and choose my paths. This surrender is not always easy – whatever, wherever, whenever. As I sit in this place of commitment again, I must admit I sense a familiar hesitation.

Let me reveal a little something about myself – I have a love-hate relationship with roller coasters. I love the thrill of the ride…when it’s over. As I move closer to the front of the line, I get a little more nervous. As I listen to the current riders screaming and the loud sound of the roller coaster rushing by, my heart starts to beat just a little faster (actually a lot faster). I know I am going to be safe and I know I am going to get off the roller coaster with a smile on my face, but the anticipation is nerve-wracking. I sit down, buckle up, and tighten my grip on the bars.

This is much truer when I ride a new roller coaster for the first time. I am unsure of what to expect. The ride is about to begin, zero to 70 mph in 3 seconds. The commitment has been made, seat belts fastened, but the upcoming ride is unknown and I find myself a little scared. The next two minutes of my life are now completely out of my control.

DO YOU TRUST ME? CAN I HAVE YOUR PLANS?

My natural tendency is to want to be in charge; I like being in control. But my natural pattern is to really mess things up when I try to do things of my own strength or follow my own plan. I hear God asking me this morning, “Do you trust me? Can I have your plans?” Yes, of course I trust you, Lord. Please calm my fears and help me to loosen my grip as I place my family and my list in your hands. I absolutely desire to fully commit everything to you, but the upcoming ride is still unknown and I find myself asking you to help me trust you.

Imagine how nervous the disciples were when they went to the upper room in anticipation of what was next. They had just watched Jesus ascend into Heaven. They had made the commitment to follow Him but the road ahead was unknown, the anticipation great. They did not need to ask God the question, “What would you like for me to do this year?” or “What goals would you like for me to set?” Jesus had already given them directions in His last few days with them. Now it was time to do what Jesus was asking them to do, just as it is time for us to do what God has already made clear to us.

DO WHAT GOD TOLD YOU TO DO.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

Goal #1 – Be a witness of Christ Jesus wherever He places me each day, a witness in my conversation, in my actions, in my attitudes.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

Goal #2 – Go and make disciples, reach out and share the gospel with those who need Jesus, then disciple them as they learn what it means to be a follower of Christ.

“Feed my lambs…Take care of my sheep…Feed my sheep…” – John 21:15-17

Goal #3 – Compassionate ministry – daily reaching out to those around me and around the world, meeting their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs.

“Peace be with you.” – John 20:19,21

Goal #4 – Don’t be afraid. Trust God with what is ahead. Rest in His care and in His plan, sit back and prepare for the ride of your life. Loosen your grip, raise your arms in the air and enjoy the ride.

A New Chapter

Today’s Reading: Acts 1:1-13; Psalm 57 & 108

ANOTHER CHAPTER IS COMING TO AN END

Why does the summer always have to go by so fast? It seems like last week we were celebrating the end of the school year and now we are buying school supplies, scheduling physicals and loading up on goodies for sack lunches. It seems like yesterday my girls were in grade school and now two of the three are headed off to college. Is it just me or do our children grow up way too quick?

This morning the “memories” feature on Facebook popped on my newsfeed. No matter how busy I am, I am compelled to stop and look through those every time. I love looking to see what we were doing 1 year ago…3 years ago…7 years ago. But this feature is also a reminder that time is passing quickly and my girls are growing up.

There are so many things I miss about my girls being little but, at the same time, I am really enjoying life with three teenage daughters. I can look back and be thankful for those memories while also looking forward in anticipation of all God has for them. There is this inner conflict of wanting to keep them here by my side for the rest of their lives and delighting in the beauty of watching them spread their wings and fly.

In the first chapter of Acts, we see the disciples at a similar point in their lives. A chapter is coming to an end and a new chapter is beginning. They have just spent 40 days with the resurrected Christ, listening and learning from Him, gaining understanding on what His life was about, why He had to die and about what was to come. Now He is leaving them and they are caught between “straining to see him” and anticipating what He said He would be sending to them.

A NEW CHAPTER IS BEGINNING

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. – Acts 1:1-13

STRAINING TO SEE HIM AHEAD

As we wrap up another season of our lives, I pray each of us is able to take some time to look back and look forward. Let’s look back at all God has taught us, all the wonderful times mixed with all of the hard times. He has been faithful and He has been present. The evidence of His presence can be seen in a glance but, when we take the time to “strain to see him,” we recognize His hands and feet in even more ways than we initially remembered.

Then let’s look forward in anticipation of what this school year will hold for us. God has promises for each of us. “John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” In the same way that He spoke to His disciples, Jesus is speaking to us – this is what is behind you and this is what is coming. Here are the wonderful things I have done for you, but in a few days…

Precious Father, we thank you for your Presence in our lives this summer. You have been faithful and You have been generous with us. You have blessed us beyond our expectations and we praise You! Lord, today we sit at your feet and intentionally seek You as we near the end one chapter of our lives and begin a new one. Thank you for all you have done so far and thank You for all You plan to do for us in the future. We love you. Amen.

My heart is confident in you, O God;
my heart is confident.
No wonder I can sing your praises!
Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.
I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens.
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
May your glory shine over all the earth.
– Psalm 57:7-11

What’s Next?

Today’s Reading: John 20:30-31, 21:1-14; Mark 16:12-13,19-20; Luke 24:13-35, 44 -53

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. – John 20:30-31

The miracles and conversations recorded in the gospels barely scratch the surface of all that those around Jesus would have experienced. Imagine the long conversations as they sat around an evening fire or walked from town to town. Consider how many miracles and healings the disciples would have witnessed in the three years. Yet these stories were recorded for a specific purpose – so that we might believe and, by believing, experience eternal life.

John tells one more story – the story of the morning Jesus made breakfast on the beach for everyone. The day no one questioned who He was or what He was doing. They simply rested in the knowledge that he was the Lord.

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there – Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and the two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night. – John 21:1-3

Can you picture this? The disciples do not know what to do with themselves. Jesus has already appeared to them twice since His resurrection but He is not with them at the time. I imagine they were kind of sitting around in silence, unsure of what to do next. Out of the awkward silence, Simon Peter stands up and declares, “I’m going fishing.” It was what they knew, what they had done before they followed Jesus and what they returned to for comfort when they were unsure of what life held for them next. It must have sounded like a good idea to the whole group because they quickly joined in and followed Peter to the boat.

But something was different this time. The men who knew fishing because they were fishermen were unable to catch any fish. What was going on? Why were the fish not biting on this early spring morning? The life that had previously been marked with familiarity and comfort now brought no results. It was no longer their life.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them – fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

“Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead. – John 21:4-14

I connect with this story because I love my morning time with Jesus. He does not make me a delicious breakfast of fish and bread, but He does feed me. He faithfully shows up in my life when I am wondering – What’s next? What does my day hold and what does God want me to do today? When circumstances in my life are leaving me uncomfortable and I miss the familiarity of what I know, I can trust in my Jesus to nourish and provide for me.

I love the study of the gospels because I love the main character so much! I also love what comes next because Jesus continues on as the main character, even after He has ascended back into Heaven. He continued to work THROUGH His disciples and He continues to work THROUGH us.

Do you wonder what is ahead for you? Rest in His presence and enjoy some time with Him this morning. He will lead you and work through you according to His plan.

When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And the disciple went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs. – Mark 16:19-20

Replacements

Today’s Reading: Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72, 16:14; Luke 22:54b-62, 24:12, 36-43; John 18:25-27, 20:3-10, 19-23 and 21:15-25

REPLACING BOLDNESS WITH FEAR

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter – before the rooster crows tomorrow, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
– John 13:36-38

So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up… – John 18:12

Simon Peter was following Jesus, as did another of the disciples. The other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples are you?” “No,” he said, “I am not.” – John 18:15-17

Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples are you?”
He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”
But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
– John 18:25-27

I cannot imagine how Peter felt in that moment. His words to Jesus must have come back to him – “I’m ready to die for you.” I do not know how Peter felt but I do know what it feels like to regret something I have done or said, or to be ashamed of my lack of faith, or to miss an opportunity to represent Jesus in a situation. I know the feelings of guilt when the Holy Spirit tugs on my heart to do something and I freeze, the moment lost forever. I know all too well the feeling of realizing I have sinned and knowing I need Jesus’ forgiveness, even though I do not deserve it. Because Peter was an emotional and passionate man, I imagine he experienced all of this to a higher degree than I can comprehend.

REPLACING SHAME WITH PEACE

After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and said the words that must have been like salve on Peter’s wounds, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Yes, peace was exactly what Peter had been without for three days and exactly what he needed from Jesus.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:22

Peter had experienced the privilege of watching every moment of Jesus’ ministry – the healings, the sermons, sins forgiven, the false accusations – and yet he had denied Jesus on that dreadful Friday afternoon when His Savior had needed him the most. And now Jesus was giving the man who needed forgiveness the ability to forgive. I believe Peter was feeling very unworthy of this gift of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ conversation later with Peter was in response to Peter’s need for restoration.

REPLACING DENIAL WITH COMMITMENT

So Jesus asked Peter three questions and allowed him to individually answer each of the three questions. He gave Peter the opportunity to state his commitment to Christ three times, just as he had denied Jesus three times.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
– John 21:15-17

“Lord, you know everything” – what was Peter thinking of when he acknowledged that Jesus knew EVERYTHING? Was he thinking of his betrayal in that moment? Jesus did not speak of Peter’s denial, maybe because he knew Peter’s heart and knew how much he regretted his words, “No, I am not.” He was giving Peter the opportunity to replace his denial with commitment – commitment to serve Jesus for the rest of his life, to become a shepherd of the flock. Jesus had died on the cross for Peter’s sins of betrayal so that Peter could experience restoration and then dedicate his life in service to God. Peter was saved to serve!

We too have been saved to serve. If we have asked for forgiveness, if we can truthfully testify that we love Jesus, then God has a call for us – feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. That call looks different for each one, just as the sheep have different faces and different needs, but all of us have been called to care for someone in some way. Jesus wants us to move beyond the “I’m not worthy” feelings produced by our guilt and shame. He wants us to boldly proclaim our love for Him and faithfully commit to follow His call on our life – to feed his sheep!

Who Are You Looking For?

Today’s Reading: Matthew 27:62-66, 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-2, 11-18, 24-31

At the foot of the cross, we see Mary Magdalene with Jesus’ mother, his aunt, and Mary the wife of Clopas. To get a picture of how much Mary loved and cared for Jesus, who had changed her life drastically, we can fast forward to Sunday morning.

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:1-2

We don’t know a lot about Mary and how she was treated in her community but we do know that women in general were not respected but considered possessions, having no rights of their own. If Mary had at one time been possessed by seven demons, I wonder how that affected her position among her family and community. Did others treat her as a new person who had been healed by Jesus (Luke 8:2) or was she marked by her past to be forever known as the one who had been possessed? How did she see herself?

This possibility makes her encounter with Jesus even more significant. If she ever struggled with feeling unloved and unimportant, I wonder if those feelings went away when Jesus chose her to be the first person He appeared to after His resurrection – even before returning to His Father. I can only imagine how this encounter with Jesus changed her life, just as our encounters with Christ are life-changing.

WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying? The angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
– John 20:11-18

WHO AM I LOOKING FOR?

I find great significance in Jesus’ question to Mary and I ask myself the same thing – “Who am I looking for?” Am I looking for Jesus? Am I expecting Him to reveal Himself to me today? Am I expected to hear from Him, to encounter His presence in my life today?

Thomas struggled to believe – he is known as the one who doubted. Jesus appeared to Thomas, showing Him his wounds and calling him to believe. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” – John 20:26b-27

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR JESUS TODAY?

There are many who were raised in the church yet still struggle to believe in Jesus and His Sovereignty. Today, I ask them and I ask you the same question Jesus asked Mary and the question I challenge myself with today, “Who are you looking for?” Jesus is ready and willing to reveal Himself to us today but we will miss it if we do not expect it – if we live today as if Jesus will not personally reach out to us. Things will happen and we will call them coincidences. God’s blessings will pour out on our life and we will call ourselves “lucky”. Evidence of Jesus will be all around us and we will say, “I wish God would show Himself to me.” I don’t want to miss out on seeing God today.

We have been studying the gospels for several months now. Jesus’ call to Thomas to believe brings me back to one of the first verses I ever memorized and a verse we looked at towards the beginning of the book of John. It’s familiar to all of us and probably the most well-known verse in the Bible.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

Who are you looking for today? Will you join me in walking into our day with confidence that Jesus will reveal Himself? Will you believe? And then, when we do experience Jesus today, let’s follow the same instructions He gave Mary and pass on the message to others – “I have seen the Lord!”