Acts: The Church is Born

I have long wanted to do a series on the history of the Christian Church. Church History was my favorite class in my undergrad studies. The Holy Spirit burns bright and strong through the mighty, humble, and devout men and women of Christian history. We’ll start in Acts, where the Church was born, then we’ll move on beyond the record of Scripture with our eyes on the movement of the Holy Spirit. I hope you’ll forgive me if I get a little excited and giddy from time to time. If you thought we took a long time with Hebrews, hang on because the story of the Church and the work of the Holy Spirit never ends.


But first let’s set the foundation: Acts was written by Luke, the same Luke as the gospel, and was intended to be a continuation of it: Luke/Acts. It was written to “Theophilus” an unknown Greek who may have provided financial support for Luke’s work. Luke used the same investigative style in both accounts and so we have rich records of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit at work. Luke often connects the story of the church with the events of world history, giving us time markers that support the validity of the claims. But Acts is more than history, it is also solid theology. It was well received and respected by the early church fathers.


Acts begins after Jesus’ resurrection when the Lord showed Himself to His followers to prove that He was alive (1:1-3). He promised them “a gift” from His Father – the Holy Spirit that would empower them to do all that Jesus told them to do (v. 4-8). Matthew recorded Jesus’ marching orders: “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” (Matt 28:19-20). In Acts, He gave them direction: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We will see them take these precise steps as they respond to circumstances that send them far and wide with the gospel. Mind you, the church has yet to reach “the ends of the earth,” so the mission continues to this day.


After Jesus; words, Luke reports that He “was taken up before their very eyes . . .” (1:9). This is the ascension and it is crucial to the work of the Holy Spirit. The church was born – but not yet empowered. 

The Overwhelming, Unfailing Love of God

The Psalms are a favorite place in the Scriptures for many of us. The writers (no, David didn’t write them all) often express thoughts and feelings that we can identify with. There is praise and worship and heartache and loneliness and raw emotion. My Bible is full of underscores, dates, and notes – markings to remind me of who I am and whose I am and what God has done. I can find myself in pretty much every chapter. I have been the little lamb in the care of the Shepherd (Ps. 23) and I have been the contrite sinner (Ps. 51). I have taken refuge under the feathers of His wings (Psalm 91) and I have walked the path with only His Word to light my steps (Psalm 105).

This morning, I find myself in Psalm 107 – a psalm of thanksgiving. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read the psalmist’s words – perhaps you will see yourself here too. I have wandered in desert wastelands (v. 4) and been hungry (v. 6) and He led me to a place where I could settle (v. 7). I have sat in darkest gloom, in a prison of my own making (v. 10-11), but He brought me out of the darkness and broke away my chains (v. 14). I have been a fool and a rebel and suffered because of my sin (v. 17) yet God sent forth His Word and healed me (v. 20). I have been lost in a storm and cried at my wit’s end (v. 25-28) and He stilled the storm to a whisper and guided me home (v. 29-30). He has poured his showers of blessing out on me when my heart was parched and dry (v. 33-35); and when I was needy and afflicted, He lifted me up and filled my life with Joy (literally) (v. 41-42). I give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for me (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

God has been so good, so kind, and so generous to me. How can I do anything but give Him thanks when I consider His great love (v. 43)? I pray that as you move through this day God brings to mind the many wonderful things He has done for you. I pray you are overwhelmed by his unfailing love. And I pray that when this day is done, Beloved, your heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude and Joy.

(P.S. Who are the movers and shakers of the church? What events and people shaped the Christian faith? Get ready friends – we’re going to history class – that is the history of the Christian church. We’ll start with an overview of Acts and then move beyond. Join me here on Mondays for this exciting study!)

Mountain-moving Faith

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). If faith is what pleases God, I want faith. Many claim to have faith in doctors, in science, in their fellow man, and even in politicians (I can’t figure out why), but that is not the kind of faith of which the Bible speaks. Jesus talked about faith that can move mountains (Matt 17:20-21) – that’s the kind of faith I want because I’ve got some mountains that need to go.

Merriam-Webster defines faith as allegiance, loyalty, or sincerity. The “archaic” definition is trust in the traditional doctrines of a religion, and firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Mountain-moving faith isn’t built on doctrines or traditions. It’s not archaic, but eternal. And if you need proof, just go look at the stars. But I digress.

Faith as the Bible defines it is different. The Greek word for faith is pistis and it means belief or trust  – simple enough, right – but there is more that sets biblical faith apart. It also means that actions based on that trust will follow. Let me give you an example.

There’s an old story about a tightrope walker who strung his rope across a tall and dangerous cavern and then asked the crowd, “Who here believes I can walk across this rope and back without falling?” Many applauded their approval and so he stepped up and made the trip across and back with ease. Then he set a wheelbarrow on the rope and asked, “Who here believes I can push this wheelbarrow across this rope and back without dropping it or falling off?” The crowd, encouraged by his previous success, agreed that he could. And so he pushed the wheelbarrow across and back without a hitch. When he returned, the crowd whistled and clapped with delight. “Now,” the man said, “who’s willing to get in the wheelbarrow?” That’s what the Bible means by faith.

Faith is not just sitting around thinking good, faithy thoughts. Real faith, sustaining faith is faith that moves you to obedience. It looks at the impossibility of the situation and steps forward anyway. It submits to God’s will even when it’s hard. Mountain-moving faith trusts that when the Lord says “Let us go to the other side” (Mrk 4:35) you will indeed get to the other side – despite the storm on the way.  That’s the kind of faith you and I can have because that’s the kind of God He is.

So, Beloved, are you ready to get in the wheelbarrow?

Searching for God

“I can’t find my wallet!” my son said when he stormed into the kitchen.

“Did you check your truck or the pants you had on last night?”

“Of course I did!” he barked. He was frustrated and so I let the attitude go for the moment. “Can I go in your room and help you look?” “Yes, but I’ve already looked everywhere in my room.” So I entered where angels fear to tread, picked my way over the piles of clothes and dirty dishes, and what do you know – there lay the missing wallet on the foot of his bed. “Oh, well, I was looking everywhere else,” he said sheepishly. “Thanks, Mom.” I smiled at him and said, “That’s my job, son.”

I went back to the kitchen, finished pouring my coffee, and sat down to read my Bible. My reading was in Psalm 40. It’s a powerful psalm and even has a word of Messianic prophecy. But what caught my attention at that moment was verse 16: “May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You.” It made me think of my son and his wallet hunt that morning. He was looking frantically everywhere for what was in plain sight. And then I thought about man and his search for “truth and meaning.” Some people look at philosophy, some to science, some to power or wealth or pleasure, many look within themselves, and a few even look towards religion. But all those are futile searches because God is not hidden away in any of these. The truth is, He is not hidden at all.

One of the most oft-repeated statements in the Bible is “that you may know me” –  so why would He hide from us? Paul said that God is right in plain sight. He told the people in Lystra that “He has not left Himself without testimony” (Acts 14:17) and he declared, “What may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20). The heavenly beings declared, “the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3).

From the reflection in your mirror to the farthest reaches of outer space, the evidence of God is all around us. If we’re looking. God wants you to know Him. He has set Himself in plain sight. You will find what you want to see. Just look up Beloved.

Why Do I Love God?

My granddaughter is at the “Why” stage of childhood. I try to always answer her whys because that’s how she learns. But every parent and grandparent (and teacher) knows that the string of whys never seems to end. Sunday was another “Why” day as we got to the church for “honey (Sunday) school.”

“Why do we go to church?” “To learn about God and worship Him.”

“Why do we worship God?” “Because we love Him.”

“Why do we love God?” “Because . . .” and the reasons came tumbling out of my heart and mouth.

“We love God because He is our Creator – that means God made us. God made you! We love God because He sent Jesus to pay for our sins. We love God because He is so good to us, He is our Helper; He takes care of us, and He loves us.”

By now we were at her class and as I hugged her and turned to go, she said, “And I love God too!” I held her for an extra few seconds and said, “I’m so glad you do, sweet girl!” As I floated to my own class. I thought of David’s words: “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise” (Ps 8:2).

I didn’t tell Joy all the reasons why I love God – she just needed a simple explanation that she could understand in her 3-year-old mind. There is so much more I could have said. I love God because He gives light where there is darkness (Ps 18:28). He gives life where death once ruled (Lk 24:5-6). God brings hope in the midst of turmoil (Ps 25:5), and peace during the storm (Mk 4:39). He gives assurance in the face of doubts (Jn 14:1). He gives wisdom to the bewildered (Js 1:5), and strength to the weak (Is 40:29-30). He offers sweet rest for the weary (Ps 23:1-2), welcome to the lonely (Jn 6:37), and Joy to those who have been trampled by life (Jn 15:11). He provides cleansing for the stains of sin (1 Jn 1:9) and redeems all we once thought was lost (Rom 8:28).

These are not just verses I found, they are truths I have lived as I’ve walked with Him for forty + years. Why do I love God? Because He is my life and love, light and hope, Joy and peace. If you forget everything I’ve ever told you, don’t forget this: the sweetest blessing this side of heaven is to love God.  There are a million reasons why.

Which Jesus Will You Choose?

The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus, the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like), the wise teacher Jesus, the stick-it-to-the-establishment Jesus, the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on. But they are not the Jesus we see in Scripture. 

Not that we can put Him in a clearly defined box. The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He was popular – until He wasn’t. The same crowd that greeted Him as Messiah later shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. From the most devout believer to the most spiteful atheist.

Yes, that means you too. You will bow and you will confess. The only question is, will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Whom you rejected?  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Have you, will you believe in the real Jesus?

The Eternal Way

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“I need a bigger map than this,” I complained. “I need to see my whole route.”  The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But I wanted to see my present location in relation to where I wanted to end up.  I needed a bigger picture. 

We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning for college educations and retirement, and think we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Real life is eternal.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance for its eternal impact.  Paul said, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Though our struggles don’t feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

I’m also learning to let the words I say pass through this eternal filter.  Several years ago, God gave me a verse to motivate me toward my calling: “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman,” (Jeremiah 15:19).  I’m making an intentional effort to speak and write “worthy words” that have an eternal purpose.   I ask myself, “How will my words impact someone’s eternity?”

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that rivals any earthly mansion.  I will wear a robe of righteousness that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.

When we have an eternal perspective of life we understand better the journey we are on.  Twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches, and detours cannot stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its pain and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

Taste-Tested and Approved

I see lots of recipes on social media – yummy-looking desserts, casseroles, crockpot meals, dips, and the one that caught my eye this morning: white bean chicken chili. I may try that one soon. If my family likes it, I may even pass it on. But not until I’ve served it and it gets the thumbs-up – especially from Joy. I can’t imagine sharing a recipe I’ve never tried first. I wouldn’t recommend a doctor I’ve never seen or a church I haven’t attended or a book I’ve not read. If you get any kind of recommendation from me it’s only because I’ve tested it out and found it to be good.

That is why my messages are all about the Lord. As David said, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8 ). I have found Him to be satisfying in every way. When I need help – and I need it a lot – He is my Helper (Ps 54:4). When the enemy attacks me Almighty God is stronger than my foe (Gen 17:1-2). When I am weary He is my Strength (Ps 19:14). When I fall into sin He is faithful to forgive me (Ps 99:8 ). When I am lonely He is with me (Jud 6:12). When I have a need I go to the Lord who provides (Gen 22:14). When the world is dark and full of evil I look to the Light (John 8:12). When I am sick I trust in the Lord my Healer (Ex 15:26).  When chaos is all around me I run to the Lord my Peace (Jud 6:24).

And when I need counsel or wisdom or just need to know what is right I know where to go because I have tested His words and they are true (John 17:17). The Bible is as sure and powerful as the One who spoke it – the God of truth (Ps 31:5). I can tell you that He is a Faithful God (Deut 7:9) because He has always been faithful to me. I can recommend Him to you without hesitation because He has proven Himself to me over and over and over again. He is the God of my Life (Ps 42:8 ).

If the white bean chicken chili shows up on my page you can know that I have tasted it and it is good. But more important than a recipe, I want to share God with you because He is everything to me. Oh, Beloved, I pray that you will taste and see that the Lord is good. I highly recommend Him.

Make Jesus Your Own

Jesus met a sinful woman at a well and he changed her life. Then she told her neighbors and  “Many of the Samaritans…believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). But they didn’t just take her word for who He was. They spent two days listening to Jesus, and they came to personal knowledge and a personal relationship with Him. “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (v. 42). (Read John 4:1-42)

Too many of us have settled for a second-hand relationship with God. We go to church every Sunday and listen to the words that are preached. We may go to Sunday School and hear the lesson brought by the teacher from the material of a writer who doesn’t know us. We may even go so far as to attend a Bible study class and listen to the leader, and read the lesson. But we often fail to make it our own. We settle for what someone else tells us about God, and we wonder why He is so distant. But God created you so that you might have a deeply intimate and personal relationship with Him. Jesus came to interact personally with people. He sends His Holy Spirit to live in us – you can’t get more intimate than that. God knows your heart and your needs, and He has a Word just for you. He has a purpose just for you. You won’t find it anywhere else but at His feet.

I will teach the Bible for as long as He gives me breath. There is so much to learn, and so much to share, the Word of the Lord never gets stale or boring. But my ultimate goal is to teach myself out of a job – to stir in you a hunger and passion for the Word, and the God who wrote it. I pray that you make His Word your own and that you never settle for a second-hand relationship with the One who created you, loves you, and died for you. Beloved, I pray that you will be able to say, with Job, “My ears had heard of you – but now – my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

My Favorite Words

Since it’s my birthday today I thought I’d share with you my favorite words from the Bible. These have left an indelible impression on me and have given me much strength, peace, and hope. They are sprinkled out all over the Scriptures: “It came to pass . . .” and “But God”.

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not ‘it came to stay’.” It’s good parenting advice, and yes, I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when Joy was born. Sleepless nights, teething, temper tantrums, and endless diaper changes will pass. But it’s also good life advice. We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember: “So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6). After many more days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My storms will pass and the sun will shine again.

There are so many verses that use the phrase “But God, ” “But You, O God,” “Yet the Lord,” and others that imply the power of the Lord God to overcome the most extreme and impossible situations. Those are some of my most favorite verses when I’m facing difficult things. “But God,” says it’s still in His able and capable hands. “Yet the Lord” reminds me that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). “But You, O God,” tells me that He is a miracle-working, on-time, good and faithful Father. “But God” works like a hinge on a door, opening what appears to be closed for good and making a way where there seems to be no way.

Oh, there’s one more – the last words of Jesus before He died on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). That means that the promise of salvation that God made in the Garden has been accomplished and I am free from the condemnation of my sin. It means I need not live in fear because Jesus has paid for every offense I committed against heaven. I can live in His perfect love now and forever.

These are my favorite words – they have marked and blessed my life. “It came to pass.” “But God.” “It is finished.” It’s my birthday, but I offer them as my gift to you. They’ve carried me a long way and they will carry you too.