Spoiler: JESUS WINS

shutterstock_22883608.jpgActs 12:1-19

1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

5So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

6The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

8Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.” 


Spoiler alert:  Jesus wins.

Jesus will accomplish His purposes. He will continue to reach people through His church until one day He returns to fight one last battle, defeat Satan, sin, and death for all time, and to usher in a perfect eternity where everything is made new.

You and I can’t stop it. Soldiers, chains, and jail cells can’t stop it. Empires, wars, persecution, and death can’t stop it.

Jesus will win.

Peter got a tiny glimpse of this. Peter knew that one day he would die for his faith in Jesus (Jesus had given him the heads up on this in John 21).  My guess is, he thought this was the end. Herod was incredibly powerful. He had already killed James. The guards would be killed if they let Peter go and if one chain wasn’t enough they went ahead and bound him with two. So what happens to Peter? Nothing. Jesus says, “Not yet.”

Thought for Today: Jesus will fulfill His purposes. Will you join Him? He invites us to be a part of His team and to help people meet, know, and follow Him. And here is the promise: His team is going to win.

Today’s Prayer: Jesus, use me to accomplish your purposes. I want to serve You by serving others. Use me to help people meet, know and follow You. Amen.

 

 

When Your Picture of Church Doesn’t Fit, What Do You Do?

shutterstock_147547745.jpgActs 11:19-26

19Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.


When word about Jesus spread to the non-Jews (aka “Gentiles”), the Jewish community got a little uncomfortable. How can a bunch of 10-Commandments-breaking, pork-chop-eating, uncircumcised Gentiles be a part of our Jesus club?

Barnabas was so respected by the Jewish community that they sent him to check it out.

Now I imagine that Barnabas had a couple of uncomfortable moments when he walked into “church.” All the cultural things that Barnabas had grown up with were missing. There were no familiar faces, no traditional greetings. The order of service was all wrong, there was no marching of the Torah scrolls—there wasn’t even a synagogue! They weren’t singing any of the hymns that Barnabas loved, the music was too loud, and they even tried offering him a BLT.  But he could not deny that the grace of Jesus was changing their lives.

So what did he do?

He fueled it.

Don’t miss this. The majority of us would look at something that doesn’t fit our preferences and immediately start thinking of ways to squash it. Barnabas did the opposite. He saw the power of Jesus at work and he threw his preferences out the window for the sake of the work that Jesus was doing.

There will come a day for all of us when our preferences won’t match how Jesus is engaging a lost generation and culture. Maybe that day has already come for you.

Thought for Today: What will your response be? Will you fight it or will you fuel it?

Today’s Prayer: Jesus, when that day comes, help me to fuel your work. Help me to see what you see.  Help me to care for the lost above my preferences. Amen.

When Your Past Threatens Your Present

shutterstock_576951733.jpgActs 9:26-31

26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.


Have you ever felt trapped by your past?

Saul’s life was drastically transformed by the power and the grace of Jesus. Saul was new in every way. He thought differently, he acted differently—he WAS different. So what was everyone’s response?

“Yeah right.”

It’s crazy how much our past manages to find a way into our future. It can be really disheartening for those who are trying to start a new chapter in their life.

Maybe this is why Saul would later write to the church in Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

He wasn’t just teaching theology in this moment. His story is woven into these words.  This is Saul’s story. Even though people doubted it, the old Saul was gone. This was the new Saul, transformed by Jesus.

Barnabas knew the power of Jesus could transform the hardest heart. And Barnabas stood up for Saul.

Thought for Today: Who do you doubt could ever change?

Do you believe the power of Jesus could change their life?

Today’s Prayer: Take a moment and pray for that person. Pray for the power of Jesus to make them into “a new creation.” And if/when they do, don’t keep them trapped in their past. Choose to be a Barnabas.

 

Who Needs to Hear How Jesus Changed Your Life?

shutterstock_424673179.jpgActs 9:19-25

19Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

23After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.


Saul’s immediate actions after his conversion demonstrate the complete transformation of his life.

Just a few days prior, he was traveling to Damascus to arrest anyone who believed the “lie” that Jesus is the Son of God. Now, he’s in Damascus preaching that Jesus truly is the Son of God.

The people didn’t know what to do with Saul. The Christians were afraid he was trying to trick them somehow. And the non-believing Jews were angry because he was leading others to follow Jesus too.

Saul became so persuasive in leading others to follow Jesus that the Jews plotted to kill him, and his new followers had to smuggle him out of the city.

Like Saul, when you say “yes” to following Jesus, your life will change forever. You ought to be so excited about your faith in Christ that you cannot help but tell others about him. Some will follow you, and others might reject you.

Often we are quick to tell their friends about a new restaurant we found, a new way we have lost weight, or a new product we bought. But for some odd reason, we shy away from telling others about the one thing that has changed our life more than anything.

But don’t be afraid. Your story is powerful. If Jesus has truly changed your life for the better, others need to know. People may argue with you, but they won’t be able to deny your story.

Thought for Today: Who needs to hear your story? Write down their names and pray for the opportunity to tell them your story.

Today’s Prayer: Jesus, help me to have the boldness of Saul. Open my eyes to the opportunities to help others find the same hope I have found in you. Help me to share the story of how you have changed my life.

Becoming a Leader With Grace and Humility

shutterstock_305928674.jpgActs 9:10-19

10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened.


Ananias seems like a guy who is pretty secretly awesome.

Put yourself in his shoes as you re-read the verse. The Lord calls you. Yes! Your time has come! But then the Lord tells you to go talk to this guy who is known for killing guys like you. Uh, thanks for the offer, but no thanks God.

The Lord yells at you: “Go!” As you go, not only are you scared for your life, but you are also confused. You have been a disciple this whole time, obediently following where the Lord leads you. But what God wants from you is to raise a murderer, and that guy is the chosen one? That sucks.

Have you ever been in this position? You feel like you are doing all the right things, and then you get passed up on the promotion, the popularity, prom king, the fame, and acclaim?

But does Ananias eat a whole tub of kosher ice cream and sulk in the corner? No. He goes where God leads him, and he empowers Saul to become the leader that God intended him to be. With grace, humility, and power.

Thought for Today: What can you learn from Ananias’ example today?

Today’s Prayer: God, thank you for using a man like Saul, who had a past, and was not perfect. Your grace was enough for him, it’s enough for me, and it’s enough for everyone I know. Would you fill me with humility, and empower me to encourage others around me?

No One Is Too Far Gone for Jesus

shutterstock_198046421.jpgActs 9:1-9

1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.


Saul was vicious, “breathing threats and murder.” He was on his way to capture and persecute Christians. Reading through the book of Acts, it’s clear that Saul was making this a full-time job. In fact, this journey to Damascus comes on the heels of Stephen’s public stoning, which Saul seems to have officiated. Saul was “ravaging the church” (Acts 8:3, ESV).

To Christians, at this point in time, Saul was the very worst sort of person. He was the last person they figured would say yes to Jesus. There were probably many who fully wrote him off as too far gone. That’s when Jesus interrupted Saul’s plans and altered his life forever.

Saul left this encounter with a humble spirit.  He was blind, helpless, and at the mercy of the very people he was there to persecute. This new path came with a new name (Paul) and a high calling. God used the “worst of sinners” (a title Paul gave himself) to lead the church in sharing the gospel message near and far (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul also wrote the majority of our New Testament; our Christian faith would not be what it is without his contributions and sacrifices.

Can you see the love that Jesus had for Saul? Jesus looked beyond Saul’s sinfulness to see what he might become.

Thought for Today: Is there anyone in your life that you think is too far gone? Could it be that Jesus wants to intervene in their life? Who knows, that individual may change the world.

Today’s Prayer: Father, thank you for Paul’s story. Thank you that you love us at our worst and you have a plan for us, for our good, that has nothing to do with our performance. Give us eyes to see things the way you do. Amen!

 

Baptism: An Act of Love and Obedience

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Acts 8:26-36

26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.32Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

 

34And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”


I grew up in a tradition where baptism was something that was reserved for when you were “ready.” It was something that needed to be taken “seriously,” and because of this, it was far removed from the moment I said “yes” to Jesus. In this passage, we see a beautiful picture of what baptism could mean for a new follower of Jesus.

The Ethiopian eunuch in this passage was someone who was spiritually hungry. He had been in Jerusalem worshipping, even though he was not a Jew. We don’t know a lot about his story, or what had fueled his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What we do know is that he finds himself sitting on the side of the road with more questions than answers.

There are two amazing applications for us from this passage. First, we need to understand that God is working and moving in the hearts of people, and He is looking for followers who are willing to engage in spiritual conversations with people who have questions.

The amazing lesson we can learn from Philip is that God is already working in the hearts of people. I don’t have to find “spiritual” people to have conversations with; we are all spiritual because we have been created by God in His image. All I have to do is listen to people, hear their stories, see how our stories connect, and then use that opening as the opportunity to share about Jesus.

The second application is this: Now is always the right time to follow Jesus. Obedience is not about “some day”; obedience is about “today”! When this Ethiopian eunuch said “yes” to Jesus, the most logical first act of obedience was baptism, to show publicly that something had changed in his heart. There wasn’t a crowd; there was Philip. It was about being obedient in a small thing that begins to build a pathway to being obedient in the big things.

Thought for Today: July 29-30 is our next Baptism Weekend at Sun Valley. If you’ve said “yes” to Jesus, but have never been baptized, then this weekend is your chance to step out in this small act of obedience! You may never know where one act of obedience may lead you on your faith adventure with Jesus.