What Now?: Wait

“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ ” (Acts 1:4-5)

This week, we’re walking through a few verses about Christ’s last 40 days before he left the planet.

road_350Notice first: More evidence that Jesus was really, physically alive: He ate! Ghosts don’t eat. Real, living men eat. Jesus came back from the dead to breathing, eating life.

Notice next: He told the disciples to wait for a gift, the Holy Spirit. He didn’t want them jumping into any kind of ministry until the Holy Spirit came to give them real power. In other words, he didn’t want them to serve him with the best they had to offer; he wanted them to live for him with the best power God had to offer.

He wants the same from us.

Think: If someone asked you to explain it, why would you say that Jesus called the Holy Spirit a gift from the Father? What makes the Holy Spirit a gift?

Pray: Ask God to help you to serve him with God’s power through the Holy Spirit, not with your own strength.

Do: Read how Paul describes God’s gift of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 1:21-22.

What Now?: Be Convinced

“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)

I never blame anyone for doubting that Jesus came back from the dead. It takes real faith to believe that the impossible happened. But you must believe it to be a Christian, and you must be convinced about it to be willing to lay your own life on the line.

road_350The disciples didn’t have to just believe it; they saw Jesus alive again with their own eyes. And He didn’t just appear to them briefly in a vision or floating in a dim mirror. They didn’t need high-tech ghost hunter tools to catch a glimpse. He wanted them to be convinced that he was dead and then all the way alive again – to give them the courage to give their own lives for him.

So he kept appearing to them for over a month. He kept letting them confirm his real, physical life with their eyes and touch and even watching him eat.

And in case they would one day worry that it was some kind of grief-induced hallucination among the 11 of them, Paul tells us that Jesus showed himself to over 500 people at once after he was dead and alive again. (See 1 Corinthians 5:3-8.) They could always confirm that lot of other people saw him, too.

Think: How does believing that Jesus was raised from the dead change the way you live your own life for him? How should it change the way you think about death?

Pray: As a Christian, thank God for helping you to be convinced in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from death. Ask him to help you live like you believe that you’ll be resurrected, too.

Do: If you haven’t, yet, read 1 Corinthians 5:3-8.

What Now?: Just the Beginning

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2)

We are picking up the story of Jesus about 40 days after he rose from the dead. The resurrection must have been the high point of the disciples’ lives (and ours, come to think of it). But as Jesus got ready to leave them, they were also thinking, “Now what?”

road_350Here in Acts, Luke describes those days to us in just a few verses, picking up from where he left off in the book of Luke. We’re going to listen closely for a few days to what Jesus said to the disciples before his exit to try to hear what he might also be saying to us about what we should do with our own lives from here on out.

Think: In as few words as possible, what would you say is your big “P” purpose in life – or your top two or three, anyway?

Pray: Ask God to help you to understand how the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection should change the way you live your own life now and in the future.

Do: Read Luke 24 to catch up to what happened from Jesus’ resurrection to this moment in the story.

Not Reluctant: Included

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Today’s verses are the story of how a person comes to be in the family of God and how you can know for sure that you’re still in God’s family.

leaf_350_bRemember from the 12 verses before this: God did all the work. He made the plan to adopt you (because he wanted to and because it made him happy). He executed the plan by sending his Son to be executed in your place, for your sin. Then he published the good news that you were welcome through faith in Jesus.

Then A) you heard the truth and B) you believed and C) you were given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that your place in God’s family is secure (even though you’re not home, yet).

Of course, there is no C) without B). That is, there is no place for anyone in the family of God who has not trusted in Jesus for their salvation.

Think: Have you believed the “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”? How have your expressed your faith in Jesus? Are you convinced that God is strong enough to forgive and to guarantee you a place in His family?

Pray: As a Christian, thank God for including you in Christ when you heard and believed. Thank him for marking you with the seal of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your place in his family.

Do: Read the rest of Ephesians 1 (or the whole book) to see how Paul builds on these huge ideas.

Not Reluctant: Works Out Everything

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)

I realize not every Christian agrees, exactly, about all of the implications of God’s predestination and election of his children. And some people really seem to enjoy debating the issues surrounding human free will and God’s control over everything in the universe. We’re not going to crack that nut here.

leaf_350_bHaving said that, we have heard this week about how much God wanted us – making plans ahead of time to include us in his family because he wanted to and it made him happy – and about all the grace and knowledge he has lavished on us as his children. That makes it miles easier for me to trust him however he chooses to work in the world.

I believe God can do whatever God wants to do, and I want him to do that. I may never get all of my questions about freewill and predestination answered before I get to heaven, but I trust my Father’s heart. How could I not after everything he has done for me?

Think: Are you able to trust God’s character and love for you even when it’s hard to understand exactly how he works in the world? Why or why not?

Pray: Thank God that he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.

Do: Make a quick list of three reasons you believe God to be trustworthy.

Not Reluctant: Showing His Plans

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Again today we hear more about God’s pleasure, his delight, what makes him happy. Part of the reason he is not a reluctant Father is because including us in his family – adopting us as his kids – is for his pleasure. It makes him happy.

leaf_350_bBut in today’s verse, his pleasure (or desire or intention) seems to have motivated him to include us in the “mystery” of Christ and/or to bring to pass his long-hidden plan to rescue us, to forgive our sins through the blood of Jesus, to redeem us as his own children – and eventually to restore peace and order on the earth under Jesus’ rule.

He wants us to understand what’s going on because he loves us, because he seems to be excited about it, because he has engineered the day when everything will finally be as it should. And then we will be with him forever.

Think: Why do you think it’s easier for people to think of God as having strong negative emotions instead of strong positive ones? Do you usually think of God as an emotional being? Why or why not?

Pray: Thank God for making known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure. And thank him, too, that all of his plans will succeed at exactly the right time.

Do: Think about a few of the things that please you most. Then make a quick list of the things Ephesians 1 has shown us that please God.

Not Reluctant: Lavished

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

We continue listening this week to Paul tell us that our God is no reluctant Father – he really wants us – and we trip over the word “lavished.” It’s not a word we’re used to hearing in the Bible. (A quick search of BibleGateway.com brings it up six times in the NIV.)

leaf_350_bWe usually think of lavish as either “luxurious” (lots of gold, leather, intricate stitching, etc.) or as a way of heaping an obnoxious amount of good stuff on someone (as grandparents, rich boyfriends, and sports team owners do). In other words, we think of lavishing as being excessively generous to the object of your affection.

Exactly. That’s exactly what God has done for us – like a doting first-time dad filling up the baby’s room with giant stuffed animals and video gaming systems and a baseball glove – more cool stuff than a baby would know what to do with, yet.

God has lavished on us (because of our redemption in Christ) the riches of his grace, along with his wisdom and understanding. We don’t know what to do with it all, yet, but we know he’s given us way beyond what we need. We’ll never lack for any good thing that really matters with him as our Dad.

Think: Do you usually think of God as a Father who has lavished you with good gifts because he’s so excited to have you in his family? Why or why not?

Pray: As a Christian, thank God that because of Christ’s blood, he has redeemed you, forgiven your sins, and lavished on you the riches of his grace with all wisdom and understanding.

Do: Think about memorizing 1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (Be sure to memorize the exclamation points, too.)