Tuesday, August 31, 2010

our purpose

Today, as I read through Acts, chapter 17, I stumbled upon the answer to the greatest question a person can have: "What is my purpose?"  or, perhaps worded more properly, "What is God's purpose in making man?"
Paul is in the midst of his second missionary journey.  He is moving through villages, cities and towns of Greece.  In this chapter, alone, he travels through Amphipolis and Apollonia and addresses crowds of Jews and Gentiles in Thessalonica, Berea and Athens.  Everywhere he went some received and believed the message of salvation through faith in Christ, some disputed and quarreled with him, and some tried to do him harm.  It seemed that the signal to move on to a new place of ministry was often based on a need to escape capture.  In fact, this is how Paul ended up in Athens...brothers in Christ packed him on a boat to make the 200 plus mile trip to Athens to escape hate-filled pursuers.  In Athens, a center of philosophy and idols, Paul immediately found a forum to preach.  It was called the Areopagus, which means "hill of Mars".  Mars was the god of war and this was a center where questions of religion and morals were decided...a kind of court.  Paul sought to identify the true God, as distinct from the false gods they worshiped.  He went back to the basics and explained who the true God is and how we can find and relate to Him.
Acts 17:26 "...and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist...
God made us to know us and the purpose of our lives is to come after Him and find HIm.  As with so many great truths, it is not so much that it is complicated as it is profound.
Rob Smith

Monday, August 30, 2010

individuals and crowds

Acts 16:14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us.  She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God.  The Lord opened her heart to hear the things spoken by Paul.
Acts 16:30 And he brought them out and said,"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
Acts 16:22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods.
As Paul travels through his second missionary journey (recorded in Acts 16) I am struck with the differences between crowds and individuals.  Individuals, like Lydia in verse 14, or the jailer of verse 30 are reached for salvation.  Lydia already had a love for God, and the Lord opened her heart to the words of Paul.  The Jailer quickly became convinced when an earthquake opened his prison doors and yet prisoners Paul and Silas cared more for him than for their own opportunity to escape.  Jesus came to reach individuals personally.  His love pierces hearts and shatters our limited framework of thinking and acting.  But when we remain in the crowds (verse 22), and don't draw near as individuals, we can be swept up and swept away by evil...as a current carries a light boat away.  There can be a sense of belonging in the crowd...even a sense of purpose and of power and of righteousness.  But we have to be careful in the crowd to discern the source of these forces.  There can also be wonderful crowds, as crowds of believers stand shoulder to shoulder in worship.  But it is good to remember that we are reached as individuals that we might essentially know Him and be known by Him individually.  Salvation is enjoyed by many, who have come, one at a time, to faith.
Rob Smith

Sunday, August 29, 2010

the evidence of faith

Acts, chapter 15, records the first doctrinal challenge of the young church.  Some Jewish believers in Jesus wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised according to the laws of Moses.  They said (from verse 1), "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."  It may have been difficult for a people with such clearly defined and divinely provided customs to leave those ways behind.  Just as conversion makes all things new for an individual person, there were new ways for God's special people, the Jews, to grasp on the far side of the cross and resurrection.  So they held a council meeting in Jerusalem to consider the issue.  They wanted to clearly understand God's requirement and not impose a "man" requirement.  Ultimately the decision turned on two things: (1) the testimony of changed lives and (2) the word of God.  Paul and Barnabas shared how God had done many wonders and miracles among the Gentiles and James, Jesus' brother, quoted from the Old Testament prophet Amos to reinforce the fact that God would call Gentiles: Amos 9:17 "So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things."  Peter summed up the answer when he pointed out that the Gentiles clearly were demonstrating the 'evidence of faith'.  He was the one God chose to share the gospel with the Roman centurion, Cornelius.  Peter said (verses 7-10) "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.  Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"  and he concluded with the powerful statment (verse 11) "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they."  And so, with the last words of Peter in the book of Acts we are given a clear view of how salvation is attained by any and all men.  The good news of the reality of Jesus and His redemptive work on the Cross can deliver all men as they individually receive this as true.  It calls for the grace of God, the faith of man and is sealed with the demonstration of God's presence in the form of the Holy Spirit.  I hope that this has been your experience and, if not, that you will now realize His love and open your heart to His presence.
Rob Smith

Saturday, August 28, 2010

running to the battle

Acts 14:19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
Acts 14:21-22  And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
Paul was moving through what is now modern-day Turkey on his first missionary journey, with Barnabas.  They are going to the synagogues and preaching to Jews, with Gentiles hanging out and listening also.  Some are coming to faith...miracles of healing continue...some locals confuse Paul and Barnabas with the legendary gods Zeus and Hermes.  The apostles speak to the Jews from the words of the law and prophets and they speak to the Gentiles of the God who made heaven and earth.  Unbelieving Jews, who were jealous of the following that was developing toward Jesus, decide to kill Paul and destroy the messenger of this gospel.  They come out of the towns that Paul has already visited (Antioch and Iconium) and they actually stone Paul to unconsciousness...and possibly death.   But God preserves, or restores, Paul to life.  The first thing Paul does is to resume preaching the message of salvation, just has he had been preaching.  The second thing Paul does is return to the very towns that sent emissaries to stone him.  He encourages new believers there to stand strong in the midst of difficulty and is living proof that God has stood with him despite being stoned to apparent death by their neighbors.  Courage like this comes from two sources: (1) a strong conviction that trusting in, and obeying, Jesus is more important than earthly life and (2) a strong confidence that what God has begun, He will also finish. 
I am challenged to live for the Message more than for myself.  The satisfactions of self are nothing compared to the joys that will ring forever in Heaven.
Rob Smith

Friday, August 27, 2010

behind the scenes

As I read through the book of Acts and watch the amazing "actions" of the early church apostles and leaders I realize that the real excitement comes from "behind the scenes".  The miracles of healing, deliverance from prison and coming to faith all have a Heavenly source...a spark plug in eternity.  They aren't the actions of men.  Men are the instruments of God.  But it is a beautiful thing to see the harmony that can occur when men are in close relationship, and committed obedience, to the living God.  In chapter 13 we see Paul and Barnabas embark on the first missionary journey.  It is interesting to consider how the journey began.  We see that the church in Antioch was Paul's base.  In that church were a mix of people, with different and complementary gifts, including prophets and teachers.  They were in the practice of regular worship, corporate prayer and fasting.  Their attitude of worship was that they were "ministering to the Lord".  I often think that we consider worship God's ministry to us.  It was as they were in the midst of corporate worship that the Holy Spirit  spoke and directed Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to be sent out on the first missionary trip.  Once again, the church prayed and fasted and participated by laying hands on these two.  And the Holy Spirit led them specifically to the island of Cyprus and into some challenging frontiers of preaching and presentation of the Gospel.  I think the challenge that emerges to me is to see the benefit of worship.  We minister to the Lord and He ministers through us.  We don't "figure out" the Lord's will...we follow Him...just as the disciples followed Jesus.  It is as if the Lord is telling us that if we will make Him the object of our greatest affection, He will share His affection through us.  The wonder of worship is its solidification of our two-way relationship with the God who would bring eternity to natural men.
Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Rob Smith

Thursday, August 26, 2010


My wife and I attended an intimate wedding this past Saturday of a dear daughter of close family friends.  Everything about the service was warm and personalized.  It was held in the Wren Chapel at the College of William and Mary.  Interestingly, the pews face across the aisle, rather than facing forward, in this small, but elegant, building.  As we sat, we would look across and smile at friends who were looking back.  I couldn't help but notice memorial plaques, made of marble or granite, that were mounted on the high walls of the chapel.  They memorialized famous personalities in the history of the College, and of Virginia.  George Wythe was one of those individuals.  The stone told us that he had lived from 1726 to 1806 and that he'd been a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Continental Congress, as well as a long-time teacher at he College.  The school of Law is named for him.   I was especially touched by the qualities of character that were ascribed to him at the bottom:
Courage as a Patriot
Ability as an Instructor
Uprightness as a Lawyer
Purity as a Judge
I thought about the strength of character and of living that had forged this legacy and I thought about the opportunity we have in this life to develop and demonstrate character that is the overflow of the presence of the Lord.   Hopefully we'll find courage, ability, uprightness and purity to be qualities that leave their mark on this world and impact it for eternity.  We may not have a granite memorial in a lovely chapel scribed to us personally, but perhaps, one day in Heaven, we'll find some kind of plaque that captures the marks of our legacy, as well.....the legacy of a character fashioned and used by our Lord.
Rob Smith

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

three goals of the archaeologist

This past Saturday my wife and I attended the wedding of a close family friend.   I visited with a close pal during the reception who has spent some time in his retirement doing voluntary archaeological work on Jamestown Island.  An ongoing work there has uncovered fascinating details about life in the first permanent English colony in America.  Just recently they have found the location of the very first church building in the settlement.  It was located squarely in the center of the original fort.  My friend explained that the hours of digging in the hot Virginia sun all become worthwhile when this kind of discovery results.  He went on to explain that the archaeologists had three "treasures" that they have been seeking in the recent years of research.  They have sought to pinpoint the locations of (1) the original fort, (2) the well that supplied water to the settlement, and (3) the location of the church.  I believe that they now have found all of these.  It struck me, as he shared this, that these three represented keys to survival of the colony.  They needed the protection of the fort from hostile Indians and wild animals, the reliable supply of water for drinking, cooking and bathing, and the spiritual  nourishment of worship.  It also occurred to me that these are three essentials that we each need.  Life is both cruel and fulfilling.  We need protection from the enemy who would prevent us from finding eternal life and who would rob our joy in the Lord.  We need for our earthly needs including  food, clothing and shelter to be met.  And, in the heart of our personal fortresses, we need the Lord.  We need His Life in our core...with worship and fellowship with Him giving our lives their highest purpose and, thus meeting our greatest need.  With these in place we, like the people of Jamestown, can venture outside the walls and carry life to a larger settlement.
Psalm 18:2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
         My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
         My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Rob Smith

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

learning to trust

(From Acts, chapter 12) , The situation must have looked pretty bleak to Peter.  His long time friend and fellow disciple/apostle James had just been beheaded by Herod (the first of the 12 to be martyred).  Now Herod had taken him captive and, as when Jesus had been taken, it was the time of Passover.  Furthermore, Peter was placed in prison with 16 soldiers assigned to guard him (four squads of four standing watch).  Herod planned to judge him and probably execute him after the feast week had passed.  Herod wasn't going to take any chances because Peter had slipped through his fingers before.   This time Peter was bound with two chains, forced to sleep between two soldiers, with two more guarding the jail door.  But the plans of God will not be frustrated by men and the power of God is greater than men.  An angel was sent by the Lord to awaken Peter and lead him out...the chains fell off...the guards remained asleep or oblivious...the gate to the prison opened by itself and Peter was delivered safely to the streets outside.  Herod, on the other hand, was so unnerved that he left town, ordered the guards to be executed and died suddenly, in the midst of a public appearance.  God's sovereign plan can be difficult to understand.  James was one of the original fishermen from Galilee, like Peter.  He was the brother of John, who lived a long life and gave us the wonderful gospel and epistles.   But God had a very different plan for James than for Peter or John.  And the same is true for us.  It may appear that God's plans are being frustrated and that his servants are losing or being held captive, but the power and plans of God will ultimately prevail.  We may have a brief time, like James, to serve him...or a longer time like Peter and John.  But we serve at the pleasure of the Lord and we can rest assured that the power of Heaven that has saved us is present to ensure His plans will not fail and to keep us for eternity.
Acts 12:24 But the Word of the Lord continued to grow and spread. 
Rob Smith

Monday, August 23, 2010

upside down and inside out

As we read through the book of Acts we are amazed at the dramatic events that turned the world upside down after Jesus ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to grow the church.  It seems that every chapter presents events that surprised all parties: unsaved Jews, Gentiles, born-again Jews and secular authorities.  The world structure and the world order were being shaken.  The message of God's love through  faith in His Son was rippling outward from Jerusalem like a pond where a giant boulder had been dropped from Heaven into the middle.  The Holy Spirt started with a bang on Pentecost when He gave the Apostles the ability to speak in the languages of Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the feast.  He worked miracles of healing through Peter that showed the power of Jesus was still alive and those miracles continued to inspire faith among some and fear among others.  Some saw that eternity was to be gained and some saw that their earthly power might be lost.  Those who feared tried to extinguish the flames of the message but only caused it to spread as believers fled persecution.  The Holy Spirit turned the heart of a persecutor named Saul, inside out and redirected his energy from destruction of the church to declaration of God's deliverance.  Peter is awakened to the reality that God's plan of salvation is now for all men, including formerly unclean Gentiles and Greeks.  This was a radical shift as centuries of tradition and law had separated the Jew from the rest of the world.  The great redemption plan that had been illustrated, declared and preserved and the great family lineage that produced the Savior were now revealed to be a plan to rescue the entire world of men.  Rather than separating men from other men, God has made it clear that He wants to separate all men from the power of sin.  We are not each other's enemy...we are brothers in faith or we are potential brothers in faith.  I believe that today we continue to be the instruments of the Holy Spirit to bring the message to this world of people.  Each of us needs to be turned inside out and our worlds turned upside down to find God's love and to live for Him!
Acts 10:45 And the believers from among the circumcised (the Jews) who came with Peter were surprised and amazed, because the free gift of the Holy Spirit had been bestowed and poured out largely even on the Gentiles.
Rob Smith

Sunday, August 22, 2010

visual learners

I have come to appreciate that each of us has a primary, or preferred, mode of learning.  Some learn. best audibly...some learn through reading, some like the use of parables and analogies and some are visual learners, responding best to pictures, illustrations and diagrams.  I realized this morning that the Lord recognizes this and that He has used all of these methods to reach us and to reveal Himself to us.  In Acts, chapter 10 a Roman centurion named Cornelius in the coastal town of Caesarea found that he and the apostle Peter had something in common:  they were both visual learners.  Each of them received a vision from Heaven that left an immediate and indelible impression and pushed them to act boldly and in new ways that would foster personal growth and facilitate expansion of the church.  Cornelius loved the Lord and was faithful in prayer and giving to the poor.  An angel appeared to him and directed him to send men to bring Peter from Joppa, another coastal town about 35 miles away.  Simultaneously, Peter saw a vision of all kinds of unclean animals that the Jews were forbidden to eat and heard a voice that told him to go ahead and eat the "unclean" animals because God has cleansed them.  This was such a deeply held conviction that the Lord repeated the entire vision three times while Peter was in some kind of trance.  When Cornelius' men came for Peter, he was turning this vision over in his mind...wondering what the personal meaning was.  The Holy Spirit entered the picture and explained that the men sent from Cornelius were really sent by God.  Peter went with them...servants of a Roman soldier...Rome the conquering power that had crucified Jesus and people who were "unclean" to the Jew.  So the Lord prepared Cornelius and Peter for a dramatic change that they wouldn't have made on their own, reaching them in a way they couldn't get around and encouraging their openness and obedience.  When Peter and Cornelius met, they shared their visions and realized that God had a biggier vision of life than they had previously understood.  I began to see that change has its origin with the Lord...is communicated to us in a manner that reaches our deepest understanding...and is confirmed as we share these truths with other believers.  The Lord will use visions, teachings, analogies, circumstances and whatever it takes to move us out of our complacence and comfort and into the center of His plan.  He is a multi-media communicator with a powerful plan for us and for our world.
Acts 10:33 'So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come.  Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you to God." 
Rob Smith

Saturday, August 21, 2010

responding with resistance

Among the many amazing miracles we see in the New Testament...healings, driving out demons, raising dead to life...I don't any top the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts, chapter 9).  It appears from the account of Acts, chapters 7 & 8 that Saul was Public Enemy No. 1 to the young church.  It is likely that his personal persecution of early believers caused many to flee Jerusalem and to spread the Gospel as an unintended consequence.  He decided to take his passion for persecution on the road and so he got a letter from the high priest that authorized him to go about 150 miles north to Damascus and drag believers from there back to face trial, and likely death, in Jerusalem.  Why did Saul hate the church so much?  This is the question that Jesus asked him.  As Saul traveled with others on the way to Damascus a blinding light came from above, Saul fell to the ground and he heard the voice of the Lord say: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"  Because the church is Christ's body, when Saul attacked the church it was the same as assaulting Christ, Himself.  Saul answered this question with a question (verse 5) And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"  Jesus replied that He was the One speaking and then Jesus said something very interesting (from the Amplified version..verse 5 "It is dangerous and it turns out badly for you to keep kicking against the goad - that is, to offer vain and perilous resistance."  Apparently Saul had been under conviction by the Holy Spirit for some time...perhaps since viewing Stephen's remarkable testimony and glorified death.  Instead of yielding to that prodding, he tried to retaliate against it...thinking that if he could destroy this movement he could rid himself of convicting thoughts that had been hounding him.  This is why he had been able to do nothing with his life beyond this consuming destruction...he couldn't seem to move past the sense that God was trying to reach Him with the truth of Jesus' mission and message.  When Saul finally was stopped on the road and made to face this uncomfortable truth he realized that it was no longer necessary to fight the Lord...it was necessary to believe Him and to bow before Him.
This is the same challenge that all will face who will seriously look at the life, the actions, the resurrection, the promises and the great hope offered by Jesus.  We have three choices with Jesus: to ignore Him, to resist Him and to accept Him.  My hope is that you will face Jesus directly in the face and accept Him.  It is much easier than resisting Him and to ignore Him is to live the ultimate denial.
Rob Smith

Friday, August 20, 2010

the spreading Gospel

It is interesting to see how the Lord shook the salt shaker of the early church and spread His message from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth from the book of Acts.  Actually you can see this happening in chapter 8, by itself.  After Stephen was killed, Saul (later became Paul) pulled Christians from their homes and sent them off to prison.  It might appear that the movement was going to be snuffed very quickly.  But, as other believers fled Jerusalem to escape capture, they preached the message of salvation through faith in Christ everywhere they went.  They went to Samaria, which was despised by the Jews because the Samaritans were a mix of Jewish and Assyrian descent and were considered "half-breeds".  But the same miracles and the same response of belief took place there.  Peter and John came up out of Jerusalem to see the Holy Spirit fall on the Samaritans just as it had on the Jews.  And then the evangelist, Philip, who had served alongside Stephen as a deacon was directed by an angel to lead an African government official to faith (who had been visiting Jerusalem) as that man was returning to Ethiopia...and we see the Gospel moving to "the ends of the earth".  After the African believed and was baptized, the Holy Spirit "caught up" Philip and miraculously dropped him in the ancient town of Azotus where he preached in all the coastal towns up to Caesarea.  The dynamic of church growth took shape, as the Lord moved believers divinely and through circumstance around the map.  We see the same dynamic today as the great message of new life in Christ is still growing the church around the world and across generations.  Ultimately, the force that propels us is the force that has reached us and is continuing to reach out:  the nature of the church is to grow and the message is for all.
Rob Smith

Thursday, August 19, 2010

invisible force

Jesus had died, resurrected and ascended to Heaven.  The book of Acts is taking us through the history of what happened next.  The fishermen of Galilee had progressed from passive listeners to fearful followers to ardent agents on behalf of the carpenter from Nazareth.  As we move from chapter to chapter we see that Jesus is still very much present as the miracles, acts of selfless courage and devotion to God that men display flow from His presence in their hearts.  In chapters 6 and 7 we meet a new hero of the faith named Stephen.  We are beginning to see the power and love of Jesus displayed just as mightily through others as it had been through Peter and the original disciples.  We also see the great and severe conflict that inevitably emerges when one lives and speaks wholeheartedly for the Lord.  In these early days, the church's greatest enemies came from the Jewish tradition.  There was anger and fear that the familiar beliefs and habits of the past were threatened by this new movement, which saw Jews becoming something new and different...passionately alive with faith in a living deity...not just participants in ritual, routine and religious rites.  Stephen's life and death, as a martyr, highlights an important principle of living: opposition defines conviction.  We can be grateful for the stark contrast that opponents of true faith display.  Even today, those who truly love and live for the Lord will encounter resistance because Satan still opposes the saving work of the Gospel.  Just as there is a great force within and behind those who have trusted Jesus as Savior to advance the kingdom...so there is an evil force within and behind those who resist acceptance of the greatest message ever given to man.  Stephen did not shy from this resistance.  Rather he used it as a platform to explain God's plan of redemption and the Lord gave Stephen a vision directly up to the Heavenly throne.  Sharing this vision cost Stephen his earthly life but demonstrated for all time that Heaven is real...God has revealed it...He awaits those who have overcome the opposition and surrendered to Him.  (and His enemies can become His children)
Rob Smith

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

changing trains

I thought about riding trains this morning, as I considered Acts, chapters 4 and 5.  I thought about how each of us rides a train that carries our lives.  We can be hauled by different locomotives...we can ride on different tracks...ultimately we may have different destinations.   We reach a comfort level with the structure, the nature and the direction of our lives no matter what train we have been riding through life.  The Lord is about the business of reaching through the train window, yanking us up out of our seat, and pulling us over to His train.  In the early chapters of Acts we see the Apostles riding fervently on the Lord's train.  The local people around the Apostles have been traveling trains of their own but many are jumping tracks as they witness miracles of healing and see the unity of the early church...many passenger cars are being attached to the Lord's train.  The toughest crowd seems to be the priests and the sanhedrin, or leadership council of the Jews.  They have been riding the deluxe train for generations...esteemed for religious leadership and power in the community.   They resent the presence of this new train in their midst.  They have been so comfortable, for so long, as they have traveled the tracks of their train that it is very hard for them to even consider that there could be a better way to travel.  And, as travelers on the same train, they tend to encourage each other to continue to try to protect their privileged path.  They are not even shaken out of their comfort zone by the miracles performed by Peter and the others.  If it weren't for the wise words of Gamaliel (one of the wiser council members) they would have killed the apostles.  But this morning I noticed for the first time that the power of the Lord and the persistence of the apostles even reached this tough crowd.  Acts 6:7 "So the word of God spread.  The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."  I can see how it was more difficult for the religious establishment to leave the comfort of their plush train for the uncertainty of Jesus and His passionate followers.  Perhaps this represented one of the greatest miracles of those early days.
Rob Smith

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

making a difference

The healing of the lame man recorded in Acts, chapter 3, led to quite a disturbance.  Peter launched into a powerful sermon to explain that the One who had performed the healing was the same one that many in the temple had insisted on crucifying in the recent past.  Peter explained that Jesus had been foretold by Moses and that He had come to pay the price for their sins and to make it possible to be cleansed and given a new life.  The priests and rulers of the temple decided to arrest Peter and John because they were preaching that there was a resurrection from the dead and this was contrary to their doctrine.  However, the effect of the miraculous healing and Peter's sermon were powerful on the people and five thousand put their trust in Jesus.  After being held in custody overnight the two Apostles were interrogated by the high priest.  Peter, once again, gave glory to Jesus for the healing of the previous day.  He took advantage of this new platform, even as a prisoner, to clearly proclaim Jesus and His fulfillment of the writings of the prophets.  The ones listening to Peter were the same authorities who had dragged Jesus to Pilate.  They certainly could have had Peter and John executed as well.  But something had changed since the Cross.  People in large numbers were coming to believe in this resurrected Messiah and, as political figures, the authorities were very sensitive to the mood of the people.  They thought that killing Jesus would end the problem but now they were encountering an unexpected explosion of interest in the one they thought they'd eliminated.  In fact, people were giving great glory to God as a result of the miracle and the temple leaders found themselves in direct opposition to sincere worship of the Lord.  As a result, the priests and council settled for threats and turned Peter and John loose.  The message that emerges to me is that when we live and stand for the Lord, His presence and power become undeniable and His work of salvation changes even earthly politics and forces.  Peter and John probably didn't know how they would be treated as prisoners...their most recent example was that of Jesus.  But instead of fleeing from fear, they stood and acted and spoke with His Spirit's empowerment...A new time had arrved.
Acts4:19,21 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge"...So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.
Rob Smith

Monday, August 16, 2010

...but what I do have I give you

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."
Peter and John are on their way into the temple for daily prayers around 3 in the afternoon.  They see a lame man lying outside the gate.  Almost certainly they had seen him numerous times before because he was carried to that gate daily to beg for money.  The lame man didn't set his goals high enough to ask for healing...he just wanted money...Healing must have seemed out of the realm of possibility.  When they carried him to the gate it was like taking him to the office for his day's work.  He may have been supporting others and he was positioned to confront people when they were vulnerable...on their way to the temple to face God.  It was almost like a business transaction:  "If you give me money your good deed will help your place with the Almighty as you go to prayer."  But we are now in the days of the Holy Spirit and Peter and John are involved with another kind of business: bringing the truth of the living God and of Jesus Christ to others.  Peter doesn't ask the lame man if he wants to be healed...he doesn't ask if he has heard of Jesus...he doesn't wait for the reponse of faith...Peter gives something that he has to someone with an obvious need.  This sets off quite a commotion, as the healed man is well known and Peter is given a platform to present the truth of Jesus to a wider audience.  It occurs to me that, like Peter, there is something that we have that we can give to others.  The faith and new life that lives within and has transformed us, personally, gives us a message for others.  We don't have to wait for the perfect opportunity before we freely share our faith.  We need to share our faith wisely that others might be given an opportunity to be set perfectly free.
Rob Smith

Sunday, August 15, 2010

walking together

Acts 2:42-47

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.


What does life look like when we are really focused on the Lord?  I think the first members of the church illustrated that from the passage above.  They were keenly aware of God's presence, their sin and recent deliverance to salvation.  There is a place for holy "fear" or reverence (verse 43).  It becomes a foundation for living in spiritual health.  They were no longer self-centered.  They cared about each other and didn't have pride of possession in things.  They had been set free from trying to "make it" through selfish ambition.  They loved being with others who shared their reverence and love for the Lord.  Their homes were centers of fellowship, praise and common living.  Life became simpler and reduced to a sharply defined vertical and horizontal dimension.  And the whole effect was attractive...momentum was built and the Lord added to His church daily. 

I think we begin this way, even now, when we come to faith initially.  Our challenge is to keep coming back to the simple, yet profound, awareness of our Lord and all He has done and now does for us and in us.  We can help each other focus upwardly on Him through praise, encouragement, teaching and service and we can continually re-learn and be refreshed by coming directly before Him, just as they did in the first days!



Rob Smith

Saturday, August 14, 2010

from perplexed to persuaded

Acts 2:12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?"
Acts 2:36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Acts 2:41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Acts, chapter two, is famous for the arrival of the Holy Spirit at the celebration of the Pentecost feast.  Flaming tongues of fire and believers speaking in the languages of other nations are the burning images of the chapter.  But these are just an introduction to an amazing summary of the process of coming to faith, which is also captured in this chapter.  We see people who are total strangers to Jesus moving from ignorance to salvation and we see the major steps that must occur for us all, if we are to be born again into the kingdom of God.  It is first necessary for the Lord to get our attention...to shake us out of our complacence and awaken us to new possibilities.  This is what took place when people heard the uneducated Galilean disciples speaking of the wonders of God in every language of the known world.  This personalized the message.  Becoming "perplexed" is step one.  We must realize that there are answers that we don't have to questions we may never have considered.  Once we are perplexed we become open to new thoughts.  This is when Peter reviewed the prophecies of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus...and the appearance of the Holy Spirit in their midst.  At this point we face a decision: will we yield to the Lord and open our hearts and minds to His reality and truth?  We need a revolution to occur within our individual personalities for this to happen (called repentance).  That day, in Acts chapter two, three thousand people went from being perplexed to being persuaded.  The church that had begun with twelve disciples...then 120 followers...now had begun to multiply.  And the ripples caused by the Holy Spirit that day continue to travel over the world and across time.  I hope that you have been perplexed by the reality of God...convinced of your absolute need for Him and persuaded to repent (in a sense to revolt against yourself!) and receive Him and His Spirit.  As Peter said in Acts 2: 39 "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
Rob Smith

Friday, August 13, 2010

inner healing

Acts 1:16-17 "Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry."
Acts 1:20 "For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 'Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it'; and, 'Let another take his office.'
It is interesting that Jesus didn't send the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples right away.  Instead He had them wait, together, and begin their walk purely from obedience.  They clustered together and turned to the Lord in prayer, as their primary pursuit.  It's also interesting to consider the subject of Peter's first sermon.  It wasn't a grand presentation of the Gospel or even a recounting of the amazing events of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension.  The first message he gave explained the actions of the traitor, Judas, and provided directions to replace him.  You can imagine the identify crisis that Judas' actions might have caused among the remaining disciples.  After all, he had been one of them for the full three years.  If he was capable of such evil, they may have wondered if they also would fail the Lord.  I doubt that they expected the demise of Jesus to come from their midst.  They needed to be healed and restored before they could minister to others.  Peter finds the answers in the Book of Psalms.  He quotes verses from three different Psalms (41:9, 69:25 and 109:8) to show that the person and actions of Judas and  were foretold centuries before.  He also found the directions for replacing Judas there.  Peter demonstrated for us the role of scripture in understanding the dilemmas of life and finding the directions for living ("How do I understand my problems?" and "What shall I do now?").  And we see the integrity and relevance of scripture as the Holy Spirit began to speak through His words before He showed up to baptize them at Pentecost in a more dramatic scene.  And so the church began with this huddled group of about 120 followers who were beginning to follow a path of prayer, study of God's Word and mutual encouragement.  Before we can minister we also need to be healed and restored and we find great encouragement when surrounded with believers in a context of prayer and the study of God's Word.
Rob Smith

Thursday, August 12, 2010

facing the unknown

The 11 remaining Disciples (now Apostles) watched Jesus ascend into Heaven.  Their bright and shining star was no longer in their midst.  They must have felt at least a momentary shock as they tried to figure out what to do next.  They couldn't take their eyes off the sky, even after Jesus had gone.  It may have felt something like watching the vapor trails of the Apollo moon launches, well after the rocket had passed out of sight.  They were brought back to reality by two angels who reassured them with these words from Acts chapter1, verse 11 They also said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go intdo heaven.'  The angels gave them hope and Jesus had given them a promise.  Jesus had promised that, if they waited in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit would come to them and baptize them in a matter of days.  So the Apostles faced a future filled with unknown experiences, dangers and purpose with the certainty of hope, promise and confidence in the Jesus they had come to know personally.  As a result, they did three things: (1) obeyed Jesus command to return to Jerusalem, (2) stuck together as one unified body of believers and (3) began a new relationship with their Lord based on prayer. 
It occurs to me that we, also, have many unknowns in our lives.  We really don't know much of what the rest of our lives will be like.  We don't know how or when we will die.  We walk through the present with a piece of our minds always wondering about the future.  We want to please the Lord but we are aware of our weakness and our tendency to stumble.  But, like the Apostles in the first chapter of Acts we have the same hope, promise and experience that they did.  The hope of Heaven and of Jesus' return is ours.  The promise of Jesus' fellowship through the Holy Spirit is extended to us.  The experience of knowing Jesus personally has come to each of us who have simply put our life-trust in Him.  We have come to believe that the future is unknown to us, but is completely known and under the control of Him. 
We don't need to stare into the sky regretting a loss...we can look into the sky and embrace His presence and return to our lives with assurance and purpose.
Rob Smith

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

knowledge and power

I am starting into the book of Acts today...also written by Luke.  Jesus has spent 40 days living and eating with His closest followers following His resurrection.  It's interesting that, though they abandoned Him when Jesus was led away to be crucified, Jesus has not left them (I think we still abandon Him, at times, and yet He doesn't leave us).  His earthly visit ends and Jesus ascends directly up into the clouds enroute to Heaven.  The Disciples become Apostles and the lessons learned are becoming the message they will carry.  The intense time of following and learning will now become an intense time of leading others and of laying down their lives.   Before leaving, Jesus has two important final messages for them.  He wants them to understand about "knowledge and power".  The Apostles want to know if the Lord is now going to restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus explains that this isn't the kind of knowledge they need (verse 7) He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority."  He explains that the knowledge they need is wrapped up in the power source He will provide: (verse8) "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.".  It turns out that the knowledge and the power really come together as one.  As they (and as we) receive and embrace the knowledge of our Lord directly through His Holy Spirit we experience the power and direction we need.  Knowledge and power come together in our relationship with God.  He is the focal point of life.
Rob Smith

Thursday, August 5, 2010

on the far side of the Cross

Luke 24:29 But they urged Him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over."  So He went in to stay with them.
After Jesus' resurrection He appeared to two of His followers as they walked down a road.   They were talking about Jesus and the events of the past few days, including the crucifixion and Jesus' absence from the tomb a few days afterward.  Even as Jesus walked next to them and they were talking about Him, they did not recognize Him...in fact Luke tells us "their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him."  There are many of us who have heard about Jesus and even celebrated many Christmases and Easters.  We have talked about Him and the events of His life, death and resurrection.  In a sense they are familiar.  But, like those followers we may not have realized that He is also walking next to us.  It takes a supernatural "opening of our eyes" to recognize the Savior who walks alongside us.  But as they walked, Jesus opened the meaning of the Old Testament scriptures that had foretold of His purpose in coming.  The scriptures were familiar, but their meaning was finally understood.  The two men began to feel an awakening of their understanding and, without yet knowing that Jesus was their companion, they experienced a strong desire to have Him stay with them.  And as we read or hear the Bible and our understanding is opened, we also feel that desire to have Jesus stay with us.  As the verse says above, it was "getting toward evening" and the day was "nearly over".  Isn't that true for each of us, too.  Our lives are like a day and, no matter our age, the day will soon be over and we will enter a new dimension of existence.  Jesus responded to their invitation and "went in to stay with them".  Jesus still responds and eagerly stays with us too.  As they shared a meal Jesus revealed His identity to them when He broke bread.  Remember, Jesus told the Disciples to remember the gift of His broken body through the breaking of bread.  He chose this instant to open their eyes.  Jesus opens our eyes when we realize that He has broken the bread of His body to pay a price for us and then, like the bread, to feed us for eternity.
Like the two disciples on the road I hope you have had this experience.  Can you relate personally to them?  Can you relate to their words in Luke 24:32 Then they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us". ?  Their response after recognizing Him, was to believe in Him and their first act was to go and tell the others of how they came to know Him.  I hope you have met Jesus on the the road...have understood the truth of His life...have recognized Him next to you...have believed in Him...are walking in a new life with a desire to tell others of how you came to know Him!
Rob Smith

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

the women from Galilee

So often women have been in the background of the story, while being instrumental in the story, itself.  Some of these women were from Galilee.  The most famous of Jesus' disciples: Peter, James and John were also from Galilee.  In its day, Galilee was almost like "red neck" country today.  They were blue collar types who carved out livings from fishing the sea and working the land.  They spoke with a pronounced accent and were criticized by sophisticated folks from Jerusalem for their lack of education.  Jesus chose Galilee as the setting for much of His ministry.  Nineteen out of thirty-two of His parables were spoken there and twenty-five of thirty-three great miracles were performed there.  Apparently there were women of Galilee who followed Jesus through His ministry.  Some may have been wives, mothers or other close relatives of the twelve Disciples.  Some probably witnessed almost just as much as the Disciples did of Jesus and His work.  They didn't get a lot of coverage in the scripture...but they were there and they had come to love the Lord as much as anyone.  When it came time for Jesus to die on Calvary the women from Galilee were still following Him.  From Luke, chapter 23:48-49 "And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.  But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things."  Even after Jesus died the women from Galilee followed Him: (Luke 23:55) "And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.  Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils.  And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment."  The women followed Jesus through His agonizing death, to His grave and even after to anoint His body.  They followed as close and as long as anyone could and they followed after the Disciples had gone into hiding.  They wanted to anoint His body but had to wait a full extra day to honor the Sabbath.  Even so they were willing to go to apply the spices to a body that would now be foul smelling and in decay.  As a result of their "maximum following" attitude they were the first to discover that Jesus had risen! (Luke 24:1-3 "they...came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.  But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." Angels appeared to explain that Jesus was no longer dead and reminded them of what He had told them (verses 6-7) "Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'  These women became the first evangelists of the resurrection as they were the ones to tell the Disciples.
I believe that, still today, women are often the heroes in the background of our lives.  They are courageous, faithful, long-suffering and blessed with perseverance and endurance.  We men like to make the headlines, but the women are often the substance of the story.  They are the leaders when it comes to being followers!
blessings (with thanks to the women),
Rob Smith

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

elements and actions

I like to pause whenever I read the account of The Last Supper and consider that great meal...Jesus final meal before going to the Cross.   Of course it was the Passover dinner and Jesus explained to His disciples that the Passover that recalled the deliverance of the Jews from slavery would be fulfilled with a deliverance for all mankind as a result of the events that were about to unfold.  Jesus used two basic elements of the meal to focus their attention: bread and wine.  I think we often focus too much on these elements and not enough on the actions Jesus said that these elements represent.  Of course we remember that the bread represents the body of Christ and the wine, His blood.  But what stood out to me as I read the story recently was not the nouns but the verbs.  Luke 22:19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you;  do this in remembrance of Me."  Jesus' body was broken just like the bread and given for us.  It's not so much that He is in the bread as He is in the brokenness and the distribution.  Similarly, in Luke 22:20 And in like manner He took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new testament or covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you."  We remember Jesus, not so much as being in the wine as being poured out for us...His lifeblood was shed to pay sin's ransom.  Jesus isn't static...residing in bread and wine.  He is dynamic in the distribution of His body and the pouring out of His life....at Calvary for our redemption, personally when we have accepted this holy meal by faith, daily as He still pours His life into ours, and eternally as He intercedes for us before the Father.
Rob Smith

Monday, August 2, 2010

right and wrong

This weekend I travelled to Philadelphia with one of my daughters, to help her move into a different place.  She is sharing a home with two other young ladies and we needed to shuttle boxes and furniture out of storage and into the new home.  As we lugged items out of one basement I thought about one of the most basic things common to all houses, regardless of how old or new or style of architecture.  I thought about the need to make walls truly vertical and floors truly horizontal.  Builders use levels to ensure that floors, walls and ceilings join in 90 degree angles (called 'right angles').  If even one edge is off it throws off the whole construction process because the other edges won't meet properly.  Of course this is true for doors as well.  If the doorway is not framed squarely, the door will not hang or open properly.  But if the lines of the house are true then all the corners meet and the parts come together to join properly.  I thought about the fact that only one angle is a right angle...exactly 90 degrees.  Even one degree of error throws everything out of kilter.  I like the name 'right angle' because it is the only right angle for proper construction.  A house formed of anything but right angles would probably give a visitor headaches or vertigo because we are most comfortable when corners point straight up and floors mimic the horizon.  It would be very unsettling!  Something in our nature can rest when we are surrounded by trueness.  It's ok for the outside world to roll in uneven hills and valleys.  In fact, that variation addes interest and creates the beauty that we hunger for.  But we like for our homes to have flat floors and corners that stand ramrod straight.  Likewise, we are most secure when our internal life points true to heaven and outward in level dealing with the world.  This kind of living doesn't happen automatically.  We need the help of the Master Builder to check the plumb lines of our thought life and the sincerity of our outward reach to others.  But when all is true then the corners of our lives begin to join with others and we are at peace and our lives fit up well next to others.
Ephesians 2:20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Rob Smith