Awaiting Jesus' Return

January 9, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

Acts 1:11 (ESV) “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Do you remember the last time you eagerly awaited the arrival of a specific day? When you were a kid, maybe it was Christmas, a birthday party, or that magical day when the school year ended and summer break finally began. Maybe more recently it was that special vacation you spent months saving and planning for. If you think back to the time right before that special day arrived, can you remember how everything felt a little different? Right before summer began, walking down the hallway at school didn’t feel quite as mundane and dreary as it normally did. Before Christmas, the icy winter air wasn’t so horrible to deal with. Before your vacation, your coworkers didn’t irritate you as much as they normally do. The excitement with which you waited for that special day changed the way you interacted with your everyday surroundings. You cherished the little things more, you treated people with more patience and kindness. You weren’t as quick to say that something was pointless, or a waste of time because you were looking forward to something exciting! Now that you’re thinking about a special day, think about this too: Would not knowing the specific date of the event have changed the way you waited for its arrival? If you didn’t know that Christmas fell on December 25th, but knew that it was coming; If you didn’t know when the school year was going to end, but knew that it would end one day; If you didn’t know when your last day at work was, but knew that you would be getting a marvelous break very soon: how would things have changed? Acts 1:11 tells us that Jesus will come again one day. While we know that He will return, we have no idea when that day will be. In light of this fact, believers are left to eagerly anticipate the arrival of that special day for an indefinite amount of time. When I was little, I remember being so excited for summer break to start that I couldn’t imagine having the school year extended by even another hour. If someone had come onto the school’s PA system and announced: “students, please remain in your seats until 4 pm instead of 3 pm today,” I think I would have seriously imploded. The difficult part about waiting for Jesus’ return is that we are constantly being asked to wait just a little longer. We can’t make a paper chain to count down the days until He comes again. We have to figure out how to eagerly anticipate Jesus arrival without the time constraints we are so used to relying on. And yet, while we wait, we are supposed to be on mission! We are to be actively working and at the same time waiting for his glorious return. In some ways we should be caught in the tension between our mission to reach the lost and looking forward to Jesus’ return. We are to be eagerly awaiting his return, but also living life with a purpose: sharing Christ with those who do not know Him, so that they are able to rejoice upon his return instead of dealing with the consequences of unbelief. Here are some questions to think about this week as we prepare for our next message in the Book of Acts: 1. Would you be okay if the Lord returned in an hour? Or, in the back of your mind, are there a few more life events you’d like to conquer before He does? Be honest with yourself; real growth won’t occur if you say “yes” just because you know that’s the Sunday school answer. 2. What items are on your bucket list? How many of them have any eternal significance? If you think about your bucket list and realize it’s nothing but a list of international destinations you want to see, take a few minutes and try to create a bucket list with sharing the gospel in mind. What or who would be on that list? 3. When Jesus returns, who is going to be ready for his arrival directly because of you? 4. Are you more concerned with Jesus returning so that the wrongs of the world will be corrected, or so that believers will finally be reunited with God? 5. If Jesus came today, would you be concerned that you didn’t take advantage of the opportunities you had to share the gospel with people around you?

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Maundy Thursday

April 18, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

You’ve heard of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but did you know that the Thursday before Easter also has a special title of its own? Today is known as “Maundy Thursday.” Yes, the word “maundy” sounds an awful lot like “Monday,” which was definitely confusing when I was a little girl, but that’s not what this word means. The word “maundy” is derived from the latin word “mandatum,” which means mandate, or commandment. So, another way to title today would be “Commandment Thursday.” In chapters 13 through 17 of the book of John, we are told all about what happens on Maundy Thursday. The major event that takes place is the Last Supper. This supper is the time when Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Feast of the Passover together, and it’s the events that take place during this supper that give Maundy Thursday its name. During the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and does a whole lot of talking. Take some time to read through these chapters and think about the wealth of information that Jesus pours out on us here. In John 13:34-35, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, and this is where “Maundy Thursday” gets its title: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Of all the things that Jesus said during the Last Supper, it is this statement that marks the day. What is so special about it, you might ask? By creating a new commandment, Jesus is very much revealing his divine nature. God was the one who gave us the first ten commandments, and now Jesus is giving us one as well. The formation of a new commandment is a really big deal. This new commandment is also all about love. John 13:1 (the beginning of the Last Supper passage) says: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” In John 17:26 (the ending of the Last Supper passage) Jesus prays this: “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus’ time on earth was all about love. He loved us so much that he, empowered by the Spirit and according to the will of God the Father, shed his blood to atone for our sins. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were all about love, and as his disciples, this very love ought to be our most vibrant characteristic. As we head into Good Friday, which is rightfully a somber day, I encourage you to not only think about the weightiness of Jesus’ sacrificial death, but also about the tremendous love that motivated him. Good Friday is a day to seriously think about the gravity of our personal sin and the great grace that Jesus showed to us by atoning for it, which was something we never could have done. But, in light of Jesus’ new commandment, Good Friday is also a day to seriously think about love. Here are some questions to prayerfully consider on this Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: Do people know that you are a Christ-follower? Do they know this only because you verbally say it, or because your actions show it? How would you explain the love that Jesus has for us? What would it look like to love someone like Jesus loved you? Who are you loving well in your life, and who have you been neglecting?

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

April 11, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

This Sunday we will explore Acts 8:26-40. This passage tells us the story of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch. It would be wise if, in preparation for Sunday, you took some time and read through this passage on your own. As you read, make some mental notes about who the characters are, how they are described, and what is going on. Read the passage a few times too! Scripture is so rich, and it’s easy to miss details when we read too quickly. The beginning of this passage explains to us that one of the Lord’s angels tells Philip to travel to a specific road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip obeys and travels to this road, where he first sees the Ethiopian eunuch. This man is riding in his chariot and reading from the book of Isaiah. The Spirit then tells Philip to go and join the man, and Scripture tells us that Philip obeys this command as well. The first thing that Philip says to this man is not a greeting or a statement, but rather a question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian man replies, “how can I, unless someone guides me?” He then invites Philip into his chariot and they begin a deep discussion which we are told results in the Ethiopian man being baptized! This passage poses a few questions for us to wrestle with this week. 1. Are you actively listening for God’s voice? As far as we know, Philip quickly recognizes the angel’s voice and the Spirit’s voice in this passage. Verse 26 tells us what the angel says to Philip, and verse 27 follows with: “And he rose and went.” That’s about as straightforward as Scripture gets, isn’t it? The angel spoke to Philip, and Philip obeyed. Whenever the topic of listening to God’s voice is discussed, I find that this question comes up: “how do we know that it’s God who is directing us?” It would be really easy to know that God was directing us if He always sent an angel down from Heaven to speak with us face to face. It’s rarely that simple, but don’t worry! There are a few ways to help us differentiate between God’s voice and the voice of Satan, ourselves, and the world. One thing we can do is get to know God’s character! If we know God’s character, we can have a pretty good idea of things he would direct his children to do and things that he would not direct his children to do. We will never fully comprehend the nature of God, but He does reveal an awful lot about himself to us in Scripture. Another thing we can do is cultivate a strong prayer life. When we pray we are communicating with God. Prayer is a time to speak with Him and also to listen to Him. The more we pray the easier it will be for us to recognize His voice. A third thing that we can do is seek counsel from wise Christian mentors who have strong relationships with God and who know us well. People who know God’s character and have strong relationships with Him can help us see how God has been working in our lives and figure out where He might be leading us. This is the beauty of living in community and being truly known. 2. When you speak with people, where is your focus? Notice that Philip doesn’t jump into the Ethiopian man’s chariot and start talking all about himself. When Philip interacts with the man, he first observes what he is already doing, and then asks a question about it. Philip is focused on who he is talking to, not on himself. An essential part of effective evangelism is having a sincere relationship. People can tell right away if we’re only talking with them because we have an agenda. Jesus called us to share truth with people, but we have to remember that he also called us to love people. Pay attention to people, treat them with respect, invest in their lives, and care about them! You’ll find that people are often much more interested in what you have to say when they are convinced that you care about them. 3. How well do you understand Scripture? When Philip finds the Ethiopian man reading from the book of Isaiah, he doesn’t redirect him to a different passage of Scripture before explaining the good news to him. Instead, Acts 8:35 tells us that Philip begins with the same passage that the man was reading and from there tells him about the good news of Jesus. Philip’s knowledge of Scripture allowed him to open this man’s mind to the gospel message, and this is the point of knowing the Bible! If you’re studying Scripture for some sort of personal gain (to bolster your reputation with others, to be seen as smarter or wiser) then your knowledge is futile. The purpose of knowing Scripture is knowing God and equipping yourself to help others know him. Similarly, if we don’t know Scripture well, then we’re going to have a hard time using it to help others grow closer to God. We’ll never understand everything that’s in the Bible; the important thing is to always be learning.

The Laying on of Hands: Acts 8:14-17

April 4, 2019 • Samantha Wichman

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:14-17 In this week’s section of Acts, we see Peter and John travel to Samaria to help the new believers there receive the Holy Spirit. One big question that this passage poses is why the Spirit was given to these believers through physical touch? Why does verse 17 say that Peter and John “laid their hands on them” before they received the Holy Spirit? The “laying on of hands” is a spiritual concept that many believers hold different views on. If you talk with enough Christians, you will find that some who think that this practice is always necessary, even today, in order for an individual to receive the Holy Spirit. You will also find others who believe that physical touch was only necessary for a specific time. We believe that the laying on of hands is an act that was necessary for a specific time, and is not a normative part of receiving the Holy Spirit. We also believe that this view is crucial in order to understand the true importance of the events in Acts 8:14-17. It’s true that Acts 8:14-17 is a story about believers receiving the Holy Spirit, but these verses are also about racial reconciliation and the gospel. Understanding the temporary necessity of physical touch for receiving the Holy Spirit helps us see that. In this passage we are told that Peter and John were sent to minister to new believers in Samaria. This tells us that the group of new believers whom Peter and John were going to see were not Jewish, but actually Gentiles. If you’re familiar with the gospels, you’ll know that Jesus spent a lot of time spreading the message of unification between the Jewish and Gentile communities. Serious racism and prejudice existed between these two groups, but Jesus’ gift of salvation was offered to everyone. As redeemed children of God, Jews and Gentiles ought to become loving brothers and sisters. By laying their hands on the new believers in Samaria and praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit, Peter and John helped authenticate their faith in the eyes of other believers. Because of the hostility that existed between the Jews and Samaritans, these new believers probably wouldn’t have been readily or warmly welcomed by Jewish believers without the authoritative help of Peter and John. Peter and John’s actions make it undeniable that the faith of the believers in Samaria is legitimate and furthers Christ’s mission of uniting all believers.