Acts: Saving Faith

After Stephen’s death, followers of The Way were scattered all around the region because of persecution and as they went, they proclaimed the gospel. One of those traveling preachers was Philip, who was among the first disciples chosen to minister to the church (Acts 6:1-6). This would be a good place to stop and read Acts 8:1-25.

Philip went to Samaria, preached Christ, and performed miracles of healing and casting out demons. His ministry brought the Samaritans “great Joy” – and a lot of attention (vv. 5-8). Cue a man named Simon who was a very popular sorcerer. He was called “the divine power known as the Great Power” (vv. 9-11). That is until Philip came along and they were introduced to the power of Lord Jesus Christ. The text says that Simon believed and was baptized and began to follow Philip, astonished by the miracles and signs he performed (vv. 12-13).

When word of Philip’s ministry got back to the apostles in Jerusalem Peter and John came to help. They prayed for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit (v. 15). Simon wanted it – not the Holy Spirit, but the ability to impart the Holy Spirit to others. He saw it as another magic trick that would make him popular in the new community of faith. He offered the apostles money if they could give him this power (v. 18-19). Peter saw right through Simon and rebuked him, declaring that his “heart is not right,” and he was “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (vv. 21-23) and he should repent. We never know if he did.

If everything in the Bible is meant to instruct us (Rom 15:4), what are we to learn from Simon? I believe we are looking at the difference between intellectual faith and saving faith. There is a “faith” that acknowledges the existence of God without trusting in God. James said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (Jas 2:19). Satan knows all too well that God exists, but he still rebels against Him. So do people. Hebrews 4:2 says that people hear the gospel, but it is “of no value to them, because [they] do not combine it with faith.” This faith is marked by obedience and utter dependence on Christ.

Christian service is not a means to popularity, although some super-pastors have made it their gravy train. Jesus said that those who belong to the world are loved by the world, but those who belong to Him are hated by the world (Jn 15:18-21). I believe Simon’s faith was not saving faith. Sadly, I believe the same could be said for many who claim to be Christians. This is too important to gloss over. Beloved, how’s your faith?

It All Matters to God

The woman told her pastor, “I never bother God with the little things.” “Madam,” he replied, “He’s God. To Him, it’s all little.” I chuckle at that, but at the same time, I recognize the truth therein. God is bigger than all man’s problems. No trial or struggle will ever measure up to Him. Overflowing sea in front of you and the Egyptian army at your back? No problem. Massive wall around the city God has given you? No problem. Giant threatening your nation’s army? No problem. A royal edict to wipe out your people? No problem. God’s got it.

But what about the “little” problems? That headache you’ve got from your kids running through the house at top speed and volume all day? The pile of laundry sitting beside the broken-down washing machine? The stack of work on your desk that keeps growing no matter how much you do. The dog next door that barks. All. Night. Long. And what’s that weird clunking sound your car has been making all week? Does God care about those things? Why would He even notice your everyday stuff while He is busy keeping the universe spinning?

The God who took the Israelites through the sea on dry ground (Ex 14:22) and drowned the entire Egyptian army (vv. 26-28), pulled down the walls of Jericho (Jos 6:20), put a small stone in a giant’s head (1 Sam 17:48-50), and rescued the Jews from annihilation (Est 9:5) also gave His thirsty people water from a rock (Ex 17:5-6), provided a poor widow with overflowing oil to buy her sons out of slavery (2 Ki 4:1-7) and gave another an inexhaustible supply of flour and oil to sustain her family through a drought (1 Ki 17:12-16).

That’s why Paul said, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayer and requests” (Eph 6:18) – of every size and shape.

So I will leave my problems – the big ones and the small ones, and the big ones in a small body – in my Father’s hands. But I’m not going to walk away. I’m going to sit down at His feet and watch what He will do. And maybe crawl into His lap for hug. I encourage you to do the same. Beloved, If He has “numbered the very hairs of your head” (Mat 10:30) you can be sure that He is paying attention to you and everything that concerns your life. Big, little, and everything in between.

Take Him at His Word

Jesus was in Galilee, His main hub of ministry. He was well-received in the region as many of his miracles took place there. On one occasion, while visiting in Cana, a royal official approached Jesus. His son was sick back home in Capernaum. He traveled some twenty miles to seek out the Lord on his son’s behalf. He pleaded with Jesus to come back with him and heal his child, whom John said was close to death (John 4:47). We will go to great lengths for our kids – and grandkids, won’t we?

Strangely, Jesus seemingly chastised him for his request. “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (v. 48). Scholars have jumped on this statement and tried to make it the passage’s main point. The Dad wasn’t trying to start a theological discourse, he just wanted Jesus to make his boy well. He (I imagine rather impatiently) pleads with Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies” (v. 49). Ever been that desperate for God to act? Oh, I have. “God, please! You’ve got to do something now!”

Then Jesus responded. “You may go. Your son will live” (v. 50). My first thought would have been, “That’s it? You’re not coming? How are you going to heal him from twenty miles away?” But John said, “The man took Jesus at His word and departed” (v. 50). Wow. This father believed that Jesus could – and would – do what He said. The root of the word John used here meant that the man was convinced that what Jesus said was true. He could rely on the promise: “Your son will live.”

The father’s faith was richly rewarded as his servants met him on the way with the good news that “. . .his boy was living” (v. 51). And wonder of wonders, the boy got better at the exact time that Jesus had declared, “Your son will live.” And so would they all because John said, “. . . he and all his household believed” (v. 53).

What do you suppose God could do with a bunch of people that simply took Him at His Word? That believed when He said, “I AM.” That went when He said, “Go.” That stood still when He said, “Wait.” That trusted when He said, “I will.” That staked everything – in this life and the next – on His name.

I want to be one of those people. How about you, Beloved?

Acts: Signs and Wonders

Larry Dossey, M.D. wrote a book entitled Be Careful What You Pray For: You Just Might Get It. I’ve not read the book and this is not an endorsement, I just think the title is really cool. The apostles could have contributed to his book. Grab your Bible and read Acts 5:12-18. This section describes the healing and miraculous ministry of Jesus’ disciples. But to get the full context of this passage, you have to go back to chapter 4.

After the Sanhedrin disciplined Peter and John for preaching and healing in the name of Jesus, the church joined together in prayer. Not for protection but for boldness to speak Jesus’ words and that God would “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your Holy servant Jesus” (4:30). And God answered their prayers.

“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (v. 12). Just as they had asked. And just as the Lord Jesus had done. The gospel of John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” that pointed to His divine nature as the Son of God. The miracles the apostles performed were signs that confirmed their message about Jesus. Healing miracles abounded wherever the apostles went. People lined the streets with their sick folks in hopes of healing just from Peter’s shadow passing over them. Luke never confirmed that any “shadow healings” took place, but it does show the respect and wonder with which they were regarded. All around the Judean territory word spread and the sick and demon-possessed were brought before them. Luke said “. . . and all of them were healed” (v. 16). Imagine how the world would react today to that kind of ministry.

But it wasn’t only the people who took notice of these miracles – the religious leaders become aware of what was taking place too. And they weren’t impressed. They were jealous (v. 17). And enraged. The apostles disregarded their orders and continued to declare the name of Jesus. Worst of all, their popularity was growing. They were arrested and thrown into the public jail.

The apostles prayed for boldness and miraculous power. God granted their prayer. Great and wondrous things happened. So did awful things. So, were these “unintended consequences” of their prayer? There’s no such thing in God’s kingdom.

Stay tuned. God’s not done with them. Or you, Beloved.

When You See Him

After Jesus’ resurrection some of the disciples, at a loss for what they should do, decided to go fishing (Jn 21:1-3). It was what they had always known; they were fishermen by trade before they started following the Lord. You might remember that Jesus called them to ministry by telling them He would make them “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). So off to the boat they went, but their fishing expedition was fruitless, they fished all night but “caught nothing” (Jn 21:3) As they were returning to shore a man stood on the water’s edge. He called out “Friends haven’t you any fish?” (v. 5). When they said no, He told them “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (v. 6). And the catch was so large they couldn’t haul them in.

That was when John realized who the man was – “It is the Lord!” (v. 7). Peter abandoned the boat and jumped into the water to get to Jesus. When the crew and the boat reached the shore they all had breakfast together (v. 12). The Scripture says, “None of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (v. 12). This passage goes on to detail how Jesus reinstated Peter after the disciple’s betrayal and that is one of my favorite accounts in the Bible. But something different stood out to me this morning.

Before He called out to them from the shore, John said, “The disciples did not realize that it was Jesus” (v. 4). Their eyes were opened after the miraculous haul. Fishing then was very hard work and a fruitless night of fishing would be exhausting and discouraging. I can just imagine these weary fishermen coming in with downcast faces and bent shoulders. Much like you and me sometimes. Life can be so hard. Exhausting. Discouraging.

And then something happens and we realize “That’s Jesus!” The disciples had no idea that it was Him. Until after the miracle. We don’t either until He shows Himself in glory and power. This may be a difficult season for you. You may be exhausted and discouraged. But Jesus is there and He’s about to pull off the miracle you need. You may not see Him yet Beloved, but keep scanning the shore. Keep looking up. He said He’ll be with you always (Matt 28:20) and He never breaks a promise.

I AM: The Resurrection and The Life

Lazarus’ sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3). Under the message was the plea: “Come quickly so that our brother will not die.” So, Jesus ran all the way to Bethany and healed Lazarus, right? Nope. Jesus stayed put for two more days and Lazarus died.  Did Jesus realize that the delay would cost His friend his life? Oh, yes. He knew exactly what He was doing. He was about to reveal God’s glory.

By the time He got to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the grave for four days (v. 17). When Martha went to meet Jesus, her tone was somewhat accusatory: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (v. 21). And Jesus replied, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). Martha agreed, looking ahead to a day in the distant future, but Jesus had something more immediate in mind. He told Martha “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” 

“Resurrection” means that all people will be raised from the dead at the end of this present age. Paul said, “There shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15). And Jesus declared, “For an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Jesus is the Resurrection because He will call every person out of death for judgment or for blessing.

“Life” is the blessing for those who believe. To His I AM statement Jesus added: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believe in me will never die” (v. 25). Jesus is eternal life and He will give this life to everyone who believes in Him. Those who do not believe will experience eternal death—eternal separation from God.

But Jesus wanted to give Martha more than a distant promise. Because she believed, He wanted her to see “the glory of God” (v. 40). So, He called her brother out of the tomb. Lazarus would die again another day, but he will live forever with his dear Friend. Beloved, this can be your testimony too.  If you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus, you will live eternally, even if you die on this earth. It’s His promise and He put His name on it: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.”

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Did you know that the original Scriptures didn’t have chapter and verse numbers? When your pastor tells you to turn to a Bible book, chapter, and verse you can thank Stephen Langton (1150-1228), the Archbishop of Canterbury and French scholar, Robert Estienne (1503-59) for making it easier to find your way around. Langton divided the biblical books into chapters and Estienne added to the earlier work of Italian Dominican scholar Santi Pagnini (1470–1541) who started the numbering of the verses. The first English Bible to use chapters and verses as we have them today was the Geneva Bible in 1560.

But the original authors didn’t write with the intent of dividing up the Scriptures and sometimes we lose the continuity and context of their message. Take the Gospel of Mark, for example. Four accounts of Jesus’ miraculous works are divided into different chapters. They are often taught in separate sound bites but the events worked together to prove one theme.

Mark tells of Jesus calming a storm on a lake. As “a furious squall came up,” Jesus stood in the boat and “rebuked the wind and waves, [saying], “Quiet! Be still!” (vs. 37, 39). Of course, the wind and waves obeyed the One who called them into being. He displayed His power and authority over nature and creation (4:35-41).

After crossing the lake, Jesus was approached by a man with a legion of evil spirits, meaning between 3,000-6,000 demonic forces lived in him. The man was in constant torment. Jesus cast out the evil spirits (in the first mention of deviled ham). He proved his power and authority over the demons of hell (5:1-20).

Mark then recorded Jesus healing a woman who had suffered for twelve years of physical misery and social heartache. He commended her faith and displayed his power and authority over disease and human suffering of every kind (5:21-34). Finally, Jesus was brought into a home where a little girl lay dead. He walked into her room with His power and authority over death and brought the girl back to life (5:21-34).

Remarkably, Jesus returned to his hometown where “He could not do any miracles” because of the people’s lack of faith (6:1-6). In the one who proved His divine power over nature, demons, disease, and death. From creation to the impending return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible is one story with one theme: the glory of God. It is the Greatest Story ever told. What better proof could there be?

At the Name of Jesus

The woman was indignant. “I don’t need your religion. I have faith of my own!”

“In what?” the man countered.

“Faith in the universe” she answered. “Faith in myself. Faith in humanity.”

“Your faith is badly misplaced.” He replied.

“Faith” has become a popular word in our culture. Dictionaries define faith as “sincerity or a strong conviction” and to a point that is correct. But that sincere, strong conviction must have the right object. Please grab your Bible and read Acts 3-4:12) – I’ll wait for you here.

Peter and John are headed to the temple for the afternoon prayer. As they approached the gate, they encountered a lame man begging for money. They didn’t give him what he wanted; they gave him what he desperately needed. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). And he did. They pulled him to his feet and those feet held strong. I love the image of this once crippled man “walking and jumping and praising God” as he entered the temple courts (v.8). And the people watching were “filled with wonder and amazement” (v. 10). I reckon so.

But notice Peter’s exact words: “In the name of Jesus Christ.” And that made the miracle. While the people gathered around to witness the sight, Peter said: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has given this complete healing to him” (v. 16).

Peter would continue this theme as he and John stand before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court). “It is by the name of Jesus Christ . . . that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10). And he boldly declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (v. 12). That is the gospel we must declare. Faith in anything other than the name of Jesus, as the man said to the “faith-filled” woman, is badly misplaced. Eternally misplaced.

One of my granddaughter’s favorite songs is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” I’ve sung her to sleep with it all her life. The something about the name of Jesus is power. Healing power. Wonder-working power. Saving power. Beloved, do you know this power? Do you know the Name of Jesus?

I AM the Bread of Life

The Lord impressed on my heart today to study the “I AM” statements of Jesus in the gospel of John, and you’re coming along with me. For the next several weeks we’ll have “I AM Fridays.”

In chapter 6, Jesus had just performed miracles: healing the sick and feeding five thousand people from five loaves and two fish. (I’ve cut out at least a thousand construction paper loaves and fishes for kids’ Bible story time.) He was doing His best to withdraw from the crowds, even walking across a stormy lake, but they followed Him, demanding more – more miracles and more bread. The people insisted that Moses “gave them bread from heaven to eat” (Jn 6:31; Ex 16:4), speaking of the manna. But Jesus corrected them; Moses didn’t provide the bread, God did and now God was giving them something better than bread for a day. He said, “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33). All the people heard was “bread for life” and they ran with it. “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread” (v. 34). (Reminds me of the woman at the well from chapter 4). What they missed was that the bread from God was not a loaf, but a person.

Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry . . .” (v. 35). He reiterated it by saying, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41). And if they missed it He said it again, “I am the bread of life” (v. 48). Not the manna. Him. The bread the Israelites ate couldn’t keep them alive for more than a few days. Then He made a statement that shocked the people: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v. 51). Eat His flesh? Feed on Him? What in the world? And that’s the point. What Jesus offers is not of this world – it is from heaven.

Life, not bread, is the point of this passage. Jesus said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you” (v. 27). Beloved do you want to eat for a day or for eternity? Feast on the Bread of Life and you’ll be satisfied forever.

The Rest of the Story

I’m living in the middle of a story that is causing me a lot of anxiety. I can’t see what is happening, I have no control over the particulars. I don’t know how this will end – or when. I am keeping an open prayer line to God and running to it often when panic wants to raise its ugly head. Somebody reading this can relate. I know a father with a demon-possessed son could too.  Please take a moment and read Mark 9:17-27 to get the scope of the story.

When we read accounts in the Bible today, as Paul Harvey said, we know “the rest of the story.”  But the people in the story didn’t.  Think about this from the father’s perspective – in real-time – as he stands before Jesus with pleading eyes, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  Stay in the moment as we see Jesus turn to the child and speak with authority, “I command you to come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25).  Watch as “the spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out” (v. 26)” But wait, what did Jesus do?  The boy looks dead – like a corpse!  The father brought his boy to Jesus and Jesus made everything worse.

Now, freeze the scene right here and consider this: just as the father lived out his story in real-time, you and I are also living out our story without the advantage of a written script that tells us how it all ends.  All we know is, right now, at this moment, the anxiety is high.

“But Jesus . . .” these are the most precious words in the Bible to me.  “But Jesus took [the boy] by the hand and lifted him to his feet” v. 27).  Wonder of wonders, the boy is not dead – he is alive – and healed!  He runs into his father’s arms with a smile of triumph. His father bends to kiss his son’s head with a look of amazement and Joy.

May I remind you not to give up on Jesus?  He can see the end from the middle. That moment when all seems lost, just as it was for this father, might be the moment just before all is found. Bring your need to Jesus, give Him room to work, and don’t lose hope. Beloved, your story isn’t over yet.