No One Ever Said It’s Easy: ACTS 19:21-41

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ACTS 19:21-41

I was traveling last week.  NOT the best time of the year, as we’ve all seen the East Coast get hammered with snow for the last six weeks. The day before I departed I closely watched the 5-day forecast for every departure, layover, and destination city I was to visit. Amazingly clear weather in Denver, Boston, Cape Cod, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, and Albuquerque. I was filled with confidence that my plans would go off without a hitch!

My first destination would be Boston with a jaunt to Cape Cod. I had my time planned to the minute so that I could visit with my people as much as possible during my stay and still make my flight up in Boston. Confident there would be no snow, I lingered a minute or two longer until I saw flakes dropping with force. Near blizzard conditions accompanied me all the way to the airport, which resulted in four flight delays, and the odds were not in my favor for making my connection in Chicago. Working with customer service I tried every other airline and alternate city out of Boston to no avail.  So, I adjusted my expectations to an unintended overnight stay in Chicago. “This will be good. I love downtown Chicago, I’ll beg my dear friend Alicia to meet me, and I’ll eat some pizza,” I told myself. Food always works, right? I slumped in my seat on the plane and silently declared, “Lord, why can’t my flights ever work?? Why must it always be difficult?” (Insert as much whining as you like.)  And He faithfully replied, “Why would you ever think things would be easy?” A knowing certainty of obstacles flooded my mind as I considered my future.

My God promises me many good things; in fact an abundance of good things, but an easy life, free of obstacles is not one of them. We will face opposition in one form or another.


“Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Tim 3:12)

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

If there’s one theme that stands out in Acts, it’s opposition.  We see Paul encounter opposition repeatedly from city to city, and chapter 19 is no different. Whether it’s cold rejection from his brothers or death threats, opposition is a constant. At this point in the book he had been working in Ephesus for more than two years with astounding results. His miracles brought a humbling awe across the city, and because Ephesus was positioned along all the major trade routes, the gospel spread effectively. Preaching the one, true God obviously had its effect.  As we see in the laws of physics, for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction.

With a selfish motive to improve his sales, Demetrius sought to start an opposing movement. I’m sure he realized he’d find a slow response if his personal gain were the only motive, so he set out to strike the chord of patriotism. His argument claimed an attack on Artemis, the goddess of fertility and representative of these people, and it was therefore an attack on the people themselves. An emotional plea no doubt, because it stirs the entire community into a riot. Most of them didn’t even know why they were rioting, but they were drawn in regardless, looking for blood.

For me, when I think of this story, it symbolizes why I have feared my purpose.  Why I have feared a full life in Christ over the years. Why I found myself reluctant to even ask God how he wants to use me. I saw giants in the Promised Land and was more than willing to give up on his promises, however good they seemed, because I feared opposition. I can remember making a deliberate (although secret) decision during my college years to blend in, make no waves, and live as quiet a life as possible. I feared the cost of stepping across the Jordan River. (click here for the post on stepping into purpose) I believed the lie that there was no cost for staying this side of the river. Oh, but there is. It’s called opportunity cost. It’s the cost of never experiencing your potential in Christ, in addition to the cost of regret and the cost of staleness from “the same.” Did you know that our bodies are constantly regenerating and becoming new?  Every cell in our skin is replaced every 7 days and the cells in our skeleton are completely replaced every 7 years.  We are constantly becoming new physically and spiritually if we allow it.  Our God is the God of new.

The other night my son started asking me for the escape plan if our house were to catch on fire. I always hesitate to entertain these conversations, but we talked about it. The more we talked about our plans, the meeting place, the exits, and the alternate exits, it didn’t assuage his fears, they only grew.  As I tried to calm him with words that our house wasn’t going to catch on fire, he said, “but, Mom, God could allow our house to catch on fire.” You know what? He’s right. I could not promise that God wouldn’t allow it, because I know very well he could.  I had a friend report a house fire of her friend just last week, asking for prayers and support.  Life is filled with obstacles. I don’t know anyone, whether or not a follower of Christ, who hasn’t encountered tough times at some point. So I asked him, “If our house catches on fire, will you trust God anyway? Will you trust that God loves you deeply, without end?”

Whether it’s your house burning down, being ridiculed by your community, losing a family member, or whatever presses on your thoughts at night, will you trust God anyway? Will you trust that God loves you deeply, without end?  Will you trust that there’s more of HIM in every part of suffering?


In his second letter to Corinth, Paul details his sufferings because his credibility comes under attack.

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (II Cor 11:23-27)

I wonder if Paul ever said in my kind of whiney voice, “Lord, why can’t I ever get on a boat that doesn’t get smashed to pieces? Am I destined to never make my connecting ship ride?” Possibly. But before you think this is not applicable to you, that his sufferings were so fantastical to ever be on the scale of your life, I want you to see the phrase at the beginning, “worked harder.” When I saw this it made me think.  This man trudged within the mundane too. Do you remember how he made tents with Priscilla and Aquila there in Corinth to earn his living? He most definitely encountered the repetitive, mundane type of suffering in addition to the highlight reel we tend to remember.

So how does Paul do it? His words,

“We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” (II Cor 6:7-10)

He realizes that our enemy, Satan, wanted nothing more than to keep Paul on this side of the river. We are fighting a spiritual battle, often clothed in the skin of people, but must be fought with spiritual weaponry. He uses righteousness and he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. He does not stop.


I have been called to write. So I have started writing. I was on my way to a writer’s conference last week when I faced the possibility of missing a connecting flight in Chicago. I have to admit, I seriously considered booking a flight home instead. “Should I even risk it? I’ll just go home,” I thought.  As much as I wanted to halt my frustration and uncertainty, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. So when I heard God pose the question, “Why would you ever think things would be easy,” I considered that my enemy might not want me at this conference. That it might be easier for him to discourage me from my purpose if I stayed home. Right then I determined, missed flight or not, stranded in Chicago or not, I would trust God anyway. I would trust that he loves me deeply to provide me with the best. In case your wringing your hands over the outcome, I made it, and was greatly encouraged to continue writing.

But I have also been called to be a mom. I struggle here, because I find many aspects of parenting and housekeeping to be mundane and not nearly as exciting as blizzards, cancelled flights, and my new venture in writing. I am guilty of allowing boredom to overwhelm my thoughts when I’m constantly making the meals, begging that the meals be eaten, and cleaning the meals, only to repeat in three hours. This is a type of suffering that I had never considered until recently. There will be times when our purpose brings about feelings of exhilaration, even during persecution where you feel like your slaying Satan, and there will be times when it goes unnoticed and you feel underwhelmed. But listen to what God says about that.

In the first few chapters of Leviticus, God is providing the instructions for the burnt offerings. I want you to try and imagine the smell of burning blood and flesh, the burnt to a crisp kind of burnt, from the animal offerings. Then try to imagine the smell of burnt toast from the grain offerings. It stinks. God says, “It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” And by the way, he says this over and over and over. So sometimes my offering of cooking, and cleaning, and wiping bottoms quite literally stinks, but it is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.


PLEASE DON’T STOP READING HERE!  Before you think me Debbie Downer, I have heard so many times (insert defeated nasal whine), “(Sigh….)The Christian life is hard.  I guess it’s always gonna be this way.  I’ll just pray I die soon so I can reach my glory in heaven.” Seriously!  Why in the world would anyone ever sign up for this? So I go back to Paul. It’s his life we’re evaluating here, it’s his words that describe his suffering, and it’s with his words that we understand why.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed everyday. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Cor 4:16-18)

Our stories are but a part of this giant masterpiece that God is unfolding. When he calls us into it, he equips us for it, and the rewards are breathtaking. When we are intimately connected with Jesus through the empowerment of his Spirit, we get a taste of those rewards now. We don’t have to wait until we die!  That’s what Paul is saying above.  When we KNOW Him and are WITH Him, we are connected to heaven and can get a taste.  It is breathtaking!  I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. Will you?  My suffering, however it may look from day to day, will be a sacrifice, a pleasing aroma to my Lord.

Thoughts for the Soul Patrol: ACTS 18:18-28

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ACTS 18:18-28

When I first got to college I connected with a Christian student group so that I could have a solid community.  College was a time of exploration and new-found freedom, and identifying an accountability partner was the spiritual thing to do, at least in my circle of Christian friends. The purpose? To help keep you from straying off track.

I can remember feeling mercilessly scrutinized in every part of my life, all for the sake of accountability. It didn’t help that I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, questioning everything I had been taught (which is actually pretty normal for college-age kids). Suffice it to say, the accountability was not delivered well and I most assuredly did not receive it well…I rebelled.  Why did the innocuous concept of accountability leave me feeling scarred?   Mostly because we lacked Spirit-guided wisdom and were, after all, a bunch of insecure teenagers and twenty-somethings.

In this section of scripture, we see accountability at its best with Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila. Apollos showed up in Ephesus, preaching the gospel, as he knew it, but he didn’t know the whole story. This man, a Jew from Alexandria, was well-versed in scripture and was preaching John’s baptism. He was at best familiar with the man Jesus, but he obviously didn’t understand the implication of his death, burial, and resurrection. Grace was an incredibly difficult concept for most Jews raised with The Law, and it’s doubtful Apollos heard it.   So when Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly, scripture says they pulled him aside and explained things more accurately. There were three things, working together, that made this conversation successful. 1) Apollos was receptive to correction. 2) The correction was given in love. 3) The fact that the Holy Spirit guided, and surrounded this conversation is heavily implied.


While this is not always the most captivating subject, as we enter this Lenten season, it’s worth contemplating. How receptive are we to correction? Here are JUST A FEW instructions from the Book of Proverbs:

Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise. (Prov 13:10 NLT)

People who despise advice are asking for trouble; those who respect a command will succeed. (Prov 13:13 NLT)

The instruction of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death. (Prov 13:14 NLT)

If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored. (Prov 13:18 NLT)

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor. (Prov 15:31-33 NLT)

These proverbs are almost like the laws of physics, and they are pretty much universal. But they aren’t simply about cleaning up your life. You could try to do that, certainly. And if you do manage to work your way there, allowing these social laws to work in your favor for a time, will it necessarily change your spiritual position? These proverbs state that eventually your actions will declare the condition of your heart. God doesn’t want your actions, he wants your heart!  Below are some Biblical examples of receiving correction.


In Acts we learn that Apollos was an incredibly gifted speaker. He was knowledgeable and influential. He had a charisma about himself that moved the masses, and it would have been quite natural to see him evolve into a haughty and prideful man. We’ve seen was Washington, Hollywood, and the Internet have shown us. The charismatic leaders who end up loving the accolades they receive more than the message they are carrying. Their motivations change, and pride fills that space sought by the Holy Spirit. But in this passage it’s clear Apollos didn’t fall prey to pride here. I’m sure he was well acquainted with the proverbs, and he humbled himself to listen.


Do you remember King Saul, the first anointed King of Israel? Almost from the beginning he had trouble doing what God asked him to do. Samuel, the highest judge, tried to correct him multiple times, but Saul refused to listen and he never surrendered his complete heart to the Lord.

Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and the Lord sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. (I Samuel 16:14 NLT)

The Lord doesn’t force us to draw near to him. He doesn’t force us to listen, obey, and connect with his Spirit, but it’s certainly not a mystery what results.


Now consider King David, the successor to King Saul. He, too, was guilty of a horrible crime: adultery and murder. God corrected David through the prophet Nathan, and David immediately humbled himself. God gave us back-to-back images of flawed men, both of whom he chose to sit on the throne, and both had a choice when confronted. One followed pride and self, the other humbled himself before God.


Now consider Job. I’m throwing a wrench into the flow of this developing logic, but it’s necessary. He lost everything: his children, his flocks, every bit of his wealth, and the best of his health, all the while being the most righteous man. His friends, aware of the calamity, came to see him and instead of consolation they offered their correction. Of course Job is suffering because of his sin, they thought. These universal social laws must indicate the presence of sin and the need for correction. But their correction was misplaced. However well intentioned, these men were wrong in their assessment.

There are millions of messages being hurled in our direction all day long, every day. We must be able to discern which are from God and which are not. When is it time to heed the correction and make a change?

  • Understand the Word of God, the Bible. Study it and ask for wisdom. These words will help you understand God’s character and his truths. No message from God will ever contradict his character or his words.
  • Look for patterns in your life because God tends to speak in repetitious patterns. He does it in scripture as well as in real life. Let’s say during a sermon you feel a tug at your heart about making a change, then you read an article on the subject, a friend then brings up the topic randomly at lunch, and it comes up again on the radio. There’s a definite pattern that would require serious consideration. If you’re resisting a change and your car breaks down, then your water heater breaks, and you lose your job, it might require serious consideration. Please don’t hear me wrong. Like Job, bad things can happen to righteous people and it doesn’t mean you’re being punished. BUT, regardless, there’s more of God in every circumstance, and it’s appropriate to ask him what he wants you to see.
  • Abide in Christ, or remain plugged into the Holy Spirit. Through a solid connection to the Spirit of Christ, you will receive the discernment to understand what God is speaking. This is what God calls wisdom and understanding.


There may come a time when God will call on one of us to provide correction to another believer. Correction that does not come from a place of love is commonly called judgment, and is most often rejected. Here’s a sampling of what Proverbs has to say about giving correction:

The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray. (Prov 12:26 NLT)

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Prov 15:1 NLT)

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness (Prov 15:2 NLT)

Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. (Prov 15:4 NLT)

Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time! (Prov 15:23 NLT)

How do we know that Priscilla and Aquila didn’t just jump on the error instead offering love?

He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:26 NIV)

In some translations it says they took him aside. Either way, they thought through a strategic response. They didn’t react in front of the crowd. I love the idea that they took him home. Hospitality is a common expression of love, and they opened up their home and more than likely offered him a meal. Conversations over a casual meal lower defenses and support comfort, which probably placed Apollos in a great position to listen.

I cannot tell you how many “discussions” my husband and I have had where one of us has said, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!” This picture of the three of them seated around a table brings to my mind gentle words and joy in their tone, and I can even imagine the excitement felt by Apollos when he saw the truth.

He may have also felt some pangs of guilt at the same time. He may have thought of all the hundreds of people who heard the wrong message from him. But that’s what’s so beautiful about grace; God works through our error and sanctifies us with correction.  God’s grace extends to even those affected by our error.  The Holy Spirit no doubt prompted Priscilla and Aquila to correct Apollos and he guides Apollos into truth. The results are fabulous and Apollos continues with a very successful ministry.

Here’s a word of advice for those who feel prompted to provide correction.

  • Be confident the Holy Spirit is prompting you, and that it comes from a place of complete love.
  • In as many cases as possible, ensure there’s a trusting relationship in place. And
  • Ask God to provide confirmation before moving forward. Only a fool rushes in. (Prov 14:16) If you are confident you are following the direction of the Holy Spirit, then you can remain free from worry if the results are not optimal.


I’ve mentioned the Holy Spirit twice already. Remaining plugged into the Holy Spirit is essential not only for receiving correction but also for providing it. It’s highly critical to remember that it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to actually do the work of conviction.

And when [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness… (John 16:8 NLT)

There are many stories in the Old Testament where God asks Israel to either not fight an encroaching enemy or show up radically unprepared for battle. He did this to demonstrate his unparalleled ability to fight on their behalf. After approaching Saul multiple times to correct his behavior, there came a time when Samuel would go no further with him.  Scripture says Samuel constantly mourned for him. (I Samuel 15:35) Although we may mourn the sin we see in our world and the sin we see in others, it’s critical we seek God’s direction. Sometimes he says move, like he did with Priscilla and Aquila. And sometimes he says stay, like he did with Samuel.

I mourn for our world, and I get anxious when I see the sin and evil surrounding us, but I was reminded yesterday that God’s banner over us is love. Whatever God’s plans, we can be confident of his love for us and even for those who are apt to distress us.  And we can trust him. Can I get an amen?

Fear Will Come and Faith Will Falter, But WHAT IF? ACTS 18

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ACTS 18:1-17

“Oh, yes! We looked and saw that the land was good. Very good! BUT there are giants! We can’t go.” They were afraid. They were a people who’d been beaten and abused…just yesterday…or so it seemed. You’ve heard the psychology of an abused wife. She discounts every quality she has, doesn’t believe she can move on, believes she needs her abuser. They wanted to go back to Egypt, back into slavery. I’m confident that although Israel had been physically rescued from Egypt, they were still very much chained and steeped in unbelief. They refused the promise and missed out on their purpose. (Deuteronomy 1)


I had been ruminating on Deuteronomy chapter one and Joshua chapter one for days now. It was the focus of  IF:Gathering 2015, and I couldn’t miss the parallels to our study this week in Acts. Christine Caine (listen to this woman if you can) taught the first chapter of Joshua, and the scene is set for Israel to brave the Promised Land and claim it. The first thing God told Joshua was that Moses was dead.

“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.” (Joshua 1:2 NLT)

God is doing away with the old and bringing in the new, and it’s an obvious pattern he uses to help us grow. When he introduced manna to the Israelites (translated “What is it?”), it was so new they didn’t even know what to call it. The Law was a new thing. The Promised Land was a new thing. Jesus was a new thing. Grace was a new thing. These new things were scary because they were little understood, but when embraced, they nourished the soul completely.

I’ve been wrestling with a new thing myself for almost a year, and while I am not at liberty to reveal the details, I can say that I have asked God, more than once, to retreat. I have spent an inordinate amount of energy, seeking justification so that I could go my own direction with a clean conscience. I was so determined, that I refused to see this direction as the Promised Land. It couldn’t be, because I didn’t like the way it looked. Surely God wouldn’t ask this of me. It doesn’t look like what he’d already shown me. I found myself becoming bitter as I sat this side of the Jordan River, and then I heard God speak to me during IF:Gathering.

“The reason why you are bitter is because of your memories. In the past you felt empty, but you are no longer empty. I have filled you. In the past you have felt hurt, but you are no longer being hurt. I have healed you. Love where I have placed you. Serve.”

I’m not so different from Israel and her memories. How long will I stay on this side of the Jordan River? You see, I thought I had already crossed the Jordan River. And in some ways I had. It took some guts for me step out in faith and assume the responsibility for The Well @ Santa Fe. I had to work through my fears to put my thoughts online for the world. But I now realize that with each layer of growth I have to cross the Jordan River again and again to claim His promise for me. If I refuse, I miss out, and maybe that promise will pass to the next generation. I’m telling you, I don’t want to miss out.


In the first part of Acts 18 we see God speaking to Paul while he’s in Corinth.

“Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” (Acts 18:9-10 NLT)

I am confident God said these things because Paul was frustrated, tired, and scared. He’d been going from synagogue, to synagogue, to synagogue, preaching, pleading, and running for his life. What a tiresome process. I have no doubt that if I were in his shoes, I would come to a point of questioning my purpose. Earlier in chapter 13, I said that when Paul embarked upon his first missionary journey, he symbolically crossed the Jordan River into his Promised Land. He began living out the purpose God had set before him, to make God’s name known among the nations. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Paul was at the Jordan River again. Could he really face all those giants and continue this pattern city after city? They were looming and legitimately dangerous.

Paul was a man who surrendered everything to God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit who gifted him with discernment, wisdom, and power. Surely he looked fear in the face and refused him. How could this man I revere have fear? Let’s go back to Joshua, before he crossed the Jordan River. In the first chapter of Joshua, God said no less than FIVE times, “Be strong and courageous!” Repetition in the Bible is not insignificant. Could it be that Joshua was a tiny bit afraid? Say it ain’t so!

Of course he was. Fear is not a sinful quality, something for which to be ashamed. As someone who’s been overwhelmed by fear most of my life, I had not fully considered this truth. Historically, my fear had most definitely turned into a sin, an obvious sign that I did not, and would not trust God.  And as a result, when I finally confessed, I resolved to never let fear cross my borders again. How frustrating to assign yourself an impossible task. Can you relate? It does not lessen Paul’s apostleship or authority to realize he wrestled with fear, it only demonstrates the validity of God’s call on our life.

God had called Paul to a new thing.

“Paul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:15 NLT)

And Paul had just said to the Jews in Corinth, as he dramatically shook the dust from his clothes,

“Your blood is upon our own heads – I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6 NLT)

I can hear the tone of frustration and anger, which no doubt led to uncertainty and fear. God was faithful to encourage him with his words. I admire Paul. It takes much less to send me reeling down a path of fear and worst-case scenarios, when things don’t go like I’d envisioned.

Why exactly did God tell Joshua to be strong and courageous? So Israel could possess the land that he had promised. Do you see the parallel in Acts? “Do not be afraid!…for many people in this city belong to me,” a symbolic land for Paul to claim. These are no small tasks. Who wouldn’t be afraid? “For I am with you,” God promises to them both. We all have a Promised Land before us. A hope and a purpose. A land to stake claim. Eventually God did establish a kingdom for Israel in that land, and while the Promised Land symbolizes his purpose for our life, the Kingdom symbolizes his presence and authority in our life.  There can be no purpose without his presence!  The effect of his presence is quite simply a taste of heaven.


However there’s a paradox in our faith, when it comes to eternal life, which results from the intersection of heaven and earth. The realities that exist in both are true yet disparate because they lie in two different spheres. It’s the cost for entry into eternal life. In the heavenly realm that cost was paid by Jesus when he died on the cross. A perfect and sinless God-man, who didn’t need to die, but did so anyway because he loved us. We cannot purchase entry ourselves; he’s given it away freely. Much like the manna he provided for Israel in the desert. He gave it freely and generously. While in this corrupt world, we eagerly anticipate the day we can enter this eternal life that we otherwise know as heaven!

BUT WAIT there’s more! Yes, there is a heaven awaiting us, in this earthly realm, while we are still alive. This heaven/eternal life, is knowing Him! (John 17:3) It’s an intimacy with God resulting from an active relationship with Him, which is nothing less than supernatural. And there is a cost for this heaven too. The cost requires us to forge ahead in faith, despite the fear that looms. In Joshua, the manna, a symbol of God’s free gift, was evolving. There would be no manna in the Promised Land, and the cost to entering the Promised Land was a humbling faith, requiring them to step into the riverbed. Forging ahead when fear loomed. God wasn’t going to do it for them as he had while they were in the desert, but he was most assuredly with them.

Fear will come and faith will falter, but the cost to a deep and fulfilling relationship with God, is a determined trust. WHAT IF GOD IS REAL? Will you trust him? Will you listen and claim his words when he speaks?

When God says,

“Trust me. I will be with you.”

Will you say,

“Yes, Lord. I believe. Help me with my unbelief!”

To An Unknown God: ACTS 17

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The summer between my Junior and Senior year in high school, my best friend and I went abroad as foreign exchange students through Rotary Club. I went to France for a month and she to Spain. Because we were both highly active with the local Rotary Club, the Director of the Rotary Foreign Exchange Program allowed us to look over all the foreign applications and be the first to choose our host family. I chose Valerie. I chose her because she was pretty and her house looked fabulous.  She identified as Catholic so I assumed our values would be similar.  I quickly learned our values were not even close.  As we talked (or tried to…my French was terribly broken, as was her English) she shared that she was really an atheist, and I asked her why she completed her profile as Catholic. Her response, “Oh, I was only born Christian.” I was indignant. Of course no one is born Christian, you can only be born into a Christian household. It’s not like Christianity is a race for heaven’s sake! Pride swelled up inside me as I remained silent, although I was actually no different than she.


Before we look into our passage today, I want to take a minute to look back at an age-old story in Genesis 25-28. This is the story of Jacob and Esau, twin sons born to Isaac, the son of Abraham. It was foretold, while they were still wrestling in the womb, that the older would serve the younger. The younger would become a great nation.  In fact, after Esau was born, Jacob quite literally followed on his heels.

Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. (Gen 25:26 NLT)

To say there was sibling rivalry between these two is an understatement. I envision countless wrestling matches, races, and competitions in an attempt to best each other. It became clear over time that their father favored Esau and their mother favored Jacob. Rebekah and Jacob held fast to the prophecy, looking for opportunities to see it through.

To be fair, Esau was in all likelihood, a carefree spirit. As I researched some Jewish history online, I came across a Jewish commentary on this passage. Esau is described as a man who wasn’t interested in studying the faith of his fathers, but would rather escape into the fields as often as possible. This indifference offended Jacob and his mother. ( Phase I of their plan occurred when Jacob easily convinced Esau to hand over his birthright.  Scripture said Esau had contempt for his birthright.

When it came time for Isaac’s blessing, Phase II was in full swing.  Esau left to hunt wild game for his father and provide a special dinner before his blessing; it was Isaac’s special request.  Rebekah instructed Jacob to enter Isaac’s tent disguised as Esau, presenting the wild game.   Isaac, nearly blind as a bat, was hesitant at first.

 “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The Lord your God put it in my path!” Jacob replied (Gen 27:20 NLT)

Did you notice that? He said, the Lord YOUR God. Why didn’t he say, the Lord MY God? Jacob was born into a God fearing home. He was circumcised on the 8th day, he offered sacrifices, he was taught the things of God. However, the God of Isaac had yet to become Jacob’s.

Deceitfully taking Esau’s blessing was a risky thing to say the least. Fearing for his life, he left town quickly, with plans to only return after many years. On his way to his Uncle Laban’s in Haran, he stopped for a night and slept upon a stone.   That night he had a dream of a stairway to Heaven and God spoke to him very clearly. God reviewed his covenant with Abraham and declares it again for Jacob. When Jacob awakes he’s afraid and amazed all at once.

If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. (Gen 28:20 NLT)

And here it is. Here is where the transition is made. Jacob is in a tight spot. Although he’s just gained a birthright and a blessing, he fears it will be worth nothing if his brother kills him. One day he was sleeping in wealth, the next he’s sleeping on a rock.  In this moment, I believe he thinks he’s lost everything. This just might be the first time he’s truly ready to hear from God. He’s been knocked down, and his pride stripped away. Pride cannot enter the presence of God, because His presence has a way of dropping one to his knees.


I was not unlike Jacob, and really not too far from my friend Valerie either. I was born into a Christian home. Raised with solid teaching, I practiced my faith as I dutifully followed my parents. I loved God. I prayed before my exams, prayed for green lights, prayed for excellent parking spots, and prayed for my future husband. I read my Bible (when I could find the time), talked a lot about this God, and I’m confident I asked him into my heart at the age of five. It was His grace from my young age that got me through my awkward teens and hellish twenties. The same grace that got Jacob through his sin and to that stairway to Heaven. That pride that first appeared in France only grew in my heart each year afterward. This God I claimed most of my life, even while I was rebelling in my heart, was the God of my parents. I had yet to make Him the God of my life.

Until one day I realized I was alone. I was surrounded by people and yet so alone. My pride had gotten out of control.  I was sabotaging relationships with virtually everyone, including my husband. I was miserable and I thought I was doing everything right. God provided a mirror for me one afternoon.  He showed me who I was, and who I was to become. It was just a glimpse that day. Just a few things he asked me to do. If I had seen it all in total, I might have crumbled under the immensity of it all. But with that small glimpse, I obeyed and he became MY God. I’ve been transformed since that day. And I’m telling you, I cannot un-see what God has shown me.


Paul, in Acts 17, tours the city of Athens. He wants to learn something about these people, to search for common ground. While he’s there he becomes terribly impressed and burdened by all the idols and religious shrines in the city. He finds a god with the inscription, “To an Unknown God.” (Acts 17:23) Now this. This is the God for whom they truly searched. For whom we all search. The creator who’s made the world and breathes life into all things.  He does not need us to satisfy him, because he’s God, and yet He satisfies our needs. While he does not need us, he desires us, and draws us to him. Athens needed Him. They needed Him to become their God.

Paul is no novice to this transition. On the road to Damascus, he saw God and could not un-see what God showed him. The God of his forefathers became HIS God on that day. Paul was prepared to make this Unknown god, known to the world. He would explain the path for repentance, and he would reason with the Greeks that knowing Him is eternal life. This Unknown God brings eternal life when He is known.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIV emphasis added)


Ask God to show you what he wants you to see. Obey and make him YOUR God. There is more of Him at every turn. There is more of Him when you lose your job. There is more of Him when you are diagnosed with disease. There is more of Him when a heavy door closes on a tightly held dream. There is more of Him when it seems like difficulty after difficulty is only followed by disaster. He allows these things to forge a path of KNOWING HIM.

And guess what? If John 17:3 says that knowing Him is eternal life, that means, with the Holy Spirit, we can sample some heaven-that-awaits, right now! We can be joyful no matter the circumstance because he has designed that stairway to Heaven. This is truth! Claim it! Do you have an Unknown God lying in the fringes of your “everyday?”  Maybe a God that belongs to your parents or your grandparents, waiting for you?  He’s drawing you close.  He’s prepared the way.  There’s no more freedom than that which comes from surrendering all to Him.

Don’t Miss the Fulfillment of Your Purpose: ACTS 13

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Resolutions and fresh starts mark every new year.  Have you chosen a word for the year?  I only learned about this word trend this year. Instead of  committing to a New Year’s resolution, you simply choose a word to represent what you hope to accomplish. If you follow my blog, you’ll know from my last post that I have a love-hate relationship with resolutions, so after seeing many of my friends choosing words, reading news articles on the subject, and hearing about it during a New Year’s Eve sermon, I figured I might as well choose one in 2015. The word fulfillment was uttered only a half second in a sermon before I was convinced this was my word.


I had already completed my study of this passage in Acts before New Year’s Eve rolled around, and fulfillment was lurking in the back of my mind in obscurity. And because Acts 13 is dripping with purpose, I realized I couldn’t really explore the meaning of fulfillment until I look at it in light of my purpose. Right? We all have one, whether we’re living it out or not; and sometimes we’re living it out whether we realize it or not. In our passage today we see the Apostle Paul’s purpose taking shape and manifesting, and of course we can clearly see it now because we have the benefit of a couple thousand years of hindsight. The dilemma we face today though, is discerning our purpose when we’re smack dab in the middle of the muck and mire of our complicated lives. And there’s a very distinct possibility that we might miss our fulfillment, at least in part, absent an understanding of our purpose.

Our passage today begins with the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas, and a small crew of people, for the first recorded missionary journey. The spread of the gospel prior to this was incidental, as folks shared the gospel while fleeing persecution and seeking safe harbor. However, in this passage it was different because they were intentional about the spread of the gospel. They were filled with purpose, a purpose that was handed down from God.

…the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”  (Acts 13:2 NLT)

I find this significant, because there could have been at least one hundred thousand great and noble things to which Paul and Barnabas could have dedicated their lives, but unless they were empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Now don’t get me wrong, I truly believe God works all things together for his purpose (Romans 8:28), but if Paul and Barnabas were not moving in step with the Spirit, they would have missed out on the fulfillment. I’ll get back to this in a minute.


Do you think this directive from God surprised Paul and Barnabas? It’s not real clear how they reacted, but I’m going to guess no. Think back to Acts Chapter 9, in the city of Damascus, God spoke to Ananias.

Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and the kings, as well as to the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15)

Although it’s not recorded as such, my guess is that there were a great many conversations between these two about his destiny, and later in Paul’s testimony before the Jews he shares that Jesus told him to run from his persecutors in Jerusalem because he was being sent far away to the Gentiles. (Acts 22:17-21)  In fact, when Barnabas arrived in Antioch of Syria to investigate the stories of Gentile conversions, what was one of the first things he did? He traveled to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch.  Is it possible this may have entered their conversations too when they first met in Damascus?

Scripture says Barnabas was filled with joy when he saw what the Holy Spirit was doing in Antioch, but he may have also felt ill equipped at that point to minister to Gentiles and wanted Paul’s support.  So if they were surprised at all, it may have only been because it took years from when God shared his purpose with Paul, to when he began to see the fulfillment.   All we know for sure is that God brought clarification and confirmation to his calling when the time was right in Antioch.


If fulfillment was going to be my word for the year, then I needed define it. First there’s fulfillment used in the context of contentment. When you feel fulfilled, you feel full of joy, peace, and happiness.   And second, there’s fulfillment in the context of completion. When you have an order or a request and you are waiting for that request to be completed or fulfilled. The Amazon fulfillment center worked hard for my family this Christmas. The trouble I have had over the last year with my purpose, and I dare say I am not alone here, is that I have overlooked contentment in a consuming search for completion. And this is not what God intends.

Consider for a moment Abraham. God provided Abraham with his purpose. He said he would use him to be the father of many nations. That he would provide him a holy lineage, through which the world will be infinitely blessed. It would be years and years and years before that purpose would be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac. And Sarah, annoyed with waiting and her ever-aging body, she wanted to see the completion before she received contentment. She scoffed, not unlike each one of us.

God also told Abraham that he would give him a land that would remain with his descendents. Did Abraham ever actually see that completed?

And Abraham lived as a foreigner in the land of the Philistines for many days. (Gen 21:34 HCSB emphasis added)

He made it to the Promised Land, but he never actually saw this purpose completed. Move on down to his son, Isaac, and we see that he didn’t see it completed either.

Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; stay in this land, as a foreigner, and I will be with you and bless you. (Gen 26:2-3 HCSB)


God had multiple objectives for this land of Canaan, but the promise of land as a blessing of prosperity for his chosen people was but a secondary objective. His primary objective was much deeper and more significant. The significance is embedded in the imagery of this land. He didn’t give the land directly to Abraham, Isaac, or even Jacob, because that wasn’t the picture he wanted to portray. He wanted us to first see Israel in captivity in Egypt, then see them wandering in the desert, and finally see their entrance into the Promised Land. The symbolism is significant, because without it, we might miss it when we travel this course for ourselves.

Captivity represents our lives before Christ enters. We are captive to sin, unable to escape. This is not just applicable to the non-believer. It can also represent the Christian if she is still held captive by pride and fear, refusing to allow Jesus sovereign authority over every part of her life. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to see it clearly. She is held captive, if she believes the lie that she can control her world.

Wandering in the desert comes shortly after we receive our freedom. It doesn’t sound much better than captivity does it? And that’s exactly what Israel thought too. They even asked to return to Egypt. Perspective is everything here. Truly this is the time in our lives where God reveals himself to us. He provides the necessary circumstances and trials to teach us faith. There are a multitude of examples in nature, like the caterpillar, proving that struggle and conflict are absolutely necessary for a glorious outcome, like the butterfly. It’s through the trials where we come to know him intimately and he then bestows wisdom and understanding. It’s a time of preparation that cannot be skipped.

The Promised Land is a time where preparation meets opportunity. I naively thought at one time that the Promised Land was intended to be easy street. You know, the land of milk and honey? But I was wrong. When Israel entered the Promised Land they immediately went into battle. And they battled the enemy for years to claim what God had promised them. Their reign in this area was relatively short-lived, as the battle for this land has continued for millennia. But God’s purpose for the Promised Land wasn’t simply location, location, location. It was to bless the world through Israel, to make his name known among the nations. The Promised Land was a time for Israel to discover and fulfill her purpose. The Promised Land is the time in our lives when we discover and fulfill our purpose.

God wants us to abandon captivity, follow him through the rigorous times of preparation, so that we can live out our purpose fully.

Coming back to Acts, you can see this journey very clearly in Paul’s life. He leaves his life of captivity in the city of Damascus, and then he enters the desert lands during his years in Arabia, Jerusalem, Caesarea and Tarsus. They were obviously very trying years of solid preparation. After ministering in Antioch, God finally dedicated Paul and Barnabas for their calling. They entered the Promised Land when they embarked upon this missionary journey. They were making God’s name known among the nations.


You probably remember the story of Jonah. God asked him to send his word to the horribly sinful people of Nineveh. Jonah found this deplorable and literally went the opposite direction. He only ended up in Nineveh because he relented after three days in the belly of a whale. Even after Nineveh repented, Jonah continued to sulk and complain. Jonah’s ignorance of God’s full purpose didn’t thwart God’s fulfillment in terms of completion, but Jonah certainly missed much of God’s fulfillment in terms of contentment.

How can we live a life of fulfillment and purpose? I have some advice that God has provided for me through some very bright minds, and I share it with you today.

  • When it comes to our purpose, don’t allow that to replace God’s presence. Our life’s goal is ultimately to BE WITH HIM. Prioritize his abiding presence, and everything else flows from it.
  • Don’t be consumed with God’s larger purpose in your life or the ultimate outcome.* It can be an overwhelming thing to take in all at once, and let’s face it, God’s purpose for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Paul never fully manifested in their lifetime. Who’s to say it will in ours? So there’s no benefit to worrying, obsessing, and losing sleep over what you cannot control. Know that God will fulfill you in the mean time.
  • All you can do is the next best thing.* How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
  • And don’t wait!* Don’t be lazy, don’t be afraid, and don’t confuse this when God asks you to wait for Him.



Why Pray and How: ACTS 11:19-12:25

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Acts 11:19-12:25

Praying before meals was a regular part of our practice throughout my childhood.  One Sunday afternoon our family sat down to eat our noon meal, which was probably pot roast from the crock-pot, typical Sunday fare in our home. We prayed and then began to eat. My little brother yelped and whimpered as he took a bite and said, “Daddy, the food is still too hot. You didn’t pray long enough.”

Why do we pray? How do we pray?  Like many things in scripture, prayer is a simple act that is steeped in complexity.  In this passage of Acts we see the story of Peter’s miraculous release from prison.   His release occurs as the Jerusalem believers gathered to pray earnestly for his safety. I’d like to take the time today to dive into the real value of prayer.


This wouldn’t be a lesson on prayer without a visit to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.   In chapter 6 Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. Even though you may have heard a dozen sermons on The Lord’s Prayer, it’s wise to come here first, as a basis of context. Jesus says,

Pray like this: Our Father in Heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13 NLT)

I have to admit, I have a tendency to resist this scripture because I have a natural aversion to rules when it comes to my faith, and I’ve held the bias that a memorized prayer was an empty prayer.  And that’s probably because most of the teachings I’ve heard on The Lord’s Prayer usually end up as a “how to” message on how to construct my prayers. Even if the pastor didn’t intended it, most folks walk away thinking, “Ok. So when I pray this week, I need to start like this, then move into this, and end with this.” They walk away with a formula!

Can you imagine the extensive amount of thought, energy, and emotion required to make a cake without any basic recipe to follow?  Formulas are extremely helpful when trying to recreate your favorite cake or calculate equations or perform heart surgery.  A formula decreases variability and increases quality.  But can you really apply this approach to relationships?  Absolutely not.  No one wants to feel like the variable in someone’s formula.  When you approach God using a formula, you’re essentially taking out the thought, energy and emotion, and all these things are required components to any relationship.  The quickest way to sever a connection to the Holy Spirit is by responding to him with a recipe.  But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer.


I honestly don’t believe Jesus gave us this prayer so that we would necessarily pray these words exactly, nor to give us a recipe for what to include in our prayers; even though the words are great and the structure, worthy of duplication. He was revealing truth about himself and how we relate to him. When we absolutely believe these truths, it will most definitely impact our prayers and bring us into the presence of God. The problem arises when we don’t believe them.

1)May your kingdom come soon. When his disciples heard this, you know they were praying he would establish this kingdom by overthrowing the occupying Roman government. But there’s actually two components to the kingdom, a heavenly kingdom and an earthly one. The earthly kingdom pictured in the books of the prophets and revealed further in Revelation are pictures of what he’s prepared for us in heaven. Scripture promises a time when Jesus will return again to finally address the corruption of sin here on Earth and establish a kingdom. It will be yet one more picture of the splendor in the heavenly realm.  However, when Jesus died on the cross, rose again, and was seated at the right hand of the Father that too was picture of that heavenly kingdom. Because of his blood sacrifice, we are granted access to the power of that kingdom now. When we are praying for the kingdom, we are praying for the completion of all of his promises. We are also praying that we would walk in that kingdom now via the Holy Spirit. It’s like heaven invading earth through our hearts, and that’s exactly what happens when we are plugged into the Holy Spirit. He is our King, and his Kingdom has come into us, when we are abiding in Christ and he abides in us.

2) May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Even here, Jesus is talking about these two economies, or households, heaven and earth. He has a will for heaven and one for earth and his purpose has always been to bring them into perfect union. I think we can all agree that they’re not unified today; there’s too much sin and corruption to think otherwise. His will, here on earth, includes each one of us, and if we submit to that will, our stories will play an eternal role in it’s unfolding. Our prayer should be that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we would live our lives to accomplish his will. Praying in God’s will is not necessarily a lack of faith, quite the contrary. In fact the more we are in His presence and seek to understand His will, the bolder our prayers become.

3) Give us today the food we need. In some versions, the translation is, “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is a common theme throughout the course of scripture from the manna given to Israel, to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus wants us to know that HE is our daily bread. He is our manna from heaven. Of all our needs, there is none greater than he. Of course we have needs that need to be met, and he knows exactly what they are.

 …your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:8 NLT)

So why even ask? Because it brings us back to him as our resource. Our family discovered toxic mold during the holidays and we were wondering if we would lose our home. I was frantic and you can bet I prayed for resolution. God knew my needs, and he knew the solution. I don’t know if my prayer changed anything in that moment except myself.  In my fear, I could hear his voice say, “I have a solution in place. Trust me.” It brought me back to him. Sometimes we pray for what we need, so that we can hear His steady response. Let me be clear.  There are plenty of scriptural anecdotes telling of prayers that changed the Lord’s mind and altered outcomes.  They certainly can.  It all comes back to God.  He alone is our daily bread.

4) Forgive us our sins. Like so many things, I think this also has a heavenly and an earthly component if you’ll follow me for a minute. If you have already given your heart over to a faith in Jesus, then this prayer for forgiveness is one that has cleansed you from all unrighteousness. Scripture says that faith in Jesus is all you need for forgiveness, to thereby gain eternal life. In the heavenly realm this need only be done once. Because the blood of Christ is absolute, covering all sin (past, present, and future), there is only one forgiveness for salvation. The end. You do NOT need to pray for forgiveness repeatedly.

So why in the world do you think Jesus would include this in a daily prayer? Because I believe it’s a prayer for healing in the earthly realm. We’re not praying this to be saved. We all need to be healed of the sins that we’ve committed. We have not, and we will not live perfect, sinless lives. Continued confession and repentance, reminds us of our forgiveness and allows the Lord to work in our heart daily for healing. It allows us to transfer that burden of guilt to Jesus, and it closes an open door to Satan. I know I’m not alone in being tormented by the decisions of my past and present. I know by experience, that unconfessed sin simmers within me and wreaks havoc in all aspects of my life. I’ve learned that I can heal and receive the power of the Holy Spirit by making this a regular practice in my life.

5) As we have forgiven those who sin against us. This is also a prayer for healing. We need healing from the sins we’ve committed, and we need healing from the sins others have inflicted upon us. Anger can be so destructive and a very effective tool for Satan. Most of us know the concept of not letting the sun go down on our anger recorded by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians. This doesn’t mean that we must literally let go of the anger within 24 hours or less, but it’s establishing the principle of avoiding a grudge. Paul also says, be angry and do not sin, so that indicates there is such a thing as righteous anger. God doesn’t expect us to live up to a standard that he doesn’t hold for himself. Scripture records over and over the anger he has over sin. But righteous anger that brews into unforgiveness will always turn into a grudge, and that’s the open door for which Satan prowls. Knowing this, and praying for his supernatural power to help us forgive, even while the sting of pain still stabs, places us on the right path. Notice this phrase, “as we have forgiven those who sin against us,forgiven is in the past tense, while sin is present tense. Awfully optimistic for most of us, but if we will proactively pray in this direction it will become the past. It’s called praying in his will.

6) And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. I’ve mentioned this evil one twice already. He’s real, and his number one goal is to derail each and every one of us. All the aforementioned parts of the Lord’s Prayer work together to answer this one.

The Lord’s Prayer isn’t necessarily a prayer to guide the structure of our prayers. Jesus put into words the essence of our relationship with him in prayer. It’s an authoritative, powerful relationship, because he is king; it’s a revelatory relationship because he wants to share his will and make himself known to us; it’s a provisionary relationship because of his overwhelming love for us; it’s a healing relationship because he makes us whole; and it’s a protective relationship because he is sovereign over all, even evil.

I find it incredibly interesting that this prayer never actually mentions thanksgiving while scripture is filled with advice toward gratitude. I wondered why. Then it occurred to me, when I really see the dramatic impact of this prayer, and I’m ushered into his presence, how can I not be thankful? He’s brought me into his kingdom, he’s revealed himself to me in astounding ways, he’s given me a purpose that will play into his will on earth AND heaven, he provided for me abundantly, he’s healed me from lifelong hurts, and he is waging battle against my enemy alongside me. I am humbled by and thankful for his grace. This is a prayer for our earthly world filled with eternal implications in the heavenly world, because it keeps our eyes fixed on the things above.

Coming back to Peter’s release from prison in this passage of Acts, we see no detail on what their prayers for Peter looked like exactly except that they were earnest.  These believers were fervent, faithful and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Peter’s release was so miraculous, the believers weren’t about to believe it actually happened. Peter wasn’t even so sure himself for a minute. But when it’s God’s will, there’s no shame in praying for it and claiming it.  Be ready to be blown away.


God called me to write, teach and speak two years ago. I have avoided praying for an abundance of opportunities to speak and teach, mainly for my fear of arrogance and my fear of failure. But if God has called me, and revealed his will to me, I NEED to be praying boldly for his will. My challenge to you this week, is to examine your own hearts. What are your prayers expressing? Are you claiming and worshipping Christ through all aspects of your relationship with him? Are you praying in his will that he has revealed to you and through you?

Additional verses on prayer.   Read and see what the Lord shows you in the context of the Lord’s Prayer.

Ephesians 6:18

Colossians 4:2

Matthew 7:7

James 4:2-3

James 5:16

I John 5:14

John 15:7

The Simple Complexity of Grace: ACTS 9:31-11:18

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ACTS 9:31-11:18

Over the holidays my oldest daughter asked me a question.  “Mama, how do you get on the naughty list?” Her brother and sister had gone off to play and she stayed behind, so I knew she was serious about resolving this bothersome question.   In our home we don’t demonize Santa Clause during the holidays, nor do we emphasize him, so her question puzzled me.  “I just want to know how you get on the naughty list?” she asked again.  Boy, isn’t this the question for the ages?  She knows she’s been in trouble before (earlier that day in fact), but by and large she really is a very well behaved child.  She’d been singing the Santa songs and watching the Christmas shows, so on the surface her question was related to whether or not she was getting presents.  Her deeper question however, the one that nags each of us in the back of our minds, is this…are we good enough?  I told her that when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the naughty list disappeared forever.  And this is what we call grace.


Grace in the Bible is simple and yet so complex.  Often, we hear the New Covenant described as the Age of Grace and the Old Covenant as the Age of the Law, and it’s certainly a more convenient way to explain all the nuanced differences between the two.  But that can lead to the assumption that grace did not exist back then, and can we really say that the Old Testament held no grace?  No, I don’t think so.

God never actually told Israel that they would be saved, receive eternal life, or enter heaven if they faithfully kept his commandments.  He told them he would bless their obedience with peace and prosperity.  The commandments were given for this earthly economy and therefore the blessings were also within the earthly economy.  The commandments of the Old Covenant were not given to Israel to offer them a way of salvation; they were given to serve as a picture of the one true way of salvation.  An earthly picture of the heavenly reality.  Each and every time they sacrificed an unblemished lamb for their guilt offering, it was a picture of Jesus and his sacrifice for our guilt.  Those little lambs atoned nothing, but Jesus, heaven’s perfect lamb, atoned all.  Did Israel understand this?  As a whole, no they didn’t.  They claimed a number of false assumptions of the law, which God allowed, that eventually brought about the fulfillment of the law.  But what’s really interesting here is that this truth of grace was still available to them, despite the fact that many never had the eyes to see it.

Consider for a moment King David.  He committed sins worthy of stoning, and they certainly would have kept him from entering the courts of heaven, yet his sins were forgiven.  If grace were not available in the Old Covenant, then one would have to conclude that King David was forgiven because of his sacrifices prescribed by the law.  He had to provide an animal sacrifice as a sin offering to cleanse him from the sin of adultery and murder.  But take a close look at Psalm 51.  David wrote this passage soon after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband to cover it up.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.  Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.  You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.  You do not want a burnt offering.  The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. (Psalm 51:14-17 NLT)

David spells it out.  I believe he clearly understood the truth of grace.  And today we benefit from Paul’s teachings, because he offers further assurance there’s not a single thing we can do, nor an action can we take, to get us on the nice list.  That was completed by Jesus and Jesus alone, on the cross.


The truth of grace is steadily being revealed all throughout Acts.  This particular passage covers the account of Peter and his sermon to the household of Cornelius.  It was the very first sermon to an all-Gentile group of people.  Back in chapter eight, the apostles seemed quite surprised to hear that the Samaritan’s had received the gospel message from Philip.  Then again, maybe they could accept it more easily since the Samaritan’s had a heavy Jewish influence despite their wayward past.  But this – this event with Cornelius was even more daring.  Peter entered a Gentile home.  The Jews, for centuries, had been instructed to exclude Gentiles.  He would have never done this unless he had been clearly instructed by God to do so.  God understood the cultural barrier Peter would have to overcome with his community as well as in his own mind, so he provided clear confirmation through a vision, a word from the Holy Spirit, and the message Cornelius received from God.  It was certainly controversial to go, but Peter obeyed.

I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.  In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34 NLT)

Non-favoritism didn’t just suddenly become God’s character.  This is a heavenly reality that has always existed.  A grace for all people.  Paul says in Colossians.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave or free, Christ is all that matters… (Colossians 3:11 NLT)

No favoritism.  Since God was, is, and always will be, we have to assume this is how it’s always been.  So you may ask, wasn’t Israel specifically told they were favored over others?  He said it to Moses.

The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. (Deuteronomy 26:18 NLT)

It certainly seems like a contradiction, but not if you can discern these statements by their economy.  It’s interesting because if you look at Israel’s history, they were a lot rotten a lot of the time, and not very treasure-like.  Yet they were treasured because of God’s purpose for them in the earthly economy.  His purpose was to garner them as an example of his abundant love.  God is so abstract; he gave us something concrete, around which we could wrap our minds.   Israel’s purpose, the covenant and commands given to them, they were all a picture in this earthly economy, giving us a glimpse into the heavenly reality.  And for anyone who earnestly followed after God, he revealed much of this truth, like he did for David.

God’s timing is perfect.  All of the seeds were planted, the proofs written in scripture, and the pictures clearly showed Messiah’s plan for redemption.  So when the time came for Jesus to be crucified as predicted, it was also time to reveal the full truth of grace that would become the primary message of the New Covenant.  When we hear a word from God, we can be sure that scripture will confirm it in some way, exactly as we see here.  God provided a clear, tangible picture of grace in the crucifixion, and the Old Covenant scripture confirmed it over and over.  Although the truth of grace was unfolding every day for the early church, Peter and the others still didn’t grasp it completely.  In the coming chapters we are going to see them struggle with how to accept Gentile believers.  They will try to saddle the Gentiles with Jewish customs and ceremony as requirement, and we will see evidence of Paul’s relentless campaign for grace.


While the Old Covenant wasn’t entirely absent of grace, the New Covenant isn’t entirely absent of the law either.  Wait…what?  Isn’t the Old Covenant now obsolete?

When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete.  It is now out of date and will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13 NLT)

If you’ll look at the context of this scripture in Hebrews, it is referring specifically to the guilt and sin offerings under the law and relates it to the fact that Christ’s death is once and for all.  You see, the animal sacrifices were performed repeatedly every year because they didn’t actually do anything at all.  They were just a symbolic picture of what was to come.  So now that we have the picture of Christ and his crucifixion, it has made the old covenant indeed obsolete and unnecessary.  When Christ offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, it was perfect and therefore absolute.

So when I say that the new covenant wasn’t devoid of the law, what I’m actually talking about is the Spirit of law.  The law that is written on your heart like King David writes about.  Even to Jeremiah, the Lord tells him there will be a new covenant where the law will be written on our hearts.  The part of the law that describes God’s character and his desire for our life.  The Spirit of the law says that God does not like or condone sin.  God didn’t like stealing back then, and he doesn’t like stealing today.  He didn’t like murder back then, and he doesn’t like murder today.  He doesn’t like sin and he wants to see our lives defined by good works, not bad.  And that’s only because of his great love for us.  He knows the sorrow that follows sin.  The freedom that we are granted through grace is the freedom to do what’s right.    We’re no longer chained to sin and sorrow.  It’s the freedom to live a life of heaven on earth.


Every believer who lives within the constructs of the earthly, yet holds a citizenship in the heavenly, will have to face the tension between these two worlds.   This is the tension we see fleshing out in the early church when they begin to question Peter for entering Cornelius’s home.  Do I fellowship with a Gentile or do I not?  Do I eat meat that’s been offered to idols, or do I not?  Do I circumcise or do I not?  It’s a tension that can sometimes leave us confused like those early Christian pioneers, however if we remain plugged into the Holy Spirit, that tension can materialize into a beautiful understanding.  I believe the early builders of the Christian church suffered through the tension to find understanding.

After the book of Acts concludes, Paul continues to write of liberty through Christ to encourage all believers to continue pushing through the tension.  We can feel free to be immersed or sprinkled, take communion, speak in tongues and participate in any number of symbols that represent the truth of heaven.  And we can allow these things to usher us into worship with our Lord.  We can also feel just as free to not do those things and enter worship by other means.  These things that tend to separate us as believers are merely pictures of heaven.  They aren’t heaven.

“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT)

An understanding of the heavenly economy and the earthly economy allows us the freedom to enjoy everything that God has provided all the while knowing the heavenly reality that supersedes this world.

The point of it all is our ability to worship God with all of our heart.  When we are humbled, and allow God to heal us, we will grow in our worship.  We will intimately walk in the Spirit.  And we will know a heaven on earth that empowers us day by day.

Living an Empowered Life: ACTS 3

Photostock Acts


In this chapter we see Peter providing us with a perfect example of an empowered life.  It might be tempting to think that Peter had an advantage over us considering he personally ministered with Jesus.  But no.  I believe his advantage came from an intimate relationship with Jesus, which is also our advantage.  Peter surrendered his spirit to that of God’s in the exact same way we must.  That can only mean our lives should be just as empowered as Peter’s, right?  So why aren’t they?  Is this passage relevant and applicable today?

An empowered life can be defined as God doing a work through us, just like we see Him work through Peter when he heals the lame man.  Let’s be clear, Peter isn’t awesome because he healed the lame man; God is awesome.  In order for God to do a work through Peter, he had to first do a work IN Peter.  Peter had to be readied for empowerment.  Can you imagine if bolts of lightning directly powered our homes?  We’d all be fried.  Our homes must be readied and prepared to receive the power from the plant before it can be effective.  Two essentials that ready us for empowerment are justification and sanctification.  I usually try to avoid “churchy” words like these, but because these words hold tremendous meaning for a vital, empowered life, indulge me for a moment.



This is the immediate cleansing we receive when we surrender to Jesus and place our faith Him.  We are born again and we are justified.  Until we are justified it is impossible to be empowered by the Holy Spirit because we are about as far from Jesus as we can get.  Justification literally changes everything.  Peter says it in Acts 3:19, “turn to God so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Justification is sometimes defined as forgiveness, but it is much more than forgiveness.  Don’t get me wrong.  Forgiveness is great.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “to give up resentment of or a claim to requital for, or to grant relief from payment of.”  The challenge with this definition alone is that it implies a single offense.  What about the other claims and debts that may be outstanding or remain in our future?  Once we sin again, we’re guilty again.  When my kids insult or defy me, I insist on an apology from them each time, and I forgive them each time.  This is not how justification works.  Justification takes forgiveness and applies it to all past, present and future offenses. God not only sees the sin that’s going to happen, he’s already there while it’s happening, holding us and guiding us.  Justification says, “You are not a sinner!” while we know perfectly well we still sin.  If you have faith in Jesus, you are justified.  Period.  And you are now ready for sanctification.


This is a process of purification that God promises for us after we’ve been justified and we surrender wholly to him on an ongoing basis.  The Bible compares this process of purification to that used with precious metals.  To bring about the most pure and precious gold, you must place it directly in the fire and heat the metal with extreme heat, have it melt, and then filter out the non-gold impurities, dust, and dirt.  Once it cools, it will be stronger, more beautiful, and highly valued.

Sanctification for believers typically happens through difficult circumstances.  It’s within the tumult that we are tested and shown our most basic nature.  We’re given the opportunity at that point to filter our character impurities.  Are you struggling now?  Do you feel like you’re being shot at from every direction?  Congratulations!   You are probably being sanctified. And if you are, rather than digging in your heels and denying any wrongdoing, simply ask God what he wants you to see.  As God begins to reveal the opportunities for growth, confession and repentance will be the next step to freedom.  It will always break a chain of sin and close a door to Satan.  Over the last seven years God has shown me much of my pride and arrogance and it’s not an easy thing to see, humiliating in fact.  I’ve seen how much I need Jesus, and each time it prepares me for empowerment.


The early church did what they did, were who they were, and had great joy because they were empowered.  The Holy Spirit moved through them in the same way he moves through us.  First they were justified through their faith, and then they were sanctified through ongoing surrender and obedience.  So much easier to say than do.  How do we do it exactly?  Our HOW will always, and I mean ALWAYS, fall back to the Holy Spirit.   We must stay plugged into our power source.  Sounds too simple.  But it is that simple.

For all you Type A’s (sorry Type B’s, I’m not excluding you…I’m so envious of your easy going nature) and list keepers out there, as we dig into the how’s of staying plugged into the Holy Spirit, this could present a challenge.   People like us get enormous satisfaction when we cross something off the list.  In my previous professional life, there came a day when I switched from paper to an electronic application for my task list.  Each time I completed a task, I would click the button and the task would disappear.  I have to confess, it irked me that it disappeared because I enjoyed seeing the task crossed on my list.  Well, I immediately adjusted my view so I could see my completed task with the strikethrough line.  At the end of the day I would gaze upon my list of accomplishments accompanied by a sigh loaded with pride.

Y’all, this is not our faith.  I’m not knocking checklists, because I still heart them.  But let’s be honest.  When we apply it to our faith, it represents a need to be in control, and ultimately a desire to earn  that approval God freely gives us.   You know?  I still feel defeated if my list of chores doesn’t get marked off during my day.

When it comes to our relationship with God, if our desire to control and “earn” dominates our behavior, it’s evidence of our lack of faith.  It can manifest as a desire to control other parts of our life too, so watch out list keepers!  We’re essentially saying, “God I’ve got this!  Check on me at the end of the day and I’ll let you know where I could use some help.”  I’ve said it before, we are not in a business/transactional relationship with God and there is not a thing we can do to earn approval from Him.  Consider a parable to further illustrate, found in Matthew 18: 21-35.  I’m going to paraphrase.


Called the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor, we start with a king who is balancing his accounts and calls in a servant who owes millions of dollars.  The king demands payment but the servant doesn’t have the funds to repay, so the king threatens to sell him and his entire family into slavery to repay the debt.  The servant immediately drops to his knees and begs for more time.  Even better than that, the king takes pity and completely forgives the debt.  We then see this servant leave and immediately approach one his own debtors, demanding immediate payment.  When that debtor can’t produce the funds to the servant, the servant starts choking the debtor.  He refuses to show the same kindness he just received.  The king learns of it and throws the servant in jail.

Until recently I have always viewed this story from the perspective of the king, and I too would have thrown the man in jail.  Why would this servant refuse to pay it forward?  How rotten.  But consider for a moment that this servant didn’t really believe his debt was fully forgiven.  That he walked away thinking, “whew…I barely made it that time.  I need to hurry and collect so that I can start paying back what I owe to the king.”   But the king forgave his debt!

What would you do in this scenario?  Do you really believe you are completely justified, forgiven, and fully relieved of debt?  Or do you feel like you need to complete a list of “Christian” activities to repay the King?  A lack of faith will eventually take one down a dangerous path.  When we don’t fully believe we are justified before Christ, we can’t help but pull out our checklist and earn our approval.  And it’s at that point we unplug from the Holy Spirit.  Faith does the opposite!


Okay, hopefully we understand that we cannot simply work harder for the Holy Spirit’s power.  We cannot earn what’s freely given.  So then, where do we begin?  We are plugged into the Spirit when we are with Him, and we are with Him in several ways.  Let’s go back to Acts and look at our passage.  In fact let’s back up into last week’s lesson, Acts 2:42.  It says the believers devoted themselves to, “the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.”  Later in verse 46 and 47 you see the phrases, “They worshipped together at the Temple each day…all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of the people.”

Here’s a great start:

·       Devote yourself to God’s Word and the teaching of it.

·       Devote yourself to fellowship with other believers.

·       Devote yourself to prayer, all the while worshipping and praising.

These are the things that take you out of your own flesh and plug you into the Holy Spirit.

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. (Acts 3:1-2 NLT)

At this point Peter and John were probably accustomed to surprises from the Lord.  They’d seen plenty of miracles from Jesus and now they too were performing many signs and wonders (Acts 2:43). I’m sure they’d come to expect the unexpected.  However in this moment, they were on their way to a prayer service.  I’m guessing they didn’t wake that morning saying, “Hey let’s head over the Temple this afternoon and see what we can stir up for Jesus today.”  And they weren’t just going to the Temple out of obligation because it was their custom.  The preceding verses in Chapter 2 definitely indicate otherwise.  They were pursuing their intimate relationship with Jesus and I’m positive that was their motivation in that moment.  They were going to the Temple to pray.  They were probably already preparing their hearts as they walked.  Maybe even singing some praises.  They were plugged in.

So when the opportunity to glorify God presented itself, they immediately saw it.  They followed the Spirit’s direction, the man was healed, and many of the people in the Temple were receptive.  Because Peter was plugged in, he again saw the opportunity to address the crowd.  How do we know it was the Spirit of God?  Peter immediately denies any connection to the miracle.  He could not have accomplished this in his own power.  He gives all credit to God.

This passage reveals so much about empowerment.  Preaching, witnessing, serving and miracles all flow through empowerment.  But they don’t come first.  We must first be WITH Jesus.  In fact, IN him.  This is the HOW of staying plugged in.  Everything else results from the overflow.  If this still sounds too simple, and you find yourself a little confused about how this happens, don’t worry.  Keep devoting yourself to this Bible study and ask God to show you truth.  Pray and ask God to make the changes he desires in your heart.  Ask him to speak to you and make you aware when you unplug.  These are the kinds of prayers that get answered because these are the things he desires for us.