Monday, March 24, 2014

What's He waiting for?- Acts 3:19-20

Let's start with a mental exercise. I want you to be honest. After and God are the only ones who can hear your thoughts, so there is no point in lying...and yet I think many of us will still be tempted to lie! Resist the temptation and answer this question honestly.

Would you rather Jesus come back this very instant, or would you rather live for a while longer?

I hope you are actually going through the process of deciding and really thinking about the pros and cons of each option. A few factors that I think of are missing out on seeing my children grow and go through the different stages of life. I think about people I know who are lost that I still want to be saved before His return. I think about things I still want to do in life before the end. But then I think about these statements of the earliest Christians:
  • When Jesus told John He was coming soon, John said, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20)
  • Paul said, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). 
  • He also said, "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed" (1 Cor. 1:7)
  • The Hebrews writer said, "so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Heb. 9:28).
Did you catch all of the eagerness about Jesus coming back!? I put it in bold and made it bigger just in case:)

So what was the difference in their eagerness for Jesus to come back and our contentment for Him to give us a few more years?

I don't know the answer exactly, but I have a hunch based on Acts 3:20 that it has something to do with repentance. Did you catch what Peter told the Israelites that day? He told them they needed to turn to God. And He promised them under the direction of the Holy Spirit that if they would repent, three things would happen:
  1. Their sins would be wiped out. He had just pointed out that their chief sin was the murder of Christ, but that it had all taken place under the direction of an omnipotent God who had a plan of salvation. Peter's argument is that once you understand that truth...YOU'LL WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! And the something that we are to do is to repent so we can be forgiven! Do we really understand the depth of sin? Do we really appreciate the hugeness (pretty sure that is a word, someone look it up for me) of the statement that our sins can be wiped out? They are not covered over or hidden. They are wiped out!
  2. They would be refreshed. At the risk of quoting Dr. Phil, I'm going to quote Dr. Phil who liked to ask his televised clients, "How's that working for you?" It's a valid question...especially when we think about our selfish, worldly way of living compared to the freedom from guilt, the healthier relationships, the avoidance of diseases like STD's, alcoholism, and stress-induced hypertension that are the result of living according to the "abundant life" that Jesus offered. How much more tired and grumpy do you feel at the end of the day when you know you have not put much effort into living as a servant of Christ throughout the day as compared with living selfishly? Peter promised times of refreshing. I believe that means much more than I have just described, but these things alone would be incredibly refreshing to so many of us!
  3. He would send the Messiah.
And number 3 is the one that I want us to think about.

Why does the return of the Messiah depend upon our repentance? Maybe I'm interpreting incorrectly, but that's the way it seems to read. In fact, the very next verse says, " Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything" (Acts 3:21). I don't think Peter is just talking about Jesus "coming into our lives." I think he is talking about the actual return of Christ...and he says the return is conditional upon our repentance!

Now I'm not trying to make a doctrinal statement that everyone in the world is going to repent before Jesus is allowed to return. That's obviously not what Peter was saying. But I think Peter came back around to this concept later in one of his letters when he said, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance"( 2 Peter 3:9 emphasis mine.)

There are some really impressive promises made in Acts 3:19-20. I don't want to miss out on them. I want my sins wiped away. I want to be eternally refreshed. And while, speaking honestly, I have to admit I have mixed feelings about it...I want Jesus to come sooner rather than later. I'm wondering if there isn't some area of my life that I am still stubbornly holding onto instead of giving to God. I wonder if my eyes are still set on earthly things instead of heavenly things and that's why I'm having trouble joining the chorus of voices from the first century who were actively praying and looking for an immediate return of Christ. 

May we all truly repent. May we realize the joy of wiped away sins and Godly refreshment. And may we recognize God's patience in waiting for us and the world to repent and turn to Him. May that knowledge motivate us to open our mouths to proclaim Christ just as it opened Peter's mouth 2,000 years ago.

I skipped over this statement, but it may be the most incredible statement in the whole passage...and Peter just seems to say it in passing. He said, "that He may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you -- even Jesus. If you have ever doubted God's love for you, consider that God appointed Jesus as the Christ...for you! How can you fail to turn to God when confronted with that overwhelming truth of His love for you!?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Surprised by the Power of God- Acts 3:12-16

Original photo by Flickr user Followtheseinstructions
Don't get me wrong...I'm very thankful to live in the time that we live. I am thankful for the technology and the medical advances that we have today. I thank God often for the doctors and the nurses and the machines that were used to help give my 2.5 month preemie daughters a very healthy life today. (They will turn 4 tomorrow and couldn't be healthier!)

Yes, I'm incredibly thankful for all of that. Even so...every once in a while when I read a passage like Acts 3, the curious part of me almost wishes we didn't have all of these advances in technology and medicine just so I could really understand the surprise referred to when Peter said, "Why does this surprise you?"

We have gotten so used to "medical miracles" that it almost doesn't even phase us anymore when someone gets a heart transplant and gets a new lease on life. (That is unless you are the one getting the transplant!)

But try to put yourself back in the first century. Picture being a regular in the temple area and seeing the lame beggar every single day. And then today, from across the courtyard, you see a man talking to him, and then you watch him stand up and start jumping around praising God! How curious would you be about Peter at that point!!?

I love Peter's response to all of the attention. There is no time wasted. There is no false modesty or bumbling thanks for all of the praise that he is getting. There is just an almost incredulous question about why in the world they are surprised and an immediate segue-way into the death and resurrection and power of the Christ. Peter immediately reminds them that this isn't the first time a lame man walked and it won't be the last! Many of the Jews gathered around had likely seen some of the miracles Jesus performed. Why should this one surprise them!? It surprised them, because just like everyone else, they thought when Jesus died, the hope of His being the Messiah died with Him. But they were wrong because they did not understand that death could not keep Him!

I can't help but think of a couple questions that may be worth thinking about as we ponder the work of God in our own time:
  1. Why are we not "surprising" more people today with the power of the name of Christ evidenced in changed lives? Yes, yes, I know all about the arguments about how the Holy Spirit works differently today. But however, you believe that He works, please don't try to tell me that He doesn't, or can't work!! I know God's power is not "switched on" based on us "doing religion" right. But is it possible that we limit the work of God because deep down, we have become content with a watered down version of the gospel that Paul said had the power to save all who believe? (Rom. 1:16) Do we not offer what we have to people because we subconsciously deem them beyond the saving power of the name of Christ and therefore we stop the power of the Spirit before it even gets to the person in whom He wishes to be glorified?
  2. Are we as quick to point to Christ as the source of our successes? I heard a sermon by David Platt a while back in which he was talking about visiting some Christians in a foreign nation where Christianity was almost non-existent. The men he was talking to had decided at one point to just start going to different villages praying that God would show them someone to share the gospel with. And He did. And He kept showing them more and more people in more and more villages and churches were beginning there and flourishing. Platt asked them how they were being so effective. Their response was that it was the power of God. It has been a while since I first heard that story so some of the details may not be exact (If you know them, please correct me). But what I do remember very plainly was David Platt finishing the story talking desperately about his desire to be a part of something that was so absolutely clearly accomplished by the power of God alone. He wanted to be involved in a work that in no way could be attributed to human means and human effort. It could only be God's power that was accomplishing it. Is that our real motivation in the things we do every day? Is that what we are looking for in our churches and in our homes? Do we seek to really draw attention to God in everything that we do or are we content to merely be good people who are going to heaven some day without looking for ways to demonstrate the power of God today?
May we be a people that always seeks to give God glory in everything. And may we be a people that really recognizes God's glory and power for what it truly is so that people will once again be "surprised" as they witness what can only be attributed to the work of God in someone's life.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Look at us! Acts 3:4-7

We are all fairly good at it. When the Salvation Army or the Girl Scouts or some other organization is camped outside Walmart asking for donations or sales and we are not in the mood to donate or buy, we can be distracted with just about anything in order to keep from having to look at the people hoping for our attention. I am ashamed to admit that at times I have even strategically picked which door to walk in so I wouldn't have to walk within eye contact range. We are even better at avoiding eye contact with people who we know are begging in big cities. For some reason, we feel like if we don't acknowledge them, then we can go on with our evening as if we weren't confronted with serious misery and despair.

We can only guess, but I think that is why Luke points to Peter's first actions and words to this beggar at the temple gates. Peter both looked straight at him, and then he invited...instructed the man to look back. If you read the preceding verses, you see that this man was a regular fixture at the temple. His friends brought him every day to beg. If you went into the temple,  you passed this man. Most had probably become accustomed and inoculated to his presence and his misery. And he had definitely become accustomed and inoculated to the point that he didn't even look at the people he was begging from. His expectations were very low of people. He certainly was not looking to build any new relationships with the passers-by. He was simply hoping their religious duty and their guilt would twist enough of the worshipers to toss a few coins his way so he could eat.

And then Peter and John came by.

Peter and John who were witnesses to the compassion of Christ.
Peter and John who were witnesses to the glory of the Christ on the Mt. of Transfiguration.
Peter and John who were witnesses of the resurrected Christ.
Peter and John who had the Spirit of the living Christ living in them.

And they really looked at him.
And they invited him to look at them.

If we didn't even finish the story, we could already say that they had given him something of great value. They recognized him as a person and not just a nuisance and a project. They offered him dignity by offering him relationship. Even if it was just the relationship of a look in the eye.

I can't help but think of how many people have lamented never feeling welcomed in churches because of a lack of eye contact. A lack of feeling that anyone viewed them as anything more than just a nuisance or a project. And that is in our Bible classes and our worship assemblies! How much more so the the countless faces who have encountered followers of Christ in restaurants, on streets, and in the checkout line and yet they were never really "looked at" by the Christians nor were they invited to "look at" the Christians in return.

But that's not all Peter and John did for this man. I love the words Peter uses.
"Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you..."

For application purposes, the words that follow really don't matter. Because what they had to offer and what I have to offer and what you have to offer are going to be very different. I may have money to give. You may have time. Someone else may have connections. Another may have the gift of conversation.


What do you have to offer someone? If you are not sure you have anything to offer, may I remind you that if you are a baptized follower of Christ, you too have witnessed the compassion, the glory, and the resurrection of Jesus even if you were not one of the original eye witnesses of the first century. And you definitely have the same Spirit of the living Christ living in you. If that is true, then you have something  to offer!

May we be a people who really sees other people. May each of us who wear the name of Christ make it our personal duty to ensure that everyone we come into contact with feels his/her significance in the eyes of God by looking into our eyes. And may we be ready and willing to offer whatever it is that we have to offer so that more and more people can run into the temple praising God for what He has done for them through us.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Restoring New Testament...Living- Acts 2:42-47

It struck me several weeks ago that when descriptions of the early church occur in the book of Acts, very little is said about how they worshiped. But a lot is said about what they were like. 

This passage in Acts 2 is one of those occasions. In fact, it seems to serve as a general description of the church for the first several years. And what Luke felt compelled to write about was not their worship style or the different aspects of their worship. He simply wrote about what the church looked like and how they behaved...especially toward each other.

Now before you either get upset with me or start shouting "amen" depending on which way you lean, don't think for a minute that I am trying to say that how we worship does not matter to God. I'm not trying to make one iota of a point for or against the importance of "worship styles," orders of service, or anything else that is typically debated amongst brethren rather heatedly at times. What I am trying to point to is the fact that those arguments are curiously silent in the book of Acts. I won't go so far as to say that the arguments are not important...but I do think it's important to note that they cannot be the most important discussion we have!

Stop to think about how Luke describes the church:
  • They were devoted to hearing, learning, and applying the message from God.
  • They were devoted to sharing their lives together which had to include being together.
  • They were devoted to breaking bread together. That could refer to the Lord's Supper specifically or it could refer to just a common meal. I tend to think it was a reference to both and that the two were hard to distinguish in the early church (See 1 Cor. 11:17-34).
  • They were devoted to prayer.
That's the general summation of the church. The next few verses illustrate what those devotions looked like on a daily basis.
  • The power of God was displayed by signs and wonders
  • They counted each other as family to the point that they were sharing their possessions with each other freely to ensure everyone had enough. Why? Because they were family...and that's what families do.
  • They got together as often as they possibly could both in the formal setting of the temple where they were meeting at the time, and in their homes in smaller groups. I think it is safe to infer from this passage that they were not meeting together out of a sense of obligation and "punching the time clock." They were meeting together because they were sharing the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them. They had been forgiven of their sins and were now promised life eternal in Christ! They were all adopted as children of the King and couldn't wait to see their brothers and sisters and daydream and praise God for the inheritance that would be theirs one day!
  • Because of how the church behaved toward each other and behaved toward others...because of the way they represented their Father and their King, "the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved."
 What an exciting time to be a member of the Lord's church! I'm sure it was at least somewhat more complicated than it seems on the surface, but when I look at this passage I can't help but think about how simple it seemed! Luke doesn't record growth strategies or evangelistic methods. He doesn't talk about training seminars or highly structured educational programs. He simply shines light on the church being the church!

I may be borrowing at least part of this phrase, but I don't know who I'm borrowing it from. But I think it is safe to say that when God's people are acting like God's people, more people will be added to God's people!

I am convinced that God's people argue about outreach programs, evangelistic methods, worship styles, and everything else under the sun because we are all trying to find the right balance of being welcoming to outsiders while at the same time being true to the teachings of the New Testament and the example of the early church and how they worshiped. But what if our focus is all wrong!?

Would anyone ever try to push "innovative worship" if our worship were already spirit-filled and "awe-inspiring" not because of the ambiance, but because of the people gathered all worshiping "in spirit and in truth!?"

Would anyone ever stew about how uninteresting the Bible class teacher is or isn't if the students learning the Bible were all serious about applying the principles of love and self-sacrifice that are as plain to understand as the words on the page?

Would anyone ever worry about the numbers if we were so known for our love for each other and for the lost that we had "favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding daily to [our] number those who [are] being saved?"

Let's be true to our best understanding of how the first century church worshiped. But let's be honest about the fact that if we are not first and foremost true to how the first-century church lived then it makes no difference what our worship looks like in the first place!

Scripture is plain that the most doctrinally sound worship possible will not reach the ears of God if the hearts of the worshipers are not first right with God and in tune with His heart for the world. (See James 1:27, Micah 6:6-8, Isaiah 1:10-20, Matthew 5:23-24, 1 John 4:19-21, Hebrews 13:15-16, etc.)

May we always be a people that is striving to restore and purify New Testament worship. But may we be a people that first strives to restore New Testament living so that our worship will be true.