Who God Shows Up For

A Canaanite woman came to Jesus, asking that her daughter be healed. After a somewhat peculiar exchange of words, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment” (Matthew 15:28).

This Canaanite woman had great faith.

An influential Roman centurion in Capernaum requested that Jesus heal his beloved servant, but he knew Jesus didn’t have to be present to do a miracle. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’” (Luke 7:9). The servant was healed by the time the centurion’s representatives got home.

This Roman centurion had amazing faith.

And yet Peter—oh, Peter—who witnessed these and many other exchanges between Jesus and various Gentiles, didn’t catch that Jesus came for all peoples. He was so acclimated to his privilege (as one of God’s chosen people) that he couldn’t move beyond it without a specific, individualized vision from the Lord. Continue reading

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The Gospel Trickled Out of Jerusalem

People like to say that, in Acts, the Gospel explodes across the known world. But it doesn’t really explode. It trips, tumbles, and trickles out of Jerusalem, sometimes one person at a time.

Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  –Acts 10:43

Everyone.

Still, it took believers awhile to catch on to what everyone meant. Continue reading

Blessed Are: The Persecuted

Nobody in the Old Testament chose to be a prophet. They didn’t grow up answering, “I want to be a prophet when I grow up,” and plan their education accordingly. Consider Moses’ reluctance to speak for God (Exodus 3) or Amos’ declaration, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). Then there’s the most well-known denial of God’s calling: Jonah, who heard from the Lord and ran the other way (Jonah 1:1-3). Speaking for the Lord was never one’s first choice and never accepted by others.

Jesus pointed his finger at the Pharisees and back through time, saying, “You testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute’” (Luke 11:48-49).

Being a prophet was never easy. Continue reading

Acts Progression: Philip and Paul

We’re making our way through Acts, talking about the situations and verses that rise to the top this time. Now we’ve come to my favorite story in the New Testament: Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). Not surprisingly, I’ve already written a bit about this here on #NotAboutMe.

Philip 1
(c) Carole Sparks

In Things Not Said: Philip, part 1, we spend the whole post in Acts 8:26. Meeting Philip at the height of his career in Samaria, we watch his obedience take him down an unknown road–literally.

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  -1 Samuel 15:22

Philip 2
(c) Carole Sparks

Watch God arrange innumerable circumstances so that Philip and the Ethiopian cross paths at the right time. In The Right Place at the Right Time: Philip, part 2, we cover Acts 8:27-29 and rest in the confidence that God is in control.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  -Isaiah 55:9

Philip 3
(c) Carole Sparks

Finally! In Intersection: Philip, part 3 we see Philip speak to the Ethiopian guy, climb into his chariot, and share the Gospel. It’s Acts 8:30-40, and the principles for evangelism are clear.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  -Hebrews 11:6

I’ve also spent some time with Saul-who-became-Paul. Click on one of these links if you’d rather read more about Saul/Paul.

Paul inauspicious beginning
(c) Carole Sparks

Acts skips over it, but Paul spent three years in the wilderness before his ministry was effective. Paul’s Inauspicious Beginning pulls from Acts 9 and Galatians 1 to explore the early days of what became the most fruitful Christian ministry ever. The principles for us are clear.

An early post, “Do Me a Favor?” looks at the way we responded to God’s personal leading in our lives, using Ananias (Acts 9:10-19) as an example. There’s also a bit about my friends asking me for money.

This post, A Martyr Mindset, came up in conversation just this week. Sometimes our greatest personal sacrifice isn’t the path to God’s greatest glory. Sometimes we sneak out of town in a basket (Acts 9:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:21-29)…or the modern-day equivalent.

A pile of previous, but still pertinent, posts on Philip and Paul as we progress through a pair of chapters in Acts. Both my alliteration and my #BibleStudy are #NotAboutMe.  (click to tweet)

With over six years of blogging now, I’ve covered a lot of territory. Which of these posts looks most interesting to you? I would really appreciate it if you leave me a comment on that post or pop back over here to let me know. 

 

Are They Happy to See Us?

What a strange time it must have been in Jerusalem in those months after the Holy Spirit settled above the heads of the disciples and Peter preached his first sermon (Acts 2). The church grew exponentially—both Greek-culture Jews and Hebraic Jews came to faith. Everyone shared everything, Luke says (Acts 2:44). I get the impression they thought Jesus was coming back really soon, like within the year.

But as time wore on, people found things to complain about. “That’s not fair,” “What about me,” and other phrases floated around. The original apostles couldn’t deal with it all. I wonder which one of them said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). Sounds sarcastic. It was probably Peter. Continue reading

Blessed Are: the Peacemakers

We return to that hillside somewhere in Galilee. “Large crowds,” Matthew says, from cities across the region and down into Judea, followed Jesus as he taught, proclaimed, and healed (Matthew 4:23-25). As we look back into the Gospels, we call his lessons on that hillside “The Sermon on the Mount.

He began with an attention-grabbing list, an inside-out set of commandments designed to question everything the people had been taught. I imagined he paused between each one, giving it time to “sink in” before he continued. Continue reading