A Spirit of Boldness

ACTS 8

Acts 8 4 (2)

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from Acts 8. Here are two that stood out to me:

1. Go forward in a spirit of boldness, not one of fear and timidity. If you know me well, you know I LOVE the movie The Princess Bride. (Yes, I realize this movie is now a classic!) Spoiler alerts ahead! If you have ever seen the movie, you will recall the scene where Wesley is leading Buttercup into the Fire Swamp and Buttercup fearfully exclaims to Wesley, “We’ll never survive” and Wesley replies to her, “Nonsense. You’re only saying never because no one ever has.” True to Buttercup’s fears, they encounter the widely known dangers of the Fire Swamp: fire, quicksand and R.O.U.S.’s (Rodents of Unusual Size). In reading Acts 8, especially on the heels of Stephen’s stoning that we read about in chapter 7, one might imagine an atmosphere of fear and timidity could have easily festered in the Christian community. In Acts 8:1 we read about a great persecution that began against the church. We read of Saul who was waging war against the Christ followers, going from house to house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. One might think Christians might have chosen to go underground and keep a low profile. As we continue reading the chapter, we find just the opposite to be true. Christians were scattered about because of this persecution, but we read in verse 4 that they continued to preach the word. In verse 5 we read how Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. This wasn’t a clandestine type of preaching, his bold proclamation of the gospel was also accompanied by miraculous wonders such as healings and driving out of demons.

In John 15:20 Jesus tells us, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” We are not promised a trouble-free life. Jesus assures us this life will bring us trouble and persecution if we follow him. What should our response be to persecution? Do we shrink back and try to keep a low profile? Or do we move forward with boldness like Wesley and Buttercup in spite of our fears? 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Jesus assures us we will have trouble in this life, but we are never ever alone. He reminds us of this in John 16:33 when he tells us, “I have told you these things, to that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


2.  Be sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Your Christian life is unscripted. In many ways, it is a wild adventure. We have the most excellent advantage of knowing how the story ends and that the good guys do win after all, but there will be many plot twists in between. In verses 25-40, we read about how an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip sees an Ethiopian eunuch and we read in verse 29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’.” We continue reading that Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch and the eunuch declares his belief that Jesus is the son of God and gets baptized by Philip. We later read that Philip gets snatched away by the Spirit to Azotus and preaches the gospel in all the cities on his way to Caesarea. Following the lead of the Holy Spirit means we will lead life unscripted and we will often be pushed out of our comfort zones. What is the Holy Spirit stirring you to do? Be sensitive, be open and be bold. A grand adventure awaits…

-Kristy Cisneros
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God’s Presence and Jesus

 

Text: John 1

John 1 9

We’ve been studying the presence of God this week. We’ve seen how God made the heavens and earth, especially the Garden, to be a temple, i.e. where God’s presence rests or where heaven (God’s realm or dimension) and earth are connected. We saw how we lost the full access pass to the presence of God when we were exiled from the Garden. We saw how God worked through Moses to provide a new way to access God’s presence, the Tabernacle, which acted almost like a portable Eden amidst the Israelite people. We saw how God’s people were exiled because they kept breaking their covenant with God, but how God remained present among his faithful while they were in exile. And we saw that even after the return from exile there was still something amiss. The Old Testament ends with a longing for something better to come along.

 

As usual, God is up to things that are much bigger than expected. Yesterday I teased that there is a new temple, but it isn’t like any temple we have seen yet.

 

Today I want us to look at John 1. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have similar ways of giving us the story of the appearance of Jesus. We usually read these accounts around Christmastime. Well, John does his own thing and doesn’t follow the same pattern as the other guys. He doesn’t do it with genealogies, mangers, or wise men or John the Baptist. John hits us right away with something called the Word, or the Logos (the greek word used).

 

Who or what is the Logos? In the context of this passage, it seems like something highly conceptual and lofty. It’s a spoken word, or a thought, or a concept. You might think of it as God’s will, or outward expression, or his wisdom or reason. It is hard to pin down. I like to think it is connected to Genesis 1, when God creates by speaking his divine purpose, function, and order into the world. The Logos is something belonging to God, like an extension of his nature. We’re only scratching the surface of the meaning, but this gets us started.

 

With our working definition(s) of what the Logos is, it starts to make sense that in verse 1, we learn that it is there in the beginning, and that it’s with God, and that it is God. It’s God’s nature to express himself, and we see that even from the beginning, we can’t separate this nature from God. It’s just who he is. In verse 3, we learn that everything was made through the Logos, and in verse 4, it is described as being the light of all mankind.

 

Leading up to verse 14, this concept of the Logos starts to sound more and more like someone we know. Verse 14 explains that this Logos has been made “flesh” and dwells among us (it has tabernacled among us). This sounds strange, right? What it means is that this concept of the Logos has been made a physical reality with us here, in Jesus. To be clear, this isn’t to say that Jesus existed at the beginning of time with God, or that he created the world, or that he is God. It means that when we look at Jesus, we see a perfect representation and expression of who God is. He is the fruition of God’s will, wisdom, and expression among us. He is called “Immanuel”, or “God with us” (see Mat 1:23). Jesus is like God’s best idea fleshed out, the perfect embodiment of his will.

 

Jesus, being the representation of God walking among us, is the newer and better version of the temple. After he was baptized, the Spirit of God came down and rested on him in the form of a dove (see verse 32). This is imagery that reminds us of how God filled the tabernacle with his presence at its completion. In John 2:18-22, Jesus explains that a sign for his authority is that if they destroy this temple, he will raise it up again in three days, referring to his body being crucified and risen. Col 1:19 says that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”

 

Jesus says in John 14:9 that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. As Christians, we want to understand the heart of God and follow his will for our lives. Sometimes that can seem like a difficult task. What’s God really like? How do I know what his will is for my life? Thankfully, we can look at his son to get a better idea. Jesus was a human. He had struggles and temptations like you or I have (Heb 4:15). We’re able to read about the things he said, the miracles he performed, and what he thought was important. By figuring out what Jesus was all about, we get a much clearer picture of who his Father is.

 

We’re seeing this week that scripture gives us a long narrative of God’s attempts to be with us, to bring us closer to Him. He started by occupying a garden with two people and has gradually expanded out the circle to include tribes and nations as his children. Making the Logos near to us by giving us Jesus was the next step in continuing that process. Being the temple, Jesus carried around with him the presence of God, so that when people encountered him, they were also encountering the Father.

 

But God didn’t stop here. He’s relentless, wanting to be closer yet. In Mat 3:11, John the baptizer says of Christ, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

I’ll leave you with that as a teaser for what comes next.

 

Jay Laurent

“Who Do You Say I Am?”

Matthew 16

matthew 16 16

During Jesus’ ministry, he caused a lot of controversy and caused many to question who exactly he was. In Matthew 16:13-20, this is exactly the issue that Jesus raised with his disciples. However, he not only asks what everyone else thinks of him, but asks the disciples specifically who they think he is. This is important for us to pay attention to, since Jesus says that Peter’s answer was revealed to him by the Father.

 

Jesus’ first question for his disciples is, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Apparently, there had been many ideas floating around during Jesus’ time; some said that he was John the Baptist, others said he was Elijah, and still more said that he was one of the prophets. We may think this is strange to hear, but the same thing is going on in our time today. If you were to ask people at your school or work, “Who is Jesus?”, you are likely to get many different answers. Atheists who accept that he existed would say that he was a good teacher. Muslims would say that he was a faithful prophet. Some Christians today say that he was an angel, that he was God Almighty, or that he was a spirit; many Christians today just simply don’t know what to make of Jesus.

 

Luckily for us, Jesus asks his disciples a second question that will answer all of the confusion for us. He asks them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replies by stating, “You are the Messiah (Christ), the son of the living God.” Jesus praises Peter for his answer, stating that this was revealed to him by the Father! This is the correct answer! Later on, Jesus says that this statement, or profession of faith, is going to be the rock that he will build his Church upon. If someone wants to be a part of Jesus’ Church, they need to accept that he is the Messiah and, according to Paul, that he was risen from the dead (Romans 10:9-10).

 

What is wonderful about this section of Scripture is that this question is still being asked of us today: “Who do you say that I am?” As Christians, we oftentimes worry too much about what everybody else’s answer to that question is. We desperately want people to accept Jesus so much that we forget that we need to answer that question as well. So, who is Jesus to you? If he is the Messiah, or king, of your life, are you fully devoted to him, or is there something else that has your allegiance divided? Do you dedicate your life to him, or is he simply someone you only see on the weekends?

 

The challenge for you today is to take time to examine your own life and walk with Christ, and stop worrying about everybody else. After Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel of John, Peter is deeply concerned about what is going to happen to John. Jesus replies in verse 22, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” Jesus will be willing to work with the people you are so concerned about, but you need to make sure you are following him fully. You cannot possibly help someone if you aren’t giving it your all as well.

 

-Talon Paul

God’s Word in My Life

isaiah 55 11

                I grew up in the Church.  From the time I was a baby I’ve been in Church.  I’ve been taught the Bible my entire life.  As a preacher’s kid I sat and listened to my dad preach every Sunday.  I remember as a child sitting in Sunday School and being captivated by the flannel graph stories (look it up, it’s a real thing).  I would see the picture of the ark, and the different animals gathered 2×2 going into the ark.

                I still have my first Bible.  It was an illustrated children’s Bible, it had a zippered case.  I read the Bible stories and enjoyed looking at the pictures.  When I was six my mom taught me to say the 66 books of the Bible in order.  It made it much easier to follow along and look up verses.  I could also easily win the “sword drills” a kind of contest to see who could look up various verses the fastest.  I even learned to memorize some verses.  John 3:16, Psalm 23 and John 11:35 were some of my early favorites.  I like John 11:35 because at church camps they often had you quote a verse from memory as you were in the lunch line.  John 11:35 was the shortest and easiest verse in the whole Bible to memorize: “Jesus wept.”

                I was baptized when I was eleven and I began to take my Bible study more seriously.  I would read whole chapters and whole books of the Bible.  I became aware that not all people read the Bible exactly the same way.  The Church I attended came to certain conclusions about what the Bible said, and people of different denominations came to different conclusions.  Sometimes their conclusions didn’t make sense to me and I wondered why they didn’t see things the same way that my Church did.  I puzzled over this for many years.

                When I graduated from high school and began college my goal was to become a doctor.  I wanted to help people, and make a decent living.  Doctors checked off both those boxes.  But while I was in college I got a part time job working in a Christian bookstore.  I had some friendly discussions with my boss who was a Christian but from a different denomination.  As I shared with him what I believed he shocked me by saying that he didn’t think what I believed was right, and he wasn’t convinced that it was Christian.  Now I had a job on my hands.  To show from the Bible that what I believed was indeed Christian.  He and I spent the next year debating the Bible.  Literally, he would make a premise and give his defense.  I would read it, and write my response.  Then I would make a premise and give my defense, and he would read it and give his response.  Over the next year we traded hundreds of pages.  I found myself staying up late every night pouring through the Bible looking up verses (this was long before internet searches).  I was thinking about the Bible day and night.  So much so that I wasn’t really spending much time reading the class material at college.  Somehow economics, biology, philosophy, psychology and sociology just weren’t as interesting to me as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

                One night I realized that what I really enjoyed doing was studying the Bible.  Then I realized that if this was my passion then it didn’t make sense to study to become a doctor, I should study to become a pastor.  I made my decision to leave the university and to attend Bible College. (By the way, you don’t need to become a pastor in order to make the Bible central to your life.  We need good doctors, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, mothers and ditch diggers who immerse themselves in the Bible as well.)

                As I was getting ready to leave for  Bible college I said my goodbyes to my friends and co-workers.  After a year of studying and debating the Bible with me my boss said, “You haven’t convinced me to believe as you believe, but you have convinced me that what you believe is Christian.”  I felt I had achieved a small win.

                For more than 30 years I’ve been reading, meditating upon, teaching, preaching, writing about, and counseling others with the Bible.  It is the foundation of my whole life.  I’ve read small passages slowly and repetitively so they could sink deeply in (lectio divina).  I’ve read large portions quickly to see the grand sweep of God’s story.  I once read the entire Bible in a two week period of time.  (8 hours a day for 2 weeks and you can read it cover to cover).  It was amazing!

                Do I regret choosing to be a pastor instead of a doctor?  Well, I make less money as a pastor than I would have made as a doctor.  But I realize something very important.  Doctors are very important but they don’t have all the answers.  This came to light several years ago when I became a hospital chaplain.  One day I was called in to sit with a young mother  whose husband had been in a serious accident.  The doctors were trying to save his life.  She was in the waiting room with two small children hoping that he would survive.  I sat with her and prayed with her.  Eventually, two young doctors came into the waiting room.  They were residents,  which means they were young in their practice.  They stood before the woman and told her that they had done all that they could, unfortunately, they couldn’t save her husband.  They then looked at each other, and then looked at me and said, “We’ll leave you to talk with the chaplain” and they left the room.  I realized that this was what God had called me to be.  The one who people turn to when all else had failed and their world has fallen apart and not even the best of science and technology can fix it.  When all that humanity can do comes up short, we are left with God and God’s Word.  And that is by far the most powerful thing in all the world.  God’s Word Never Fails.  A passage of the Bible that has been important all my life comes from Isaiah 55.  God’s Word will accomplish what God desires.  May you immerse yourself in the only truth that can truly save.

Isaiah 55:6-13

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

J.Jeffrey Fletcher, MDiv, BTh, CSD,  Chaplain, Valley Health

Keep Running His Race

Hebrews 12 1 (1)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1‭-‬3 NIV
https://bible.com/bible/111/heb.12.1-3.NIV

Yesterday evening I was out for a run.  It was my second run of the day as I did a 3 mile run in the morning.  I was feeling pretty good early in the run so I made a decision to run for 10 miles. I have only ran that far one other time in my life, it was 10 years ago when I ran a half marathon.  I knew this was a big undertaking so I settled into a manageable pace and went for it.  This scripture immediately came to mind, as well as my grandmother.   Sadly, she is in hospice care and very close to the end of her life.  She is surrounded by family, but not her whole family.  We are 800 miles away, and as I was running it gave me the time to reflect on her life, and draw strength from it.
She is someone I would put in that cloud of great witnesses.  She has lived her life in a way that I know God is proud of.  She has faithfully served Him and his people since she was able. And it makes me want to do better.  During my run, I stumbled between 3 and 4 miles. I fell to the sidewalk like a ton of bricks.  At first I laughed because I thought it must have been funny to the passer by’s in cars.  Then I assessed the damage, a few scrapes and a really scuffed up corner on my phone. I decided to push on, but was considering calling it quits and heading home at that point.   But that scripture says to throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin (sidewalk) that so easily entangles us.  Yes my leg hurt, yes my hand hurt, but I wasn’t giving up.  I had made a commitment to go 10 miles. Fast forward to about 8 miles in, and I notice my left hamstring is feeling a little weird with every step. I slow my pace but it gets worse, at 8.5 it starts cramping up. I stop, stretch, walk a bit, then start again. Yet it only lets me go a few steps before it gives up.  My body has had enough, but I still have a mile to go.  I ended up walking that last mile, but I finished the 10.
In many ways I see a correlation between that 10 mile journey and the faith journey we take throughout life.  There are going to be setbacks, there are going to be times we stumble, or get hurt, and want to quit. There are going to be times we can’t or don’t move as fast as we planned.  But the important thing is to remember our commitment, to draw on the strength of others, to eliminate the things holding us back.
The race is already laid out before us, first set out by Jesus, then followed by so many others.  Let’s make sure to include ourselves in that faith list shall we?
Jerry Briggs

Keep Running Your Race

Gal 5 7

Galatians 5:7-10 New International Version (NIV)

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.

Have you ever been having a good day, only to have something or someone happen, and totally change the day?  It’s easy to get beat down by life some days.  And it’s even easier to point the finger at other people or difficult circumstances when we let the things going on around us effect our relationships negatively.  I totally understand that sometimes life is difficult, and sometimes it’s unfair, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about when we’re really finding our stride in our Christian walk, and then we let something knock us off the path.  That’s why I love the section of scripture in Galatians 5.  It leaves us with no excuses.

This section reminds us that we are responsible for our own faith. It isn’t our pastor’s, our parents’, or our friends’ responsibility. Those can all be great people that God uses to challenge us to grow, but we must be careful to follow God and the teachings of Jesus, not people. Notice too that even a little yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough.  Letting just a little thing bother us without dealing with it could have huge implications on our actions.  We also see that whoever is throwing us into confusion, has to pay a penalty.  We must therefore also pay attention to how we are influencing people.  Take a good look into your life and ask yourself, Am I letting someone throw me off my daily walk?  Am I throwing someone else off of theirs?  If the answer is yes, we have some changes to make.

-Jerry Briggs

Winning Respect

1 Thess 4 11

I Thessalonians 4:9-12

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

I find these verses to be quite fascinating. Paul was writing to believers who were living in the first century in the Roman Empire. Their lives as disciples of Jesus were to stand out from the lives of those outside of the community of Jesus. They needed to live lives that earned the respect of those outside of the Church. Paul’s instruction on how they were to do this is what I find so interesting: lead a quiet life, mind your own business, work with your hands, do not be dependent on others. In that society, Paul believed that non-believers would be more open to hearing the message of Jesus Christ if his followers lived lives worthy of respect, focused, hard working, quiet. There’s nothing flashy or exciting about this counsel, simply to live a steady and hard working life.

As disciples of Jesus today it’s becoming increasingly more challenging to win the respect of people outside of the Church. Perhaps we need to go back to Paul’s simple and undramatic counsel and live out that lifestyle.

-Jeff Fletcher