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. 

Hebrews: Yes, God

My granddaughter loves to do “hidden picture” puzzles. These are scenes with small things drawn to make them blend into the other elements of the picture, essentially hiding them in plain sight. For instance, a banana becomes the bill of a cap or a ruler sits among the rails of a fence. She’s gotten quite good at finding the prize amid all the rest of the picture.

The passage we’re considering today in Hebrews is like that. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” Amen. (Heb 13: 20-21).  There are some deep doctrinal truths here: God is the source of peace and He imparted that peace to us through Jesus Christ, His Son, who signed the eternal covenant with His blood and sealed it with His resurrection. He has taken up His position as our great Shepherd as we – His sheep – follow Him. You could fill countless theology books with just verse 20. But for the purpose of our study, we’re going to set the descriptive text aside to get to the point. We’re not changing the Scripture, we’re just zeroing in on the hidden nugget. “May God . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him . . .” There it is! A prayer that God will equip us to do His will and work in us the things that please Him.

This verse echoes Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). This is a promise that if God calls you to it He will equip you for it. When God called him to rescue the Israelites, Moses pointed out his stuttering problem (Ex 4:10). And God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (v. 12). And He did. And God was pleased with Moses and called him His friend (Ex 33:11).

Yes, the calling is bigger than you but you have the promise of God – the God who brings peace through Jesus Christ – that He will help you do it. Say “Yes” to God’s call Beloved and discover what He will do through and in you.

Arguing With the Devil

Common wisdom says to never argue about politics or religion. Those are two of the most polarizing subjects known to man. There’s a long history of trouble and anger surrounding both. Politics didn’t enter the scene until much later in the history of man, but the first religious argument happened in the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t between Adam and Eve – it was between Eve and the serpent – the devil in disguise.

In Genesis 3, Satan comes slithering along and asks a misleading question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (v. 1). Look back to 2:16 where God said “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” Do you see the subtle twist? Eve responds with a partially true but still misleading answer: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” (v. 2-3). Do you see where she veered from God’s exact command?

The serpent started with a deceptive question and she followed with a partially true answer. Scholars have considered that she may have told the serpent what Adam told her. The original prohibition was given to Adam with the expectation that he, as her head, would relay God’s words to her. Adam may have added the “no touching” to keep her away from the tree altogether. But her altered answer gave the serpent just enough of an opening to reach through and pull her into sin. Had she responded with the exact words of God, he would not have had the advantage. And it would have changed everything. Consider instead how Jesus answered the devil – “As it is written . . .” The old liar couldn’t gain the slightest toe-hold on Jesus because He spoke nothing more or less than God’s anointed Word.

Satan can and will argue against man’s words all day long, but he cannot stand against the Word of the Lord. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has all the power and authority of God Himself. And satan knows it. You need to know it too. Beloved, keep the Scriptures always in your heart and on your lips. It’s the only argument you need.

Advent 2022: His Name is Love

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

When my son was young, he loved to go to the playground at the local park which was almost always crawling with boys and girls.  He would join in with one or two children and for some reason, he called all the other kids “dude”.  I told him over and over, “Ask them what their names are.”   One day on the way home I gently lectured him on the social grace of using people’s names.  He replied, “I only seen them today and I won’t see them tomorrow so I don’t need to know their name.”   Lecture over as I tried to stifle a laugh.  But he had a point – to know someone and call them by their name indicates a relationship, ranging from playgrounds to the intimacy of lovers.

God spoke volumes in the name He gave His One and Only Son.  “Jesus” – Iesous in Greek, Yeshua in Hebrew (translated Joshua) – carried the meaning “Yahweh saves.”  The Jewish people would hear Jesus’ name and remember that the Lord had saved His people in the past and He had promised to save them again.  They recalled Joshua in the days of the exodus from Egypt, a mighty military leader and warrior who lead the armies of Israel against multiple enemies on the way to the Promised Land.  They clung to the hope of salvation and restoration from Roman rule.  Jesus was a name that spoke of the power and faithfulness of God.

But Matthew records another name that would be bestowed on this Child – Immanuel – God with us. This name speaks of God coming physically near to His people.  In the Garden, God walked with Adam, until sin came between them.  In the desert, God’s presence was in the cloud of fire, and in Jerusalem, His presence dwelt between the cherubim in the Temple – behind a heavy curtain.  But now God Himself once more walked among his people.  He shared the street with His creation, broke bread together with men, and laid the hand of God on their children’s heads.  He lived among men – and died among them.

In a perfect combination of names, He personally brought the salvation of God to all humanity.  He is the victorious power of God and the intimate love of God.  He is Jesus – Immanuel – the God who came near to save us. It is the name of Love.

Let the Name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore – Psalm 113:2.

Advent 2022: Why December 25th?

Did you know that the early church did not celebrate Christmas? The church’s testimony about Christ was completely centered on the resurrection. Church officials decided that the birth of Jesus should have equal emphasis with his resurrection. Pope Julius I picked the date in 350 AD, and it was formalized in 529 AD, when Roman Emperor Justinian declared Christmas to be a civic holiday. December 25th was borrowed from secular festivities as the designated day for celebrating. Both the Pope and the Emperor liked this date because it coincided with the pagan festivals celebrating the winter solstice, which dated back centuries. Combining Christmas with these ancient celebrations allowed the church to keep the winter holiday tradition while refocusing the party on the “new” religion of Christianity. It was a grand gesture, but the pagan influences of the holiday, unfortunately, stayed with it. Through the years the church has alternately banned and embraced Christmas as celebrations became more about feasts and parties and selfish behavior and less about the Christ Child. Yet Christians continually talk about “getting back to the real reason for the season.”

The truth is, we really don’t know the date of Jesus’ birth. At least not on a calendar. But the Scriptures do tell us exactly when the Child came. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”

Advent 2022: Wise Men and Ancient Prophecies

What kind of faith must you have to chase a star for two years and hundreds of miles based on an ancient prophecy? The wise men – Matthew calls them “Magi” – traveled what scholars suppose to be about 800-900 miles “from the east” (Matt. 2:1), most likely ancient Persia, or our modern Iran. They were probably devout scholars who studied the ancient holy texts of many religions. The writings of the Jewish faith – which would include prophecies of a special King – would have likely come to them via Daniel’s time in Babylon. Through their studies, they came to recognize that the star that rose at a specific time signaled the birth of this very King. So they set out on a long, difficult journey with gifts fit for royalty.

Here’s what amazes me about the Magi – it wasn’t curiosity that caused them to leave their homes and families for such an arduous journey. It was worship. Matthew records their words to King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Here’s the other thing that is surprising to me – He wasn’t their king. Remember – they identified Him as the “King of the Jews.” The Magi didn’t owe him homage. Why would they worship a king not their own? They realized from all they had studied that this king was worthy of worship – not just the worship of the Jews, but the worship of all men everywhere. These Magi took ancient prophecies, looked forward, and recognized that Jesus was a unique king. In faith and awe, they set out on a long journey to worship Him.

You and I have more than just ancient prophecies; we have the New Testament Scriptures that proclaim that Jesus is this King. We have the eye-witness of the Apostles and we have the heart-witness of the martyrs that testify that Jesus is not just King of the Jews, but King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The faith of all these should inspire faith in us. Jesus – the baby in the manger, the child in Bethlehem, the man healing lepers and raising the dead and dying on a cross and bursting alive out of the grave – this Jesus is worthy of our faith and worthy of our worship. Let’s give Him all the honor and glory He deserves this Christmas – and every day.

In The End

I wrote yesterday about God’s pre-knowledge of the ups and downs, blessings and tragedies, and Joys and heartaches in our lives. The question then comes, “Why would He allow us to go through these very hard things?”  “Why does He set us on a path when He knows it leads to hardship?” I confess, I’m far from an expert and I certainly can’t read God’s mind, but I can read His Word and glean some things that might help us to understand.

When the Israelites escaped Egypt they rejoiced, yet “on the fifteenth day of the second month [figure about 6 weeks] after they had come out of Egypt . . . the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex 16:1,2). They missed the plentiful food of Egypt. So God sent them food – manna. It was their daily diet for forty years (v. 35). After a long steady run of the stuff, they complained, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num 11:6). It became a source of contention for the Hebrew people.

But God knew all this. He knew when He sent Joseph to Egypt to save his family they would become enslaved for four hundred years. He knew that Pharaoh would oppress and abuse them. He knew Moses would be born at a time when Hebrew baby boys were killed. He knew that Mama would make a basket to float him down the river just as Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe in the same river. He knew that Moses would run after he killed an Egyptian for abusing a Hebrew slave. He knew right where to send him where a bush waited. He knew Pharaoh would forbid the Hebrews to leave. He knew they would be pinned between the river and the enemy. He knew they would rebel. He knew they would wander. He knew they would make a golden calf. He knew they would get hungry. He knew they would eventually grow sick of the manna.

He knew all this. Yet He worked in it all. And Moses declared, “He gave you manna to eat in the desert . . . to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you” (Deut 8:16). All of it, from Joseph to the manna was part of God’s plan. God used the manna to humble them and test them and bring them to a place of blessing. And that’s what He’s up to in your life too. In the good, the bad, and the ugly, He’s working to make you useful and usable in His kingdom. He’s working for your good. That season you’re questioning is part of His plan. And His plans never fail. Be encouraged, Beloved, God is up to something. And in the end, it will go well with you.

Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Consider it Pure Joy (part 1)

Check this out – James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for Joy.  “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Excuse me? Joy is not my default reaction when life gets hard. I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But the Bible says that we can have Joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a reason for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse by saying, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We know that we become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercise.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that you can trust God if you never have to?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity.

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things positioned him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives during the famine, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come. Through some pretty hard trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job with the opportunity to further my education – for free.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you the wisdom to come alongside someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope.

This is part one. Part two will post tomorrow.

Hebrews: In Remembrance of Me

I hated lunchtime in the school cafeteria. Every day I walked around with my lunch tray looking for somewhere to sit. Classmates would quickly throw their purses and books in all the empty seats at their table – the non-verbal way of saying “We don’t want you.” I eventually found my way to an empty table and ate my meal alone. Now, as an adult, I usually gravitate to an empty table out of habit.

This all came to mind because of the verse we’re focusing on in Hebrews: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10). Remember, the author’s audience is believing Jews that are being pulled back into their traditions and away from Christ. The brazen altar in the tabernacle was where blood sacrifices were made. The priests were allowed a portion of the meat from which the blood was taken as their meal portion (Lev 6:26, 29, 7:28-38; Deut 18:3-5; Num 18:10-20). But it could only be eaten by the priests and the males in his family. No one else was welcome at that table.

But Christians have an altar and a portion that no one else can share – not even the tabernacle priests. The altar is Jesus Christ Himself, and the meal is His flesh and His blood – the portion He gave to His disciples in the upper room before His death (Matt 26: 26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-21). The portion He commended to us who believe in Him. We observe this as a sacrament we call  Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist.

I was privileged to serve communion one Sunday, and as I repeated the phrase “The Body of Christ, broken for you,” to each partaker it became a very profound and special thing to me.  As I passed the bread to each person in the line I realized that Christ’s body was broken for every single person – even those who don’t believe and haven’t received Him. I thought about the juice and the bread that would be left over after the service.  It would just be discarded – like grace poured down the drain.  It made me sad that the devil has blinded the world to this amazing gift of Jesus’ blood and body. After the service, I realized I had flour all over my clothes from the bread I had served.  I had the visible witness of the gospel all over me!

You and I carry the gospel with us wherever we go. Let’s make it clear and bold and winsome. Let’s bring as many to the table as we can. Beloved, your life is the best testimony to the world of the grace of God.