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.

Sometimes the old stuff is still relevant

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

I had to memorize this before I joined a church for the first time in high school. It’s an ancient statement of Christian beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.

I grew up in formal Protestant churches that were liturgical. We recited the Apostles’ Creed frequently. It’s not a perfect statement of faith, but it’s pretty good. There’s a lot of excellent theology in it.

I attend a non-liturgical church now. We don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer or any other liturgical statement, ever. Well, hardly ever.

I miss it. We want to be all modern and new, but sometimes the old stuff is still relevant.

What is a Christian supposed to believe, anyway? Do we even know any more? Every denomination, every church (whether denominational or not), every group of believers of all types, issues a statement of beliefs. Based on what?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Well, OK. The Apostles’ Creed wasn’t around at the beginning. The first version was written about 390 AD. It’s old, but not quite Bible-times old.

Is the Apostles’ Creed worth remembering today?

I think it is. There’s plenty of good Biblical truth in there that often gets lost in 21st century America.

 

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

 

Can we agree on the opening line? Do all Christians believe God made Heaven and Earth? The Bible begins, in the first words of Genesis, with this truth. If we disregard this, we disregard everything that follows it – both in the Bible and in the creed.

Did God create the Earth in six literal days, or did those six days represent a longer timeline? We weren’t around then, so we have to study evidence we discover about the Creation. Whatever your interpretation, God created Earth – and all that’s in it, including us. That’s ground zero.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

 

Yes or no. Is Jesus God’s only Son, and is He our Lord – which means we serve Him with our daily lives?

 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

 

Was Jesus both God and man? If he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, then the living God is his father. If he was born of Mary, then he was a man, a human being.

This is an impossible concept to fully grasp, and yet it’s true. God himself came to Earth to connect with us on our level, as one of us.

 

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.

 

Many versions of the Apostles’ Creed omit that last line, because it’s controversial. How could the living God descend into hell?

Here’s the best explanation of that I’ve heard (I don’t remember where I heard this first):

In Heaven, we are fully with God. In Hell, we are completely separated from God. (We experience parts of both on Earth, which is why we have such a struggle between good and evil.) When Jesus took our sins, yours and mine, on his shoulders on the cross, God the Father abandoned his Son there – because God cannot even look at sin, much less accept it in any form. Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1), was a literal question. At that instant, when the Father and Son were separated, Jesus descended into hell.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.

 

On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

God the Father forgave all the sin that Jesus had become on our behalf – and by extension, God has forgiven us of all the sins we have committed, are committing and will commit. This is mind-blowing, life-changing, and absolutely true.

This is the definition of unconditional love.

zoo lights 8

All we have to do is accept it, and our sins are forgiven. We can’t earn forgiveness. It’s a gift. We have to say yes, and thank you.

And one day, Jesus will judge us, not for all the good or bad we’ve done or not done, but only on whether we’ve accepted the gift of his forgiveness or not.

Our present and future lives should reflect our thanks to God for this gift. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t talk about this, but if we think we have encountered the living God and our lives don’t change at all because of it, then we haven’t encountered the living God.

This is basic Christianity.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

The creed ends with several theological statements:

  • The Holy Spirit lives in each believer. The Spirit is God, giving us insight into the Father and Son. Again, this is impossible to fully understand, but we will one day.
  • The holy catholic Church refers to all believers around the world. “Catholic” is lowercase; it does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Communion of saints refers to the universal salvation of all believers past, present and future. We are all brothers and sisters, “saints,” in Christ.
  • God forgives sins. He does not excuse or ignore them. Forgiveness requires a huge cost: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Our bodies will be resurrected one day – as perfect heavenly bodies. Again, I can’t explain how this will happen, but the Bible says it will, and Christians look forward to it.
  • Everlasting means forever. We have a beginning, but no end. Earthly death is a temporary thing, a transition to a better life that will be everlasting. This is our hope. Death is hard, especially on those of us remaining on Earth, but we all will face it one day. No exceptions. Are we ready?
  • Amen means “so be it.”

With all kinds of ideas out there about what it means to be a Christian, sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. The Apostles’ Creed is based on the Bible itself.

It’s a good refresher. Hope this encourages you.

Going home

Very few of us can time our deaths the way our births are timed.

Nine months from conception, there’s a due date. With a natural birth, that’s a pretty good ballpark estimate. For a Cesarean section, the parents get to choose the specific date of birth.

Rarely does that happen on the other side of life.

Every death is sudden, even if it’s expected.

The guarantee

In the span of two days last weekend, five friends or acquaintances breathed their last breath.

They ranged in age from 81 to 43. Four of them had long-term conditions; two were in such severe pain, I’m sure their loved ones saw their passing as relief.

But still.

The fifth friend shocked everybody. He was healthy, to my knowledge – no one saw his death coming. He was 62. (I’m 58; he’s my generation.)

Two of them lived in Northeast Ohio, the other three in mid-Michigan (my old stomping grounds).

Death is guaranteed for each of us.

Later rather than sooner, we hope.

Unexpected deaths are the ones that make the news – traffic fatalities, drug overdoses, crime victims, that sort of thing. Most of us won’t leave Earth like that, thankfully, but there’s no guarantees about that, either.

Another friend’s granddaughter died about two weeks ago. She suffered numerous health issues from the day she was born. She was 21.

No one ever said life was fair.

Homegoing

Sometimes, those who suffer have the best dispositions. They are thankful for the blessings they have, even if good health isn’t one of them. Our 81-year-old friend was like that. He had debilitating headaches his entire adult life, but he looked on the bright side every day.

His strong faith allowed him to do that.

He is in heaven now with his savior, Jesus. He knows that with certainty. So does his wife. They were married 61 years.

We visited her yesterday afternoon to offer our condolences. She said she’s not planning a funeral for him, but a homegoing. We knew what she meant.

Funerals are sad. We mourn the loss of our loved one. Rightfully so. But that’s where the focus remains.

With a homegoing, family members and friends know that death is temporary – just a transition to a better life. Healing is promised in heaven. Physical, emotional and every other kind of healing that each of us needs.

The end of time

We mourn the loss of our loved one here on Earth and we miss him or her terribly, but we know we will see him or her again.

Earth is a temporary home, full of pain and struggle, as well as joy and laughter. We know this. Good vs. evil. Unconditional love vs. selfishness. Right vs. wrong.

These battles are fought in the human heart and mind, aren’t they?

We play them out in society, but the real battles take places inside each of us.

When eternity comes, those struggles will end. For better or worse.

We’ll either stand with God in heaven, or we’ll spend forever without Him. The Bible talks about a lake of fire. I wonder also if hell will be a lonely place. We may not see our friends and family any more. Ever again.

I can’t imagine a worse fate than that.

My choice, your choice

We get to choose where we live forever. We determine our own fate, really.

I can’t choose for you, and you can’t choose for me. This is personal, and it’s individual. I can give you chapter and verse, but you must decide whether to accept the gift of life forever or not.

Life is a gift.

Life on Earth is a gift. Each of us must thank our parents, both mother and father, for giving us life. You and I had nothing to do with it.

Life forever is a similar principle. There won’t be marriage in heaven, but we will have a Father. He’s the one who offers us that gift of life eternal.

Most of my friends who just died will receive a homegoing, a celebration of life on Earth and the promise of a wonderful, perfect forever future in heaven.

We can’t wrap our minds around forever. The end of time. No more alarm clocks or deadlnes.

Nor can we fathom perfection. Beauty for beauty’s sake. No hidden agendas. No secrets. No pain or suffering, of any type. No getting tired at night. Never a cold or fever, much less any other sickness or injury.

Mental illness? No such thing any more.

The big picture

One day, we will see the big picture of life. We don’t now. Each of us sees only our small part in this big universe. There’s so much of life I can’t see or understand. I write to try to make sense of it all, but as the Bible says, now I see in a mirror dimly, but then (in heaven) face to face.

I have strong views on certain subjects, and you may have a differing viewpoint on those same subjects. We both might be right, because we see the issue from different perspectives. Neither of us understands the big picture. We try, but we just cannot.

That’s why we need to talk, to listen, to respect each other, to learn from each other.

One day, all the issues we wrestle with will come together. The God of the universe, the One who created us and everything else in it, will reveal all to us.

For now, God has given us earthly minds to learn and grow. None of us can know everything about life.

We desperately need this perspective today.

We need each other.

We NEED each other.

We can’t make this life work without each other. Even though we try.

Oh, we try.

The more I learn, the more I discover how much I don’t know. Keep teaching me, each one of you. I’ll do the same for you.

Meanwhile, as we do that, I’m ready for my homegoing, when all will be well. I’m not expecting it any time soon – I’m still relatively young and in excellent health, if I can say that. No guarantees, of course, except that I will die one day. But whenever the day comes, I hope you’ll celebrate it with me.

And I’d love to celebrate yours, too.

Just not for awhile.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate this life on Earth together. And remember with gratitude those who are already home.