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Helping make ready the bride of Christ (Rev.19:7-8)

Archive for the tag “Disciples”

REAL THANKSGIVING DAYS….by Robert Beike

On September 8, 1860 the Lady Elgin, a crowded passenger steamer sank off the shore of Lake Michigan. Among those who gathered on the shore was Edward W. Spencer, a student at Garrett Biblical Institute. He saw a woman clinging to some wreckage far out in the breakers. Edward threw off his coat and swam out through the heavy waves, succeeding in getting her safely to land.

Sixteen times that day young Spencer braved the fierce waves, rescuing seventeen persons, before collapsing exhausted and delirious. Ed Spencer recovered slowly, but never completely, from the exposure and exertion of his efforts. With broken health he lived quietly, unable to fully pursue his chosen lifework of the ministry. He died in California at the age of eighty-one. In a notice of his death, one paper said not one of those seventeen rescued persons ever came to thank him.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have all been rescued. Our Savior spent His life that ours might be spared. Have you properly thanked Him? The Apostle Paul spells out the only proper thank you in his letter to the Romans; “I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). Real thanksgiving requires nothing less than committing all we are and have totally to the Lord. Does your life say, “Thank you?” Let’s make everyday a real thanksgiving day.

A TRUE WHODUNIT….by Robert Beike

(Peter…addressed the people:) “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or godliness we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus?…”

(Acts 3:12-13)

The picture of the church in the book of Acts is not a still life portrait, but rather a serial-action adventure motion picture. The episode in Acts 3 is a true whodunit best viewed in 3-D. It begins with amazing special effects, as a lame man is dramatically and completely healed, which produces a mystery that peter unravels for the baffled onlookers. Like a detective in a parlor full of anxious guests, Peter deflects attention from the obvious suspects and directs their focus to the responsible parties.

Peter is not afraid to name names. First he identifies the source of the miracle, and next the true guilty parties. “Why do you stare at us, Peter begins, “as though by our own power or godliness we have made him walk?” “We didn’t do it!” “It’s a God thing!” The fisherman turned fisher of men then launched out into the deep water of explaining God’s amazing grace to a thoroughly amazed audience. Tracing clues through the Old Testament, Peter connects the known with the unknown, demonstrating how the evidence points to a greater power than their own. The miracle’s true whodunit is identified as “Jesus Christ the Nazarene” (Acts 3:6), a.k.a. God’s “Servant” (Acts 3:13), “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14), and “the source of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). The names reveal the man, His mission, His character and ultimate power, and Peter insists that it was faith in the name of Jesus that made the lame man whole.

After pointing them to the one who healed the lame man, Peter then pointed an accusing finger at them. In a twist of irony, they had chose to crucify the very one God chose to glorify. They preferred to grant life to a guilty murderer, and put to death the holy, righteous, giver of life. They plotted to have Jesus dead and buried, but God raised Him from the dead. Now, in spite of their evil schemes, because Jesus lives, they had a chance to re-script their life stories.

Explaining God’s whodunit in the world is a part all Christians must embrace. As God acts, our role is to deflect attention from ourselves and defer to the real star—Jesus Christ. Keeping His name on the marquee of our lives and making His story the feature presentation in our circles of influence is the action-adventure to which we’ve been called. Know whodunit in your own life. Learn the back story by reading the Bible. Prepare through prayer. Rehearse daily. Seek cues from the Holy Spirit. Lights! Action! You’re on!

THE MOST POWERFUL OF ALL ILLUSTRATIONS……by Robert Beike

“While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he addressed the people...

(Acts 3:11-12a)

Illustrations can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skillful communicator. Like opening a window, they allow needed light and fresh air at critical moments. When used at the outset of a talk, or sermon, illustrations can be effective attention grabbers, especially if they are spectacular in nature. I have known preachers to utilize such visual aids as rappelling down from the rafters, and rumbling in on motorbikes and earthmovers. Elaborate sets, expensive props, extravagant costumes, movie clips and dramatic skits, are just some of the means speakers employ to attract an audience. Yet, it would be hard to top the illustration that introduced Peter’s second sermon. A flesh and blood changed life is the most powerful of all illustrations.

Minutes earlier a missionary moment had resulted in a miracle. Peter and John had encountered a lame beggar at the temple gate called Beautiful. Now, that same man was kangarooing all over the temple complex. Healed in the name of Jesus, he attached himself to the human instruments of that transformation, as if separation would undo the miracle. All of this created a buzz and attracted a crowd. Like metal shavings to a magnet, the temple crowd was drawn to the scene of the incident, providing Peter an attentive audience.

Is your life illustrating the transforming power of Jesus Christ? Is a steady stream of changed lives creating a sense of amazement in your community? What is grabbing the attention of people you know? Is the focus on the failings and foul ups of the Christian community, or the obvious difference of a life touched by God? As God blesses our efforts to sow gospel seed, the spiritual fruit of new believers will appear and ripen, providing visible evidence of new life in Christ. As Christians walk in newness of life the fruits of God’s indwelling Spirit will mature and produce powerful illustrations that will attract an audience anxious to investigate what they see.

After experimenting by sowing seeds with plaster in crop fields, Ben Franklin tried to convince his neighbors of the benefits discovered. When this failed, and recognizing that people learn easier by observation than through argumentation, he wrote letters in a field with a stick, filled the letters with plaster, and planted wheat in the plaster along a well traveled path. When the wheat came up, people walking the path could read in richer greens and taller sheaves the words Franklin had spelled; “This field has been plastered.” When the fruit of a relationship with Christ is displayed, its a powerful illustration for all to see, that “this life has been changed.”

 

NON-STOP LEARNING……by Robert Beike

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”  (Acts 2:42a HCSB)

Three thousand brand new, born again, believers in one day! The events at Pentecost turned the Jerusalem church into a giant nursery for baby Christians. They all needed to learn how to feed themselves, walk, and talk as members of God’s family. What was needed was a crash course in spiritual pediatrics.

With so much to learn and so much at stake, it’s not surprising that the new believers devoted themselves, continuously, and steadfastly, to the apostles’ teaching. The Holy Spirit had given them an appetite for the things of God. The church provided a healthy diet of the word of God.

Like life itself, the Christian experience is a non-stop process of learning, growing, and becoming. What the apostles learned at the feet of Jesus was now poured into the hearts and minds of the next generation of believers. A disciple is a learner–a devoted one. Do not overlook the fact that they devoted themselves to the teaching/learning process. Teachers are essential, and a faith community critical to making disciples, but the whole thing unravels without individual responsibility.

Unless we commit ourselves fully to following Christ, and strenuously persist in learning God’s word, we will remain spiritual infants, and vulnerable to every adverse wind and perverse doctrine. Even after we grow enough to feed others, devoting ourselves to the study of scripture remains paramount in importance. When we stop learning we stop growing, and start becoming less and less what God intends. Or as country singer Loretta Lynn says, “You’ve got to continue to grow, or you’re just like last night’s cornbread–stale and dry.”

What You Have Can Make a Difference…..by Robert Beike

“So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have neither silver or gold, but what I have, I give to you; In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk”‘”     (Acts 3:5-6 HCSB)

 

“If only our church was bigger, and had more to offer.” “If only we had more money and resources…then we could really impact our community.” “If only I had more talent, or more time, or was better connected…then I could make a difference.” When facing the monumental problems around us, we often default to an “if only” stance. Confronted by poverty, illiteracy, and depravity, loneliness, depression, dysfunction, and physical difficulties, we naturally feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We’d like to make a difference, but our inventory of resources seems woefully inadequate to meet the demand. And humanly speaking, that’s true. But, you are not limited to your own resources. God gives you all you need, to do all He wants you to do, as long as He wants you to do it. What you have can make a difference, if you are willing to give it away.

Thomas Aquinas called on Pope Innocent in the thirteenth century. The Pope, who was counting a large sum of money that had come to the church, told Aquinas, “See, Thomas, the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and Gold have I none.'”

“True, holy father,” Aquinas responded, “But neither can she now say, ‘Arise and walk.'”

Packed pews and overflowing offering plates don’t guarantee effective ministry. But, neither does the absence of such things indicate a lack of power to say “arise and walk.”

Peter and John lacked funds for an offering, but what they possessed was exactly what the beggar needed. They had access to all the resources of heaven and the power to make a real difference in the man’s life. So do you, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Like Peter and John, a Christian may have nothing, yet possess everything (2 Corinthians 6:10). Followers of Christ carry within them a treasure far superior to silver or gold, or anything the world offers. The gospel is more than a message, its an experience. God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, and transforming presence are part of the Christian package delivered to us at salvation. You already have what it takes to make a world of difference. You can make a difference where you are, with what you have, if you are willing to give what you have “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.”

LOOK AT US…..by Robert Beike

“Look at Us”  (Acts 3:4b HCSB)

     “Look at us?” “Look at me?” Whoa! Wait! Doesn’t saying that to a person in need imply that we can meet that need? How could anyone have the audacity to say that to a world of hurting and needy people? Is that believable, or even thinkable? Yet, that is precisely what Peter, along with John, said to a lame beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem. The man’s paralyzed condition seemed hopeless. When he asked for a mercy offering, they said it, knowing they did not have money to give– “Look at us.” Where did they get the notion that they could offer a solution to his problems?–From Jesus!

Three and a half years of spending quality time with Jesus had convinced them that He could make a difference in the lives of people. They were there when Jesus healed the paralytic lowered through a roof, and when He commanded the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda to pick up his bedroll and walk. They had watched the Master give sight to the blind, sanity to the demoniac, and even life to the dearly departed. They had also participated with Jesus in feeding a multitude with only the meager lunch of a little boy.

     In addition to observing Jesus meet the needs of people, they believed what He told them; The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these” (John 14:12).< Peter and John were simply living out the expectations of their Savior, and when the church says to the world, “look at us,” they are doing likewise. As the body of Christ, His ambassadors, we must be willing to not only capture, but invite the world’s attention. But, looking at us, they must see Jesus.

John A. Huffman, Jr. relates a story about Florence Nightingale, who was ministering in hospitals during the Crimean war. One night while making the rounds she paused at the bed of a wounded soldier, bending down and looking at the young man with eyes of compassion. The wounded man looked up and said, “You’re Christ come to me.”

Peter and John were Christ come to the lame beggar, although he didn’t yet realize it. Likewise, as those sent by Jesus on an incarnational mission to flesh out His love, we are Christ come to the world. Saying “look at us” anticipates a relationship–a personal connection with those we would help. It also includes a responsibility for their well being–physical and spiritual, and foresees a reorientation of a life touched by God. A world in need sits, virtually, on the steps of our churches. Life transforming ministry could begin with the simple, but audacious, words, “Look at us.”

THE EYES HAVE IT……………by Robert Beike

“Peter, along with John, looked at him intently…” (Acts 2:4)

     What you see is what you get passionate about. Needs that are unnoticed tend to stay unmet. That is why Jesus told His disciples, including Peter and John, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35 HCSB). Scientists estimate that the human eye is capable of seeing a light from a candle twenty miles away on a clear night. Even more remarkable is the ability to see, with God-given perception, real human need around us.

     Unfortunately, some form of people blindness afflicts most of us, skewing our ability to see as God designed. Prejudice and bias cloud our spiritual vision like physical cataracts. Near-sightedness prevents our seeing those who are culturally or ethnically distant, while far-sightedness causes us to overlook those on our own doorstep. And because of spiritual tunnel vision, people on the periphery of society are marginalized or missed altogether. Obviously, to really see with Christ-like perception we need corrective lenses. As Peter and John approached the temple in Jerusalem they saw this lame beggar clearly, for perhaps the first time, through lenses corrected by the Holy Spirit and polished through regular prayer and worship.

     Every opportunity to make a difference begins with a problem. Vision for ministry is often birthed from a desire to see what is become what must and should be. “Peter, along with John, looked at him intently.” They fixed their attention on this broken man, in the shadow of the beauty of God’s temple, and knew something needed to be different.

     Apart from God, all humanity is spiritually lame, and are pitiful beggars. Suffering from the debilitating condition of sinfulness, they are helpless, and hopeless, trapped in a desperate existence of unfulfilled potential, and undiscovered purpose. Clearly, something needs to be different. Go ahead, look around you–intently.

 

THE HAND AND HEART OF GOD….by Robert Beike

“There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.”

(Acts 2:5 HCSB)

     A Hebrew mid-wife, at the birth of  a child, would crush grapes or dates with her finger and then rub that finger inside the mouth of a newborn to create a thirst or hunger for grapes or dates. (James Merritt, Friends, Foes and Fools: Broadman & Holman, 1997 p. 172)  God created a thirst for the nations in the newborn church in Jerusalem through its Spirit animated witness to an international multitude at Pentecost. In this way, our heavenly father was teaching “a youth about the way he should go,” so that “even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 HCSB). From day one in the life of the church, there has been instilled an international thirst, and an ethnic flavor. It was as if the church was born with an international spoon in its mouth.

     The reason Jesus had them wait in Jerusalem was now clear–the pieces of the puzzle fit together to reveal  the hand and heart of God working in perfect harmony.  Jerusalem was not only the strategic and spiritual center of Jewish life, it was also the strategic and spiritual center of God’s plan for world evangelism. The coming of the Holy Spirit coincided perfectly with the presence of “devout men from every nation under heaven.”  The ethnic mix that God had gathered for a harvest celebration is described in Acts 2:8-11. These were people born elsewhere–representatives of the Mediterranean world. Many were now permanent residents of Jerusalem, but many others were in the city temporarily for the festival of Pentecost.

     It is hard to miss the divine intentionality of this event. The hand and heart of God was in heavenly concert producing a multi-national church and supplying that church with a pattern for fulfilling its purpose. God has always been a people mover, ever active in human history and the accomplishing of heaven’s redemptive plans. Gathering and sending, casting out and bringing in, impelling believers to go, compelling unbelievers to come, the Lord is the author of diversity and the architect of disbursement (Genesis 11).  Like the vinyl recordings of another era, the great commission has two sides. The flip side of the church going to the nations is God gathering the nations in proximity to the church.

     Because the heart of God desires that no one perishes but all come to repentance (1 Peter 3:9), the hand of God continually draws lines that connect the people of God with the people who need God. In God’s providence, your city, community, and possibly your neighborhood is becoming a rich tapestry of ethnic hues, hand crafted by a loving God. As you share your faith, and God’s love, you can make a world of difference without ever leaving home.

Rattle Those Pots and Pans…………by Robert Beike

“And every day they devoted themselves (to meeting) together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,…” (Acts 2:46 HCSB, parenthesis mine)

The rattle of pots and pans, the clanking of dishes, and the aroma of food, are important ingredients in Christian fellowship. We often joke about eating meetings, and the ever-present fried chicken, but the breaking of bread has a way of binding us together. Moreover, hospitality has a prominent Biblical precedent, and roots deep in the human experience.

The Old Testament records Abraham hosting a trio of heavenly guests who had serious business in Sodom and Gomorrah. Before continuing their mission, they enjoyed the riches of fellowship over a wood-fired steak with all the trimmings. Jesus experienced hospitality as a guest on many occassions, and practiced hospitality with the disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. Upon His resurrection, Jesus revealed His identity to incredulous followers during a meal in Emmaus, and while hosting a fish fry on the beach. Bread and “The Bread of Life” seems to just go together. Its not surprising, then, that the disciples continued the custom of sharing the life of Christ around a meal.

A contagious kind of joy accompanied the gatherings of the first church as “they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” There was no pretense to their joy. They were sincerely glad they had Jesus, the word, each other, and the power of God in their lives.

Hospitality might be the most underutilized gift in the North American church. There are, likely, members in every church, and small group or class, that are wired to be gracious hosts, and/or who would be glad to cook for the kingdom of God. Hospitality is putting grace to work. It’s about giving purpose to the “pot-luck.” Let’s get together and share a little gladness. Rattle those pots and pans.

VITAL ATTRACTION…..by Robert Beike

“…praising God and having favor with all the people. and every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47 HCSB)

In this era of “missional” resurgence, it has become fashionable to discredit “attractional” ministries. Yet, both “come and see” and “go and be” activities made a healthy combo that super-sized the early church. Both are needed, and the gathered church, and the scattered church, must have one vital quality–be attractive! Unless the church is attractive to others, it will be repulsive, or simply ignored. Christians must be good news as well as share good news. Churches that grow have a magnetic personality.

The vital attraction of the Jerusalem Believers went beyond the superficial and cosmetic. Light attracts, love is compelling, joy is contagious, and generosity is beautiful. Its no surprise they were “having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” In their daily lives they displayed an unexplainable power, demonstrated an undeniable purity, declared an unmistakable message, dispensed an unconditional love, and were devoted to a Savior that is unequalled. Recognizing that the gospel is always filtered through flawed human beings (the Jerusalem Church was no exception), and the offensive nature of the cross, nevertheless, there was a winsomeness to their preaching and witnessing that God blessed, and added to their number.

On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas is a portrait with this inscription:

“James Butler Bonham–no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by his family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”

While no literal portrait of Jesus exists, His likeness has been placed in the world for all to see, in the lives of His followers. The church is only attractive when it looks like Christ.

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