The Acts of the Apostles in Today’s World

“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths [handkerchiefs] or aprons that had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)

Some scripture commentators refer to the Acts of the Apostles as “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  It begins with Jesus’ instructions to the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise.  “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses In Jerusalem…and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:5, 8) 

The same Holy Spirit that empowered the early disciples to build God’s church in the first century is still present to us today.  The following story was related to me by my friend, John who was a county prosecutor in Duluth, Minnesota and later a District Court Judge.

John worked with Eric, a detective sergeant who was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer.  Eric was in his mid-thirties, married, and had two children.  After a couple of months of chemotherapy, Eric lost his hair and was often too weak to come to work. 

John could see that Eric was very ill, so he asked him if he could attend a Christian conference in Minneapolis in order to be prayed with for healing. John explained that the healing power of Jesus had been manifested at these conferences, but Eric was too weak to make the trip. 

At the conference John stood in for Eric, as people gathered around him to pray that Eric’s cancer would be healed.  Someone handed John a handkerchief that was prayed over to take back to Eric.

Upon returning home, John met Eric one day at the courthouse and invited him into his office.  “I told him that we had prayed for his healing at the conference, and someone had given me a handkerchief, which we prayed over for him.  I emphasized that I firmly believed in the healing power of Jesus Christ and that God could use the handkerchief as a sign of our faith to heal Eric just as had been done in biblical times.  We placed the handkerchief on his chest and prayed that the healing power of Jesus would remove the cancer from him.”

Eric thanked John and told him he believed that he would be healed and would return the handkerchief after the doctors had confirmed that he no longer had cancer.  Sometime later Eric did indeed inform John that the doctors had confirmed that he was cancer free.  This took place in the fall of 2001. To this day, the cancer has not returned.

Sometimes our willingness to step out and do something that may seem foolish reflects the kind of faith on which God wishes to act.  God is still performing miracles today through the power of the Holy Spirit just as he did with Peter, Paul and the other disciples of the first century.

Can we experience “acts” like the apostles in our lives today?

Exercises for the Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

Pick up any health magazine and you will likely see an article about the importance of exercise, diet and eliminating stress to maintain a healthy physical heart.  But what about our other heart – the non-physical one that the Bible talks about so much?

The abridged concordance at the back of the NIV Bible shows 75 references to the use of the word “heart.”  None of them are talking about the physical organ that is the center piece of our circulatory systems.  The following are just a few examples:

  • “Love and serve the Lord, your God, with all your heart” (Dt. 10:12)
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5)
  • “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew: 6:21)

Some of these verses come from texts that may go back more than 3000 years.  None of them are referring to our physical heart.  All of them seem to be searching for a way to express that mysterious interior part of our existence that determines who we really are – our attitudes, our propensity to love or be selfish; our inclination toward joy or depression; our motivation and thirst for life; the source for many of our daily choices. 

Since we can’t physically see or touch these non-physical aspects of our existence, we use words like heart, soul, spirit, and inner self to describe them. Although separate from our physical being, they take up residence there.  If our physical being is destroyed, God promises that our heart, soul and spirit live on.  That’s why St. Paul says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Co. 6:19)

Since our non-physical heart is so instrumental to all of the rest of our existence, are we treating it with the same care as our physical heart?  What are we feeding this other heart?  How are we exercising it? Is our diet primarily one of pop culture that includes R and X rated movies and comedians that love to use four letter words?  Is our life filled with busyness that leaves no time for daily prayer, the reading of God’s word or the serving of someone other than ourselves?   

Might we not fill this “wellspring of life” with a dedicated time of talking with and listening to God each day; reading the Bible and other spiritual books; serving a spouse, child, colleague or friend; and seeking God’s will in all things.

How are you nourishing and exercising your other heart?

God’s Glory in You

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb…so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

Whether we recognize it or not, we all have the glory of God in us.  We are gloriously made in the image of God.  Our human body, with all of its parts and a mind that combines instinct and rationality, is still not fully comprehended by medical science.  We are made up of millions of cells that work in unity to give us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand, along with coronary, respiratory and digestive systems to sustain our lives. 

We are the top of the pyramid of God’s creation.  Genesis tells us that we are made “to work and take care” of the garden of creation. (Gen. 2:15 NIV) Jesus says, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,” and “you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” (John 15:16; Acts 1:8)  The glory of our being combines with the glory of our mission. 

Yet, the psalmist warns us, “How long will you people mock my honor, love what is worthless, chase after lies?” (Psalm 4:3)  St. Paul chastised the people of his day for exchanging the glory of God for images of mortal man, and for exchanging the truth of God for a lie in how they lived. (Rom. 1:23, 25)

Do we recognize the glory of our being?  Do we see the glory of working and taking care of the people and circumstances God has entrusted to us? 

There have been times in my life when I have forgotten who I was and the important work God had given meEarly in my career I sought the false gods of recognition and position without regard to what God’s will was for me and my family.  I didn’t recognize God’s glory in me as one of his created and I wasn’t asking him for guidance in what he wanted for me and the family he had given me.

By the grace of God, the example of my wife and the power of the Holy Spirit, God opened my eyes to see that I was wonderfully made in his image to work and take care of a piece of his creation that was all a part of something larger than myself. 

It is part of God’s plan, also called natural law, that most of us become co-creators with him.   We bring new life into this world, nurturing that life in the context of a family with a mother and a father, and teaching and demonstrating the truth of God’s word to the next generation. 

We are also called to work and take care of our thread in the larger fabric of creation, whatever it may be, so that both civilization and God’s kingdom are moved forward on earth as it is in heaven.  We are precious in the eyes of God. 

What are you doing with God’s glory in your life? 

God Inhabits the Ordinary

“When they had fulfilled all of the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” (Luke 2:39)

After the baby Jesus was presented in the temple, Luke reports that Mary and Joseph returned to their home in Nazareth.  How ordinary!  The Son of God is born of Mary and entrusted to Joseph and her.  With the exception of a few humble shepherds and the Magi, people gave them little notice. 

Joseph and Mary were practicing Jews who observed the laws and traditions of Judaism.  Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and consecrated to God in the Temple in Jerusalem as was required for first born males of Jewish families. 

The Gospels give us few facts about Jesus’ childhood other than the incident when he was 12 and stayed behind in the temple during the family’s annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The likelihood is that Jesus’ early life was very ordinary with Jesus growing up as a young Jewish boy, experiencing all of the things any Jewish boy would have experienced with family and neighbors.  They would observe family traditions and the practice of Judaism in a small village.  Jesus likely learned his father’s trade of being a carpenter, for scripture says, “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” (Mark 6:3)

God inhabits the ordinary.  He did this with Jesus.  He inhabited the ordinary in preparation for the extraordinary.  He did this with the prophets that went before Jesus.  He does this with us.  We cannot expect to experience God in the extraordinary if we are not experiencing him in the ordinary. 

The ordinary includes our daily work and contact with co-workers.  It includes taking out the trash and helping our children with homework; standing in line at the checkout counter and the many choices we make each day, large and small. 

Jesus tells us in John 14;23, that if we love him, the Father and he will come and make their home in us. One of his last words to the disciples was that he will be with us always.  He is in us and with us as we choose to act on his presence.  As a result, instead of cursing the person who cuts us off on our way to work, we bless him.  We show patience to our children in helping them with their homework.  We listen to a co-worker who wants to share a problem.  We forbear in reacting negatively to an inattentive retail clerk.

Ninety-nine percent of life is ordinary.  If we are experiencing Jesus in the ordinary, we are experiencing the kingdom of God, which Jesus says is here and now.  When a need or crisis hits we can then experience Jesus in the extraordinary as we pray with a sick friend for healing, bring reconciling words to a troubled relationship or love to a forgotten stranger – anticipating that God will act in and through us.

Are you experiencing God in the ordinary events of your life, so that you can also experience him in the extraordinary?

Grace – “The Lord’s Goodness in the Land of the Living”

“The Lord is my light and salvation; whom do I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?  But I believe I shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27: 1, 13)

This is a beautiful psalm, full of hope, joy and confidence, even in times of difficulty.  

Through this “light” (knowledge of God and our existence), “salvation” (God’s saving grace) and “refuge” (God’s protection), we will “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  This is a promise for this life, here and now. 

Whatever the challenge – a demanding boss, a difficult colleague, an unreasonable customer, the loss of a job, a personal illness, the suffering or loss of a loved one, God’s saving grace is available to us in the present moment. 

Phillip Yancey in his book, What’s so Amazing about Grace? tells the story of a rock concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988, to celebrate the changes in South Africa.  For some reason the promoters scheduled opera singer, Jessye Norman as the closing act to sing, Amazing Grace.  For twelve hours various rock groups blasted the fans already high on booze and drugs. 

Yancey reports, “Finally the time comes for her to sing.  A single circle of light follows Norman, a majestic African-American woman wearing a flowing African dashiki, as she strolls on stage.  No backup band, no musical instruments, just Jessye.  The crowd stirs, restless. Few recognized the opera diva.  A voice yells for more [rock music]. Others take up the cry.  The scene is getting ugly.

“Alone, a capella, Norman begins to sing, very slowly:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

            That saved a wretch like me

            I once was lost but now am found—

            Was blind, but now I see.   

“A remarkable thing happens in Wembley Stadium that night.  Seventy thousand raucous fans fall silent before her aria of grace. By the time Norman reaches the second verse, ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved…, the soprano has the crowd in her hands. By the time she reaches the third verse, ‘Tis grace has brought me safe this far, And grace will lead me home,’ several thousand fans are singing along.

            When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

            Bright shining as the sun,

            We’ve no les days to sing God’s praise

            Than when we first begun.*

Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembly Stadium that night.”  Yancey said, “I think I know.  The world thirsts for grace.  When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.” 

Might it not be “The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?”

Do you see the goodness of the Lord, or is it obscured by the cares of daily life?

* View Jessye Norman on YouTube, Amazing Grace, Wembley Stadium, 1988

The Divine Power of Truth

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”  (2 Cor. 10:3-5 NIV)

St Paul is talking about truth having divine power.  Truth, the knowledge of God, his word and work, has divine power.  It demolishes lies, deception, and all manner of error.  Since truth is from God, it is eternal and never fades or dies, in contrast to lies and deception which may last for a while, but are eventually discovered and proven false.

Truth on the other hand may lie dormant for a time, but is always discovered and demolishes the stronghold of lies.  Examples in our world today include such questions as when life begins, and what constitutes marriage.  If we discovered biological cells on another planet, the headlines would declare “Life Exists on Another Planet.” Yet, a human egg fertilized with a human sperm is not?  Genesis and all of nature declare that marriage is between a “male and female” who become one to “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it,” but the wisdom of this world through our highest court says it is not?  Is our culture exchanging the “truth of God for a lie,” as Paul discusses in Romans 1:25?

When Pilate was trying to determine who Jesus was and whether he was a king, Jesus said the reason he was born and came into the world was “to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate, like many of our leaders today, not recognizing the embodiment of truth standing right in front of him, asked, “What is truth?”  (John 18:37-38)

History testifies to the power and lasting nature of truth. The Roman Empire oppressed and persecuted Christians for almost 300 years.  Yet historian Will Durant eloquently observes:

“There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known.  Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.” (Caesar and Christ, p. 652)

In recent memory we have seen regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union seek to oppress and outlaw the truth of God, but instead the power and eternal nature of truth brought each of them crashing down.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:32) May we never lose confidence in the power and eternal nature of truth against the lies of the world. 

Do you appreciate the power of truth?

“Do Not Be Afraid”

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)  

Moses made this statement to Joshua when he appointed him as his successor for taking the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. Taking a people into a new land and removing the people who were previously there was indeed a formidable task and it was understandable that Joshua was experiencing fear and doubt.  Moses told Joshua to “be strong and courageous.”

Have you ever become fearful about whether you can handle a new task or situation that appears formidable?  The possibilities are many — taking on a new job whose scope and responsibilities appear to exceed your skills and experience; trying to restore a relationship that is broken; persuading a rebellious child to change his or her ways; providing ongoing care of a loved one; facing an illness involving suffering, disability or even death.  All of these circumstances can give rise to fear and doubt. 

After serving as an attorney for Mobil Corporation for most of my career, my last assignment involved overseeing our corporate policy and compliance for environmental, health and safety.  The entire staff was made up of engineers and technical people, taking me way out of my comfort zone.  There were times when our staff was challenged when attempting to bring certain compliance issues to the attention of senior management.  Although tempted by fear to back away from our findings, I prayed that the Lord would go before us.  Interestingly, on every occasion when this happened the senior management of our company supported our findings and ordered changes in how things were being done. 

When Jesus was calling Peter and Peter responded that he was a sinful man, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.”  When the angels approached Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, on each occasion they said, “Do not be afraid.”  At the Last Supper, Jesus said to all of the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

St. John Paul II opened his pontificate with the words, “Be not afraid!”  He went on to say, “These are not words said into a void.  They are simply the words of Christ himself.  Do not be afraid of God who became man!”

Are you moved by fear and doubt when facing adversity or do you ask the Lord to go before you?  Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

No Retirement from the Great Commission

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19)

In these days of political correctness and division, it may be tempting to forgo opportunities to talk about our Christian faith with someone who is not Christian or a practicing Christian.  Yet, we are familiar with the Great Commission that Jesus gave to his disciples and followers stated above.

A few years ago, our family traveled to Lee’s Summit, Missouri to celebrate the 100th birthday of my wife’s mother, Mary Louise.  We had a wonderful celebration, with all of her children, some grand children and great grandchildren present to honor her life.  From teaching eight grades in a one room country school house in the 1930’s to taking care of elderly parents and other relatives until she herself was 82, her life was a witness to a deep faith in God filled with love and service to others.

Although her life in recent years was confined to an assisted living home where she and about 40 other residents lived, she had not forgotten the words of Jesus in the Great Commission in terms of reaching out to people and inviting them to church. 

In the course of our many conversations she mentioned that she had invited her friends Millie and Dodie to start attending church services that were held every Sunday at the home.  “Dodie had not been to church in 50 years,” she said.  “And Millie had not been for a long time either, but I got them going with me each week now.”  “I try to help them understand what the Bible says and means when I get the chance,” she added.

In Isaiah 49:6, the prophet says, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  At age 100, Mary Louise was still being a light to the people God put in her life.  She was still being faithful to God’s plan of working through us to be his presence and to bring his presence to the people and circumstances in her life. 

At 103, Mary Louise was welcomed into the arms of Jesus.  She never stopped sharing her faith.

 Are you talking about Jesus with the people in your life, or inviting them to church, a Christian event or other opportunity where they can meet Jesus and his Word?

Laser Tag and God’s Design for the Family

“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him, male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying to them: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

The family is the natural result of this creation and all that follows. God calls us to carry forward his design from generation to generation. This is a blessed calling, ordained by the one who created all that exists. It is filled with challenges and sacrifice, but can be balanced with deep love and unforgettable blessings.  Let me share one small example.

A few years ago, we were visiting two of our children’s families to attend the high school graduation of our oldest grandson.  Following a post-graduation party and dinner, we were sitting around visiting with the two families, including our grandson’s paternal grandparents, when his siblings and cousins came up with the idea that the two grandfathers should take the six of them to play laser tag. Not only were we to take them, we were to join them in the game.

My first reaction was to decline, but a huge lobbying campaign ensued by the six grandchildren, being egged on by their parents (our children) who all thought it was a hilarious idea. Suddenly I felt the nudge of that inner voice saying, “You should do this.” 

So here we were, two white haired septuagenarians and six teenagers, ages 12 to 18, driving in an eight passenger van to a local laser tag arcade. For those who have never had the experience, laser tag is a game where you put on a vest with four electronic targets located on the chest, back and both shoulders, along with a hand-held infrared laser gun.  You are put in a low light room with two levels and various structures to run around and hide behind while aiming your laser gun at another person’s target areas.  A hit on another person gives you 100 points and a hit on you subtracts 50 points and disables your gun for three seconds.  The person with the most points wins.

Both the kids and the white haired old guys had a blast! The old guys were quite proud of themselves and will long cherish the memory.  Hopefully the young folks, separated by two generations, will as well.

We may not think that laser tag has much to do with God’s design for family, but In this case, there was love in the request from the one generation, and love in the acceptance of the request by the generation once removed.  Upon arriving back at the house there was joy among all three generations by what had taken place.

God’s design for his creation was being lived out through three generations of family, ironically and humorously highlighted through a mundane game of laser tag.

Do you see God’s hand in the ordinary circumstances of your family?

Being Good Shepherds and Stewards

“I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Most of us have never been around sheep, nor would we think of ourselves as shepherds.  We may view the analogy appropriate for pastors or bishops, but not for ourselves.

Yet, many of us are responsible for people or work just as a shepherd is of sheep.  The people may be members of our families or employees who work for us; they may be team members or customers who we are expected to serve, or even friends who may have an expectation of support. The work can be our job responsibilities, family responsibilities, or expectations flowing from friendship.

As the good shepherd, Jesus distinguished himself from the hired hand who abandons the sheep when he sees the wolf coming because he neither owns the sheep nor cares for them. (John 10:12)  Let me illustrate with a story.

John was a county prosecutor in Duluth, Minnesota.  In one of his early cases he was surprised to discover that a former high school friend, Jim, was the defendant.  Over the next 26 years John would prosecute Jim a dozen times for theft related crimes to support a chemical dependency.

For a number of years John thought Jim was just another hopeless habitual criminal.  Then John recommitted his life to Jesus Christ and experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  The next time he saw Jim in court he told him that he would pray for him.  Jim said not to bother.

Then Jim was again caught with a cache of stolen goods, sentenced to prison, but learned that he was terminally ill with sclerosis of the liver.  His lawyer arranged for him to be assigned to a hospice.  Jim asked his lawyer to let John know his condition and to request his prayers.

Over the next six months John did more than just pray for Jim.  He visited him two or three times a week.  They reminisced about growing up in the 1950s and talked about their favorite baseball players.  They also read the Bible together.  That fall, Jim repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He died in November. “Jim loved reading and praying the psalms,” said John.  “God used Jim to teach me about acceptance of suffering and perseverance, and he showed me that it’s never too late to say yes to the Lord, no matter what we have done.”

John concludes, “Because God answers prayers, Jim said, ‘yes’ to Christ before he died, and I know he is in paradise today – just like another thief who died on the cross next to Jesus 2000 years ago.” (Hope for the Workplace – Christ in You, p. 46-47,

John was a good shepherd of his responsibilities as a prosecutor and of even the people he prosecuted such as Jim.  John says, “I pray before every case that truth and justice will prevail regardless of the outcome it brings.”  John sacrificed his time in supporting Jim and leading him to Christ before he died.  He did not run like a hired hand in the face of a challenge. He persevered in going after a lost sheep in the person of his former friend Jim, and was faithful until he brought him home to the Father just like “the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for his sheep.” 

Am I a good shepherd of the people and responsibilities entrusted to me?