Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God,10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. – Acts 3:1-10

I am thankful for the financial resources God has entrusted to me and my family. I look forward to facing my later years without relying on my children to pay my bills. We have paid off our cars and carry no credit card debt. So if I walk past a beggar in need, I do have gold or silver which I can share.

On a more personal level, we have friends in Africa who are continually in need for money. Whether it’s for a broken-down car, children’s schooling, or medical crises, we very occasionally hear of their needs. We’ve helped several times over the months and years. Now we learn of another need. We’re praying about how to respond. We could certainly just send them some money.

I’m not sure, however, whether that’s a good thing or not. In fact, there is danger in simply giving money to needy people. We can end up enabling poor behaviors to the point that helping becomes hurting. There’s even a book with the title: When Helping Hurts. It’s like giving a healthy and capable hungry person a fish in stead of teaching him how to fish.

Peter does not have to make that distinction on this occasion. He has no silver or gold. But he does have something even more valuable. The power of the Holy Spirit, a miraculous gift of healing and a heart of true kindness and love motivates him to offer this truly better thing. Peter heals the man.

Financial wellbeing is a gift and a curse. We are able to do things, help people, live without worry about the necessities of life, and avoid being under the stress of constant financial pressure. But we can all too easily forget our greater need for God’s mercies and daily provision. We can forget God or even replace him with the idol of our money.

O God, do not give me so much that I lose sight of my need for you, nor so little that I despair of your grace. And help me to use the wealth and resources faithfully: for your glory and my neighbor’s good.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:41-47

20190517-DSC08063

Egret Preparing to Strike | Florida Everglades | May 2019

Have you ever had a new car? Or a smartphone? Or a computer? How long was it till the “new” wore off? The new car smell gives way to stale french fries and spilled soda. The smartphone screen gets scratched. The computer gets clogged with bloatware. The thrill is gone. But when it’s new; boy howdy! That new car smell! Did you see the screen on that thing?

Perhaps you’ve experienced that same kind of joy over a newly-found faith. You’ve seen the power of God and his grace seen in answered prayers. The riches and depth of God’s love and grace has become real in the face of your guilt and shame. The kindness of God has been newly shown to you through the actions of a friend. You may have been moved by that to a more fervent worship, a more dedicated commitment to love others, or a more urgent prayer life. 

But what happens when the new wears off? For centuries the followers of Jesus have expressed their faith and love for God by the same behaviors Luke describes here: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). 

While our zeal might wane and grow, these practices – together with the take-home practices of loving fellowship, life together, and evangelism (cf. v 44-47) – are the substance of spiritual nurture that have sustained Jesus’ followers for centuries. Is one of those missing from your walk of faith? Is it time to rediscover the these jewels of faithfulness and see how they can reinvigorate your walk with Jesus?

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”– Acts 2:29-36

20190517-DSC08062

Egret-II | Florida Everglades | May 2019

Perhaps you know someone who is all bluster. No matter whether he is correct, truly knowledgeable, or simply the perceived expert he will express his opinion. You might say that he is “not always correct, but seldom in doubt.” I’ve known a couple of folks like that – including one who tried to tell me how my camera worked. He was completely wrong yet totally certain I didn’t know my own equipment! The nerve!

As Peter speaks to the assembled crowd about Jesus and how Scripture testifies to him, he makes a powerful statement with which no one could possibly disagree: “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). It’s kind of like saying, “I am quite certain that Abraham Lincoln is dead and buried. No one would doubt it.

Peter is not merely saying something to which all people will give assent. He is set to assert far more than that King David is now dead. He is ready to point people to Jesus as the fulfillment of what David had expressed in this powerful Psalm 110. In fact Psalm 110 is the most often quoted psalm in the New Testament. It stands as a witness to the profound mystery that Jesus is both Lord and servant. He is David’s son and David’s Lord. 

Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders – the one voted least likely to succeed by the powerful religious leaders of his day – who has assumed the place of highest honor at the right hand of God. This is a truth we must all come to grips with. [Please forgive me Winston Churchill who is reportedly to have said, “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”]

We may wish to sidestep this reality. We may wish our loved ones who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord will not have to grapple with that at the End of Days. But Jesus died. He rose from the dead. He is now honored at the right hand of God. He deserves our honor and praise. He is Lord. How will we respond to the charge that we had any part in his death? This is the question on which all eternity hangs. 

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ – Acts 2:14-21

20190517-DSC08061

Egret | Florida Everglades | May 2019

I am an intuitive person. I draw conclusions about people, stuations, and motives, and I’m often correct. Whatever led to me being of that temperament, I’ve become somewhat accomplished at it. I often surmise what a person is going to say before someone has really had the opportunity to express himself. When I’m correct it’s good. When I’m not, it can become a real problem.

The greatest challenge for those who have drawn conclusions about life, God, and faith comes when someone tries to convince them of something different than they already believe to be true. That can be really destructive.

This is what is going on with the people in Jerusalem on this occasion. They thought they knew what was going on when the disciples had spoken in unknown languages. Their conclusion: the disciples were drunk. The reality: the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work.

It may have been that the most difficult thing to understand about all of these things was how Peter says, quoting from the Old Testament prophet Joel, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Everyone. Whoever. Anyone. All. Can anyone truly call on Jesus and be saved? Is it that easy? These must have been the thoughts of these onlookers on this occasion. Can anyone be let in? Is the kingdom of God really open to all comers?

I’m sure that I might come across someone who seems not to be fit for the kingdom of God. I suspect that the “whoever” in my data set might not be as broad as I claim it to be. But for my own sake – and the sake of all those I know and love – I am thankful to conclude that this promise is decidedly precious, and worth holding to in all situations – no matter what other conclusions I might come to.

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” – Acts 1:1-8

Egret Landing | Florida Everglades | May 2019

I have the privilege of coaching some young pastors in the area of leadership and mission. Some of them are in very difficult situations. One is serving a church that he assesses to be diing. Another has experienced five staff people leaving in the past two weeks. Still another is just recently called to serve as senior pastor of his church with a heavy load to carry and the absence of an associate pastor along side him. Still another is facing staffing, pastoral care, and various challenges.

In our conversation today we agreed that God is at work in the midst of the turmoil all around us. We just don’t always understand or perceive what he is doing.

This is nothing new. In a significantly different way the disciples showed that they did not know what God was up to when they ask Jesus, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus tells them that their question is not one the answer to which they need to know. The goodness of God and his providential directing of the affairs of men help us to understand that a roadmap to the future is often a hinderance, not a help to faith.

We want to know what God is up to. But God wants us to believe in him. Trust in him. Hope in him. Put our faith in him. Knowing what he’s up to in any particular moment may make us more smug and focused on engineering our life in light of what we know will happen rather than relying on God’s goodness, love, and grace.

We may wonder what God is up to. When we do, God invites us to lean on him, fear, love, and trust in him. He is up to something ultimately very good. It involves our salvation, and our part in bringing that salvation to people from all nations and peoples.

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:16-21

Water Lily | Florida Everglades | May 2019

I’m not sure how to understand John’s words here regarding not making a request for forgiveness for one who has committed a sin leading to death. I don’t know the full context of his words, and the implications of those who perhaps endangered others by abandoning their faith and betrayed Jesus followers. That sin would lead to the death of believers.

We are not in that situation today. No one is questioning me about who attends worship at St. John, or who I pray with. But if someone is moving toward the edge of idolatry I will pray for that person. I will talk with that person. I will seek to bring that person to a faith in the true God: Jesus Christ and eternal life.

Martin Luther is reportedly to have said, “A god is that to which you look for the highest good in life.” I like that. He speaks of it in regard to the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Few Christians have idols in their homes in the sense of golden calves or Ashura poles. But we all need to guard our hearts against idolatry. Ours idols are simply more subtle and well-disguised.

The great danger we face is disguising our idols so successfully that we fall prey to their powerless and empty promises, and become ensnared in the death trap of Satan. When we give power and place to money, power, sex, fame, or anything other than God and his promises, we endanger ourselves eternally.

We do really need to guard ourselves from idols – no matter what context we are in. I want to hold true to Jesus and guard my heart from idols. I pray you do too.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:13-15

20190517-DSC08044

Water Lily | Florida Everglades | May 2019

When I was in college I made evangelism calls on fellow students. The method we were trained in involved asking the question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would go to heaven?” I even asked my future wife that question! We had a great conversation about faith, Jesus, heaven, and life after death. She and I rejoice in knowing on the basis of God’s word and promises that we will be in heaven with all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Many people think of such assurance as bordering on hubris. It’s arrogant to say that we know we’re going to heaven they say. Better to say, “I hope to be in heaven after I die.” Few speak of the questions about heaven and earth, and the more nuanced realities of life after death.

The clear promise of God here is that we may know that we have eternal life if we believe in Jesus. In fact we even have the promise that our prayers will be answered if we believe in Jesus.

The confidence in the end is Jesus and God’s promises, not us and our moral or religious purity. Jesus is the key. He is the one to whom we turn in prayer and who has guaranteed our eternal wellbeing by his death and resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of God. When he comes again we can be confident that we will live and be with him forever. Thanks be to God!