You’ve Been With Jesus!

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There’s a verse in Acts 4 that has been on my mind lately. It comes in the narrative of Peter and John before the religious leaders. They had been arrested and were being questioned by the ruling Jewish council. Luke said that these fishermen turned preachers astonished the learned and (self)righteous men and “they took note that these unschooled, ordinary men had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How do people know that you and I have “been with Jesus?”

This story says the council “saw the courage of Peter and John”  who had just boldly declared the name of Jesus of Nazareth before them. Boldness and courage were the tell-tale signs for the Lord’s disciples. You and I are going to need their boldness and courage in the days ahead. We get that when we spend time with Jesus.

Peace is also another way that others can see that we have been with Jesus. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When you and I can face the challenges of life with peace others will notice. They will want to know how, and we can tell them, “I’ve been with Jesus, the peace-giver.”

Probably the most definite sign that we have been with Jesus is love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the hallmark of those who have been with Jesus. You cannot be around divine love without it “rubbing off on you.” Love one another.

Then there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to His death. She came with her alabaster jar of perfume “which she poured on His head” (Matthew 26:7). As I meditated on this scene, it occurred to me – now Jesus smelled just like her and she smelled just like Him. She brought her love and worship to Him. He welcomed and received her fragrance – and her – and in return He shared with her His grace. She was there to pour out her worship on the Lord and when we worship Him, He joins with us and we share in His sweet fragrance.

That, Beloved, is how the world will know that we have been with Jesus.

More Than Just a Name

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Do you recognize any of these people? Vincent Damon Furnier, Barry Alan Pinkus, Harry Lillis Crosby, Robert Allen Zimmerman, Paul Hewson, Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere, Reginald Dwight, Steveland Judkins, and Columcille Gibson. You may know them better as Alice Cooper, Barry Manilow, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Bono, Cher, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Mel Gibson. It’s not uncommon to change one’s name to fit a particular persona or just because you don’t like the name you were given at birth.

I have a love-hate relationship with my name. Dorcas is not exactly a common moniker. It is frequently mispronounced and often misspelled. It was the cause of a lot of teasing and unkindness when I was a kid. I toyed around with nicknames, “DeeDee,” “Dory,” and “Dixie” until I borrowed Beth from my middle name, Elizabeth. That’s how I’m known from Tallahassee to Tuscaloosa to Graceville. When we moved back home after 22 years away, I had to reacquaint myself with Dorcas again.

But I discovered the story of Dorcas (Tabitha in the Greek) in Acts (9:36-43) and found beauty in my name. Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the widows and the poor. She fell ill and died and the townspeople sent for Peter who prayed, and she was restored to life. Naturally, I identify with her because of our shared name, and because I also sew. But recently a new parallel came to light that makes me love my name. Dorcas was dead. I was once dead in my trespasses and sins. Dorcas could not raise herself to life. I could not raise myself out of my sinful, dead state. Peter came to help Dorcas. Jesus came to help me. God raised Dorcas back to life through Peter’s intercession. God raised my dead spirit to everlasting life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He used the same divine power to raise us both from death to life.

Dorcas’ story ends by saying “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). I want to tell the world what Jesus did for me so that many people will believe in the Lord. It doesn’t matter to me if you call me Dorcas or Beth, as long as you let me tell you about my Jesus who brings life out of death.

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

For The One Who Loves a Prodigal

I wrote this almost 5 years ago and just rediscovered it. God’s timing is impeccable. I need this message now more than I did then. Someone else may need it too. It’s for those of us who love a prodigal.

Acts 8:26-40 records the account of Philip and the Ethiopian (go ahead and read it-I’ll wait right here for you). Philip met an angel of the Lord who sent him on a mission. “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip met an Ethiopian who served in the court of the queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars contend that he was a God-seeker who had not converted to full Judaism. He was returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. He was riding in his chariot, reading from Isaiah – about the “sheep led to the slaughter,” and did not understand what he was reading  Enter Philip who clarified the Scriptures to the man, and from them, shared the good news about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit worked through The Word and Philip’s words and the man received Christ and immediately was baptized.

I want you to zero in on verse 29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.'” This phrase in Greek means “Go to that chariot and ‘stick with it.'” I thought about someone I love that I’ve been praying for many years and how I wonder if they will ever “get it.” The Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Stick with them.” In our human nature, it is easy to become weary and want to just give up on difficult people. But if God has set them in your life, no matter how stubborn they are, He has called you to “stick with them.” That means more than tolerating them. That means: Keep praying. “The prayer of a righteous man [woman, parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, pastor] offered in faith . . . is powerful and effective” (James 5:15,16). Keep loving. “Love always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7,8). Keep forgiving. “I tell you, [forgive] not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Then trust God to do the rest. “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). 

Years later my prodigal is still a prodigal, but I’m sticking with them because God is faithful. Beloved, whom has God called you to stick with?

Praying for Rain

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I’ve been praying for something (someone) for a long time – at least 15 years. I’ll be honest and tell you that I gave up on those prayers for a time.  I saw no way that God could work in this hard-headed, hard-hearted person’s life.  But in reality,  I had not given up on them, I had given up on God. James said that “the fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Do you believe God will answer your prayers? Acts 2:5-17 illustrates how often we pray without faith in God to answer.

The apostle Peter was in prison. His fellow apostle James had been beheaded by the evil King Herod, and now Peter, under the careful guard of sixteen soldiers (v. 4), was set for the same fate. The situation was very grim. Verse 5 says, “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Oh, the power of praying friends!

An angel of the Lord awakened the sleeping apostle, and hustled Peter out of the prison, miraculously passing all the guards and the iron gate, which opened by itself (v. 10). Peter quickly made his way to the house where his friends were gathered, praying for him. His knock was answered by a servant girl named Rhoda, who recognized his voice and ran to tell the group of prayer warriors. What was their response? “You’re out of your mind, they told her, It must be his angel.” (v. 15) But wait, for what had they been praying so fervently? God had answered their prayer and they didn’t believe it? They finally opened the door and were astonished. Jesus promised that God honors “faith as small as a mustard seed.” (Matt. 17:20)

Do you base your prayers on the person or situation for which you are praying? Or do you believe the One to whom you are praying? Beloved, the next time you pray for rain, don’t forget to grab your umbrella on the way out the door.

Heroes of the Faith

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The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?

God Bless America

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For weeks leading up to the election, I prayed. I didn’t pray for President Trump to win. I didn’t pray for Biden to win. I prayed for God’s will to be done in America. Days after the voting ended we still don’t know whom the President of the United States is going to be in January 2021. To the consternation of the majority of Christians, it appears that Biden will take this election. I have heard the theories of stolen votes and impropriety by the Democratic Party. I’ve also seen and heard all the hand-wringing about the destruction of religious liberty under a Biden/Harris (or Harris/???) administration. That is a very real possibility. Why would God allow that to happen? Because it may very well be the best thing for His Church.

Acts tells the story of the birth and growth of Jesus’ Church. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the first-century Christians. Acts 7:54-60 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. Immediately afterward, “A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  God’s faithful people were running for their lives. Again, we ask, why would He allow that to happen? Because “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). It was the persecution of the church that allowed the Christian faith to spread across the world.

What is God’s will? Is it the preservation of the United States of America? Or the preservation of His people, the Church? Around the world and throughout human history, the church has experienced the most growth – not just numbers, but growth in faith and strength – where she is being persecuted. Where the church was accepted and approved, the numbers may have increased, but the quality of faith suffered. Nothing spells the downfall of Christianity more than popular acceptance. This nation was founded largely by Christian men on Judeo-Christian values. But this nation is not a Christian nation and has not been for a very long time. Church membership was expected for generations, and like the church under Constantine, the moral value diminished greatly. I believe with all my heart that the church will undergo persecution in the coming days. And it will be a purifying fire. Those whose hearts are not devoted to the Lord will flee to save their skins. Those who remain will be the unshakable core that God will preserve and strengthen. Church buildings may be shuttered, but the Church will be healthier than ever. Beloved, do not fear what is to come. God is at work, and His work never fails.