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?
Awaiting Jesus' Return
January 9, 2019 • Samantha Wichman
Acts 4: When Life Gets Complicated
February 15, 2019 • Samantha Wichman
The second and third chapters of Acts are so encouraging to read. Believers receive the Holy Spirit, prophecies are fulfilled, people are healed, and even more people believe in Jesus for the first time. It’s exciting! While all of Scripture points us to Jesus, some passages make that easier to see than others. Who doesn’t love reading passages like Acts 2 and 3 when the disciples are doing awesome things, people are being helped, and the gospel is spreading? This Sunday we will learn from Acts 4, and this passage will put some things in perspective for us. In Acts 2 and 3 we see the disciples having great success, but we will see them face some difficulty and opposition in Acts 4. In Acts 4, we are told that Peter and John are once again teaching people about Jesus and proclaiming his resurrection from the dead, and that this has made the Sadducees and other members of the religious elite extremely upset. They don’t want this message spread because they believe it to be blasphemy. In order to try and prevent this message from spreading, they arrest Peter and John. Before releasing Peter and John, the Sadducees interrogate the two disciples and order them to never again speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Although we are told that 5,000 more people believe in Jesus because of Peter and John’s teachings in this chapter (Acts 4:4, Acts 4:21), and that’s amazing, this passage isn’t as plainly triumphant as chapters two and three are. If Peter and John are still acting on the power of the Holy Spirit and working to teach people about Jesus, then why are they all of a sudden facing such difficulty? The answer to this question might seem simple to some of you, but it’s worth the discussion nonetheless. God never promised that believers would have an easy life. In fact, he promised the exact opposite! In John 16:33 Jesus says to the disciples: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In the world we will face tribulation. In the world, difficult things will happen for seemingly no good reason at all. Hard, sad things will happen to people who are truly living for Christ. Scripture tells us that this is the case, but we can also see the truth of Jesus’s statement in the lives of many missionaries. Take a look at this blog that gives brief biographies of 15 missionaries. https://kindredgrace.com/missionary-heroes-stories/ Despite feeling wholeheartedly called to the mission field and selflessly living out their specific callings, not a single one of them had a difficulty-free life. They faced illness, extreme aggression, dangerous circumstances, and deep sorrow. There’s no formula for when or how much difficulty a believer might face during his or her lifetime. We know undoubtedly that life will have a mix of easy and hard moments, and that God is with us in all of them. As we continue our study in the book of Acts, let’s remember that God is just as present in the hard times as he is in the easy times. He is at work, carrying out his glorious plans in both types of circumstances.
The Movement of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 & 3
February 7, 2019 • Samantha Wichman
If you were asked to identify two chapters in Scripture that are parallel in structure, how long would it take you to name the second and third chapters of Acts? It would’ve taken me a really long time. At first glance it’s difficult to see how a chapter about Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and a chapter about a miraculous healing are all that similar. Of course, there are many differences between the two chapters, but their main message is the same. Let’s find out what that is. We’ll dive into the third chapter of Acts this coming Sunday, so here’s a short summary for the meantime: In the third chapter we see Peter and John heal a man who has been severely disabled his entire life. From the passage we can gather that the man was born without the ability to use his legs, and it’s this disability that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, heals. Because this man had begged at the temple gate for most of his life, people knew who he was. Verses nine and ten tell us: “And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” Immediately after this, Peter launches into a speech, just like he did in the second chapter of Acts. Now let’s look back at chapter two for a bit. In the second chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit is given to believers. When this happens, the believers are suddenly able to speak in tongues, and this is a direct result of being filled by the Spirit. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the people in this chapter are able to speak in tongues. Although no one is healed, this is a miraculous event. It is a miracle. The Holy Spirit is the moving force behind the miracles in chapters two and three. The Holy Spirit fills the disciples and enables them to speak in tongues, and the Holy Spirit fills Peter and enables him to heal the disabled man. This is the first similarity between chapters two and three: the Holy Spirit moves and does something miraculous through believers. The second similarity between these chapters is the message that Peter preaches after the miracles occur. Just as the Holy Spirit filled Peter and enabled him to speak in tongues and heal someone, so too the Holy Spirit filled Peter and enabled him to effectively proclaim the gospel. Peter’s speech in chapter two (Acts 2:14-41), and his speech in chapter three (Acts 3:11-26), both present the gospel. First, Peter defends the identity of Jesus as the promised Messiah, and then he urges listeners to repent and follow Jesus. When considered together, these two chapters and the parallel events that are recorded in them tell us that evangelism must be carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the power of the Holy Spirit, whether displayed through word or action, that changes people’s hearts. Because these chapters also give us two different examples of ways in which the Holy Spirit moves, we know that we have a principle for evangelism and not an exact formula. Speaking in tongues is no more a precursor for effectively sharing the gospel than is healing someone’s physical ailment. These passages show us that the Holy Spirit knows what is necessary for each situation and needed by the heart of each person.
Sharing Your Testimony
January 2, 2019 • Samantha Wichman
Before I became a Christian, I had no idea what a testimony was. When I was fourteen, one of our neighbors invited my mom over for coffee and asked if she could share her testimony with my mom. Until my mom explained to me what our neighbor had told her, I was completely confused thinking about what she could have meant by that phrase: “share her testimony.” Now that I’ve been a Christian for a few years, the phrase seems second nature to me. I wonder, however, if the practice has become second nature to me as well? While there aren’t any Bible verses that flat out say: “you should share your testimony,” there are many Bible verses that tell us how good it is to talk about what the Lord has done for us: 1 Chronicles 16:8-9 says, “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.” These verses clearly tell us that we are supposed to talk publicly about what the Lord has been up to. Another powerful example is found in the book of Mark. In the fifth chapter, Jesus heals a man who was possessed by a legion of demons and gives him this command: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds a whole lot like “go and share your testimony” to me. Now, even though Scripture is clear that sharing our testimonies brings glory to God, many of us still don’t do it. I doubt that most Christians refrain from sharing their testimonies because they disagree with Scripture. I think most of us struggle to share our testimonies simply because we’re afraid! What exactly are we afraid of? We’re afraid of being judged for our past actions. We’re afraid of sharing too much with the wrong person and being gossiped about. We’re afraid of leaving too much out and being ineffective. We’re afraid of being misunderstood. We’re afraid of incorrectly sharing the gospel. We’re afraid of being labeled as “one of those crazy Christians.” The great thing about all of this is that God has an answer for all of our fears. He’s not asking us to do any of this on our own strength! He knows that sharing our stories takes humility, vulnerability, and courage. He doesn’t tell us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and figure it out, He tells us to lean on Him for strength and wisdom! If the idea of sharing your testimony makes you a little uneasy or stirs up some questions, I encourage you to spend some time in prayer this week! Ask God to help you understand the purpose of sharing your testimony. Ask him to give you the strength to do it, and pray for discernment about when to share it and with whom.