Searching for the Formula to a Successful Life: ACTS 5

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This passage of scripture begins with a story depicting the heavy hand of God.  Ananias and his wife Sapphira were caught lying and immediately dropped dead.  I have to admit when I read this, I feel obligated to explain why God does what he does.  Why did God pass swift judgment on these two for an action that on the surface doesn’t seem deserving of death, while at the same time he allows the Jerusalem leaders to continue persecuting the church? It seems like a contradiction in his character, and this is just one example.  There are more.  I want to understand God.  Even more, I want the formula.  I always have wanted a formula, whether it was how to study for a test or implement a new strategy at work.  Derive a formula, follow it, and experience success.

While preparing this message my son approached me with the suggestion that he skip his homework for the night.  I asked him what he planned to tell his teacher when he submitted a blank reading log.  He said, “Oh, Mama, I’m going to fill out the reading time.”  So I seized the opportunity and read him the story of Ananias and Sapphira to teach him the dangers of lying.  He promptly asked me, “So is God going to kill me if I lie to my teacher?”   I resisted the temptation to say, “Yes!”  He wants a formula too.

What is the purpose of this story?  It definitely introduces questions of God’s fairness.  Why am I even alive right now, because I’m confident I’ve behaved worse than these two?  This story actually fits into a pattern throughout Biblical history, whereby at the beginning of any new “age” or period of time, we see evidence of God’s swift judgment on sin.   It’s much like a parent might utilize quick discipline with a young child as he reaches life stage milestones.  God wishes to bring “infant” believers into deeper maturity in their relationship with him.  Because sin prevents spiritual growth, during these pivotal times in history, God’s swift judgment instilled a holy fear among the community, halting sin for a moment, so that they could grow.  For the sake of brevity we’ll look at three examples of this pattern.

A Pattern of God’s Swift Discipline

The Age of the Law of Moses

When God provided the Law to the people of Israel after they fled Egypt, it offered the people an opportunity to worship him on a deeper level through faithful obedience.  It laid the foundation for many things, but paramount was for his people to grow in relationship with him.   This age of the Law was in its infancy, and we see in Leviticus chapter 10 that the priests begin to perform their priestly duties.  Two of Aaron’s sons (Aaron was the high priest), Nadab and Abihu, disobeyed their instructions and burned the wrong kind of fire and incense.  Scripture doesn’t indicate their motives, but we can be certain they understood the instructions.  It was rebellion, therefore the fire they created “blazed forth and consumed them.”  Aaron was silent and his remaining sons did as they were instructed.  They were filled with a holy fear.  As Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show would say, “Nip it in the bud!”

The Age of the Promised Land

When Israel entered the Promised Land, this new age offered an opportunity to go even deeper in relationship with God.  It would be a time when God would display his power and love and blessings.  Israel had been equipped with the Law and obedience earlier, and now they could live out their purpose in the Promised Land, providing a beacon for the world.  Again, this age is in its infancy, and it’s in Joshua 7 we see the story of Achan.  While God was leading Israel to conquer the cities within the land of Canaan to possess it, Achan disobeys a direct order from God.  He keeps some of the plunder from one of these cities and secretly buries it in his tent.  Make no mistake, it was rebellion.  God reveals the sin to Joshua, presents Achan in front of the entire nation, and Achan loses his life as punishment.  Don’t you know a fear of the Lord passed over everyone that day?

The Age of Grace

Jesus had just conquered death, sent his Spirit to his people, and again everyone had the opportunity to relate to God in an even deeper way.  This was much more than a progressive step in God’s story, it was monumental.  The pattern that we see is that when God reveals a new aspect of relationship with him, it ushers in a new age and we see that the people are particularly vulnerable to the enemy’s deception; they faced a tremendous temptation to rebel.

This brings us to Ananias and Sapphira, who sold some property and claimed to have given all the proceeds to the young church.    When Peter recognized the deception he says in verse 4, “The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished.  And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away.”  Instead of operating within the framework of their new-found freedom, this husband and wife succumbed to the temptation that they needed to live up to an image, fill a quota   Isn’t it interesting that in the age of grace, they instead chose bondage and went back to the human limitations of the law?  At the end of Acts 4, Luke records that Barnabus sold all of his land and gave it to the church.  No doubt his generosity was lauded, and for this couple, it must have set the bar pretty high in their minds.  Rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to fill them completely, they unplugged, pushed him to the side, and followed their own plan.  The age of grace was in its infancy, and the message of grace so critical, that the Lord took both of their lives that day.  He preserved his plan for the early church, and a wave of fear and reverence for the Lord swept the community of believers.

Patterns Can Be Fun

I hope this is helpful in understanding God’s purpose for Ananias and Sapphira’s story.  I just love to discover a pattern from scripture like this.  The pattern found here shows us that God is still God.  He is the ultimate judge and has every right to punish rebellious behavior.  In these examples, the point is not that they were punished for their sin, but that the rebellious behavior could very well have become a cancer among these young believers, spreading its toxicity to the entire community before God’s purpose was fully displayed.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when he said, ‘I will display my holiness through those who come near me.  I will display my glory before all the people.’” And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3 NLT)

When I discover a pattern like this, not only is it fun, there’s actually something deeper stirring inside me.  I feel a sense of accomplishment that I might have actually figured God out.  These patterns lead me to think that God is consistent, thereby making him predictable, until he painfully shows me he isn’t predictable at all.  Wasn’t King David arguably ushering in an age of the Throne in Israel.  It would be through this Throne that Messiah would come.  Couldn’t one argue that David was being rebellious when he coveted another man’s wife?  He then had her husband killed to cover up the indiscretion.  Why didn’t God quickly eliminate David like these others?   How do we reconcile what seems like inconsistencies?   I need to reconcile them, because I desperately want to know the “why’s” of God.  But I’ll be honest.  I really want to know “why” so that I can develop an algorithm, predict the results, and feel some sense of control over my own destiny.  And therein lies the real problem.  I want to control my destiny.

The Book of Proverbs is basically one giant pattern of…If you do this, you will live a long and prosperous life; if you do that, you won’t.  And God has provided these patterns because he wants us to apply it to our lives as it relates to our relationship with Him.  We should recognize the significance of making him the center of our lives.  We cross over to the dark side when we attempt to derive a formula from these patterns in order to manage our own destiny.  We automatically push God left of center, even if that’s not our goal.

The Hidden Danger of Patterns

Guilty.  I went through a period of intense fear as a new mother.  Every news report of an abducted child, a sudden infant death, or a major child injury was filed away in my mind.  I constructed an elaborate algorithm of do’s and don’ts to keep my children safe.  I began obsessing over their future and if I ever heard a story of a mishap, and the parents did everything right according to my algorithm, I was terrified.  I had to go through a lengthy process of confessing each and every one of those fears and committing them to the security of my Lord and Savior.  I had to admit I couldn’t create a formula to control my destiny or theirs.  I had to make God my center and fully trust him in life and death.

When my dear friend, Sarah, lost her husband in October 2014 through a bizarre and tragic shooting, I found myself again trying to file this appropriately in my mind.  He was a police officer on an assignment for the Sheriff’s department when his partner shot him.  Jeremy was by all accounts a good and decent family man.  More than that, he loved God with all of his heart and he had lived life well.  Why God?  I literally said to myself, “I can easily understand the “why” of Ananias and Sapphira’s death, but my formula doesn’t work here!”   He was doing what Proverbs said to do.  Why wasn’t he granted a long and prosperous life? Jeremy’s loss exposed my insecurity because I couldn’t explain it away, and therefore I felt at risk.  What if tragedy strikes my family?  I want a formula to prevent it.

The Only Formula We Need to Understand

God answered my question with Leviticus 10:3, “I will display my holiness through those who come near me.  I will display my glory before all the people.”  God doesn’t reveal his patterns so that we can create an algorithm to manage our own lives.  He reveals it so we will come near to him and understand that Jesus is everything.  Everything.

Looking back at the early church in this chapter of Acts, they were filled with a holy fear when they heard of Ananias and Sapphira’s death.  They didn’t want to die, but they weren’t afraid of dying either.   If they were, they would have stopped witnessing all together.  They saw this event appropriately as a sign to place God at the center of everything.  Grace says that we are not compelled to make him central, we are free to.

It’s more than merely making Jesus a priority, because he won’t be reduced to the first among a long list of things that are important to me.  He’s not something I can accomplish like a level on a video game.  He’s not something I think about only on Sundays.  Our culture is filled with the sentiment that there’s a time and a place for God.  When I can come to a point where I allow him sovereign rule over every room in my life, then the “why’s” in my mind begin to dissipate, and the Holy Spirit takes over.

There’s nothing wrong with discovering and applying patterns in scripture.  There’s nothing wrong with rigorously pursing God with works and service to the Lord.  There’s nothing wrong with the types of ceremony and praise we apply in worship.  From the ancient to the modern, God has always been more concerned with our heart than anything else.  Are we allowing Christ to be the only thing?  Are we allowing all that we do to flow from Christ and back to him?  Every single day?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in his wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace. –Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

Practice What We Preach – Unity: ACTS 4

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“The stone that you builders have rejected has now become the cornerstone.”

Cornerstone.  The gospel in one word.  There are a number of definitions for cornerstone, however for now we going to ruminate on just one.

“A stone uniting two masonry walls at an intersection.”

I like the imagery here.  I see a picture of two walls going completely different directions, only to be brought together and joined by the cornerstone.  Not only do they connect through the cornerstone, the junction itself creates a structure for growth.  In other words, the cornerstone brings about the ability for these two walls to accomplish much more than they could on their own.


Death and life are two disparate paths heading in completely different directions. However when Jesus conquered death on the cross, these two paths found a crossing.  All of humanity walks on the path that leads to death, with no hope of a junction into life, until the cornerstone is revealed.  Under the Old Covenant, the Jew and the Gentile were also disparate; two walls going in different directions, symbolizing death and life.   Under the New Covenant, Jesus formed an intersection, bringing them together.  This is the Gospel and a picture of unity that only Jesus can accomplish.    He is the very essence of our togetherness, and through this Cornerstone of unity, we as a Church are unstoppable in our holy purpose.

He existed before anything else and he holds all of creation together. (Colossians 1:16 NLT)

Consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  This also is a story of unity, however a unity for an unholy purpose.  It follows the story of Noah and the flood and entails a large population of people consorting to build a tower to the heavens.  I don’t believe that building this tower is what made their purpose unholy, but rather the motivation behind it.  Scripture says they were building the tower to make a name for themselves, to become famous in the land.  I believe their desire to reach heaven was to find equality with God, and there is the unholy heart of the matter.    What I find interesting is that scripture also says they hoped this tower would prevent them from being scattered throughout the earth.   They wanted to remain together.  God sees this and says,

Look!…The people are united, and they all speak the same language.  After this nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!  (Gen 11:6 NLT)

This is the power of unity.  So God determined to confuse their languages and stem the tide of their ungodly direction.  Then what happened?  They scattered.  The exact thing they had hoped to avoid. I assume they regrouped according to language and developed new communities.

Of course it’s only logical they would regroup to communicate, however it’s important to note their desire to stay together suddenly changed.  They didn’t stick around to learn each other’s languages.  Humanity desires to be united with each other, BUT we want to be united with people who are like us.  Here in the United States we have a rich history of diversity as the melting pot of race, religion, culture, and language.  Even so, we have yet to overcome the turbulent divides that have separate us by our differences.  We struggle against our nature to want to “keep to our own.”  Thank goodness that doesn’t exist in the Christian community, right?  (That’s intended as sarcasm.)  Why is it that we’ve made tremendous strides to integrate our schools and our workplaces, but we remain starkly segregated in our places of worship?


When Jesus became the cornerstone, he became the intersection for unity, and he overcomes our instincts to want to go our own direction with our own people.  While God broke the union of the people who were called to an unholy purpose at the Tower, he brings together those of us who are called to a holy one.  Jesus brings together Black and White, Hispanic and Asian, Arabic and Jew.  He joins the Catholic and the Protestant, the Charismatic and Fundamentalist, the liberal and conservative, as well as those who sprinkle and those who immerse.  Unity among Christians is intentional, and it springs from the overflow of the Holy Spirit.  Again, we must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 All the believers were united in heart and mind. (Acts 4:32 NLT)

It’s not a coincidence that Luke follows the account of Peter and John’s trial with a description of the believers’ unity.   Unity provided the necessary strength to pursue their calling in spite of the persecution.  To be sure, the early believers did not create an unrealistic utopia donned by rose-colored glasses.  They weren’t limiting their vision to rainbows and unicorns.  In fact, we are going to see some of their problems in chapter five.  I believe when verse 32 says they were united in heart and mind, scripture is saying they rose above the disagreements, not that they didn’t have them.  I see two components to their unity: heart and mind.  Back in Acts 2, the believers were intentional about staying plugged into the Holy Spirit through their commitment to the scriptures, prayer, praise, and worship.   They were intentional with their mind and the Holy Spirit overflowed through their heart.

Maybe you’ve noticed the Church in America is entrenched in a full-scale culture war.  Satan cannot destroy the gospel, so he’s intent on making it as ineffective as possible by using the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer.    He knows exactly what a unified, empowered Church can accomplish.  After Peter speaks in chapter 4, about 5,000 men were added to the Church in a matter of minutes.  The leaders of the Temple definitely took note and an orchestrated opposition began.  It does nothing to slow the growth of the Church.  It actually seems to spur it on.  Unity among the Body of Christ is as necessary as it has ever been if we want to continue to see the Church grow.


Bless those who persecute you.  Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other.  Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people.  And don’t think you know it all!  (Romans 12:14-16 NLT)

In the Apostle Paul’s words, this is how you practice unity and operate within the constructs of an ungodly culture.  These are the nuts and bolts of Christianity.  If you’re like me, you want something more than just sparkly platitudes and trite sayings.  So let’s get practical and break it down.

“Be happy with those who are happy.”

It sounds easy enough, right?  Back in junior high and high school, there was this one girl who managed to get everything she tried out for.  I knew if I was going up against her, and only one could be chosen, I wasn’t going to get it.  I did not want to rejoice with her, because I was too competitive.  And yet I found myself being happy for her because she had an amazing way of extending herself to those around her and never gloating, demonstrating great maturity at her young age.  You couldn’t help but like her and rejoice with her.  I was spared much angst by not falling into the temptation of resentment.  Being happy with others doesn’t always come naturally, but it is the wise choice.

“Weep with those who weep.” 

In October 2014 I learned one of my dear friends tragically lost her husband, a Sheriff’s Deputy, at the hand of a fellow police officer in an unusual set of circumstances.  When I saw her that morning, I instantly cried on her behalf as we embraced.   Weep with those who weep is always instinctive.  Ok, not always.  I was shocked to read the comments on the news story’s web report.  So many people were not sympathetic and largely judgmental.  It struck me, when all you see are the facts detailed in a news report, and you have no access to the pain and suffering and the actual people behind the facts, it is all too easy to render a curt judgment.  Consider the mother whose son is struggling with his sexual identity.  What do you do when she shares that he’s attempted suicide and she simply wants to encourage him to be happy with who he is as a gay man?  She wants him to be there for family dinner at Thanksgiving.  Do you weep with her or judge that decision?  In the Book of John it tells of time when Jewish leaders brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, reminding him that the Law of Moses required her to be stoned.  It was obvious to him they didn’t care about this woman; they were trying to trap him politically.  Jesus responded by saying, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  He did this as a challenge everyone present.  Look beyond the facts and into the pain and suffering behind the sin.  When sin is all we see (or the cold, hard facts of a news report), we are disabled from weeping with those who weep.

 “And don’t think you know it all!”

Because you very well don’t know it all!  As a Christian, I spent many years locked inside a prison cell of knowing it all.   You, too, may know this type of imprisonment.  In fact, the slew of church splits over the millennia occurred because of know-it-alls.  Before I go on, it’s important for me to say that I’m not at all condemning the Church’s history of denominational splits.  While they were painful, God has brought much good as a result.  With honest reflection, it’s not difficult to see the significant contribution all our denominations have had on our overall understanding of Jesus.   And each has missed the mark at times.  When we choose our church, many of us do so based upon our convictions and understanding.  These strong convictions are  allowed by God himself, but it should not lead us to believe we have it all correct and that he won’t lead us to change in the future.  God always has a purpose for our misunderstanding.  He’s done it before.

We need only to look at the Bible to see the perfect example of Godly people misunderstanding the scriptures.  Anytime the Old Testament prophets mentioned Messiah, it so often fell among descriptions of a conqueror, they took that to mean he would come as a military leader.  One who would defeat their enemies and establish a final kingdom with might and power.  The other descriptions in prophecy of a beaten and bruised holy one were so confusing that if they didn’t completely dismiss these, they inferred there might be two who would come.  I’m sure that most were sincere in their convictions and teachings.  They were working with what they had, without our benefit of hindsight.  Over the years it became established doctrine.  It wasn’t correct, but God absolutely used this misunderstanding to fulfill his purpose.  Now we can clearly see their error, but what we cannot see is how God is using our current errors to accomplish his will today.  God might use my misunderstanding, or he might use yours.  Or like the Messiah was prophesied to be both beaten AND a conqueror, it could mean that our differences will somehow both be reconciled as true in the end, but we just can’t see it today.

I had a friend share this phrase with me, “living with a holy uncertainty.”  We must emphasize unity over the things we KNOW to be true and unwavering.  Christ was crucified, buried, and raised three days later.   Christ is the cornerstone that unites us together, various walls going in different directions.  And these variable directions simply aren’t enough to keep us apart.

I have been challenged many times on my doctrinal beliefs and values, and each time the Lord has been faithful to show me the direction he wants me to go.  On some things, he’s been clear I needed to adjust my doctrine.  And I have.  On others, he’s told me to hold fast.  And I have.  God has shown me that I have nothing to fear when faced with the differences of other believers and denominations.  He has called us corporately to spread the good news of the gospel, and he has called us uniquely according to our gifts.  It is possible to go different directions and still be united in heart and mind.

The Spirit is Hovering, Engaged, and Ready to Move: ACTS 2

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ACTS 2:1-21

Who is the Holy Spirit?  An unavoidable question for this lesson.   At least it should be.  He is God distinctly, and even though he does not function independently from the Trinity, it does not reduce him to a third string player either.   To understand the Holy Spirit, it’s quite imperative to do so within the context of the triune God.  If the Trinity confuses you, don’t worry.  You’re in good company because it IS confusing.  Let’s try anyway.


On the surface, God the Father is fairly easy to understand.  He’s the Supreme Being, the force behind everything, creator of the universe.  He manifests himself in thunder and lighting and generally incites fear.   In Exodus 20 Moses ascended to the top of Mt. Sinai to receive the commandments, and the Lord came down to meet him.

“When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.” (Exodus 20:18 NLT)

Because thunder and lightning are often associated with God’s majesty and power, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that he is also an angry, mean, and scary God.  I’ll be honest, when I imagine God the Father, the imagery of Zeus with his lighting bolt makes its way into my mind because it’s an easy, albeit poor, substitute.  Yet the scriptures say that God is Love – infinity. Let’s clarify the distinction.  While his power might be intimidating, his character is not.

Now I know Zeus is pagan and in no way parallels our God, but to the concrete thinker, God is difficult to understand.  I saw a video the other day comparing the sizes of all the planets, our sun, and other documented stars.   Talk about enormous; it blows my mind.  Add to it the evidence that the universe is both infinite and expanding.  What?  How can infinity expand?  And if God created this universe and these stars, then it stands to reason that he exists outside of it. Outside of infinity?  I tried to find the answer to this “infinite and expanding” question and found a website entitled, Explain It Like I’m 5.    The question was posed and one of those who responded said,  “our minds are not equipped to think about infinity in an intuitive way.”

You know what?  That’s exactly what God said too.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:9 NLT)

We won’t ever completely understand our God on this side of eternity, and I’m not so sure we’ll completely understand it on the other side either.  But I am pretty sure we won’t care, we’ll just be glad to be there because God is Love…infinity.


Jesus is soooo much easier to understand, right?  He provides us with a definite, human image that we can wrap our brains around.  He’s tangible.  Alright, so the images are those of artist’s renderings, and we all have agreed to see him with fair skin, and long, dark hair, and kind eyes.  I’m sure the kind eyes are accurate, but regardless, our Heavenly Father allowed his Son to leave his Glory in the heavens so that we can have some way to make sense of Him.  He gave up glorious qualities like omnipresence to exist as a human in a corruptible body with aches and pains.  He was kind and loving without fail.  He taught us and prayed for us.  And he paid the ultimate price for us.  But this Jesus was on the scenes long before his entrance into Mary’s womb as Messiah.  This is where God seems to get weird again.  Jesus actually created the heavens and the earth.  You might ask, “Didn’t  you just say God the Father created everything?”  Yes.  They are one.  Our biblical evidence for this is found in the first chapter of John where he states,

In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him…So the Word became human and made his home among us. (John 1:1-3, 14 NLT)

The Word is Jesus.  So maybe Jesus isn’t as concrete as we thought.


Now bring on the Holy Spirit.  He is key to helping us know God, by explaining spiritual complexities.  What makes the Spirit difficult to understand is that the imagery for Him is even more vague than the first two.  Concrete thinkers, like myself, need pictures.  So the only pictures scriptures provide are those of a ghost (a little creepy), or a flame of fire, and better yet- wind (is that really a picture?).  The reason for all the ambiguity is that he’s not really seen, but experienced.

Admittedly, I have avoided the Spirit for most of my life.  I guess it was kind of scary to me, even more so than lighting and thunderbolts.  I was raised to be wary of the spirit world; that it existed, and it was dangerous because of Satan.  However, looking back, by “closing doors” to Satan, I was unintentionally closing the door to the Holy Spirit too.  I mean, if the Holy Spirit did something amazing in me, how could I be sure it wasn’t an evil one?  What if I was deceived by an evil spirit that only looked beautiful?  My subconscious default was to just avoid them all.

I’m going to call it the way I see it.  There are many of us, trained in conservative Christian doctrine, who make this mistake.  We’re not really confident we understand this Spirit, so we unintentionally avoid Him.  So the question must be asked.  Who is the Holy Spirit?  And how can we discern him?


The Spirit makes His entrance into the scriptures in Genesis.  Creation.

…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.  (Genesis 1:2 NLT)

The Spirit was hovering.  I get the feeling that something extraordinary is about to happen.  There’s this sense of a holy restraint.  I think the imagery here leaves us with the idea that the Holy Spirit is always engaged, ready to move.

So how does the engagement of the Spirit apply to me?  I think about characters like Moses and King David and Elijah, and is it so surprising they had the Spirit come on them powerfully?   Not for me.  Look at the kind of life they lead.  I live an ordinary life as a mom buying eggs and doing laundry.  I’ll never be a Moses, so when I too easily dismiss their example as not applicable, I also dismiss The Spirit.  He’s hovering and I’m oblivious.

I’m probably not alone, which is why I really like this next example.  In Exodus the Lord gives Moses detailed instructions on how to build the Tabernacle and all the articles for worship.   He also identified a craftsman.

Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel … of the tribe of Judah.  I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. (Exodus 31:2 NLT)

There’s not much more mentioned about this man, so for all we know he was just a regular guy who was filled with the Spirit.  I love that – the Spirit filling regular people.  Also the prophet Hagaai recorded God’s words as he called the people to finish building the Temple.  He told them not to be afraid for His Spirit remains among them.

He’s hovering, engaged, ready to move.

Prior to the Day of Pentecost, the way the Holy Spirit appears to work is through a temporary filling.  There were some folks who had the Spirit come upon them more frequently and for longer durations than others, but the Spirit would at points move out.  King David would lament in the Psalms, begging God not to remove His Spirit from him.   But Jesus promises something more during his ministry.  He told the disciples to wait until they are immersed in the Holy Spirit.

Again, the Spirit was hovering, engaged, ready to move.

When the ancient prophets foretold of Emmanuel, God is with us, we see now that the Spirit manifests as God IN us.  This time it’s permanent.  From the moment we believe,the Spirit indwells us permanently.  This is how we function as the living, breathing Body of Christ.


If we want to discern God’s movements and stirrings, we must be in the Word, reading, studying, and meditating on the Holy Scriptures.  And we need the Holy Spirit to supply the understanding to interpret the Word.  It’s an interdependent relationship.  The scriptures tell us He is a force for comfort and conviction. (John 16:7-11)   He guides us in the way of truth. (John 16:13)  He reveals truth.  He gives us the power to remain faithful, the power to trust.  He intercedes and prays for us on our behalf.  (Romans 8:26-27)  He supplies us with behavioral fruit like goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Galations 5:22)

I remember an afternoon several years ago, my son was determined to give up his naps.  I was so dependent on that naptime that I was just as determined to maintain them.  I wasn’t going to allow him to manipulate me.  I can remember repeatedly taking him back to his bed and getting more and more frustrated with his refusal to obey me.  My voice escalated each time.  Then I had a second to see myself and I thought of the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness.  I wasn’t being gentle.  So I studied up on that fruit.  What is gentleness?  What is it not?  How can I work harder to get that?  My studies were interesting, but I still found myself completely frustrated.  Gentleness continued to evade me.  I asked my pastor and he lovingly directed me to the book of John where Jesus talks about the vine and the branches.  Jesus speaks.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.  Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 14:4-5 NLT)

I needed to remain in Christ for the fruit to flow out of me.  Not only did I need the Spirit to supply the fruit, I needed the Spirit’s power to remain in Christ.  Let me say it again.  I cannot remain in Christ by simply trying harder.  I cannot turn activities like reading my Bible, going to church, and prayer  (which are all super fantastic), I cannot turn these things into a checklist.  Trying harder in my own power takes me out of the Spirit immediately. I’m not saying His indwelling presence leaves, just that I’m not tapping into His power.  There is nothing I can do to earn my place in heaven, or earn my position with Christ, or earn the fruit of the Spirit.  We don’t earn these things; they are freely given to us.

All too often we listen to sermons on Sunday encouraging us to live with righteous behavior like loving our neighbors, yet we walk away without the support to understand how to actually do that.   While these sermons are biblical, I’ve sat through too many that left me thinking, “Ok, this week I’ll try harder,” only to fail come next Sunday.  I had no clue I wasn’t plugging into my power source.  Everything I do must come through the power of the Spirit or it will eventually fail.  Trust me.  There is freedom in this.

Allow me to share a quick litmus test.  If you find yourself, treading in frustration, there’s your first indication that you are not plugging in to your power source.  If you begin to see behavior that the Bible speaks against, there’s another indication that you’re not plugging into your power source.  If you feel overwhelmed that your life is not working out the way you had hoped, another indication that you may not be plugging into your power source.  Our power source, the Holy Spirit, supplies us with peace and joy that is in no way dependent upon our circumstances.

The Spirit is hovering, engaged, ready to move!  Are you?

We will dig deeper into the concept of “remaining in Christ” through this study.  It has literally changed my life.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you powerfully with all wisdom and understanding.

No Wedding Regrets! Readers Respond.


I really wanted to follow my last blog,  5 Things I Regret About My Wedding, with a reprisal that includes a few of the many responses I received.  There were two common themes among the comments that rose to the top:  1) Please don’t wait a year to eat your wedding cake – bleh!, and 2) even though things didn’t go the way they had planned, they loved every minute of it!  These comments moved me, so I had to share.


From Norma: “Oh, Jen , my love, don’t waste time looking back.  There are no mistakes, we just learn how not to do things.  Just think, when your girls get married what you can do for them.  And guess what?  They will have some regrets, also. :)”  Thank you, Norma.  How true!  Our mistakes in life CANNOT weigh us down.   They are part of our story; a story given to us for a purpose.  These experiences can actually empower us to be a force for change and a strong support for our communities that surround us.  We all have a corner in the world wherein we are placed by no mistake.  I believe that.  By the way, be encouraged because this is also true for pain and suffering that we’ve endured not by our own fault.


From Summer: “I regret not getting pictures with some of the special people that were there. Everything else was perfect! It all did not go as planned, but it was perfect:)”  So bold to use the word “perfect” when things did not go as planned.  There it is folks.  Our plans are not always the way it should be.  Our plans can be flawed, so why would we ever clutch them so tight?  I’ve had to learn this the hard way as many of my plans in life dissolved like sand filtering through my fingers.   Only to find that the real plan for my life was a whole lot better.  Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  His plans are always the best!


From Laarni:  “Here’s my problem.  I have difficulty with the word “regret” or as I see it, feeling disappointment or a sense of failure.  I tried to dig deep and have to report that I have zero regrets about my wedding day.  However, I asked myself what could have been improved?  Well, that’s easier to answer for me.  Here is a list of wishes:

•  I wish I had unlimited funds to pay for all the travel/lodging for every person that attended our wedding in Maui

•  I wish my best friend didn’t just have a baby so she could be there with me

•  I wish we stayed longer than 10 days

•  I wish I could eat Four Season’s homemade ice cream and lobster sandwiches 24/7

I did not feel disappointed when the wedding planner changed the venue the day of the wedding because of inclement weather.  The hotel open courtyard was actually better than being out in the elements.  I did not feel a sense of failure when Scott’s wedding ring did not arrive as planned and we had to find a cheap substitute, which I still have and cherish.  I truly believe that things happen for a reason and our hurdles were merely there to test us and see how we respond.  I loved our rehearsal dinner, wedding, and honeymoon and wouldn’t have changed anything about it.”    To cherish the things that go awry and see the beauty in what they can become.  This is the beautiful work that God can do in our lives.  In John 9:1-12 Jesus takes mud to heal a man from blindness.  If he can bring beauty out of mud, he can bring beauty from all of our regrets, failures, and pain.

Are you saddled with regret?  In the famous words of Queen Elsa, Let It Go!  What are your thoughts?  I want to hear them!


The Effective Witness: ACTS 1

Photostock Acts

Acts 1:1-26

There were about twenty of us gathered together, seated quietly, eyelids getting heavy.  The sun had set with only a soft glow from the moon and a bright, dancing flicker from the campfire.   We were quiet at this point, but earlier we were loudly chanting, “Let your light shine bright through the night and through the day all the way-ay, Yee Haw!”  This was summer camp. After a week of horseback riding, hiking, and swimming with early mornings and late nights, everyone was exhausted and we gladly sat back for a moment of respite around the fire; if we could just keep our eyes open.  The camp director spoke, and he took advantage of this to inspire us to hang on to our spiritual high that week and take it home with us to our places.

“Don’t be afraid to witness for Christ!” he said.  “Stand firm for your faith.”

“Okay,” I thought.  “I can do it this time.  I’m not going to let this fire die this year.  I’m going to read my Bible every day, do my quiet times, journal my prayers.  I’m going to witness to my friends.”  The only problem was that no one could tell me what that meant.  How exactly was I supposed to witness?  The apostles were witnesses for Christ because they had seen him with their eyes.  They had experienced his miracles, saw him resurrected, and saw him ascend into heaven.  I was a believer, but I had yet to experience Christ.

So unfortunately, this reduced witnessing to the notion that I needed to display my biblical knowledge.  That’s how people were going to understand my God and my faith, right?  I say unfortunately, because this approach usually travelled a path of argumentative discussion as I faithfully corrected folks where they erred in thought or practice.   I wasn’t telling my story, because I had no story to tell.  I was defending the truth and defending Christ as if he wasn’t capable and needed me to do that.  And I was among those who gave Christianity a terrible reputation, believing it was my responsibility to reveal truth.  I would argue that arguing does nothing much constructive, and I regret my approach.  Although well intentioned, it did more damage than good.

In verse 4 of chapter 1 of Acts it says,

“Once when he (Jesus) was eating with them, he commanded them, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.  John baptized with water but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (NLT Acts 1:4) 

Can you imagine what their witness would have looked like had they gone out without the Holy Spirit?  I can.


One morning I was out walking with my newborn son of about 4 weeks.  I caught a glimpse of another mom from my neighborhood trailing behind me.  I had noticed her before and was hoping to meet her.  So I slowed my pace and we met.  Her name was Christy.  We started walking every morning with each other and I learned that she was Mormon.  Many of our beliefs varied from each other and she brought up scripture one day.  Mind you, because I really knew no other way, I thought it was my duty to correct her.  Things escalated into an argument.  I don’t even remember the details of the argument; I just know that it didn’t matter.  Whew!  I had bravely witnessed… and in the space of a few minutes I ruined a relationship with this sweet girl.  I’d like to say that this was the only example from my life, but it’s not.  A year later I found myself at a crossroads, and I came upon Romans 14:1, “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” (NLT)  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  And although there are appropriate times for correction, I immediately thought of Christy and I could finally see myself.  I had evolved into someone who argued with almost everyone.  On that day, I repented and submitted to Jesus.  And it was on that day that I began a new journey with the Lord.  One that would be with the Holy Spirit.  Please note, I was a believer in Christ, and had the Holy Spirit indwelling me, but I was not living my life in the power of the Spirit and there IS a difference.


Fast forward about two years ago I was invited to coffee with another mom; our boys were in class together at school.  Prepared for a conversation that would be light and in the realm of “get to know you,” it took an unexpected turn into the deep and spiritual.  She shared her doubts about church, and that she’d pretty much abandoned it and the Bible because they didn’t share her same views of sexuality.  Now had I known we would be discussing this and had I come prepared, I’m almost positive I would have presented a list of all scripture that supported sexual purity; I would have shared a gentle defense of the church’s position.  So I was shocked at what came out of my mouth that morning, and after months of prayer, I am convinced it was the Holy Spirit.

I said, “If that’s a value that you hold dear, go ahead and hang on to it.  Just don’t let that stop you from pursuing God.  You don’t need to change your values to come to God.  If he wants you to change those values, I am confident he will lead you there in His timing and in His way.  Just pursue God.”  I knew that was true because God has moved me to change many of my doctrinal positions that I never thought I would change.  She told me much later that my comment changed everything for her.  She never considered that she could just “table” this issue for a while and come to God just the way she is.  It changed everything for her, and for me too.  It revealed my need to change people to my convictions, rather than just share Jesus.  There is not a single thing we need to do, or believe, or portray to come to Him.

In the second half of Romans 12:2 Paul says, “but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”  God is the one who can do that.  It’s not my job to convince someone to change the way they think.   And how do I know for sure exactly what God wants someone to think?  I can’t be certain.  Sure there’s plenty of well documented behavioral instructions for believers that are clearly not lurking within shades of gray.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about our ability to extend grace to others in their spiritual journey.  When I witness, I share my story, the one God has given me by his grace, and then it’s through His grace that He does the transforming.  I can totally trust God to use my story to transform lives through His Spirit.  Period.  The end.  How do we know when to share our story?  How do we choose our words and affect our tone to convey love? How can we be confident that He can use our words long after he’s told us to hush?  We must be living and breathing in tune with the Holy Spirit.


In this first chapter of Acts, Jesus told them to wait.  He knew what they were about to embark upon, and He knew they would find themselves tied up in knots without His help.  They would need the perfect words to share their story.  So what did they do while they waited?  In verse 14 of Chapter 1 it says, “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer.”  Prayer is critical while we are waiting.  We need to allow Him to do a work within us, before He can effectively do a work through us.  Because prayer is such a necessary thing for our own transformation, I’d like to spend a minute talking about it.

Entire books have been written on prayer.  So I just want to throw a couple of ideas out there for you to mull over.  What do your prayers look and sound like?  Your prayers will reflect much of what you believe (not what you think you believe) about God deep, deep down.

Could they possibly sound like this?

“Dear God.  I really need this new job.  Please help me get it.  It’s okay if I don’t get it, but please, please, please make it happen.”

“Dear God, thank you for this new job.  Thank you for answering that prayer!”

“Dear God, my boss is horrible.  I hate this job.  I know this is what I asked for, but why is it not working?  Is there some sin in my life?  Are you punishing me?”

“Dear God, please help me get this transfer.  I’m pretty sure this other department will be a much better fit.  Please, please, please help me.”

“Dear God, I don’t know why that transfer didn’t work out, so now I’m going to go back to school and change careers.  Please help me get the scholarship to make it work.  Please, please, please help me.”

I’m not saying these were my prayers, or maybe they sounded a lot like this.  As for me, these prayers reflected a deep down belief that God really wasn’t listening to me.  I held a deep-seated thought that God had bigger and more pressing issues to deal with than my career struggles, e.g. world peace, hunger, and terrorism.  I believed that my prayers were simply a thought process, albeit a selfish one, and a method to develop solutions independently.  Rather than including Him in all the details of my life, I managed my life in my own strength and reduced him to the fringes.  There were legitimate reasons for this: I’d had a lot of training and instruction to work hard and think independently.  My bosses throughout my career always appreciated an employee who could think for herself and initiate solutions, because it kept them free to do their job more effectively.    I subconsciously applied this tactic to my relationship with God.   How foolish of me.  God is much more than the boss.

Without a doubt I spent a lot of time finding my own solutions and basically asking God to bless my efforts.  When my solutions didn’t work out, I’d start the whole process over again.  My prayer life wasn’t about an intimate relationship with God; it was a business relationship.  I approached prayer like it was an office memo to my boss, updating him on my progress.  I didn’t really believe God would speak back to me.  I believed He could, but mostly that He wouldn’t.

And I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Any rewarding relationship is built upon two-way communication, and it goes deep.  His voice comes to us in various forms like scripture, your pastor, a friend, a stirring in your spirit, or in the midst of your prayer time.  When I landed on Romans 14:1 all those years ago it was very, very clear to me that God was speaking directly to me about my life.  Scripture often refers to his voice as sounding like booming thunder as well as a soft whisper.  One time Elijah was running for his life from Queen Jezebel, and he sought refuge in a cave when God began to speak to him.  Elijah witnessed a strong wind and rockslide, a terrible earthquake, and a raging fire.  Scripture says that the Lord was not in those things, although He easily could have been.  Instead He was in the gentle breeze that followed.  How are we ever going to hear Him if we are not settled, quiet, and listening?

So is it wrong to ever express our requests and ask him for things?  Of course not!  Scripture tells us to.

“Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  (Phil 4:6 NIV)  

We’re not presenting our requests to God so that we can inform him.  He already knows.  We are presenting them to God to prepare our hearts for his response.  And then we quietly listen.

It really is so much more rewarding to my soul to hear His response than it is to simply get what I ask for.  His voice is that well water bubbling deep within.  Our witness for Christ must be built upon a solid foundation of prayer.  And that’s what I believe was happening in Chapter 1 of Acts.  We see a group of believers, united in constant prayer, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, so they could be a witness.  Reflect on this.  What is God speaking to you right now?

5 Things I Regret About My Wedding


The wedding.  Eagerly anticipated, sacred, and significant.  It holds the potential to change the trajectory of your life.  It is loaded with emotions, hopes, dreams, and expectations… and for some, cynicism.  I just spent a weekend reliving my wedding through memories and reflecting on my 12 years since.  My husband and I attended an amazing wedding in the ever-gorgeous Naples, Florida.  Right before the ceremony began, the gentlemen next to me leaned over and said, “This is much fancier than mine was.”  To which I replied, “Mine was very lovely, but definitely not this fancy.”  I loved my wedding and I love my memories from it.  It got me to thinking whether I would change anything had I the opportunity to do it again.  And I realized I do have some regrets.


1)   I regret not investigating some of my song choices a bit more thoroughly.  I requested a song that had four verses that I had never heard before.  My miss resulted in an additional eight awkward minutes where Jason and I weirdly gazed into each other’s eyes whispering, “When is this song going to end?”  It was torturous for me (and I’m sure everyone else) who just wanted to get on with it!

2)   I regret spending most of my time at the reception on the dance floor.  For some reason I felt like I was completely responsible for the party momentum and that meant dancing.  Talk about awkward.  Dancing and Jennifer do not go together.  I should have spent more quality time visiting with my friends and family.

3)   I regret saving my cake to eat at my one-year anniversary.  A tradition that needs to go away!  I only had one bite on my wedding day.  You know, that one where the bride and groom feed each other a piece?  It was so tasty and I really would have eaten more, but never got to.  Trust me…year-old, frozen cake tastes exactly like what you would expect.

4)   I regret staying so late after the reception and attending the after party.  We were whisked away to the quaint Henderson Village in Georgia in the wee hours of the night, and we got there so late that no one was awake to receive us.  We couldn’t find the key at 3:00 am and I was beside myself I was so tired.  Our room was absolutely lovely and with our honeymoon flight so early the next morning, we could have easily stayed at a Holiday Inn and never noticed the difference.  I regret not being able to enjoy the beauty and charm of that place.

5)   I regret not transporting our wedding gifts back home in a better way.  Mind you, I’m really not sure how we would have done it differently considering we married over 800 miles from where we lived.  There were six total gifts that did not have associated cards, and therefore six people did not get their customary thank you.  That bothered me for years, and apparently still does since it made the list.


And as hard as I try, I cannot think of any more regrets.  I don’t regret my choice of mate (although there may have been a time where we might have said something to that effect in elevated voices, ahem).  And I definitely don’t regret choosing Americus, Georgia to get married.  I had a beautiful, southern-style wedding, hosted by such hospitable people.  I still love those people even though I haven’t been back in ages.  The journey since my wedding hasn’t been easy, but I am fortunate that our ceremony eventually solidified into a marriage.  We have grown together, served each other (I still have to remind myself to do this one), and deepened our love for one another.  All in all, I would do it all over again.


If you had to do it all over, what would you do differently?  Do you have any regrets?  What would you keep the same?


Overview of Acts, Engaging God’s Word: Acts Lesson#1

Here we are.  Ready to study at The Well.  This summer there were between 4 and 6 of us who regularly met to pray.  I’m confident that God drew exactly whom He wanted to that place.  And pray we did.  For many things.  One of those prayers was for a name.  Do we simply stick with Bible Study for a name?  Do we commit to something else?  We didn’t know.  A recurring theme this summer was that of seeking Him.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that each of us is here because we are seeking Him.  Could we name it, Seeking Him?  It didn’t feel right.  One afternoon I went to Google because that’s almost as good as the Holy Spirit for answering our questions, right?  I Googled the phrase “seeking him, seeking God, and seeking truth,” just to see if I could find anything of inspiration.


After about 45 minutes I stumbled onto an article located on the website Fulfilled, which was kind of weird.  In this article, the administrator of the website told of some analytics he was running.  He learned that people who were landing on his website were using search phrases like

·       End times peace in the middle east

·       Middle east violence and prophecy

·       Saudi peace plan Bible

·       Prophecy about middle east

·       End times

·       Prophecy Jerusalem temple Arafat

·       Thr truth about the bible

The last one really struck him as puzzling.  It didn’t fit with the other phrases.  How would that search phrase land this person on this particular website?  He filed it away in the back of his mind.  Then a couple of weeks later, he was doing some editing and realized he had accidentally misspelled the word “the” with the letters thr.  That’s when he remembered that search phrase “the truth about the bible” also misspelled the word “the”.  Could it be that the search engine pulled this reader to his site only because of that one, common, weird word?


This person was obviously searching for truth about the bible.  Was God leading him to this website for a specific purpose? This prompted the website owner to explore this thought further and he was reminded of the woman at the well.  Just for a moment I’ll revisit this story.  It’s found in John chapter 4 if you would like to read it in detail later.  This woman was a Samaritan and that alone was enough for a Jew to openly shun her.  They were considered half-breeds because they had intermarried with Gentiles over the years, which was in direct violation of the law and they were religious outcasts.   Then to add insult to injury she was living in blatant sin.  She’d been married 5 times and was currently living with a man she wasn’t married to, and even in Samaria that probably wasn’t acceptable.  It’s safe to assume she had become accustomed to being shunned.  In fact the scriptures say that Jesus arrived at the well at noon and he was alone.  All the women of the community had probably already fetched their daily water early that morning.  Just guessing, but she probably avoided that time of day so as to avoid their glares and stares.  It’s just easier to avoid the people who shun you.


On this day, Jesus opened a conversation with her and she perceived him to be a prophet.  She said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”


To which Jesus replied, “You worship that which you do not know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.” (John 4:19 italics added for emphasis)


You see God seeks those who seek him.  What are the odds, that I would find an article such as this on a prophecy website, with a phrase like seeking truth, simply because he misspelled the work t-h-r.  God was answering our prayer for a name, The Well at Santa Fe.  The Well is for those who seek truth.  The interesting thing is that what you find at the well isn’t truth initially…it’s relationship.  If you look back at John 4:13, Jesus tells her, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  This.  This bubbling.  This eternal life IS relationship.  It’s through relationship that truth is then revealed.  No one leaves the well unchanged.  If our guess is correct that she came to the well at noon to avoid the townspeople, then she did something unexpected.  This woman went back into town telling everyone she’d seen Messiah; townspeople she’d probably spent years avoiding.  She was a changed woman.


Today my prayer is that we approach Jesus at the well as we begin to dig into an incredible history of the early church.  Our goal is not to gain information and more knowledge.  That’s a fringe benefit.  Our goal is to know Him and actively engage in relationship with Him.  Then our gained insight and knowledge will bear amazing fruit.  Here’s what you can expect to find throughout the study:


Overarching Themes

·       Church Beginnings – This is where Christianity was born.  Originally referred to as The Way, the followers were eventually assigned the tag of Christian.

·       The Holy Spirit – You’re going to see a great manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  In fact the Acts of the Apostles would never had occurred and the account never written if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit.

·       Church Growth – The church grows exponentially during this time.   Even though many of worry about the direction of our culture and the direction of our country, the truth is, there’s no stopping The Church!

·       Witnessing – The disciples who fathered The Church simply told of what they saw.  They actually saw the miracles of Jesus, they studied under him, and followed him everywhere.  They actually saw him resurrected, fully alive, and continued learning from him.  It was during the 40 days Jesus was on the earth after his resurrection that they began to see the full implication of his death, burial and resurrection.  They bore witness to what they saw in ACTS.

·       Opposition – There is opposition to the gospel message.  Plain and simple.  The Book of Acts does not avoid it and we will explore this history and relate it to the context of our own lives.


Key Players

You’re going to see two primary characters develop in this book.

·       Peter whose ministry was focused on the Jews

·       Paul whose ministry was focused on the Gentiles

And Luke.  Although he takes a back seat in this chronicle, he’s there.  All scholars pretty much agree that Luke wrote the book of Acts as he did the Gospel of Luke.  Tradition holds him to be the only Gentile contributor to scripture.   He accompanied Paul almost everywhere.  Believed to have been a physician by background, you can see his personality come through as he scribes this account with meticulous details.

I’m hoping you see the connections between Acts and the gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus.  See how Jesus’s promises were largely filled during this time, and that his word can be trusted.  Jesus once spoke of a mustard seed to describe the Kingdom of God.  In Mark 4:30 he says, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God?  What story should I use to illustrate it?  It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground.  It is the smallest of seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”  Jesus says throughout his ministry that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  You see it unfold in Acts.

I’m hoping you’ll see the disciples honestly.  During the ministry of Jesus, they were selfish, judgmental, ignorant in many ways, and sometimes just dumb.  But they loved Jesus.  When I read some of their questions and statements, I just cringe.  I cringe because they’re not unlike me.  They were weak, cowards, and abandoned Jesus during his lowest moments, and they were normal people who wanted to love God and but didn’t really know how.  Jesus did not allow them to remain this way.  You will see demonstrative change in their lives throughout Acts.  They don’t reach perfection, as none of us will, but they are like roaring lions with the power of the Holy Spirit.  I pray we’ll see demonstrative change in each of our lives this year.

It’s also just fun to see the connection between the historical account of this time and the epistles that were written by the apostles.  They help each other fill in the blanks, and you receive insights as to what God was doing in their hearts as they witnessed and ministered to the world.

If you are doing this bible study with me online, I welcome you to comment and enter the discussion.  Honestly reflect on the questions at the end of each lesson.  Allow them to rest in your heart and then turn them into prayer.  We will approach the Throne of Grace and ask for God’s revelation.  Let’s not hold anything back this year.  Each week we’ll go through the questions and share our thoughts with each other.

Please be mindful of our fellow members of the Body of Christ joining this study.  We represent many different denominations and it is absolutely beautiful to be together, unified in Christ.  Each denomination has made important and significant contributions to our faith over the years.  You might face some internal conflict.  Remember that some conflict is actually healthy, and can help us grow.  Jacob wrestled with God back in Genesis, and you’ll see this kind of conflict in the book of Acts as well.  We’re not going to avoid it entirely, but all comments must be made in love.  Without love, everything is meaningless.

Introduction to Fall Bible Study

Photostock Acts

Burned to the ground.  Decimated.  Nothing but rubble and charred remains were what you saw.  I’ve not personally survived a disaster so I don’t know exactly what it  feels like to survive a tornado or house fire.  If you listen to the accounts of disaster victims, you will hear common threads weaved into their stories.  Accounts of desperate loss, especially if family members or beloved pets were trapped.  You’ll hear them speak about the loss of their stuff.  These folks will tell you they don’t really want to hear the “comforting” comments of, “You’ll be okay…It’s just material possessions that can be replaced.”  This “stuff” represents their life, their heritage, their beliefs and values.  Even if they have insurance, it does not replace the deep feelings of loss.  You’ll also hear the phrase, “I feel so alone.”   Without the comfort of your own walls and belongings, you begin to question your future, your safety, and your control.  And that almost always lands in loneliness.

I want to share a story about a group of people who faced this head on.  After generations of captivity in Babylon Israel was finally released and they returned home to Jerusalem.  Everything was gone.  Their temple was burned to the ground.  Their homes completely turned to rubble.  Lifeless and lonely.   Everything that represented who they were was completely gone.  So they began to rebuild…their homes…and their temple.  After several years of rebuilding efforts, the work on the temple came to a standstill.   For about ten years.

Then the Lord spoke to Haggai.  In chapter 1 verse 3 of Haggai the Lord says, “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?  Look what’s happening to you!”  So evidently the rebuilding continued in the community.  Just not on the temple.  They were tending to the day to day of their lives, and their homes but they weren’t satisfied.  He goes on to say, “You have planted much but harvest little.  You eat but are not satisfied.  You drink but are still thirsty.  You put on clothes but cannot keep warm.  Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes.”  This says a lot about their lives.  The ashes they came upon had started to take shape.  They were farming again, working again, doing better than surviving.  But not thriving.

It’s important to note here, that this is not a judgment about how nice their homes were.  Nor is it an indication of how beautiful God thinks the temple should be.  Remember, this is the same God who also tells his believers earlier in scripture not to build an alter out of cut and shaped stone lest they turn their eyes from Him and begin to admire their own handiwork.  (Ex 20:25) No this is a God who judges on the heart.  He always has.  This was a call to action.

He goes on to say in verse 8, “Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.”  So why did they stop building?  Scripture points to a several things that brought on serious discouragement for Zerubbabel, the governor, and the people.

In Haggai 2:3 God says, “Does anyone remember this house – the Temple – in its former glory?  How, in comparison, does it look to you now?”  It had been a little over 60 years since the temple had been destroyed and longer than that since they’d been carried off to Babylon.  There may have been a few who had actual memories of the former temple, but no doubt they had all heard about its fame and glory.  It must have seemed pitiful to them.  They were just a remnant; so few.  How could they ever compare to their ancestor master builders?  Isn’t that what we do all the time?  We compare ourselves to other talented people in our field, and equate success with their accomplishments.  That can snuff out our fire more quickly than dousing of water, leaving us hopelessly discouraged.

To top that Israel had a host of enemies living around them, determined to stop that temple.  They tried to infiltrate the community posing as helpers bent on discouraging them, and when that didn’t work they went directly to Artaxerxes, the king at the time, and successfully received a sanction on the Temple.  Too discouraged to fight it, they just stopped.

Then life took over.  Farming fields, growing businesses, building houses, expanding wardrobes, making meals, soccer practice, club meetings…you know what I mean.  They began to sink into daily living and lost sight of their God.

So why was the Temple so important to God?  Scripture indicates over an over that God had planned to bless the entire world through Israel.   Ever since he brought them out of Egypt into the promised land, he had a purpose for Israel.  They were to be a light to world.  They were to make God’s name known among the nations.  If they were discouraged to the point of losing sight of God, then they were not serving their purpose, and the entire world would suffer.  You see, God has always cared about the entire world, and he still does.

There’s something interesting here.  He goes on to encourage them a few verses later in Chapter 2 to be strong.  “And now get to work, for I am with you…My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt.  So do not be afraid.”  The great and mighty things he calls us to?  The small and intricate things he assigns us?  He doesn’t ask us to do them without His Spirit.  It’s always been with His Spirit.  And today, we have His Spirit indwelling in us from the moment we believe.

My challenge to us as we study together this year… My challenge is that we pray that God would reveal his purpose for our lives.  His call to action.  Whether big or small, it doesn’t matter, because that’s purely defined by the culture we live in…and that changes in the blink of an eye.  His call on our lives, is uniquely designed for us in the corner of the world where we live.  I pray for revival and a transformation among believers in our community.  And I believe it can start here.  Let’s study and pray for God to reveal his unique call to action for each of us.