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. 

If You Only Knew . . .

Ever wish you had a crystal ball to see what’s ahead? Maybe with some advance notice, I could have avoided some of the disasters that hit my life. I know I would have made a lot of different decisions had I been able to see their outcome. I would have taken a different route home and saved myself from a car accident. I would not have taken a job that I grew to dislike. I would have put more time and effort into education and less into frivolous, fruitless distractions. I would have steered clear of certain relationships that broke my heart. I would have taken better care of my physical – and fiscal – health. Yes – things would be different if I’d only had eyes to see the future.

Luke 22 recalls Jesus’ final events with His disciples – the Passover Meal that became “the Last Supper,” His prayer on the Mount of Olives, and His arrest. Luke added a conversation Jesus had with one disciple in particular, Simon Peter. Jesus knew about the events that would unfold that night – including Peter’s coming denial of His friend and teacher. Jesus told him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 31-32).  He knew what Peter would face. He knew that Peter would stumble. And He held His disciple up to the Father and asked for divine help. Notice that He didn’t pray that Peter would avoid the trial, but he prayed for Peter’s faith. That makes all the more sense when we read Peter’s words years later: “your faith [is] of greater worth than gold.”  He knew that all too well for his faith had been “refined by fire” (1 Pet 1:7) and it had come out strong and pure. Because Jesus had prayed for him.

You and I don’t know what the future holds – we don’t even know what will happen today. But Jesus does.  And He has already prayed for you Beloved – not so much that you can avoid the trials of the day but “that your faith may not fail,” and the Father always honors the prayers of His Son. What an amazing way to start your day, knowing that Jesus has been praying for you!

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: Christmas List

What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? Maybe a Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle? Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart. Maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” “joy” “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” “freedom” or “rest.” 

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  This same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)

Beloved, whatever it is you long for this Christmas, you will find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift and can fill your heart’s deepest longing.  No, it won’t be wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  You’ll find this priceless gift wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).

Advent 2022: There’s a Place for You

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

Several years ago, while living in a Florida university town, my family was blessed to serve in college ministry. We helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner at the Baptist Student Center. We brought them with us into Shoebox ministry and I taught the College Sunday School class for a season. But the best part of that time was just having them all around my house. We came to love so many of those precious students, their feet were often under my kitchen table and it was not uncommon for them to crash on my couch for the night. One night we hosted a bonfire and had 45 young men and women in our backyard, from 9 different countries! It is one of my sweetest memories. These kids were—and are—dear to us and many still call us “Mom and Dad.” Through that time, I came to understand Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8). Like Paul, we made room for others out of love.

Love opens doors to the lonely. Love puts one more plate on the table. Love slides over to share the seat with a weary soul. Love pours a cup of coffee. Love labors in prayer. Love sleeps on the couch so the visitor can have the bed. Love opens the circle of friendship to add one more person. Love doesn’t shut others out; love welcomes people in.

In the town of Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, a baby was born in a dark, damp, smelly stable—little more than a cave hewn out of a hillside—because there was no room for His little family in the inn. His father and very pregnant mother were turned away because there was no love there. Now—think about what Jesus told His disciples just before His death: “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Why?

Because love makes room.

Advent 2022: Pondering Christmas

Image: “Mary and Baby Jesus” by Jean Keaton
 https://www.jeankeatonart.com/…/pro…/mary-and-baby-jesus

I posted a meme earlier in the week of Jesus saying, “Listen carefully. I don’t want to end up with four different versions of this.” It’s funny, but there is a reason for the four gospels. Each author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to a different “target audience.”  Matthew wrote to assure the Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Mark wrote to the Romans while Luke’s intended audience was the Greeks. John, some scholars say, wrote “Heaven’s perspective” revealing Jesus as the divine Son of God. When you read all four gospels in harmony, it is like turning a diamond to see all the different facets that make up the whole. Only Matthew and Luke covered the birth narrative.

Luke’s purpose in writing his Gospel account was to “carefully investigate everything from the beginning,” using the testimonies of “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:3, 2). Tradition holds that one of those eyewitnesses was Jesus’ mother Mary. That is why we find such a rich account of our Savior’s birth. Who would be better to retell that wonderful story?

Luke added:  “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). That always touches my heart as a mother. I have my own “treasures” of my son’s birth and early years that I often pull out and remember. Every mother has a treasure trove of memories from the birth of her children. Mary had much to ponder and no doubt wonder what it all meant. Gabriel’s announcement to her – “You will be with child and give birth to . . . the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31, 32). Her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:42). Joseph’s loyalty – “Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). The long, difficult journey while she was heavy with Child (Luke 2:4-5). The mean and lowly stable and the animals who witnessed the birth (Luke 2:6-7). A group of stunned shepherds talking excitedly about a chorus of angels and the brightness of God’s glory (Luke 2:8-18).

No doubt she remembers counting His fingers and toes and smoothing the curl on the top of His head as He slept contently in her arms. For the moment He was Mary’s sweet little baby boy, but he also held the hope and promise of God’s redemption for the whole world.

For the remaining days before Christmas, let’s spend some time pondering who this Baby in the manger truly was. Let’s look for the details of the Christmas story. Then let’s join Mary and treasure them up in our hearts and remember them all year long.

Advent 2022: Mercy

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46)

Joy. Peace. Hope. Love. These are the words we most associate with Christmas and for good reason, the birth of Christ ushers in all of these good things. Joy abounds in this season, especially on the faces of little children. The angel brought “good news of great Joy” (Luke 2:10). And he declared “peace on earth” (v. 14) to the stunned shepherds. Many a war has called for a “Christmas cease-fire” so that there might be peace, at least for a moment. The birth of Christ holds out the hope of God for all men everywhere. And Jesus is the embodiment of perfect, holy love. Those who believe and receive Him are filled with holy love for God and the world. These are perfect words for the Christmas season. But one word gets forgotten during this holy time of the year.

Mary’s song – called The Magnificat – is a beautiful and moving oration inspired by the Holy Spirit in the heart of a humble girl. Mary’s song doesn’t focus on joy or peace or hope or love. Mary sings of the mercy of God. She says “His mercy extends to those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50). Mercy is as much a part of the Christmas story as the “big four.”

God’s mercy and His love are interchangeable and intertwined in Scripture. In the Old Testament, the word ḥesed is often used for both “love” and “mercy.” You can’t describe the love of God without His mercy and vice-versa. Mercy is love. Love is mercy. Mercy is the outward, active evidence of God’s love. Love moved the heart of God, mercy built the bridge. Love desired to save us, so mercy went to the cross. And that is where the Christmas story truly becomes a love story. Because Christmas, with all its joy and celebration, is meaningless without the cross. The story of Christmas is the story of the love – and mercy – of God displayed in the tiny Baby in the manger who would grow up to be the Man on the cross. And He did it all for you, Beloved.

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse

Oh, my soul!

Advent 2022: Seek and You Will Find

We so often hear the complaint that Christianity is just “blind faith,” and many simply refuse to believe without “proof.” But that is not the kind of faith the Bible expresses. God invites us to step into faith with our eyes wide open. He said “If . . . you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 4:29).  God does not require mindless devotion to an unseen, unproven entity. Nor is He playing a divine game of hide-and-seek. He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, He announced the way to this blessed Child. A chorus of heavenly hosts appeared to the shepherds in the fields and told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15). They determined to follow the evidence that God has given them “If you seek Him – you will find Him.”

Matthew records another visible and powerful proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi from the East declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2), “the star . . . went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky. They were overjoyed – they sought the King, and their search was rewarded. “If you seek Him – you will find Him.”

There is another path that God has provided for man to find his Creator. That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary, and to the Cross. God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way. To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.

God wants you to know Him. He wants you to find Him – so much so that He puts Himself right in your path where you can’t miss Him. He said “I will be found by you” (Jer 29:14). Beloved, He would have never said, “Seek Me” if He didn’t intend for you to find Him.

Advent 2022 – Blessed are You Among Women

Image: “Jump for Joy” by Corby Eisbacher corbysart.blogspot.com

Advent day 2 – Read Luke 1:39-45

“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.”  Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth.  The angel had also said something strange about her cousin – that she was going to have a child – in fact – he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t?

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah?  Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor?  Someone in a high position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No.  She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea.  This was just not possible.  She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her.  The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart.  It was true!  Elizabeth was pregnant!  If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Bless are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true!  Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, believing is the sweetest blessing of all.

Little Lost Lamb

In Luke 15: 3-7 Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves his safe flock to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:5-6a). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost. I find a lot of comfort in that.

Your Heavenly Father has the same heart for you. Whether you are in a place you never expected nor wanted to be, a situation you chose, or you are in a season of life that is hard, painful, and seemingly unending, God has promised He will find you there and bring you safely home. In truth, He doesn’t have to look very hard, because you never left His sight when you wandered away. That’s because He never left your side. His promise is and always has been: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jos 1:5, 9). God is always with His child. Whether you get caught up in the glamor of the world and wander, or you run away in outright rebellion. Even if you go so far away from His fold that it seems impossible to get back. No matter where you and I roam, in physical places or seasons of life, God’s heart never leaves us. He never forgets about His children.

Something else I noticed – probably because I’m extra aware of seeing my granddaughter’s name in the Scriptures – He brings the lost sheep home with Joy. Not begrudgingly, not with words of anger or impatience. Not with frustration or resentment over the trouble the sheep caused. He’s just so happy to have His little lamb back with Him.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Trust in God’s faithful love for you. Did you carelessly wander away because you were distracted by the glitter and lights of the world? Did you stomp your feet and run in outright rebellion? Beloved, God is not mad at you. He wants you to come home. Call His Name from wherever you are right now, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.