Acting out our faith

A quick run through the New Testament, featuring the book of Acts:

The Holy Spirit

  • The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus first, because the Holy Spirit and Jesus both are God. This is beyond our ability to understand – but it’s true anyway. Our God is that big; in some ways, we cannot understand Him. But because He was as human as He was divine, there are plenty of things we can understand about Him.
  • Living in the Spirit is moment-by-moment fellowship with Jesus. We can pray deep prayers in scheduled “quiet times,” and we also can hold a conversation with Him as the day rolls on.
  • The same Spirit who lived in the apostles lives in you and me today. Which means we have the same power and authority that the apostles did.
  • The same Spirit in Christ lives in me. Since the Spirit is God, and Christ is God, therefore Christ – the same Christ who died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago – lives in me.

Deception, trials, sin

  • The apostles had no idea Judas would betray Jesus. They asked: Is it I, Lord? Judas, without the Spirit, deceived them. (Later, Ananias and Saphira tried to deceive over material possessions, and were found out – Acts 5).
  • Simon (Acts 8) wanted Jesus and his own magic at the same time. God and … doesn’t work.
  • Trials are like taking our faith to the gym. That’s how we grow. The flood meant Noah and his family could never return to their old life.

The Gospel

  • The resurrection is fact, not emotion. This means our faith is based on fact, not hearsay or feelings.
  • The most hated truth in the Bible is hell. This is what we are saved from.
  • We cannot save ourselves. And the world cannot save us, either. Only Jesus can.
  • We are to share our faith, not consume it. We are not sponges; we need to be wrung out.
  • Christianity is more than doctrine or beliefs. It’s a way of living. Who are you, Lord? – is the most important question we can ask.
  • Salvation requires no action on our part – only to believe. It’s 100 percent a God thing. It’s inward, not outward.
  • Jesus is the message. The apostle Paul, a scholar, claimed to know nothing except Jesus and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • Jesus rose to live forever – not like Lazarus, who rose on Earth for a short time.
  • Christianity is not behavior modification. A changed heart is the result.
  • Why do some people discount the Gospel? For several reasons: We don’t want to face our sins or be held accountable; we want to do something for it; and/or resurrection is not logical.

Living the Christian lifestyle

  • Jesus said rivers of living water will flow from believers’ hearts (John 7:37-39). Living water, by definition, gives life, comforts and soothes. It moves. It quenches thirst, permanently.
  • The first believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (about Jesus), fellowship (sharing life), the breaking of bread (communion) and prayer (Christ-centered). This modeled unprecedented unity, which Jesus prayed for in John 17.
  • No one in Acts prayed for safety or good health – only for courage to share the Gospel boldly.
  • God can use anything – peace or trials. With trials, passion and purpose will come into sharp focus.
  • “Rights” are not for me, but for others, to promote the Gospel (1 Corinthians 8-9).
  • We are to keep ourselves unstained from the world (James 1:27). We are to live in the world, but not be consumed by its values.
  • If my heart is right, my words and actions will come out naturally. I don’t have to “practice” evangelism. I need to know the basics and how Jesus has changed my life. I need to live that way, and talk that way too.
  • Sin distorts the message of the Gospel. We must acknowledge this and seek forgiveness – first from God, then from others. Not just once, but repeatedly.
  • God’s will benefits everyone. Sin is not God’s will. He allows sin so that we can accept forgiveness, then change our lifestyles.
  • We do not follow people who point to Christ; we follow Christ Himself.

Servants of God

  • Abraham and Moses’ ministries began when they were old. God takes the long view.
  • Stephen did not defend himself, but defended Jesus and His crucifixion and resurrection. Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Stephen did not worship the temple itself, but the living God.
  • Stephen had no fear of death – he was already dead to sin and alive in Christ.
  • Stephen personified all of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  • Cornelius, a non-Jew, and Peter both had lessons to learn (Acts 10), even though Peter was an early church leader.
  • Peter escapes from prison but the apostle James, one of Jesus’ inner three, is killed (Acts 12). The believers undoubtedly were praying for both, with different “answers” from God. We can’t understand all of God’s answers to prayer.
  • Paul valued serving God over his own safety.
  • God allowed Paul to remain in prison (Acts 25) for several reasons: he was safe there (many people wanted him dead), he wrote epistles there, and his friends were allowed to care for him there.
  • The people of Malta judged Paul twice after he was bitten by a viper (Acts 28:1-10). He was a murderer, the gods were bringing justice; then, when nothing happened, they worshipped him as a god. Both judgments were wrong.

Hope

  • Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.
  • We could lose our wealth or health overnight. Hope in God is not like that; once Jesus changes our hearts, we are sealed for heaven forever.
  • Hope is confident expectation, not wishful thinking.

Who God is

  • The law shows our need. Jesus meets our need.
  • The church fails, people fail, things fail, but the word of God never fails.
  • God sits on a throne of grace (forgiving us for our sins), not wrath (Heb. 4:14-5:10).

Faith

  • Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11). It’s outlandish: Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, his promised son, on faith that God would keep His promise of many descendants. Abraham obeyed, and God honored that (by stopping the sacrifice before it actually happened).
  • The Bereans tested Paul’s words with Scripture (Acts 17), then believed Paul when they discovered his words matched what they read about the living God.
  • Faith requires some belief.
  • Faith is not knowledge – even the demons know who Jesus is (James 1-2). Faith is living by knowledge.

‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’

A few thoughts and observations as I try to make sense of these unusual times:

 

Selflessness is something that you’re in control of. Unity is not. It requires other people. You can be selfless, but you can’t force people to be unified. What people have to see is why it’s good for them to be unified.

sunset 1

Bill Bradley, former NBA player and U.S. senator, in “AARP Bulletin” July/August 2020, p. 39

 

***

 

Two elementary-age boys I was watching enjoyed time together on swings at a local playground. I sat on a nearby bench, keeping an eye on them and daydreaming.

After a few minutes another family came to the playground – three children, about 8, 5, and 3, I’d guess, with their mom. Speaking Spanish. Girl-boy-girl. After some time climbing and ringing the bell, the boy came up to me and gave me a hug. I’ve never seen this family before; they have no idea who I am, what my name is, what my background is.

A little later, the youngest girl ran up and also hugged me. Their mom, on another side of the playground, called out, “Sorry.” In English. “They’re fine,” I responded.

Jesus said we have to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Another time, He scolded His disciples for preventing children from coming to Him. These Puerto Rican children showed me what Jesus was talking about. Unconditional love. Who I was didn’t matter to them. They hugged me anyway.

Even in these social distancing COVID-19 times. They hugged me anyway.

 

***

downtown 7

Very few (black people) had died in bed, like Baby Suggs, and none that he knew of, including Baby, had lived a livable life. Even the educated colored: the long-school people, the doctors, the teachers, the paper-writers and businessmen had a hard row to hoe. In addition to having to use their heads to get ahead, they had the weight of the whole race sitting there. You needed two heads for that. Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging

lorain4screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.

Toni Morrison of Lorain, Ohio, in “Beloved,” a Nobel Prize-winning novel, page 234

 

***

mural 2

As I said about the other attributes of the Deity, mercy is not something God has but something God is. If mercy was something God had, conceivably God might mislay it or use it up. It might become less or more. But since it is something that God is, then we must remember that it is uncreated. The mercy of God did not come into being. The mercy of God always was in being, for mercy is what God is, and God is eternal. And God is infinite.

 

A.W. Tozer, in “The Attributes of God, Volume 1,” page 77

 

***

 

I went for a jog this morning. Too hot. Got a little light-headed. I walked more than usual. It’s happened before, so I wasn’t worried. Said “hi” to everyone I passed on the path, as always. A few dog walkers, a couple of bicyclists, many other walkers of all ages.

A few wore masks; most of us didn’t. We social-distanced. I jog/walk alone. Prefer it that way. Go my own pace. Just me and God. Don’t have to keep up with anyone else.

 

***

 

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 7:15-25

 

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***

 

This couldn’t be happening. I had studied for this. I had put in the hours. I was paying my dues and was absolutely certain the Lord had steered me toward doing this for a career, for a livelihood. Obviously, then, I had either heard Him wrong, or He had set me up to fail. What does a singer and broadcast professional do when nothing she feels called to is working out? I was barely in my twenties. And already feeling washed up.

I wish I’d known then what I know now.

Priscilla Shirer, in “Life Interrupted,” page 3

The solution for a bleak world

Why me?

I ask this question every so often, in a positive tone.

We like to portray God as a cosmic king who sits on his throne and judges the world. Actually, he’s just the opposite.

Why me?

It’s easy to find fault with anyone and everyone, including me. We’re all guilty of something, actually lots of things. God doesn’t need to judge us. We’re very good at doing that ourselves.

No, God’s specialty is not judgment, but mercy. Despite the fact that we’re all guilty of lots of things, God chooses to save some of us, even though not one of us deserves it.

Why me? That’s why I ask this question.

Real life encouragement

Mercy is receiving something we don’t deserve.

It’s a Bible word, but it works in “real life,” too.

One of the youth directors at our church offers a three-times-a-week after-school basketball program for inner-city high school students. Sometimes, two dozen of them show up.

Joe doesn’t have to do that. But he does, because he wants to give these young men something they don’t have.

Hope. Encouragement. A safe place to play ball (this is not as easy as it sounds). A father figure. An introduction to the living God.

Most of these young men have no church background. They might be experiencing this side of “real life” for the first time.

Mercy lets us look up, and look beyond ourselves.

The apostle Paul wishes mercy for Timothy, a young pastor he mentored. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy that are included in the New Testament, one detailing the qualifications of church leaders, the other a personal letter of encouragement.

The best gifts

Paul wished two other things for Timothy as well: grace and peace (1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2).

Indeed, Paul wrote more than a dozen letters to New Testament audiences (and to us), and in all of them he wished his readers grace and peace (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Titus and Philemon).

Some of these letters were written to churches, others to specific individuals. He prayed for grace and peace for all of them. Those themes are repeated throughout his letters.

Grace, mercy and peace are gifts to us from God. We cannot give any of them back to God. If we give grace, mercy or peace to each other, we learn how to do that from God.

‘We cannot remain insensitive’

We need those desperately in our world today.  We don’t have to attend church to see that.

In today’s local newspaper, there are several articles – just today – that bear this out.

In one article, Associated Press writer Ted Anthony summed up the world scene this way:

 

There are those mornings when you come into work and everyone seems cranky. That’s how it felt at the United Nations this past week during the annual gathering of world leaders. Speech after gloomy speech by leaders from all corners of the planet pointed toward one bleaker-than-thou condition: Humanity clearly needs a spa day.

 

A spa day. Actually, the world needs more than that. It needs a new direction. Grace, mercy and peace would go a long way toward the world’s people – ie, you and I – learning how to get along with each other. Just saying.

In another article, Pope Francis offered this take on the world:

Vatican Pope Migrants

“We cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our group.’ We cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond.”

 

Is the Pope correct? Why do we reject the Scriptures, when they have the answers to what the world is longing for? We learn to not be indifferent to poverty and other struggles of fellow human beings because God placed a caring heart inside each of us. Are we listening?

The issues of life on Earth are that basic and universal.

A third article offers this assessment:

Afghanistan Elections

The latest election seems unlikely to bring the peace sought by Afghans tired of an increasingly brutal war, or an easy exit for the United States, seeking to end its longest military engagement.

 

Many of these issues don’t have easy solutions. Fighting in Afghanistan has gone on for what seems like forever.

The only game plan that works

Where is peace? When will we understand that the benefits of peace far outweigh the disadvantages?

When we submit to God, that’s when. No human being or government can bring lasting peace.

We’ve tried in our own country, and done pretty well at it over the past two centuries, actually.

But look at us now. Even the U.S. Constitution can’t guarantee peace.

If we can’t get along with our neighbors, how can we possibly get along with the rest of the world? If our own families are in disarray, how can we promote peace elsewhere?

By returning to God, that’s how. The God of the Old and New Testaments has the game plan for grace and peace, not just in the next life, but right here, right now.

The key is not judgment, but mercy. Every one of us is guilty. We need to look beyond ourselves and seek a higher truth, since none of us – no, not one – has the ultimate truth in and of ourselves.

Your truth may not work for me. My truth likely won’t work for you. We argue on this level all the time.

We’re missing the point. Neither of us has a truth worth defending.

God does.

Men and women struggle to implement God’s truths. We screw it up. That doesn’t mean God, or His truths, are wrong. It means we humans are messed up. That’s all.

News flash: We’re all messed up. We’re all messed up.

Grace, mercy and peace are possible. They are available to us, today.

We have to ask the God of the Bible for them, because none of us is capable of offering grace, mercy and peace to anyone.

It’s not about us. We can’t earn grace, mercy and peace. The other world religions – all of them – do not understand this. That’s why Jesus said, in no uncertain terms, that His way is the only way to meet God.

One person at a time.

 

Speech after gloomy speech … We cannot be indifferent … seems unlikely to bring the peace …

 

The need is obvious, is it not?

So is the solution.

Peace in the midst of injustice

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18

 

Such a simple statement, and yet so profound. You’d think everyone would want to live peaceably.

If it is possible …

The apostle Paul wrote this statement in a letter to a specific group of Christians. He didn’t write it to a nation or a government. He wrote it to us. We aren’t to point fingers at others with this sentiment – or any other sentiment in the Bible, for that matter.

Paul was writing to me. And to you.

I am not to take revenge. Ever. That only escalates any situation, and hurts me as well as the other person.

Road rage

Example: road rage. Just yesterday, I was driving the company van at 20 mph through a school zone. Slightly ahead of me in the right lane was another van. Without warning, the driver of the other van jerked into my lane. Had I not slammed on the brakes (and hit the horn), he would have sideswiped me.

He continued on as if nothing happened. Then, a couple of minutes later, he did it again, swerving unexpectedly into the left lane (thankfully, there wasn’t anyone beside him then).

I let him go. I could have flashed my lights at him, honked repeatedly or pulled up beside him, rolled down my window and yelled at him. Right?

Then what? He might have apologized. He might have given me the finger and cut me off again.

To what end? Likely a crash involving him, me or both.

Because I drive for a living, such an incident would probably cost me my job. That’s a steep price to pay for getting angry in the heat of a moment.

So far as it depends on you …

Facebook anger

Example: political thinking. I’ve been ostracized by a close relative whose political views differ from mine. She wouldn’t let up on my Facebook posts after I asked her to chill out, so last fall I had to de-friend her. She blames me for rejecting her. That feeling of rejection goes back much farther than last year, by the way (and is not justified, in my opinion).

How do I respect someone who thinks differently than I do, and is not shy about saying so? In the short term, we need a cooling-off period, I think. I’m not adverse to a respectful conversation at all.

If it is possible …

I’ve apologized a couple of times for offending her, and she has not accepted my apologies. In real life, she’s a much nicer person than she is on Facebook (she’s not the only one I know who fits that profile). We live in different states so we don’t see each other often. Perhaps a face-to-face is in order. I’ll have to think about that.

False accusation

Example: Joseph in the Old Testament. If anyone has ever understood injustice, it’s Joseph.

After getting sold to a trader by his brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife wanted to have an affair with him, but Joseph said no – because he respected Potiphar and he followed the principles of the living God. As a result, the revengeful wife of Potiphar falsely accused him of rape. Potiphar, without asking Joseph his side of the story, had him tossed in prison.

Then forgot about him. For two years.

So far as it depends on you …

Joseph never complained. He wasn’t happy about it, but he tried to make the best of a bad situation. Eventually, he got out of prison and served Pharaoh very well. Read about these events in Genesis 39-41.

Joseph also eventually forgave his brothers for selling him years earlier, when he could have turned the tables and had them thrown in prison, or worse. Read about that in Genesis 43-45.

Joseph’s attitude?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

If it is possible …

Defending truth

Example: Stephen in the New Testament. Stephen is one of my heroes. We first hear about him when he, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” is appointed with six others to meet the physical needs of people so the 12 apostles could spend all of their time preaching. He was a behind-the-scenes servant.

And yet, he “did great wonders and signs among the people.” Some of the religious leaders of his day didn’t appreciate that – nor could they defend themselves against Stephen’s wisdom.

As with Joseph, Stephen was falsely accused, Stephen of blaspheming against the temple and the law. In response, Stephen gave a phenomenal history lesson to the leaders who should have already known what he was saying. But instead of understanding their own history, they stoned him.

As Stephen was dying a painful death, he “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.” Read his story in Acts 6-7.

So far as it depends on you …

Remaining true

Sometimes, when we try to live peaceably, there are consequences. Just ask Joseph and Stephen. Both paid a huge price for their faithfulness to peace and to the living God – Stephen with his life.

In the end, I’m sure both would say that living a peaceable life was worth the cost. Other people benefited greatly from their peace-loving ways.

Even if they didn’t understand why they had to suffer, they trusted the God they worshipped for the results of their peace-loving ways.

Joseph saw those results: restored relationships with his brothers, for one. Stephen did not. He became the first martyr to the Christian cause. The results came later.

That was good enough for Stephen.

Wow.

This life often is not very peaceful. What can you and I do to help make it more so?