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

God Used Paul, but God Used Saul too

Some would say Paul was used by God more than anyone else in the New Testament except Jesus. They are probably right. Paul was a man of deep commitment and fierce intellect. But so was Saul. His personality didn’t change when God changed his name. In fact, God was cultivating that personality in him all along. Continue reading

Some People Aren’t Gonna Like You

As Christians, we often think everyone needs to like us. If people want to be around us and think we’re nice, we assume we’re representing Christ well.

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: It roots the standard for Christ-likeness in other people’s opinions. They are not God. Jesus is God, and there were some people who didn’t like him when he was on earth. In fact, certain people despised Him. Our standard for Christlikeness is … (wait for it) … Christ. 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

The Ten Days Between: Betrayal and Belonging

The remaining eleven must have felt betrayed. Judas had walked alongside the disciples, slept on the ground near them, shared big bowls of soup with them, and so much more. Then he turned his back on them—not just on Jesus and the other eleven, but on the 120 who had followed Jesus for most of the last three years. He betrayed them all.

How long had Judas deceived them? How long had he plotted, snuck off, smiled through his hate? (That scene where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet comes to mind.) Not only was Jesus gone, but this band of brothers had a missing link…a powder keg in their midst that had exploded, almost destroying them all. Continue reading

Blessed Are: the Pure-Hearted

King Solomon questioned, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9). He’s right. It’s hard to find an Old Testament example of someone who is pure-hearted.

For one thing, the Hebrew idea we typically translate as heart means “the center of the human spirit, from which spring emotions, thoughts, motivations, courage and action” (NIV Study Bible notes for Psalm 4:7). It’s a tall order to keep all that pure! Continue reading