Category Archives: Christianity

Shouldn’t We All? (Acts 18)

I know we Christians believe in Jesus. We have faith that He is God, that He died on the cross as a substitution for us, taking on the penalty for our sin. We believe that He rose again and lives today. We believe that the Bible is true, and God is who He says He claims to be.

But are we ready to give an answer for the hope we have, in the faith we possess? Do we know WHY we believe, and can we defend what we know against someone who believes differently?

When Apollos went to Achaia, “he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (18:18, emphasis mine)

Shouldn’t we all be able to do the same?

No “I” (Galatians)

This past year I have been reading through God’s Word using my mother’s Bible. Mom went to live with Jesus in 1996, and I have had her Bible on my bookshelf for all these years. I always love reading God’s Word, but this year has been kind of special as I see what verses my mother underlined. Sometimes I see a verse she underlined and think, “Yeah. That sounds like Mom.” Other times I read something she underlined and wonder what was going on in her life at the time that prompted that particular verse to speak to her.

Mom underlined three passages in the book of Galatians, and I’d like to share them with you today. The first is 2:20.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

I no longer live.

A dead person has no goals, no plans or desires, no ego. Can I honestly say that describes me? Have I been crucified with Christ so that Connie no longer lives? That goes so contrary to the popular theme of the day, that “I” deserve, “I” need, “I” can, “I” am…

A dead man has no “I.” Do “I?”

Paul, understanding that there was still life in his body, explained how he could be a dead man walking: but Christ lives in me.

Jesus filled Paul’s body with HIS goals, plans, and desires, and Paul gladly offered his body to accomplish those things on Jesus’ heart. Paul had no ego. His life was no longer his, but Christ’s.

Paul also understood that life in this body comes with challenges. It is a constant battle with Satan. Paul explained in another verse my mother underlined, 5:16, how he could resist the temptations Satan threw his way:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Paul didn’t say there wouldn’t be desires of the sinful nature. We are all tempted in some way or another. (think of the “I” mentality I spoke about earlier. The pull to gratify sinful desires is real.) But Paul knew that if the Spirit was directing him, the ability to resist those desires would be his as well.

The third passage Mom underlined was 5:24-26.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with the passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Crucifying that sinful nature can be a battle for me. Sometimes I feel like Paul in I Corinthians 15:31 because I, too, have to die daily. But I notice in this passage in Galatians, Paul gives me the key: keep in step with the Spirit. How? By spending time in God’s Word every day, praying for understanding and discernment, growing in grace and knowledge of Jesus, then I am able to keep in step with the Spirit who fills me.

These passages in Galatians highlight five things to me this morning:

  1. Crucified with Christ (is that true of me?)
  2. Christ in me (not just emptying myself, but replacing the “I” with Jesus)
  3. Live by the Spirit (being aware of His presence, making choices that He prompts me to make, spending time in God’s Word and in prayer every day)
  4. Belong to Christ (wow! I am His, and He is mine! Never alone. His precious child)
  5. Keep in step with the Spirit (I’m not emptied, then filled just to sit here and enjoy the ride. This part of these passages that spoke to my mother tells me the Spirit is on the move, and I better keep up!)

I’ve learned some things about my mother this year as I’ve read her Bible. But more importantly, I’ve learned some things about myself and my relationship with the Savior she loved.

My prayer is that today, I will not live. I pray that I will be a dead woman walking around with Jesus inside, my fingers touching the things He wants to touch, my feet going where He wants to go, my voice saying the things He wants to say. I pray that for you, too.

Astonished? Why? (Acts 11-12)

The believers were being persecuted. King Herod had arrested many, and even had Jesus’ disciple James, put to death because James preached about Jesus. Peter was arrested and was imprisoned with a death sentence over his own head.

Many believers got together to pray. We find them in the home of Mary the mother of John Mark, no doubt pleading with God during this scary time. We don’t read their words, but I imagine they prayed for God’s mercy, His protection, His will to be done in their situation. I imagine they prayed specifically for Peter, “God, please spare his life, undertake on his behalf, save him from Herod’s evil plan.”

While they were praying, they heard a knock on the door. Rhoda, a little servant girl, went and probably put her ear to the door. She whispered, “Who’s there?” Peter, no doubt with his own ear up to the door whispered back, “It’s me! Peter!”

Rather than opening the door and letting Peter into the house, Rhoda rushed back and interrupted the prayer meeting. “Peter is here,” she exclaimed. The praying believers responded:

“Impossible!”

“You’re crazy!”

“It must be his angel, which means they’ve killed him!”

Rhoda kept insisting, Peter kept knocking, until someone from the prayer group went to open the door and see for himself.

There stood Peter! Their prayers had been answered, but Scripture tells us they were astonished. They couldn’t believe their eyes, yet they had been praying for that very thing. There before them stood the answer to their prayers, yet they were astonished.

Jesus Himself had told them, “Have faith in God… Therefore I tell you whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22,24)

Jesus also said, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

I wonder how many times I have prayed to God for something, but somewhere in the back of my brain I don’t think He’ll answer that prayer. I know many people are praying these days that God will turn this country around, that people will return to God and that He will restore our land. But I wonder if we really believe He will.

I also wonder how many times God has answered a prayer of mine, and I was astonished to see it. Should it surprise me when God is faithful to His Word?

I am challenged today to pray believing. I am challenged to pray specifically for people and situations, to tell God what is really on my heart. I am challenged to trust Him with the outcome, and to be looking for His answer so I don’t miss it. And I am challenged to pray in His name, with the intent that the answer to my prayers would glorify Him and draw people to the cross.

I will pray, “God help us. God defeat Satan in our government, in our society, and in our churches and homes. God take away this virus. God heal the unrest, send a revival, open eyes and unite us as one nation under God.”

And I will be listening for that knock on the door, expecting God to hear and answer my prayers for Jesus’ sake and for His glory. Seeing answers to my prayers might blow me away, but I never want those answers to surprise me.

180 (Acts 9-10)

Saul obeyed. Ananias obeyed. Cornelius obeyed. Peter obeyed. And what they did in obedience was a 180 from where they’d started.

Saul was headed to Damascus to arrest all believers he could find because he wanted to stop people from proclaiming Jesus. He was an educated Jew, and educated Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah. But when Saul had an encounter with Jesus, he turned from someone who wanted to silence people, into someone who would not be silenced.

Ananias was comfortable there in Damascus. He may have felt safe in his home from the coming trouble. But when God told him to go to Saul, the very man who threatened Ananias’ life, Ananias moved out of his comfort zone and walked right up to the one person he considered an enemy, ready to pray for Saul to regain his sight.

Cornelius was a Gentile who believed in Israel’s God. But he was still a Gentile, and Gentiles and Jews had no use for each other. Cornelius had a good ministry there in Caesarea, but when God told him there was something more, Cornelius went for it even if it meant going to a Jew to get it.

Peter knew Jesus personally, was a disciple and one of Jesus’ closest friends. But he was Jewish, and Jews felt Jesus was THEIR Messiah. They were pretty protective of that relationship. A sign with “No Gentiles allowed!” was placed over the door of their clubhouse. But when God showed Peter, not once but three times (we are talking Peter here), that God makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, Peter turned his back on what he thought he knew, and went to the home of a Gentile to share his Messiah, Jesus, with Cornelius and his family.

Sometimes God pushes us forward, sometimes He turns us around. We, like the men in these chapters of Acts, need only to obey.

What is God asking of you today? Is it time you did a 180?

Church (Acts 3)

That early Church is a model I think the Church in 2020 needs to revisit. Let’s see what the Church looked liked after Pentecost:

  1. They devoted themselves to studying God’s Word. They didn’t do book studies or use Bible helps. They devoted themselves to Scripture. Today we use videos and music, programs which are viewed as important as God’s Word, and sometimes more important. I remember disagreeing with a pastor of mine concerning his focus on the kind of music we were singing. I felt his focus was in the wrong place. His words, said with smirk, “Oh, you’re one of those people who think preaching is the most important part of a worship service.” I think the early Church thought that was the case, according to this chapter in Acts.
  2. They fellowshipped, enjoyed meals together. We Baptists are famous for our pot-luck dinner. But that’s been stopped in 2020. Have we lost an important aspect of being God’s Church?
  3. They devoted themselves to prayer. I learned to pray as a teenager by attending Wednesday evening prayer meeting. I started out with sentence prayers, then felt more comfortable praying aloud. Today, I doubt there are many teenagers attending prayer meetings. My own church schedules Youth Group during our prayer meeting. Prayer meetings aren’t fun. Most churches don’t even offer them any more. I know there are prayer warriors among us. But would you say the Church is devoted to prayer in 2020? They were in the early Church.
  4. They were filled with awe. They saw answers to their prayers. I don’t think the emphasis here is on the miracles the early church saw. I think the emphasis is on the awe they had for God Himself. Yes they were no doubt in awe of the miracles, answered prayer, changed lives. But I wonder if we have lost our awe of God and replaced it with a friendship? Have we become so familiar with God we’ve ceased to bow before His holiness? When was the last time we have stood in awe of WHO God is, and not just because of what He does?
  5. They were together, like minded, and they cared for the physical needs of each other. Today’s Church is often involved in good causes outside the local church, while some of our own number are hurting. That’s not the example of the early Church. Yes, we are called to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, but not before we take care of those closest to home.
  6. They met together as a group of believers every day. Some people today find it hard to get to church for an hour a week, and woe to the preacher who preaches past that hour. We’ve eliminated Sunday evening services, Wednesday services, and offer online and alternative meeting times to make it “convenient” for people to go to church. People stay home and allow their kids to stay home if the service isn’t entertaining enough, or the music not rocking enough. Is that what we see here in the early Church?
  7. They were friends outside of the four walls of the local church. Here’s why that is important:
  8. They enjoyed the favor of all the people, not just church-goers. They took their love of God and love for each other into the community and demonstrated Christian relationships and joy. The result?:
  9. The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved! The example presented by those early believers drew lost people to God.

That early Church was the Church within the walls of their meeting places, and outside them. They were devoted to God and obedient to His will. They worked together, worshiped together, grew together, and people noticed.

Makes me wonder what people are noticing about the Church in 2020.

Scripture Fulfilled (Luke 23, John 18-19)

Many times in the Gospels, the writers say something like, “this was done so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” The question is, does this mean God manipulated circumstances in order to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy, or did God give the Old Testament prophets a glimpse at what would happen in the future as the result of choices people would make, and He wants us to make that connection to prove He is Almighty God?

Is it fore-knowledge or causation we see here?

I think the beauty of this idea of Scripture being fulfilled is in the fact that God sees the end from the beginning. And because He exists outside of time, He is able to say what will happen before it happens, because He has already seen it happen.

He didn’t need to cause something to happen because some Old Testament prophet predicted it hundreds of years earlier. The prophet predicted it because it happened. Remember, God sees life on planet Earth in the past. What we do tomorrow is already in the books.

But that doesn’t mean He is not present today, or that we need not pray or obey Him because the end is already known by Him. It means God sees what happened as a result of our prayers, and what happened as a result of our lack of prayer. He sees what happened as a result of our obedience today, tomorrow, next month, next year. And He sees what happened as a result of our disobedience.

We still have a responsibility to Him. He sees the future, but we certainly cannot! Your story is still being written one minute at a time in this life. And the choices you make during those minutes determine the ending He already sees.

The Charges Against You (Matthew 27, Mark 14)

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and couldn’t get back to sleep. After tossing and turning for what seemed like hours, I finally gave up, turned on the light, and finished a Christian fiction novel I had begun reading a couple days ago.

The main character, who had given her life to the Lord about three-quarters into the story, had been drugged and sabotaged by her conniving assistant. When the truth came out, the assistant, flanked by two police officers, stood before the main character. The guilty assistant was facing prison time for her crimes.

“Do you want to press charges?” one of the officers asked.

Then, because she realized how much God had forgiven her, the main character looked at her assistant and felt sorry for her. “No,’ she replied. “I won’t be pressing charges.”

Sounds very Christian.

Until you read the Scriptures I read this morning.

Sometimes we are led to believe that when we ask Jesus to forgive us, He simply erases the ledger. He doesn’t press charges. But that is not true. Those sins you confess don’t just go away. Each one comes with a death sentence, and saying, “My bad,” doesn’t make them disappear, no matter how sincere you are.

There is a price your sins and mine demand. It’s an awful, painful, serious price to pay. And a Holy, Just God demands payment.

Jesus paid.

He heard every lie, every insult. He felt every fist, every thorn, every lash, every nail. His blood poured out of His body like yours or mine would have flowed. He died a very painful death. His death was our death sentence.

Jesus didn’t go through all of that to simply let you off the hook. He endured that pain to pay for your sins and mine. Every sin. The debt ledger wasn’t erased. It was paid in full.

If you confess your sin you will be forgiven. But the charges against you have been made, and you have been found guilty. Accepting Jesus as your Savior means accepting the fact that He paid your death sentence. He took on Himself the punishment you deserve.

I pray you have received what Jesus died to give you, the forgiveness of your sin. But never think what He did was merely dropping the charges. It cost Him much more than that.

Complete Unity (John 14-17)

When Jesus prayed for those of us who believe on Him through the Apostles’ message, He asked the Father this:

May they be brought to complete unity, to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (17:23b)

I believe we need to hear His prayer today, to pray those words ourselves, and do what Jesus wants us to do. Our world, our nation is so divided. What about His Church?

Jesus wasn’t asking the Father to make Democrats get along with Republicans or Chinese get along with Americans. Jesus was praying for the Church, believers, we who call ourselves Christians.

What do Christians have in common? Jesus.

On what do Christians need to have complete unity? That Jesus is God, that He died for all and rose again to life so those who believe can live, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him.

We Christians need to have complete unity over the fact that sin as described in Scripture is sin, punishable by death. We need to agree over God’s grace to repentant hearts through the blood of His Son.

The Church needs to demonstrate complete unity in our love for one another, not just people who vote like we do. Methodist believers loving Baptist believers loving Presbyterian believers loving Quaker believers loving Catholic believers, united by our love for Jesus, and our obedience to His Word.

The world is watching. Are they seeing complete unity among we who name the name of Jesus? If not, why not?

The Full Extent Of His Love (John 13)

I love what John said about Jesus in verse one of this chapter:

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The full extent of His love.

Have you experienced that love for yourself? We read what that looked like in the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ last days on earth in a human body.

He shared that last supper with His disciples where He asked them (and us) to remember Him every time we eat the bread and drink the cup which together represent His suffering. He washed his disciples’ feet and told them (and us) to serve each other in the same way. He said words of comfort, knowing they (and we) would face hardships because of Him. He prayed for them (and us), and promised He would come back for them (and us).

Then we watch as He is arrested, beaten, lied about, ridiculed, tortured, and then nailed to a cross. He was betrayed and abandoned by people closest to Him. He died a painful death, when the truth is He went through all of it willingly. He could have stopped it. But His love wouldn’t let Him.

What is the extent of His love? Read John 13-21 and experience it for yourself. Jesus’ love of you caused Him to feel real pain, both physical and emotional. His love of you allowed those soldiers to beat Him mercilessly. His love of you let them drive those nails into His hands and feet. And finally, His love of you kept Him on the cross until your sin debt, the death penalty that is yours, was paid in full.

I would say the extent of God’s love for each of us is limitless. If you are a believer you understand what that means, and I imagine you are rejoicing in the privilege of experiencing that love for yourself. If you don’t know Him, I pray you will take the time to read these chapters today, knowing that everything in there was said and done for your benefit. Jesus did all of that for you.

Oh what wondrous love is this!

How Long Has It Been? (Matthew 26, Mark 14)

I believe Peter loved Jesus, that he was convinced Jesus was the Messiah. I believe Peter meant it from the depths of his soul when he said he’d rather die than ever deny Jesus. But as much as Peter loved Jesus and was determined to follow Him to the bitter end, Peter failed. He denied he even knew Jesus not once, but three times.

Then, when faced with his sin, Peter broke down and wept. Something tells me he didn’t just shed a few tears here. I think the word “wept” means the damn broke.

How long has it been since you were that broken over sin in your own life? You’re a believer. You committed your life to God, promised to love and obey Him – and you meant it.

But a temptation presents itself and you end up sinning anyway, in thought or deed. Oh, you probably whisper an apology, “Please forgive me, Jesus,” and you know He will. That’s the beauty of our Savior. He is gracious and merciful, and faithful to forgive.

But are we truly aware that our sin is a denial of Jesus every bit as much as what Peter did? Can we look Jesus in the eye and still believe our sin is no big deal just because we convince ourselves our sin is not as bad as some? We can read this portion of Scripture and point a finger at Peter. Can God be pointing a finger at us?

Your sin – and mine – is personal to Jesus who endured the agony of the cross to forgive it. Yes, that sin you are thinking about right now ought to drive you to your knees in uncontrolled grief. That sin that drove a nail into the precious hands of Jesus. That sin that denies your relationship with Jesus.

Just because we are assured that God forgives our sins shouldn’t blind us from the seriousness of them, or what it cost Jesus to even offer forgiveness. And every sin should grieve us for what we do to our Savior. It’s a slap in His face, a denial, a choice to place that sin above Him.

How long has it been since you wept over sin in your life? I’m asking myself the same thing, and I’m not thrilled with my answer.