Monday, July 21, 2014

Blotted Out

 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:19-21)

I love the phrase, "blotted out." It shows the power of forgiveness in Christ. It says that when God forgives, it's not a simple matter of simply deciding not to punish you for your past; but a promise that those sins are no longer a part of who you are, as far as He's concerned.

When I was a kid, I had this terrifying idea of Heaven and judgement. I had this picture in my head of God sitting on His throne, me standing there, small and scared, watching the movie of my life as He picked apart my every action. Mortifying! Then, when it was all over, all said and done, He would weigh all that sin against the grace and mercy of His son, and I'd escape Hell.

But "blotted out" tells us that's not what's going to happen. "Blotted out" says when I get to Heaven, what He's going to see is Christ in me, and then stack up how I've lived for Him. All that sin, all that filth, gone, as though it never happened.

See, God sees what we do. He knows when we sin, and that sin just piles up, slowly adding to the destruction of our immortal souls. That's life before repentance, and without Christ, that is the criteria on which we will be judged. But in Christ, we have the power to turn from that sin, and in the turning, leave it behind. And as Psalm 103 tells us, that transgression against His holiness is removed from us "as far as the East is from the West." It's no longer a part of us. It no longer holds us back, and is no longer even recognized by God.

How refreshing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grace Found In Murder

“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled." (Acts 3:17-18)

As Peter continued his message to the men of Israel, this is when he really started getting to the meat of the message. Up to this point was illustration: the healing, the reminder of the crucifixion, the mini-lesson in God's power. These were a preamble to the Gospel message Peter was about to share. This next part of the message, Peter began by echoing the words of Jesus. He'd already reminded these men about the man they killed, and now he was reminding them of what He said from the cross: "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." 

But what were they doing? It turns out, much like Joseph's brothers, their actions were being used to fulfill God's will, more or less in spite of their intentions. 

What grace! 

In spite of wicked and jealous hearts, God provided a way for even these men to be saved -- and He did it using the very wickedness He'd come to heal! 

The fact is, we've all stepped outside of God's will. Romans 3:23 reminds us, all -- everyone -- has sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Many of us have made such a mess of things, we don't know whether we can ever be right with God. We wonder how a just and righteous God could ever forgive the things we've done, the lives we've lived. 

Yet, even in our sins, we discover a path back to Him, if we choose to find it. Peter echoed the words of Christ in offering salvation, even to the men who clamored for Jesus' execution. Surely, God has grace enough for you, too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When A Dead Man Says 'Walk'

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. (Acts 3:13-16)

I think Peter took a certain joy in reminding the pious men of Israel about Jesus' crucifixion. Remember: some of these men know good and well they can't explain the resurrection; that's why they had to bribe the guards at Jesus' tomb. So, Peter reminded them, they denied Jesus' claims about Himself were true, and killed him to prove the point. He made a rather strong counter-argument by refusing to stay buried. 

I can see why Peter enjoyed needling them about it a little. In this one paragraph, Peter stripped these men of their authority to criticize (i.e., "hey wait, didn't you only recently let a murderer go free so you could kill a just and innocent man?") and established the power and authority of Christ to accomplish His will.

Peter wanted these men to understand that they, Peter and John, were acting under the authority of Christ, who was given authority of the Holy and Just, as the Prince of life, by the God who raised Him from the dead. 

Put another way, this man Jesus was killed, but then by the power of God was raised back from the dead. That kind of power is unmistakable. That kind of power is so great that the mere name of the One who holds it is enough, through faith, to heal the hopeless.

But what kind of faith? That's the question. If His name is enough, through faith, to heal, how strong must one's faith be? Does anyone actually have that kind of faith? Verse 16 has the answer: the faith we need comes through Him in whom we have faith. If Christ has enough power in His name to heal, He certainly has authority, too, to provide the faith we need to make it possible.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Don't Look At Me!

Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (Acts 3:11-12)

A man, lame from birth, suddenly leaps up and joyously declares he has been healed. The peoples' reaction to this healing isn't that surprising. But Peter's response is interesting. He asks the men of Israel two questions: First, why are they so surprised to witness the acts of God? And secondly, why are they so willing to put mere men on some sort of pedestal?

"Why look so intently at us," asks Peter, "as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" This is a theme that began in chapter 2 and will be repeated throughout the book of Acts, and indeed over and over in the letters of Paul: don't look at the mere mortals God chooses to use as instruments of His will; look instead to the God who causes these things to happen. 

It's easy, when we see a ministry grow, or witness the movement of God, or hear a stirring Word, to attribute it to the holiness or piety of the people involved. It's easy to -- and very human -- to wish to be a part of something just as wonderful. To see ourselves used in such a mighty way. To wonder whether we aren't "together" enough in our faith for God to use us. It's natural to worry that we'll never be "good" enough for God to use in a powerful ministry.

The wonder of God's Grace and Mercy is such, however, that we needn't be perfectly holy to be used to glorify His kingdom. Read the accounts of Moses, of David, of Peter and Paul. These were not naturally holy men. These were not the men you or I would choose to fulfill God's will (or in the case of David, allow to continue to act on God's behalf). But then, we aren't God.

As Peter tried to explain to the men on Solomon's Porch, God isn't being glorified by the acts of mere men. This crippled beggar wasn't healed because Peter and John were good and righteous and holy. He was healed because God chose to heal him, using Peter and John as His instruments.

Men fail. Consistently. Failure, indeed, is possibly life's singular constant. But as Peter and John demonstrate, God doesn't wait for us to become perfect before working through us. He doesn't call the qualified -- if He had to do that, He'd never be able to call anyone. God calls the willing, and by working through us brings us closer to His holiness.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Do You Marvel?

Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (Acts 3:11-12)

A man, lame from birth, suddenly leaps up and joyously declares he has been healed. It's fair to say if you or I witnessed the event, we'd be pretty surprised. Shocked, even. We would praise God, and perhaps even think more highly of the men through whom this miracle was enacted. So, I have to say, the peoples' reaction to the healing of Acts 3 really doesn't seem inappropriate. But Peter's response is interesting. We're going to look, in the next two days, at the two questions he asks of the witnesses. He begins by asking the men of Israel -- those gathered at the Temple -- "why do you marvel at this?"

I think Peter chose his words very carefully here. Notice, he addressed the crowd, Men of Israel. These weren't Romans or other pagans. These were Israelites. These were people raised on the Law and Prophets, whose very lives and culture were meant to be a reflection of God's glory. Indeed, these were His chosen people. So, when Peter addresses this group, "Men of Israel," with that title comes the full weight of their entire history. "People of God," he is essentially saying, "you who were brought out of Egypt, who were led by smoke during the day and fire at night, who were fed on bread from the Hand of God, to whom God delivered the Promised Land... you who were delivered from your enemies time and time again, who were given His Ark to carry before you, the people of Abraham's covenant... this amazes you?"

What Peter seems to be asking is a question many of us should ask ourselves: do you not know who God is

I once heard a pastor say that once you get past the first phrase of Scripture, "In the Beginning, God," everything else is possible. All the miracles, all the healings, the work and ministry of Jesus, the empowering by His Spirit... if we know who God is, we must expect the unexpected. We must anticipate the miraculous. The God we serve isn't bound by our physics. He isn't limited by our handicaps. He is the God of Wonders. We are reminded in Acts 3 that when you serve a God of wonders, you learn to allow Him to move as He will, and be prepared for the impossible.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hey, This Isn't What I Asked For!

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. (Acts 3:6-8)

Do you recognize the movement of God in your life?

When the man lying at the gate saw Peter and John, he raised his hands and begged for alms. Born lame, begging for money was the only life this man knew. It was all he understood. That was the way of the culture; he could not take care of himself, so he lay by the temple gate and asked the children of God to help him. When they noticed him and stopped, the man had no expectation beyond the usual: that they would provide him with whatever they had available to give him, and be on their way. 

Instead, they gave him much more. They gave him a chance. A new life. And, as we see in verse 8, this formerly lame beggar responded appropriately. 

I wonder how many of us would have fallen back down, content to maintain the status quo. How often have we begged God for something, only to have Him respond in a way so much bigger than we had dared hope? And how often does that happen, but we reject the gift because it wasn't what we asked for?

Can you imagine what it would have looked like if the lame man had rejected this healing? "Hey, wait a minute, guys! I don't know how to do anything but beg! What am I gonna do now?!" He would have seemed pretty ungrateful, right?

Yet, how often do we say the same thing to God? "That's not what I asked for, God. What am I gonna do with this?"

Trust God. Trust that He knows His plan for you, and that it's better than you could ever plan for yourself. Trust that whatever happens will be to His glory. If you have the faith to ask, have the faith, too, to accept His answer, whatever it is, and to praise Him for the answering. 

Learn to understand that God will bless in His own way, and that His way is far superior to our own, and you will find yourself blessed beyond measure.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Silver and Gold I Have Not

Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:1-6)

It's easy to become overwhelmed when we look at the need in the world around us. Millions in need of food, water, shelter, medical care... the list, sadly, goes on and on. Charities great and small crop up around these specific needs, and all vie for your attention -- and money. You can't even buy a Happy Meal without being hit up for a donation, and for the most part, the cause is always worthwhile and important. And maybe that's not so bad, a dollar here or there. Perhaps you're even making real sacrifices and giving even when it's inconvenient. But you still wonder if you're doing enough. Whether it's making a difference at all. 

Maybe you're like me and have serious doubts you'll ever be able to afford to make a real difference. But when I think that way, it's because I've forgotten one of a few very important facts about both need and the Call to help those in need. 

First, money is a tool. A gift. It is given to us that we might sustain our families and bless others. But it isn't the only tool. In fact, you may not have any money at all... but you can still be a blessing to those in need. When Peter and John went to the temple in Acts 3, they didn't have any money on them. But they did have the empowerment of Christ to give this man in need something even better. And that's the second fact we need to remember: if God calls us to help, He gives us the means to do so. Maybe it's not what you think it ought to be, or what the world think it's looking for... but it's nevertheless exactly the right thing at the right time. 

Maybe what you have to offer is comfort. A listening ear. The ability to care for others, to pray for others, to provide nourishment. You never know what the Spirit will lay on you, when you're willing to listen. Maybe, He'll even call you to heal. The point is to be available. The point is to stop worrying about what you can't do, and listen instead for what God wants to do through you. 

The third fact we learn from this story is that you don't need to worry about changing the entire world. Focus instead on those who God puts right in front of you. Love those people. Care for them. Do that, and you really are changing the world.