Psalm 115 – "For Thine is the Kingdom…"

The Lord’s prayer sets up a structure for our prayer life, one that always comes back to God and is never ending.  Like breathing, something we do constantly and that gives us life, our relationship and conversation with God should be ongoing and unceasing.



Psalm 115 "For Thine is the Kingdom…"

The Lord’s prayer sets up a structure for our prayer life, one that always comes back to God and is never ending.  Like breathing, something we do constantly and that gives us life, our relationship and conversation with God should be ongoing and unceasing.



Acts 6 – Deacons

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Many agree that this beginning narrative was the founding of the role of “deacon” within the Church.  Deacons are called to serve and oversee the physical needs of both the church and the community in which they serve.  For many churches, this has defaulted to overseeing the budget process and making sure that the churches finances are in order.  It has also meant the creation of funds that are specific for benevolence.  To be clear, none of this is inherently bad.

However, there has been a disturbing trend within the Church in North America that often creeps its way into how deacons operate within their churches.  We don’t always like to get our hands dirty in the work, believing that others are more suitable, more equipped, and have a “special calling” to go and ‘do ministry,’ whether local or abroad.  Instead, we are content to just throw money at these people or ministries.  It makes us feel like we are helping and participating without having to put any skin in the game.

This mindset has crept into our deacon boards who have often taken the position that, as long as the finances are in order, we are doing our job well and are ready to respond when a need arises.

While this is all well and good, and we should be ready for such needs, I wonder if we have maybe gotten a bit lazy in matters such as this.  I wonder if, instead of waiting for problems to come to us, we should be going out and meeting people where they are?  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “go into all the world,” not wait for the desperate and desolate to come to us.  Acting in this way could redefine and reinvigorate the Church’s witness.



Acts 5 – Giving Everything

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The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes on the heels of chapter 4’s conclusion that the believers had all things in common and because of this, no one among them was needy.  How this came to be, apparently, was through the selling of possessions and pooling their money.  It is a testimony to them living out Jesus’ teaching to love one another and to care for those that are marginalized.  In fact, most of the early church was made up of those on the fringes of society who have found both healing and redemption in Jesus’ name.

So when this couple comes to them, pretending to be a part of them, and yet still holding on to selfish motives, Peter calls them out.  It isn’t that what they did in principle was wrong.  In fact, Peter tells them that the money was theirs to do with as they pleased.  Indeed, it was the principle of the matter; true benevolence is a matter of the heart, not founded on empty actions or lies.  God doesn’t truly care about money, He wants your heart.

Remember the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21?  Her offering amounted to throwing a penny in the offering plate, but it was honored by Jesus because of her willingness to give everything she had.

Contrast the beginning and end of this chapter.  A couple lies about their giving and winds up dead.  Peter and John continue preaching the Gospel, fully determined to spread the news about Jesus.  They hold nothing back, wind up in prison and are flogged for teaching about Jesus in the synagogue.  Yet here they have found true life and even rejoice in the persecution “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  What a stark difference!



Acts 4 – Prayer Power

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After Peter and John are released from their interrogation by the religious leaders, yet another opportunity that they took to spread the Gospel Message, they returned to those who believed.  Likely the other disciples, who are now called Apostles, were there too.

Scripture says that, upon their return, the first thing they did after reporting what had taken place was to pray.  This wasn’t simply a passing “thank you God for protecting us” type of prayer, but rather a deep prayer of acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and power shown through Jesus Christ.  It is also a petition that God would continue to show that power in the midst of the threats and turmoil that they continued to face.

I wonder how often we turn to prayer like this in the face of turmoil in our lives… or in our culture?  Scripture says that when they prayed like this, both committing to continue in God’s name and asking for the Holy Spirit to empower them to advance God’s Kingdom, that the whole room shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was almost like a second Pentecost!

Sometimes it seems like, when confronted with things that challenge our faith, we more readily turn to social media to complain than to pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance.  More often than not, the resistance that is put up from the church comes in the form of memes, not prayer.

The simple fact is that our power does not come from our prowess on social media, just like the newest, latest, and greatest of anything doesn’t guarantee the advance of the Gospel.  It is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that yields the fruit that Jesus talked about throughout His ministry.  This is what we must pray for.



Acts 3 – Gospel Message

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After healing the crippled man, which in an of itself was a testimony to the power that they had received from the Holy Spirit, Peter addresses the crowd that had gathered at the Temple.  They had gone there to worship God but instead found themselves confronted with a much greater reality of God’s love and power in Jesus Christ.

Peter’s message, however, is not new to us.  If you read Acts 2 yesterday you might notice some similar language and themes that are present here.  Why?  Because Peter is presenting the Gospel.

Today, it seems, churches throughout North America are focusing on new ways to reach people with the message of Jesus.  We feel that we need to be flashy and fresh with our message, our music, our building, our mission, and even possibly, our leadership.  People feel the need to fit the Gospel into cultural movements so that it becomes more relevant.

Yet here Peter’s message is consistent.  We aren’t told how many days have passed since Pentecost when Peter addressed the crowd that had gathered.  It is, however, safe to say that some of these people had heard, or heard of Peter on that Pentecost day.  Does that mean that Peter’s felt the need to change the message He preached?  No.

The message of the Gospel needs no assistance in reaching people.  In fact, the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of God’s Word wherever it happens.  Our desires to “dress it up” and “make it new” reflect a rather shallow opinion of what the Holy Spirit can and will do when God’s Word is proclaimed.

Now, this doesn’t give us an excuse to not study God’s Word, but it does remind us of the priority of the Spirit’s work in the spread of the Gospel Message.



Acts 2 – Pentecost

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The day of Pentecost is, for Christians, one of the most important days of the year; its significance is upstaged only by Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.  As Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He comforted His disciples that a helper would be sent to be with them.  Pentecost sees this promise fulfilled.

There are a number of things that begin to happen here, impacts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all who believe in Jesus.  While this outpouring is important, we actually begin to see the beginnings of God’s restorative work in the world; the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Pentecost was the day that Jewish people celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses.  That Law represented a specific revelation of God to His people in how He called them to live.  Yet when the Holy Spirit is poured out, the limitation of ethnicity disappears, a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

More than this, however, is the fundamental reversal of the curse of babel.  At the tower of Babel, all language was confused separating and dividing people.  Yet here, as the Holy Spirit comes, this division again disappears and all people hear the Gospel clearly.

This is the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to pass.  In God’s Kingdom, there are no more divisions, no more broken relationships; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”



Psalm 91 "Lead us not into temptation…"

We all struggle through trials and hardships in life and, though God is not responsible for causing them, He does allow us to go through them and faithfully walks alongside us during them.  Praying that God would “save us from the times of trial” creates space for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts that we may listen better to what God teaching us and trust more in God’s faithful and steadfast protection.



Acts 1 – Ascension

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The beginning of the book of Acts contains within it a number of “housekeeping” things.  Luke covers and introduction and explanation of why he continues to write.  He also talks about the replacement of Judas Iscariot, who went out and hanged himself after betraying Jesus and unsuccessfully trying to take it back.

In the middle of all of this, however, is an event that is of paramount importance to the Christian faith: Jesus’ ascension.  Christ’s human presence in heaven is important for many reasons and the event of His ascension, sadly, receives little fanfare or remembrance in the Church.

So why is this so important and how does it benefit us?  How is this even possible if we talk about Christ always being with us, yet we know that He is in heaven?  The answers to this can be found in Creeds and Confessions of the Church.  Of particular interest today is the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 18.

Christ’s presence in heaven is a comfort for us because we know that He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling and reigning with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, for all eternity.  At the same time, we also know that we have an advocate in heaven who is interceding for His people all the time.

Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, so we have confidence also that “we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.”

Finally, Jesus promises in John 16, that, though He was going away, His departure would signal the sending of the Holy Spirit, something He promises His followers here.  The Holy Spirit’s presence unifies us with Christ to be His body here on earth.



Introduction to Acts

The book of Acts is the first book following the Gospels but is also linked very closely to them, particularly the book of Luke.  Acts is Luke’s second volume, a companion book the Gospel of Luke, that follows the expansion of the Church after Jesus ascends into heaven.

At the beginning, Jesus gives a charge to His followers before He returns to heaven.  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This is effectively the “thesis statement” for the book of Acts.  Luke follows the work of Peter and the apostles, and then the work of Paul as the message of Christ spreads in ever expanding circles throughout the Roman Empire.

Acts is the only book deemed “historical” as a writing genre.  What this means is that there is less teaching associated with it and more recording that takes place.  We will see more narratives of things that happened and less of the teaching that we have seen Jesus doing in the course of His ministry.  That said, there is still plenty that God’s Word will teach us in this book.

Finally, a note about the language of the “early church” that refers to Acts and is used in our contemporary church today.  We will observe a number of ways that the Church functioned in the setting of the first century under Roman rule.  The book of Acts is by no means “prescriptive” of the “ideal” church, but rather a record of God’s faithfulness in building the Church.  Rather than trying to copy what they did, something incredibly difficult for us in the 21st century, it is important that our focus is drawn to the One who provided for, empowered, and sustained the Church in these difficult times.



John 21 – Feed My Sheep

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John records Peter’s denial of Jesus in chapter 18.  Unlike the other Gospels, though, Peter is not left in the miserable state that we leave him.  In fact, the interaction between Jesus and Peter after Jesus’ resurrection shows us the very nature of the restoration that takes place in our hearts and lives when we turn to (or back to) Christ.

It’s hard to imagine being in Peter’s place, knowing what he did and knowing that Jesus knew what he did.  I’m sure Peter felt a bit awkward here, unsure of what to say.  But Jesus doesn’t hesitate as all; they enjoy a meal together and Jesus wastes no time restoring He and Peter’s relationship.

The significance of the number of times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him cannot be understated.  While it may seem like an obvious thing, Peter’s triple denial coupled with His triple affirmation, the repetition is important as we have talked about.  Jesus, knowing of Peter’s guilt, not only reinstates Peter, restoring their relationship but shows him that He is still able, and in fact called to the ministry that Jesus Himself was about.  No greater image of trust can be seen than here, an image of the Master charging the one who denied Him with testifying to His Name once again.

Jesus also has a difficult word for Peter, a prophecy of the trials that Peter would face.  I wonder if Peter felt a bit overwhelmed as if his future was unfair, and so he asks about John, Jesus’ beloved disciple.  The response he receives is an important lesson for us: what others deal with in life, the paths they have to walk and why is not our business; what is important is that we remain faithful to God’s calling for our lives.



John 20 – Peace Be With You

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The celebration of Easter Sunday is marked in the Church by great celebrations.  We often have lively music, rousing sermons, and well-dressed individuals present to hear them.  More people than normal come out for this particular Sunday because of its perceived importance in life and faith, and rightly so.  Jesus’ resurrection is the pinnacle of the Christian faith, the zenith of the Church year, and the most transformative event of all time.

While much of this celebration is focused on conquering death and the new life that we have in Christ, which isn’t wrong, John’s Gospel offers another theme that doesn’t readily come to mind when we think of Easter: Peace.

At every event in which Jesus appears to someone after His resurrection and His chat with Mary in the Garden, Jesus offers the peace.  “Peace be with you,” He says.  Earlier, in John 14, Jesus also comments on that peace, a peace that He leaves with them, one that He now gives to them again.

This peace is an important element of one of John’s themes, pitting Jesus as the light the world who hate Him and loves the darkness.  Now, once all has taken place and Jesus accomplished all He was sent to do, true peace once again reigns.  Through Christ we have peace with God; we can have a relationship with Him once again, which leads to a subtle yet powerful image that John places at the end of His Gospel: God in the garden once again.

When the world was created, God walked with Adam and Eve in His garden.  After Jesus was raised, He too walked in the garden, but instead of asking “where are you,” as the Father did to Adam and Eve, Jesus calls her by name and she is not afraid.



John 19 – Behold Your King

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After Jesus has been with Pilot and the people are shouting over and over that He should die, Pilot does something quite unique.  He takes Jesus out and sits Him down in the “Judgement Seat.”  What beautiful irony.  Jesus is sitting in the very seat that will be His for eternity, at the right hand of the Father, and yet no one recognizes it.  In fact, that shout all the louder to have in crucified!

The Pilot says something that I’m sure they didn’t want to hear: “Behold your King.”  Interesting… hundreds of years earlier, as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cried out to God for a king, someone that would lead them.  God’s own people rejected God as their true King for the sake of an earthly one that would lead them.  Here, once again, the people stand before God the Son, the descendant of King David Himself, and reject Him.  “We have no King but Ceasar,” they say.  Once again, what beautiful irony.

More important than this, though, is the truth Jesus speaks to Pilot before all of this: “You have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”  Jesus speaks once again to the reality that all of this was taking place because it had to.  In the face of Israel’s rejection of God and the Jewish rejection of Jesus, God continues to show His steadfast, faithful love to humankind, sending His Son to die so that they might find light and life in Him.

All of this took place to fulfill Scripture, which, ultimately, is the purpose of John’s writing.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, John’s Gospel reveals to us the prophesied Messiah, the Divine Son of God, the one true Savior.



John 18 – Denial

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The narratives of the denial of Simon Peter, arguably the “second in command” of Jesus’ disciples, is one that gets little fanfare in the Synoptic Gospels.  Though Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the event, it passes by with no comment and ends with the bitter weeping of Peter when the rooster crows.  It is clear that Peter knows what He has done, the depths to which he has fallen.

There is a purpose for Peter’s threefold denial, though, and it is not just because people wanted to make sure that he meant it the first two times.  In the Semitic language, the way that emotion is truly expressed is through the repetition of words.  When someone says something more than once, it means that there was some passion or emotion behind it.

Think about the narrative of Jesus with Mary and Martha.  Mary is sitting and listening to Jesus while Martha is busy doing housework.  When she confronts Jesus he says, “Martha, Martha.”  There was emotion in Jesus’ voice when He spoke to her.

Another example would be the vision of Isaiah.  The angels around the throne don’t just call God holy, He is Holy, Holy, Holy!  This threefold acclamation of God’s holiness, for the reader, means God is truly holy.

So what about Peter?  Well, the triple denial that He gives communicates the depth of his own self-interest and hypocrisy.  “I will lay down my life for you,” Peter had said only hours earlier.  And now, he is truly alone.  A denial like this would have cost him his position among the disciples and any status he had with the one he followed.

Yet, in John’s Gospel, this isn’t the end of the narrative because there is grace, even for someone as stubborn as Simon Peter.



Psalm 51 "Forgive us our debts…"

As we look at the 4th phrase of the Lord’s Prayer we are both reminded of our need for forgiveness and that we need to also be forgiving.  Christ’s love and forgiveness for us allow for the cultivation of a forgiving heart, a work that done in us by the Holy Spirit.