April 19 – Forgiveness

Acts 7:23-8:1a; Deuteronomy 31-32; Job 19

Charles Roberts was an angry person. For nine years that anger had festered as he blamed God, and himself, for his newborn daughter’s death. On October 2, 2006, he snapped. He entered an Amish school house, released the boys, the female adults, and a pregnant school girl, and held fifteen female students hostage. After police arrived, he started shooting and the end result was that five of the hostages were killed. He also killed himself. In an incredible show of forgiveness, the Amish community not only attended Roberts’ funeral, they also provided financial support to his widow.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when Christians show “incredible forgiveness.” Jesus, on the cross, called for forgiveness for those who had condemned and crucified Him. But that was Jesus. That’s why He was going to the cross, wasn’t it? Do we really expect “ordinary people” to show such extraordinary forgiveness? The answer, of course is “no.” But then, God’s people have never been ordinary. Once someone has entered into a relationship with God, they can never be called ordinary again. There are some great perks to being considered extraordinary because of our relationship with God, but one of the responsibilities that must be the hardest is that our forgiveness must be extraordinary. Stephen was an extraordinary witness for God, but his last sermon enraged the Jewish leaders. They took him outside the city and stoned him. After he prayed for the Lord to take his spirit, he showed extraordinary forgiveness. “Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60)

I saw recently where someone described this as the prayer that saved Paul, formerly known as Saul. Saul was the coat holder for the Sanhedrin as they rushed to judgment. Saul later became an agent of the persecution of the early church. The last words Saul heard from Stephen were for forgiveness. I can’t help but think that these words of Stephen played on his mind every time he arrested Christians until that glorious day when he encountered Jesus. In truth, the incredible words of forgiveness uttered by Stephen are part of a tale that has been repeated by Christians down through the ages. Not only have his words been repeated, though, Christians down through the ages have forgiven others for some of the most vile crimes imaginable. Hardened criminals who would laugh in the face of a victim who talked of hatred towards the person who ruined their life have been known to break down in tears when told that they were forgiven by their victim or the family members.

Forgiveness is a magical key to people’s hearts. We have been able to receive God’s forgiveness and enter into a relationship with Him because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. If God gave us so much forgiveness, we ought to be able to forgive others more easily. At least, you might think that. How often do we accept God’s forgiveness, and then not show it to the driver who cuts us off in traffic, or the telephone solicitor who shouldn’t have our number, or the customer service person who can’t seem to get things straight on the phone? Our chances to forgive might be summed up by one of my favorite sayings from the old comic strip Pogo: “We are faced with an insurmountable opportunity.” The glorious thing about forgiveness is that this is one amazing way to be like Jesus who continues to forgive us. There is no end to the number of people we can forgive – even if that sometimes means we have to forgive ourselves. Our world is saturated by sin and by those who sin against us. If we sought to avenge every petty act of sin against us, it would be dreary. When we hold grudges, it affects us. Take on our insurmountable opportunity to forgive others. Let our lives reflect the forgiveness that God shows so well, that we forgive each slight or sin against us without reservation.

Oh Lord, forgiveness is so hard. I can make excuses as to why I don’t forgive others, but the examples of Jesus and Stephen remind me that I’ve had it easy. Help me to forgive others and show Your love each day.

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April 18 – Simple Instructions

Acts 7:1-22; Deuteronomy 29-30; Job 18

Back in the dark ages, someone invented a machine called the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). To use this machine, you would connect it to your TV and put a tape into the machine. If the tape was blank, you would record a TV program. If the tape was already recorded on, you could watch anything from movies to instructional videos to home movies. These VCR machines had a really cool feature in that you could program them to record TV programs that aired when you were out of the house. Many people couldn’t use that feature, though, because it required setting the clock on the VCR and those people couldn’t follow the simple directions they needed to set the clock. The result was that in many homes, the clock on the VCR flashed the incorrect time all day long.

Simple instructions. You would think that people could follow them, but for some reason, they either can’t or won’t follow them. If you search the internet for things like “mess up simple instructions” you’ll find a whole host of people complaining about adults who mess them up and how to help your kids avoid messing up. While following God is not easy, the instructions are fairly simple. “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach… For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:11,16)

Moses was preparing the people of Israel to enter the promised land. He wasn’t entering because He messed up on some instructions God gave him. In this final message to his people, though, he sought to protect them and future generations from what was to come. In other words, if they wanted to live in the land and not be destroyed, they needed to follow God’s simple instructions. They were to love God, obey Him, and follow His teachings. Simple instructions, but awfully hard to follow. If you read Stephen’s defense in Acts 7, he gives the history of the people of Israel not following these instructions. The people of Israel continued to follow after false gods, they continued to disobey God, they continued to ignore the pleas to repent delivered by God’s prophets. The instructions, so simple to read and understand what needs to be done, were nearly impossible for God’s people to follow because there were so many forces pulling them away.

Dare I be too hard on the Israelites? I probably had better do some reflection first. Not only do I have the same instructions, I have a written (and electronic) copy of God’s word that can remind me while the Israelites didn’t have easy access to God’s word. When I mess up the Simple Instructions, I have forgiveness because Jesus Christ died on the cross in my place. I have the power to overcome sins through the Holy Spirit who dwells in me. I have a strong support system of fellow Christians who can help me love and obey God. And what do I do? I still mess up. I keep needed to go back and ask forgiveness. I need to ask for power to overcome my sins. And, Amazing God that He is, He continues to love me and show mercy to me. Do I deserve this? No. God has blessed me with His love and forgiveness not because of any good thing I’ve done, but because of His grace. But aren’t I a good person? Perhaps I give that impression on the outside, but on the inside, I fight sin battles and lose all the time; I struggle with my sin and am constantly needing to ask forgiveness when I fail. Christians aren’t Christians because we are “good” or “nice,” we follow God because we recognize that we can’t follow simple instructions to love and obey God without His help – and even then we have problems. Thank God for His mercy and grace.

Lord, I just can’t seem to follow simple instructions. I say that I love You, but then I’m drawn to other things instead of spending time with You. I know I should obey Your word, but so many things entice me to do things my own way. Thank You for the mercy and grace that You show me each day.

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April 17 – Good Decisions

Acts 6; Deuteronomy 28; Job 17

Henry Ford had a problem. His Model-T car was too successful. He had introduced the assembly line in 1913 and production rose so much that he started making lots of money. His workers, however, didn’t last long doing the mind-numbing, physically demanding assembly line work and turnover was alarmingly high. Then, in early 1914 he introduced a radical plan to improve employee retention. He cut the work day from 9 hours to 8 hours. He opened up a third shift which would increase the number of jobs available. Then, in perhaps the most startling move, he doubled the pay of his workers to $5 a day. Turnover declined, productivity shot up, and Ford was able to reduce the price of the Model-T from $800 to $350. His workers also became consumers and could afford to buy the very cars they made.

Decisions like the ones Henry Ford made can have a lasting impact not only on the business involved, but also on society. Most people thought Ford’s idea was going to hurt him financially, but, to use an old advertising line, Ford had a better idea. Any time an organization grows, there will be growing pains. The early church had growing pains. With those growing pains, came ethnic issues. The Jews who had a Greek background noted that their widows weren’t getting the same care that the Hebrew widows were getting. Whether it was a perception issue or an actual problem, the apostles didn’t let the problem fester. They created a new office in the church and the first responsibility of that office was to make sure that food distribution was equitable. It worked. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

The plan and the solution were radical and could have killed the growth of the church. People would be chosen to take care of the widows, and the result was that all of those chosen had a Greek background. Was it a popular vote? Who knows? Maybe the Grecian Jews outnumbered the Hebrew Jews by that time. Maybe the apostles put out the word to the Hebrew Jews to vote for the Greeks. Whatever the situation, God was in the middle of it and seven Grecian men were chosen to carry out the task. That move could have brought all kinds of disrepute on the growing church. The residents of Israel, who were the immediate targets of evangelistic outreach by the church, could have been disgusted that the church allowed those Greeks to be involved in the work of the church. Worse, these deacons didn’t necessarily stay focused on their work. Stephen caused all kinds of trouble by performing signs and wonders among the people. This could have blown up in the face of the church, but the bold decision by the apostles to involve others in the work of the church caused the word of God to spread and grow. Even priests started becoming obedient to the faith of Jesus.

The apostles recognized the importance of letting God control the church and not exercising an iron fist over the people who came to Jesus. As we continue to show the world the grace of God, we should have all kinds of people coming to Christ. There will be an inner desire to make sure that these new converts do things “just right” (translation – do things the way I did and now do). In other words, we want to make sure that these new converts only commit “acceptable sins,” I guess. Given that there are no acceptable sins, this could be a problem. Ultimately, we need to show people the love of Jesus Christ, welcome sinners into the church, and let them be involved in the work. Their sins? We need to trust God to work in them to change so that we can say, just as Paul said about the Corinthians after reciting a long list of sinful lifestyles, “such were some of you.” Do we trust God to take care of His church? If we do, then let’s not allow any barriers to people coming to Christ.

Oh Lord, so many people are hurting and lost in their sin and need to know Jesus. Help me to proclaim His love and mercy. Draw them into Your love and mold them to be in your image, even as You work on me.

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April 16 – All Because of the Resurrection

Acts 5:17-42; Deuteronomy 25-27; Job 16

Jesus changed the world. Most people describe the year based on the number of years since His birth – slightly miscalculated, but that was the intent. Most Christians observe Sunday as a day of rest instead of Saturday, which affects the work schedules of non-Christians as well. We could discuss many other things we see in the world today that are a direct result of the impact Jesus has made on this world, but we have to be able to deal with an important question: what makes Jesus so different?

That’s a question one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin alluded to when he talked about others who had sought to lead revolts against the religious system and Rome in Acts 5:34ff. The apostles understood what made things so different that they were willing to suffer and die to proclaim the gospel – it was the truth of the resurrection.  When being admonished for preaching about Jesus, Peter’s response focused on the resurrection and the meaning behind it. “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.” (Acts 5:29-31)

Jesus is risen. He is risen from the dead. The tomb is empty because Jesus is risen. That truth, which the disciples slowly began to accept on that first Easter morning wasn’t fully realized until they actually saw the resurrected Jesus. Perhaps we might understand why the Jewish authorities were a bit skeptical. Sure, they couldn’t produce the body of the crucified Jesus, but there must be a rational excuse for that. Let’s face it: resurrection of the dead is not rational. It’s not natural. It’s supernatural and could only be caused by God. The message that compelled the early church to defy the authorities was a message with no explanation that a reasonable person would believe. People don’t rise from the dead. Dead is dead. Yet, the tomb was empty – a fact which the authorities couldn’t dispute. Standing before them were men who months before were cowering and living in hiding lest the Romans get them next, boldly proclaiming a truth which indicted the Jewish authorities. “You killed Jesus. God raised Him from the dead.” These men who thought they understood God and knew how to teach His word and live according to that word were having to deal with a truth that destroyed all their preconceptions about God. Even their ultimate weapon in the battle for religious authority, death, wasn’t strong enough to win the battle.

The message of the resurrection, though, was one of hope. God raised Jesus to bring all Israel, including these very authorities, to repentance so He could forgive their sins. It’s always hard to admit when you’re wrong, isn’t it? The Jewish leaders preferred to deny the truth in front of them rather than to repent and confess their sins to receive forgiveness. Instead their anger rose as they accused the disciples of wanting to make them guilty for His death. But they were guilty of having Jesus crucified, as was each of the apostles, as am I, as are you. Jesus died and rose again to bring all people the chance to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins. That forgiveness leads to a relationship with God that helps us overcome in all situations – after all, if the greatest enemy is death and Jesus defeated death, then no enemy can stand against us. We will all face death, unless Jesus comes again, but we need not fear death because Jesus has overcome. The grave is impotent and we have eternal life with God that begins the moment we repent and receive forgiveness. All because of the resurrection.

Lord, what a glorious day we celebrate today! Death has been defeated. We can overcome by the power of the cross and the resurrection if we trust You. I pray that we would see many others experience Your forgiveness as we continue to share the good news that Jesus is alive!

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April 15 – Integrity in Persecution

Acts 5:1-16; Deuteronomy 23-24; Job 15

Throughout history, the church has dealt with persecution. It’s interesting that the persecution, meant to intimidate followers of Christ, often leads to more followers of Christ and church growth. When the Cultural Revolution began in China in the 1970’s there were about 3 million followers of Christ. After years of dealing with persecution, the church in China has grown to over 130 million believers. As persecution has taken root in India, thousands of churches are being planted. In Iran, as persecution has caused the number of official churches to dwindle, house churches have followed and the growth of the church continues to confound Iranian officials. It is said that while house church leaders would love a more open society, they would be apprehensive about life in a western society where “Christian” is seen as a label and not a matter of faith in the face of persecution.

The Church began in times of persecution as Jewish leaders continued to arrest and harass early Christians. Eventually, the government joined in the persecution. From the beginning, followers of Christ had to be sincere believers. Ananias and Sapphira were involved with the early church. They noted the applause that others got for selling land and bringing in the proceeds to lay at the apostles’ feet. They wanted the applause, but they wanted their comfort too. So, they sold a piece of land and brought in part of the selling price and put it in the offering plate with great fanfare. Peter called them out on it, and they both died when confronted with the truth. It wasn’t the gift that was wrong, it was the attitude, and they paid dearly for that. The Church, however, gained a stronger reputation and in the midst of times when people were losing jobs for following Jesus, they gained new followers. People were afraid to be seen with them. “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” (Acts 5:14)

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is mind-boggling. They were struck dead because they made a rather large offering to the Church. That money would be used to help those who were dealing with lost jobs and lost family because of a commitment to follow Christ. The problem they had was their attitude in giving this offering to the church. They held back some, perhaps in a lack of faith that God could provide or perhaps in a desire to get some of the nicer things of life, and made a very public gift of part of the money, making people think that they had great faith. They wanted the attention and the money. When they were struck dead, word spread. Signs and wonders spread among the believers and they had their own special place in the Temple. The end result is that more people heard the gospel and started following Jesus.

It would have been easy to take the money quietly – knowing the lie behind it. Imagine how the applause for those two would have inspired others to give. There was a problem with doing that. The reputation of the church would suffer. Imagine someone on the street using those two as an example of great faith as they shared the gospel with the person who bought the land. “What? They said they got X for their land? I bought it and paid Y. What frauds!” By maintaining the reputation of the Church, something different happened. People understood the reality of this church thing. They understood that following Jesus required integrity. When they committed to following Jesus, they committed fully. I think today, many leaders would take the money and run. They wouldn’t confront the donor with the lie behind the gift. We must stay true to the message of the gospel and not trade integrity for money no matter what the circumstances or how great the persecution. No church has ever died from lack of money. Churches die when the gospel message is watered down to appeal to a society that hates them. We must always preach the gospel in good times or bad; in persecution or safety.

Lord, so many before me have proclaimed Your word in the midst of persecution. Give me that same faith.

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April 14 – Acting on Fear or in Faith?

Acts 4:23-37; Deuteronomy 21-22; Job 14

In 1988, Barry Gibbs heard the declaration that he was guilty of murder and would be sentenced to 22 years in prison. While he didn’t match the witness’s description, that same witness picked him out of the lineup. Mr. Gibbs sat in prison, trying to get his conviction overturned. In 1999, he appealed to DNA experts which caused the case to be re-opened. There was no evidence. When he went in front of the parole board, they weren’t going to grant him parole because he didn’t show remorse for a crime he didn’t commit. Then, in 2005, he finally got a break. The arresting officer was arrested because of connections to an organized crime family. His file was in the paperwork the authorities seized. The witness who identified Gibbs was tracked down and admitted that the cop had forced him to identify Gibbs, likely to protect a murderer who was part of that crime family. After 19 years, Gibbs was finally exonerated.

Gibbs was convicted because of an unholy alliance of an agent of the state and a criminal organization. He paid a high price as a result of that conviction. It was the kind of situation that the disciples mentioned to God in prayer as they talked about the crucifixion of Jesus as predicted in the Psalms. The leaders of the nation of Israel conspired with that oppressive government from Rome and had Jesus put to death.  “’The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” (Acts 4:26-27)

The alliance that put Jesus to death was an alliance built on fear. Pilate was likely to listen to the Jewish leaders because he was afraid that the Jews would revolt if he didn’t agree to their demands about Jesus. The Jews had done that kind of thing enough so that Pilate was also afraid of the Roman government which would replace him if there was another outbreak. The Jewish leaders feared the Romans also. They were afraid that if this Jesus-mania thing kept up, the Romans would come to “pacify” Israel and wipe out all the land and power they had. When fear is the motivating factor in decisions, they’re usually bad decisions in the long run. It might be easy to question that since this was prophesied, then it wasn’t bad. After all, it fulfilled God’s will, didn’t it? The truth is that even though Jesus was put to death according to the plan of God, those who did it had to commit grievous sin in order to do so. The phrase “Good Friday” deals with the results of Jesus’ sacrifice, not the actions that caused it to happen. The betrayal by Judas was prophesied, but that didn’t make it good. The conspiracy against Jesus was prophesied. That still doesn’t make the sin involved good.

The disciples showed fear right after the crucifixion. They either tried to slink away quietly, or huddled together in a locked upper room. Then came Jesus. The resurrected Jesus showed Himself to the disciples and they were transformed. Instead of fearing for their lives, they spoke boldly for God. When they were arrested, the flung the resurrection as proof that Jesus was God’s Messiah in the face of the Sanhedrin and all they could do was make an ineffectual request for them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. When they were released from custody, they praised God and spoke the word of God more boldly. As you decide on the different actions you will take today, I have one question: will you act out of fear of the consequences or will you live boldly, following the will of Jesus in your life?  Choose to walk in the light of Jesus. Even though we observe the crucifixion of Jesus today, walk in the victory of the resurrection, since you know the rest of the story.

Oh Lord, today as I think about the terrible death that You accepted willingly so that I could be forgiven, help me to decide to act on faith, not on fear. Let me live boldly for Jesus in all that I do today and in the future.

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April 13 – Responding to the Powers That Be

Acts 4:1-22; Deuteronomy 19-20; Job 13

The phrase “speaking truth to power” has almost become a cliché these days. Sometimes you hear people in power say terrible things and they proclaim that all they are doing is that speaking truth to power thing. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in Russia, he not only spoke truth to power, he suffered for his writing, but he also alerted the world to the horror of the Russian gulags. “The Gulag Archipelago” has been called “the most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be levied in modern times” and it helped bring about the fall of Communist Russia. Having been forbidden to write, he said, with this book, “I cannot help but speak about what I’ve seen and heard.”

As the church grew in those days after Pentecost, the religious leaders had a problem. The disciples were preaching about Jesus as being alive. They were performing miracles in the name of Jesus. They reminded people that each of them individually, and as part of the nation of Israel, had put Jesus to death. They talked about the resurrection of Jesus as proof that He was God’s Messiah. This should have been the cue for a field trip to the grave to show everyone the body. Ever wonder why they didn’t take that trip? Instead, the held a committee meeting to admonish the disciples. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:18-20)

The truth of the resurrection destroyed the power structure of the Jews. It was the power structure that determined that Jesus was a threat to the survival of the nation. The unintended prophetic comment of Caiaphas was that it was better for one man to die so that the nation could be saved speaks volumes about the motivation of the power structure. It was the power structure that convicted Jesus of blasphemy in the Sanhedrin’s kangaroo court conviction, and then transferred that charge to insurrection and rebellion to the Roman authorities. If the power structure of the Jews was correct, the crucifixion should have ended any of the problems that a would-be Messiah might have been produced. While the disciples initially scattered like roaches when Jesus was crucified, they gathered together and suddenly became a powerful force in Jerusalem and later around the whole world. What’s worse for the power structure was that these disciples proclaimed that their power came because God raised Jesus from the dead. If that story was true, and obviously I believe that it is, then the resurrection of Jesus by the hand of God puts to lie everything that the power structure believed and worked for. Rather than investigating the claim, they sought to suppress the proclamation of the name of Jesus.

America’s freedoms have allowed a multi-cultural society to flourish. As it has flourished there has been a subtle shift in the way those in power have viewed Christians. No longer are Christians in power, which is probably a good thing considering our history. Where once Christians who went to church on Sunday and didn’t let it affect their lives the rest of the week were called hypocrites; now they are considered model Christians in a world where a lawyer can use the argument that the only legitimate functions of a church happen within the four walls. People who seek to live for Christ every day are seen as fanatics to be shunned. Where those in power used to talk about freedom of religion, which included a lot of different aspects of our faith, we are slowly evolving to a country that honors freedom of worship – confining our religious practices to certain places and times. We can, as Christians, sit back and accept our freedom of worship, or we can fight back against the powers that would seek to limit us. We can fight back by living out our faith each day, proclaiming the gospel in words and proclaiming the gospel in deeds. Let us go feed the hungry and care for the poor. Let us care for the widows and orphans, and by extension all single mothers. Let us care for the sick and those in prison. And let us do all of that in the name of Jesus.

Oh Lord, at one time our faith was part of the power structure, but we weren’t faithful to You in using it. Now, the power structure is slowly seeking to shut down our faith activities. Help me to live my faith daily. Help me to be an example of what it means to live for You. Forgive me for getting lost in my own desires and help me to be obedient to Your call each and every day.

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April 12 – Faith Healing and Healing Faith

Acts 3; Deuteronomy 17-18; Job 12

“Faith healing” has a bad reputation. When we think of faith healing today, perhaps our thoughts go to the people who hold special healing services, promising that God will bring healing because they are the ones leading it. Then there are the faith healers who love you enough to send a healing prayer cloth…if you send them enough money. Interestingly enough, the scientific community has recently come to understand the power of prayer as part of the healing process. They are doing studies on the effects of prayer and relaxation therapies on patients because they began seeing a correlation between the healing rate of people who go to church or show themselves to be religious in some way and those who don’t as noted by studies from Yale, Dartmouth, and Duke.

None of those involved in the studies would say that medical services should be withheld. What they would say is that the physical benefits of prayer, meditation, and relaxation help the body to heal faster. The idea of pure faith healing is still not accepted by scientists in general. While we could have a debate with those scientists on the possibility of faith healing, I’m just happy that they recognize the value of prayer in healing. Jesus, though, when He walked on earth could have turned His ministry into a pure physical healing ministry.  He was doing much more than that, though. Peter and John ran into a beggar who couldn’t walk by the Temple gates and, instead of giving him silver or gold, healed him so that he could walk and leap as he headed into the Temple to praise God. When questioned about the situation, Peter and John focused on Jesus. “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:16)

We see a lot of healing in the ministry of Jesus and in the ministry of the early church. Some would say that God healed back then because they didn’t have the medical facilities we have now. Since we don’t need miraculous healings now, we don’t have them. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that God is still God and that whether He works through modern scientific methods or through miraculous supernatural methods, all healing comes from Him. In the case of this story, the healing was immediate and it was visible. The people in the Temple had just walked past this guy while they were heading in. Some might have given alms and were wondering if they could get their shekels back. Peter focused the attention where it belonged – on Jesus. The faith in Jesus that healed the man was not necessarily the man’s faith, it was the faith of Peter and John acting in response to a prompting of the Holy Spirit. You might be able to guess that the man that was healed started having faith though.

Peter’s message in response to the crowd’s reaction drew everyone’s attention to Jesus. It was faith in Jesus, the Jesus that the crowd had rejected and delivered to the cross, the Jesus who rose from the dead, that brought healing. Then, Peter offered a message of hope and reconciliation: God would forgive them if they would repent and turn back to God. That same message of reconciliation should ring out in the churches today. If God would offer forgiveness to those who crucified Jesus, what sin could anyone commit today that would put them beyond the reach of the forgiveness of God? There is no such sin. While we still need to remember the horrible, devastating effects of sin, while we still need to deal with the evil of sin; we must focus on the mercy and forgiveness of God to those who are trapped. Great teaching about sin and its evils will not change people: only the mercy and grace of God can do that. In short, sin is bad but God’s mercy is so much stronger.

Oh Lord, I see so many people trapped in the devastation caused by sin. I pray that they might come to You to receive mercy and grace; that they might accept the forgiveness that You offer to all in Jesus Christ.

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April 11 – The Bottom Line

Acts 2:14-47; Deuteronomy 15-16; Job 11

John Elkington proposed the idea known as “The Triple Bottom Line” in 1994 as a way to get companies to realize that there was more to life than cash flow. The Triple Bottom Line was how companies needed to measure themselves. First, the traditional view, was profits. The second bottom line was people. How socially responsible is the company and what effect do they have on the people of the company and customers. The third bottom line is how environmentally conscious they are. What affect do they have on the planet? What a great way of looking at things! If all you do is look at profit, then it would be wise to invest in companies that make an outlandish return on investment because they use slave labor and destroy the environment in their wake.

If there is a “Christian Triple Bottom Line” it would deal with Ministry, Mankind, and Methods, I believe. Are we ministering to people in need? Are we making a difference for all mankind? Do we use methods that are biblically sound without manipulation? I don’t know how we would measure all of those quantitatively, just as I’m not sure how you would measure the people and the planet effects with the financial Triple Bottom Line, but it all begins with bringing men and women to Jesus. We can’t minister without people to do the ministry; we can’t make a difference for all mankind if we can’t even make a difference in ourselves and other followers of Jesus Christ; and if we don’t use biblically sound methods to evangelize, then we really haven’t brought people to Jesus – we’ve taught them to say the right words to get rid of us. Peter, in the first sermon of the Church, on the day of Pentecost helped us understand part of the biblical method of evangelism. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36)

It’s probably not politically correct in these days, but after Peter gave an explanation of what was happening and why these travelers kept hearing the word of God in their own language, he closed his message with a guilt trip. “Jesus, whom you crucified” were words that disturbed many of those in attendance. They probably hadn’t taken part in the trials of Jesus – either before the Sanhedrin or Pilate. It’s likely that they didn’t even go out and watch the crucifixion. Even still, Peter’s message is accurate – and it’s still true today. Jesus was crucified because of my sins. That is a truth that we in the church believe and proclaim. I didn’t physically hold the hammer that nailed Jesus to the cross, but spiritually, I did since my sins brought Him there. It is biblical to help people understand their sin and that there is accountability for that sin. Yes, I used the “s” word even though we’re supposed to talk about “bad choices” or something like that.

Just as biblical, though is Peter’s response to people who came face to face with their sins and wondered what they could do about it: repent and be baptized for forgiveness of sins. Without getting into the theological debate about what baptism means, Peter is telling them that turning from their sin and being willing to let God immerse Himself in their lives will bring salvation – at other times the phrase is “times of refreshment from the Lord.” Sometimes when we focus on people’s sins, we forget about God’s forgiveness. Perhaps I err on the side of focusing on God’s forgiveness without calling out specific sins, but I figure that reminding you that you have sin and letting God reveal that to you is enough. My job is to show the forgiveness and grace of God that is found through the death of Jesus on the cross. We live each day through the grace of Jesus Christ, as this message from long ago shows. 3000 people came into a new relationship with God that day through His grace.

Oh Lord, when I look at my own life, I realize how much my sin seeks to overwhelm me. Thank You for forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Continue to help me turn from my sin and live by Your grace and forgiveness.

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April 10 – Heart Language

Acts 2:1-13; Deuteronomy 13-14; Job 10

Charles Emerson Winchester (the third) was a character on the TV show M*A*S*H that was known for being aloof and pompous. He did not belong in Korea as an army surgeon, he was destined to be chief of surgery at a place like John Hopkins. He made it a point of not fitting in with the rest of the crew because he was a Winchester. While he occasionally showed flashes of humanity, he seemed to make it a point to let everyone know that he was above it all. When Father Mulcahy sought Winchester’s help for some of the war orphans, he ignored the Father – until Christmas Day. On that day, he opened up a present: it was a red toboggan. He went wild. He cried with emotion. It was a reminder of life in Boston. He ran over to Father Mulcahy and pressed money into his hands saying, “Buy the orphans what they need.” Then, thinking better, he pulled out more money and said, “Here, buy them what they don’t need.”

There is something comfortable about the familiar in a strange land. Having traveled overseas, it’s comforting to go someplace and hear English being spoken. I don’t have to be on guard at messing up in a foreign language. I don’t have to rely on an interpreter. It’s freeing. Here in Texas, if a local shop advertises Chicago Style Pizza or Hot Dogs, I’m checking them out. (So far, none have satisfied.) I think God understands the comfort factor in the familiar things of life and so, on the day of Pentecost, He arranged for people to hear the gospel in their own language. “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?’” (Acts 2:7-8)

Given that these folks were world travelers living in that time, they most likely could have heard and understood the gospel were it proclaimed in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek. The Greek language was the fall back method of communication in those days. Each person, however, has their own heart language which is usually the language they grew up with. When God wanted them to hear the good news, He arranged for each person to hear it in their own heart language. I’ve seen people argue about whether this was a miraculous gift of language or a miraculous gift of hearing. The most important part is not whether or not the early believers spoke those unknown (to them) languages or whether the travelers heard the Aramaic in their own language; the miracle is God’s concern for each one of them that included allowing them to hear the gospel in their heart language.

There are some languages that are universal. I remember attending a worship service in Central Asia and hearing the music for a song I knew. The words they sang were different, but I knew, and could sing the song. Perhaps the most important heart language is love. When you treat others with love, they will know it. Two people can both help someone. One will be seen as condescending while the other one will be seen as caring for the person because of the attitude shown by the one helping. When we love others with the love that God showed us, we open opportunities to share the greatest gift of all: the gift of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Most people don’t realize that they need this relationship until they see God’s people making a positive difference in the world. John Lennon didn’t fully comprehend the truth of his words when he wrote the song “All you need is love” for the Beatles. When you get down to it, all we really need is love: the love of God. He makes that love available to each person, and He lets us know about it in our own heart language.

Lord, help me to show Your love to others. Let the people of this world open up to hear of Your great love and let that love change their worlds. Give me the power of Your love in my life so that I can share it with others.

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