Repeating Pentecost

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 (Acts 1:8).

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles obeyed the Great Commission of Jesus by preaching in the city of Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, finally to the far reaches of the Roman world.

The Jewish people – and remember the Apostles were Jews – believed that God was only interested in them, the physical descendants of Abraham. The first controversy in Christianity was whether or not a person could even be a Christian apart from Judaism; but Jesus was actually the Saviour of the world, not just the Jews (Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; 1 John 4:14).

On the Jewish holy day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, empowering them to preach as eye-witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1-2). From Jerusalem, the Apostles fanned out to preach about Jesus in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish regions surrounding Jerusalem.

In the Samarian city of Caesarea, the Apostle Peter visited the home of a Roman military commander named Cornelius. As he preached Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon those who heard the gospel, just as happened in Jerusalem. Peter testified that God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ … God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life (Acts 11:17, 18).

Shortly after that, the Apostle Paul took the Gospel outside of Israel to the Gentiles. When Paul preached in Ephesus, the most important Greek city in the world at the time of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon the hearers just as He’d done in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

This Pentecostal experience was only ever repeated twice: once in the house of a Roman solider in Samaria, and among a group of Gentiles in the Greek city of Ephesus. The Pentecostal experience proved to the Apostles that the Gospel wasn’t meant for the Jews alone but Jesus is the Saviour for as many as the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39).

There is no more Pentecostal experience: the Gospel has gone out to the ends of the earth and the Church knows that Jesus saves Jews and Gentiles alike.

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Glorious Freedom – Haldor Lillenas (1917)

Once I was bound by sin’s galling fetters;
Chained like a slave, I struggled in vain.
But I received a glorious freedom
When Jesus broke my fetters in twain.

Refrain
Glorious freedom! Wonderful freedom!
No more in chains of sin I repine!
Jesus the glorious Emancipator –
Now and forever He shall be mine.

Freedom from all the carnal affections;
Freedom from envy, hatred, and strife;
Freedom from vain and worldly ambitions;
Freedom from all that saddened my life!

Freedom from pride and all sinful follies;
Freedom from love and glitter of gold;
Freedom from evil temper and anger;
Glorious freedom, rapture untold!

Freedom from fear with all of its torments;
Freedom from care with all of its pain;
Freedom in Christ, my blessed Redeemer –
He who has rent my fetters in twain.

Lyrics by Haldor Lillenas (1917)

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).

Contemplating Your Navel

Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things (Romans 1:21-23).

No one ever rises higher than his image of God. Likewise, no one worships something lesser than what he considers himself.

As Christians, we believe that the opening pages of the Bible reveal the beginning of time as told by the only One present: Jehovah. He says that He created humankind in His own likeness and image. But when our fore-parents, Adam and Eve, sinned, humanity turned away from the worship of the Creator. Humanity fashioned gods made like himself, birds, animals, and then creeping things like snakes.

You will live like what you worship. If your god is like yourself, you will feel free to live like as you choose. If humanity is your god, you will live like the people around yourself. If you worship an elephant, a cow, an ibis, a jackal or a serpent, well …. you will live lower than a serpent.

As our concept of the Creator deteriorates, our morals and treatment of one another also deteriorates.

God described the symptoms of man’s sin as an empty mind and a darkened heart. Mankind the worshiper became mankind the philosopher of foolishness. No longer is humanity contemplating the works of God, but our own lint-filled navels and the creatures in the world around us.

Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men (Psalm 66:5).

Because God is Faithful

In the first grade, my friend David and I were on the playground at recess when he took a safety pin and poked a certain girl. Both of us were sent to the principal’s office.

Principal Cadd said, “David, I’ve seen you in here too many times. Richard, since this is your first time in my office, learn from what’s about to happen to David.” David was then spanked several times with a ping pong paddle.

David didn’t shed a tear. Afterward he told me a secret: “If you get as close to Mr Cadd’s legs as possible, the paddle doesn’t hurt so much.” I never tried his trick because I was never again sent to the principal’s office.

As the prophet Moses was preparing to die, he gave a farewell speech to the nation of Israel. To the family of Asher he said: As your days, so shall your strength be (Deuteronomy 33:25). Notice that he didn’t promise long lives or lives free from trials and troubles. He said that God’s strength would sustain them throughout their days, however many – or few – those days might be.

Jesus told the Apostle Paul the same thing, but in another way: My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

You can rely on God’s sustaining power and grace because God is faithful. Every trial of life He lovingly prepares and sends your way is never intended to break you but to draw you closer to Him and clarify your vision of His faithfulness.

This past year I’ve struggled with health problems. I returned home very, very ill after ministering in Kenya, needing three regimens of powerful antibiotics. My mother said she’d never seen me look so sickly.

Then a few months ago I suffered a serious health issue that made me virtually home bound for 2 months and now partially blind in my left eye.

In all of these things, God has shown Himself to be more than abundantly faithful. While I’ve suffered in some ways, God has strengthened me in others. Pressure in one area of life has been balanced by great rest in others.

Child of God, as your days are, so will be your strength because God is faithful.

What is a Christian?

Kimberly Mathembe

And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

My friend and brother from another mother became a father for the third time almost a year ago. When Isaac and Tabitha found out they were pregnant, they decided to name the baby after either myself or my wife Kimberly, a name rarely heard of in Kenya.

And so little Kimberly Mathembe was born last May.

It is a great honor to have someone named after you. It signifies a bond between the two people of the same name and even between two families. That bond endures as long as the name continues. It is my hope and desire that little Kimberly will grow to be a godly woman like her namesake.

Christians are so named, not because they were raised going to church or believe in God. The name Christian literally means one who is like Christ. A Christian, then, is one who is like Jesus.

The Bible records that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in the city of Antioch in present-day Turkey, as a term of ridicule. Soon after, believers gladly took the name as a symbol of being persecuted and martyred like Jesus.

What does it mean to be a Christian, but to follow after Jesus and be made day-by-day more in His likeness.

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Do Not Steal

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Ephesians 4:28).

Walking down the village road in Kangundo, my wife and I came upon a woman selling what the British call “chips” and we Americans call “French fries.” We asked the price, counted out the appropriate coins, added a tip, and went on our happy way.

Later in the day, a friend mentioned seeing us buy the chips and then berated the seller. Unknown to us, the woman had purposely and significantly overcharged us. She justified herself on the basis of the color of our skin. One price for Kenyans, a much higher price for Mzungus.

Jesus commands that we Do not steal (Mark 10:19). Stealing is taking what rightly belongs to someone else through the use of cunning or deceit. Greed is the unquenchable desire within the human heart to have more than we already possess or need to survive. Greed is a powerful motivation for stealing.

There are two ways of making a living: stealing and working.

Most people eagerly agree that it’s wrong to steal, but then we make excuses to do it anyway. “He’s rich and won’t miss the little I take” or “Everyone cheats on their taxes.”

We’d also agree that working an honest job is good.

It’s much harder to convince someone that it’s also sinful to work to satisfy our greed, but that’s what the Bible teaches.

The Bible says that as Christians, we are to work hard at honest labor – not so we can buy more things – but so we may have something to give him who has need (Eph 4:28). Let that sit in your mind for a moment.

God’s purpose in your life is more than being a good boy by not stealing. His call is greater than keeping yourself busy with honest labor. God’s purpose is that you work not only for yourself or your family, but so you can give to others in need.

Someone has well said: “Work long to earn long to save long to give long.

Jesus and Healers

And Jesus strictly warned him and sent him away at once. And He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone…” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city (Mark 1:43, 44, 45).

The Bible says that Jesus gave His original Apostles power to perform miracles to prove the veracity of their preaching before the New Testament was written.

The Scriptures also repeatedly record that when Jesus and the Apostles performed their miracles they didn’t hold healing events or share testimonies. In fact, as the passage above shows, they strictly warned those who were healed not to tell anyone.

A man with leprosy approached Jesus begging to be healed. His leprosy is what we call Hansen’s Disease today and is related to tuberculosis. The disease is caused by a bacteria on the skin transferred by touch and respiratory droplets. The bacteria invades the nervous system and spreads to the extremities like the hands, feet, ears and nose, causing disfigurement of the skin and bones, the twisting of the fingers into claws, formation of skin tumors, and eventually a total loss of feeling.

Because of the highly contagious nature of this disease, Jewish law (Lev 14) forbid lepers from close contact with others. Lepers were required to wear distinctive clothing, ring bells, shout that they were “unclean”, and get no closer than 16 feet (5 meters) from an unaffected person. The man in the Gospel of Mark approached Jesus close enough that Jesus touched and healed him!

Jesus strictly commanded the man to get his healing confirmed by a Jewish priest familiar with the disease and share the news with no one else. Jesus sought no publicity with a public testimony or advertising. But rather than obey Jesus, the man told everyone that he’d been healed. The result was enormous crowds of sick people all wanting Jesus to fix them too, despite the fact that He’d come to preach repentance from sin (Matt 4:17).

Today false preachers, evangelists, and apostles proclaim their miracle-working power on Youtube, Facebook, and other social media. They don’t require independent confirmations from medical authorities. They crave the personal attention their shows receive, though they would argue it’s all about the glory of God. Jesus was all about the glory of God, and He insisted on silence.

Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

Jesus Paid It All – Elvina M Hall (1865)

I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all.”

Refrain:
Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

And now complete in Him, my robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side, I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the *leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed my ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,” shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down, all down at Jesus’ feet.

Elvina M Hall (1865)

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).

 

True, Effective, Productive Prayer

Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17-18).

Today we emphasize a very man-centered religion. Sermons, books, and songs are fashioned toward satisfying the consumer rather than the Creator. Another way we misdirect people is through prayer.

Don’t misunderstand me. Prayer is vitally important in the Christian experience, but prayer is not profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This honor rests squarely upon the sufficiency of the Scriptures alone (2 Timothy 3:14-15). It’s God’s Word that empowers and equips you to live the daily Christian life … not prayer.

Prayer is man talking to God; the Bible is God talking to man. You’ve read it here before, and you’ll read it here again: you need to hear the voice of God more than He needs to hear you. His words are life, not yours.

Yet so often we downgrade the perfection and sufficiency of the Bible and elevate our own words. We pay more attention to the thoughts and feelings we have as we pray than what God has said. I’ve heard of churches holding all-night prayer meetings, but never a service for all-night reading and meditating on God’s words.

No one can truly, effectively, and productively pray until he has first heard from God and had his mind renewed by the Holy Spirit working through the holy Scriptures. Godly prayer is always a response to what God has said in the pages of His Word. The Scripture reveals God’s holy character, points out my sinfulness, and then fills me with thanksgiving to Him for His grace. The Bible shapes the priority of my needs and those of others so that they align with His will.

I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes, I will not forget Your word (Psalm 119:15-16).

 

Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness

My mother and me when I was a year old, 1968.

“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19, 21).

The other day I watched a mother pushing her two young children in a shopping cart. One child accidentally poked the other in the tight space and the mother told the crying girl to hit her brother back. Revenge was this mother’s solution. Vengeance always feels like a tonic to the sinful soul.

By the time my mother was in her mid-twenties, she was basically raising her 4 children by herself. As a kid, I didn’t think she was an awful parent, but as I’ve become older, I think she was pretty close to a perfect parent.

I have a sister a year younger than myself, and growing up we had our share of disagreements (all of which were her fault). She’d allegedly bump me by accident, so I’d poke her back. She’d sock me in the arm and I’d kick her. Then she’d clobber me. It was sweet vengeance all the way. We lived an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth justice.

My mother’s solution was for us to say we were sorry “and mean it“, hug each other, and then get back to playing together. She taught us the Christian virtues of practicing grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Yes, there were times she intervened with sovereign and wise judgment, applying fair justice, but it was always at her hand, not the revenge-hungry hand of my sister or me. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The popular perception is that children are angels, but children naturally practice the sinful art of revenge. Getting even is what the sin nature longs after, and what we re-enforce in our children.

God, however, teaches His children to leave revenge in His hand and rather be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).