Monthly Archives: October 2020

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?