Will We Act Boldly For God in the Face of Fear?

Ananias obeys God to heal Saul who wants to arrest him

I like the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, turning him from a murderous bigot into a passionate follower of Jesus. A flash of light, a voice from heaven. It has all the makings of a great story. In this account, God is the hero, and Saul is the focus, but an essential, though minor, character is Ananias. Without Ananias, Paul’s transformation would have been incomplete. Without Ananias, Saul would have floundered.

You see, after the flash of light and the booming voice of God, Saul is left sightless and befuddled. God then appears to Ananias in a dream. He says, “Go find Saul—the man who is here to arrest you and your friends for your faith—and heal him.”

It sounds like a trap to me, a ruse of Saul’s making. Though Ananias does object, God shows him the big picture, and then he obeys. From a human standpoint, Ananias takes a huge personal risk. All evidence suggests he will be the next follower of Jesus thrown into the pokey. From a human perspective the safe thing, the wise course of action, would be to ignore God, forget about Saul, and leave town.

To be completely honest, I fear I would have done just that. But Ananias doesn’t. He boldly does what God tells him to do and heals Saul. As a result of Ananias’s obedience, Saul, later known as Paul, becomes the most traveled missionary in the early church and its most prolific writer.

Thank you Jesus, thank you Paul, and thank you Ananias.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 9, and today’s post is on Acts 9:10-17.]

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3 Lessons from the Early Church

Dr. Luke describes 3 characteristics of the Acts 4 church

3 Lessons from the Early ChurchThe book of Acts unfolds as an historical narrative of the early church, the activities of the first followers of Jesus and those who join them. For the most part, Acts simply describes what happens, with little commentary and few instructions for proper conduct.

While we can look to Acts as a possible model for church life, we would be in error to treat it as a requirement for right behavior. In this way Acts can inform us today, but it doesn’t command us. For example, if I wrote, “My church went to a baseball game after the service,” no one (I hope) would think I was saying that attending baseball games is prescriptive of church life. No. It was merely descriptive of what one church did one time. We would never build our theology on a statement like that.

So it is with the book of Acts. Yet we can learn from it. Luke writes three things about that church:

Unity: The Acts 4 church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with Jesus’s prayer. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it; I hope unity describes every one and every church.

Community Minded: In the Acts 4 church, no one claims their possessions as their own. It isn’t my things and your things; it is our things. They have a group mentality and act in the community’s best interest. While we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, notice that this isn’t a command; they just do it out of love.

Willing to Share: Last, the Acts 4 church shares everything they have. Not some things, not half, but all. This would be a hard thing for many in our first-world churches to do today but not so much in third-world congregations. Again, this isn’t a command (and later on Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional, Acts 5:4); it is just a practice that happens at this moment of time in the early church.

While these three characteristics should inspire us to think and behave differently, and can provide a model for church life, we need to remember that the Bible gives us no commands to pursue a communal-type church. We can, but it’s one option. Of the three only unity rises as an expectation because Jesus yearns for it to be so. That should give us plenty to do.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 4, and today’s post is on Acts 4:32.]

A Criminal Makes a Deathbed Confession

While we shouldn’t wait to follow Jesus, it’s nice to know that he’ll give us up to the last minute to make a decision

A Criminal Makes a Deathbed ConfessionIn Luke’s biography of Jesus, the author sometimes shares details not found in the Bible’s other three accounts of Jesus’s life. One such example is about the two criminals who are executed with Jesus. One of them mocks Jesus, but the other one doesn’t. Instead this second criminal rebukes the first. He says knock it off. We’re guilty and getting what we deserve, but Jesus is innocent.

Then the man makes a simple request of Jesus: remember me in your kingdom. What a simple statement, one filled with faith. This man, whose life is about to end because of a serious wrong he has committed, knows there is something more awaiting him after death. Yet through no merit of his own and with nothing he can do to earn it, he asks Jesus to be part of Jesus’s future kingdom. It’s bold, and it’s sincere.

Jesus could have said, “Sorry man, but you messed up.” But no. Instead Jesus lovingly says “Yes!” And not only is the answer affirmative, but it is also timely. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

How cool is that?

While we can wait until the last minute and make a deathbed conversion with full confidence that Jesus will say yes, the risk is too great. We don’t know when our last breath will come and if we’ll have time to ask Jesus to remember us.

So don’t put it off. Follow Jesus today so you can live for him in this life and live with him in paradise in the next.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 23, and today’s post is on Luke 23:39-43.]

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Pray and Do Not Give Up

Jesus teaches us to keep praying and to not stop until we get an answer

Pray and Do Not Give UpJesus gives us an object lesson (a parable) of a widow who keeps appearing before a judge to seek justice. A bad adjudicator, he cares nothing of her, of public opinion, or of God, but she wears him down with her continual plea. He eventually grants her request, not because she’s in the right or because he desires to do what is just, but because he wants her to stop bugging him. He gives her what she wants to keep her quiet.

Then Jesus compares this to prayer and seeking justice from God. If a corrupt judge will ultimately give in, how much more does a just God desire to give us what we want? The key is to not give up and to keep praying.

Of course we can ask a lot of questions about this simple teaching, and theologians have offered an array of explanations. But lest we become bogged down in the minutia of questions and explanations, let’s not forget the basic principle to keep asking God to provide the things we need.

If it’s important to us, we need to keep praying and not give up until we receive our answer. Does this sound a bit like pestering God? I’m not sure, but Jesus taught us to do it, so it’s surely acceptable.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 18, and today’s post is on Luke 18:1-7.]

When is the Best Time to do Good?

Helping others is one of many ways to worship God

When is the Best Time to do Good?I like the stories about Jesus helping people in need, such as by feeding them and especially by healing them. Even more I like it when Jesus confronts the religious practices of the day. We have so much to learn from his example.

It’s a bonus for me when in one action Jesus does both: helps someone and challenges religious conventions. Such is the case in today’s reading when Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath, the Jew’s holy day of rest.

A religious authority, intent on preserving his devout heritage of keeping the Law of Moses, is quick to criticize Jesus for his miraculous act of compassion. Though Jesus does the right thing for the right reason, the Jewish synagogue leader can only see Jesus as breaking one of their long-held rules and deviating from their all-important tradition.

The church today has many rules and expectations for us to follow. Some are well intended and others are unexamined, but I suspect there are exceptions to each one, such as by helping a person in dire need.

What about skipping church to come to someone’s aid? Some people would never consider such an act, while others would never question it. What is important to remember is that we can worship God in church by singing to him and we can worship God in our community by helping someone in trouble.

Which should we choose? Perhaps the one that benefits others. And what better day than Sunday?

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 13, and today’s post is on Luke 13:10-14.]

Where Should We Go For Jesus?

Sometimes we may need to go far away for Jesus and other times we may simply need to go home

Where Should We Go For Jesus?Before Jesus returns to heaven, he tells his followers to go throughout the world and let others know about him (Matthew 28:19). Does that mean we’re all supposed to travel to a distant country for Jesus? It could be, but it might not.

Consider a different account, one where Jesus gives an alternate instruction.

Luke tells us the story of Jesus exorcising a legion of demons from a man. Jesus permits the displaced demons to enter into a herd of pigs. They do. The pigs go berserk, jump into the water, and drown. (We know the pigs die, but I wonder if the demons die along with them. It’s an interesting thought, but that question has deep theological ramifications to consider at a different time.)

The demonic influence is now gone from the man. In his right mind, and likely full of gratitude, the man asks if he can hang out with Jesus. Jesus says sure, why not . . . No, that’s not what Jesus says at all.

Jesus tells the man no way. Instead Jesus instructs the restored man to simply go home and let his family and friends know about what God did for him by restoring him to full health. The man obeys and tells the whole town about Jesus (Luke 8:38-39).

In both accounts Jesus tells his followers to go. One time it is to go to all nations and the other time it is to go home. While our mission field may be in a foreign country, it might also be in our own home or right next door.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 8, and today’s post is on Luke 8:26-39.]

Is Studying and Memorizing the Bible Important?

When Satan tempts Jesus, Jesus responds by quoting scripture

Is Studying and Memorizing the Bible Important?Satan was unsuccessful in preventing Jesus’s birth and he was unsuccessful in causing Jesus to die prematurely before he could start his mission. For the enemy’s next ploy to thwart God’s plan to reconcile us to him, Satan tries to tempt Jesus into taking a shortcut: an easy button, if you will.

Satan makes three attempts to stop Jesus and to each one, Jesus counters by quoting the Bible. Jesus doesn’t try to ignore Satan. He doesn’t tell him to go away. And he doesn’t simply say “No” (all things I have tried). Jesus responds to each of Satan’s attacks by throwing the words of God back at the devil. Touché.

This may be the biggest and best reason to study and memorize the Bible, to hide God’s word in our heart so that we can avoid sin. But don’t take my word for it. The Bible says it, too: Psalm 119:11.

However, there’s another significant lesson we can learn from this passage. In his third try, Satan uses the Bible to attack Jesus. Though Satan’s application is arguably misapplied, the fact that the devil quotes the Bible gives his attack an unexpected credibility.

If Satan uses the Bible to oppose Jesus, he’ll certainly try the same trick with us. The only way we will prevail is if we know the Bible, too, and can point out his error. When misapplied the Bible can mislead us. Not everyone or every spirit quoting scripture does so with integrity. We must know the Bible as well as, or even better than, our enemy.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 4, and today’s post is on Luke 4:3-12.]

4 Things Christians Need to Avoid

Paul warns Titus to stay away from unprofitable and useless things

4 Things Christians Need to AvoidPaul, the superstar missionary, writes to his protégé Titus, who Paul left on the island of Crete to wrap up the work he started. As Paul’s letters go, it’s a short one. But he packs it with practical information that any pastor could use. Since we all should effectively function as pastors to one another, these words apply to us all. We will do well to heed them.

In one short verse, Paul warns Titus to avoid four things, and they’re not what you might expect. Paul tells Titus to stay away from:

1) Foolish Controversies: This might include which translation of the Bible to use. Then there are churches still neck deep in the issue of women in leadership. Seriously, folks? At one time, the issue of the day was slavery. Yes, churches do fight about such things.

But let me dive into the heart of controversy. Another one is . . . wait for it . . . baptism: when to do it, how to do it, and what it means. If these details were all that important to God, you’d think he’d have provided more clarity on the matter. Yet his followers have killed each other over this controversy. Jesus didn’t say that people would know we are his followers by our great doctrine, but by our love (John 13:35).

2) Genealogies: Though I don’t see too many people tracing their lineage for generations in order to claim some special appointment or consideration, I do see people throwing around their heritage, as in “My grandparents started this church,” to “My daddy’s on the church board,” to “My family has been a member of this church for seven generations.”

3) Arguments: This might include the pews versus chairs debate, what color to paint the sanctuary, if drums are allowed in worship, a dress code, what to pay the pastor, and so forth. Use your imagination. At some time, someone has likely argued about it. Shame on them.

4) Quarrels About the Law: Sorry to say, but I see this a lot. It’s fighting about what the Bible says and how we apply it. We like people who agree with us and call everyone else a heretic. According to Paul, we need to stop it.

As I see it, these four things cover about every source of conflict that churches and church members face today. Paul labels these four tendencies as unprofitable and useless. I agree and will do my part to avoid them. I hope you will, too.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Titus 1-3, and today’s post is on Titus 3:9.]

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

All Progress Faces Opposition

Our response to resistance determines the outcomes we realize

All Progress Faces OppositionIn the beginning of the book of Ezra we have the story of Zerubbabel, who under direction of King Cyrus, begins to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. His job is a noble one and backed by the full support of the Persian Empire and all that it entails.

Yet things do not go smoothly for Zerubbabel. He faces opposition from his detractors who do not want to see him succeed. They don’t care what the king says, even though he could crush them.

The resistance to Zerubbabel’s temple restoration project starts by stirring up discouragement and trying to make the people afraid. Next they offer bribes to appointed officials in order to thwart the plans and frustrate the work.

To his credit Zerubbabel doesn’t back down. While the easy response would be to cease work, he doesn’t give up. He persists. He leads his people to complete their work, despite much resistance from those around him and corruption from the government officials over him.

Any time we pursue something good, no matter how much backing we have, we will face opposition and encounter resistance. Sometimes the source of this opposition will surprise us, but it shouldn’t. We need to accept that this will occur. In fact, we should prepare for it and be ready to rely on God to protect us and help us see our project through to completion.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezra 4-5, and today’s post is on Ezra 4:4-5.]