Faith Comes First

It was prayer time, and Peter and John were doing what they usually did.

It was prayer time, and the lame man was doing what he usually did.

They were going to pray. He was going to beg. No one expected anything out of the ordinary. Isn’t that how it often feels when God begins to work?

Acts 3:1-10.

When the lame man saw Peter and John passing through the Beautiful Gate, he asked them for money, just like he did everyone else. I imagine there was a blank look in his eyes, like the injured mother with a baby I once passed on a street in South Africa, her sore leg blocking the sidewalk so I couldn’t help but stop. The lame man looked at them but didn’t see them as people. They didn’t look at him. That’s how we interact with beggars, isn’t it? Within a second, the lame man had already shifted his absent gaze on to the next group of people, asking out of habit far more than expectation.

But then Peter and John stopped. They looked the man directly in the eye, and they asked him to return their gaze. Now this was unexpected.

Did Peter know what he was
going to say before he stopped?

Did Peter know what he has going to say when he stopped there at the gate? Did he actually see the lame man afar off and begin praying/thinking about what to do? I think the Holy Spirit must have compelled him to stop and speak because his words are so bold.

Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.  –Peter in Acts 3:6

Stand up and walk.

Here’s the thing: Peter hadn’t healed anyone since Jesus sent the twelve out into the towns of Israel (Matthew 10), and we don’t have any documentation of what actually happened during that time. Sure, he’d been with Jesus when Jesus healed, starting with his own mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). Sure, he’d walked on water when Jesus told him to step out of the boat (Matthew 14:22-33). But Peter himself hadn’t healed since long before Jesus left. There was significant risk in speaking aloud.

Was Peter’s voice shaky?

Was he even a little doubtful?

Did he hesitate before that last word…before he said, “walk”?

His confidence in Jesus’ power and the Holy Spirit’s work was growing exponentially. Still, I wonder if he took a deep breath before speaking. I would have.

If Peter hadn’t spoken, the miracle wouldn’t have happened. Peter had faith first. He believed God would work through him before he knew it as fact.

But that’s not all. Take a look at the next verse.

Taking him by the right hand, [Peter] helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  –Acts 3:7

Note the order of events. The lame man took Peter’s hand, then he started standing up, then his feet and ankles were strengthened. Do you see it?

He made the effort to stand
after a lifetime of not standing.

The man had to believe first. He had to grasp Peter’s hand and make the effort to stand…after a lifetime of not standing. He could have been skeptical. He could have demanded evidence of the miracle before he acted on it. He could have sat there, saying, “I don’t feel any different.”

But he didn’t. He had faith first. He believed Jesus, through Peter, was healing him before he felt the muscles growing in his legs.

Clearly, Peter had taken on the authority the gospels show so often in Jesus…that attitude which drew everyone around to believe Him even before they saw miracles. Okay, not everyone, but remember the lepers who left Jesus to report to the temple, then on the way were healed (Luke 17:11-19)?

Maybe even Peter was surprised by the authority in his voice and the immediacy of the miracle.

Faith comes first.

Faith is believing what we do not see, and the reward for this kind of faith is to see what we believe. –Saint Augustine (quoted in Streams in the Desert July 24)

When the writer of Hebrews contemplated examples of faith through the ages, he (or she!) said,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  –Hebrews 11:1

Confidence…assurance…unbounded by sight.

Because we fundamentally trust
God, we can act on unproven faith.

This verse applies to the big things, like our assurance of a Heaven we haven’t seen, but it also applies to the small things, like speaking a truth you can’t yet touch, like sharing your story with that wayward teenager. Honestly, sometimes the big, far away things are easier. Yet, because we fundamentally trust God, we can act on unproven faith…faith that will be proven in the next ten seconds or ten minutes, not just faith that’s proven at our deaths.*

I’m not talking about some kind of name-it-claim-it gospel here. I’m talking about heeding the Holy Spirit even when you have no logical basis for it, about trusting that God will act in a situation to which He has specifically drawn you. It doesn’t matter which side of the situation you are on.

Peter opened his mouth and commanded a healing into existence.

The lame man began trying to stand before he could see or feel any difference in his legs.

There aren’t a whole lot of miracles anymore. I wonder if part of the reason is because we don’t let faith come first.

Prayer time on a random day of the week, and three guys were just doing what they usually did. Until God did something extraordinary in and through them. My #faithinGod is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you been there? Have you had no certainty of an outcome, but God provided or created one? Want to share that story with us in the comments? Want to say something else? I always like to hear from my readers, and I respond to every comment!

*You’ll see this same idea in Jesus and Martha’s conversation near Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:23-26). Jesus is the resurrection for that moment, not just for the end times. More about this in Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus.

Related: Faith is in the Gap*

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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.

He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.  –Acts 1:17

Acts 1:12-22.

Long-time readers know I like those moments between the big moments, those times when it feels like nothing is happening, when waiting is the work. This is one of those moments. Jesus has gone to Heaven (Acts 1:9), Pentecost is still a few days away (Acts 2:1-4), and the apostles are waiting in Jerusalem, as Jesus instructed (Acts 1:4-5).

Peter is not good at waiting. Remember those days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension? Peter decided to go fishing (John 21). I think he went because he was restless, needing to do something besides wait.

Ten days is a long time for someone
like Peter to sit around and wait.

There were ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost. That’s a long time for someone like Peter to wait. Maybe he spends his days searching the scriptures. Maybe he drums his fingers on the windowsill and sighs a lot. Maybe he feels an obligation, being (probably) the oldest, to lead the group forward.

At some point in the ten days, all 120 are together in the upper room where they are staying. He has a couple of verses from Psalms on his mind—verses that point him toward an action, a decision. They need to choose a replacement for Judas, putting his betrayal to bed (so to speak). But let’s step back for a second.

Regarding Judas, there was a distinct sense of betrayal among the disciples, and in some ways, I’m sure they mourned Judas’ desertion and death. But there was also a new sense of belonging to a particular place in history. For over 400 years prior to Jesus’ birth, God had been silent toward his people. No prophets and no prophecy. No miracles. No amazing victories in battle. The Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings (what we call the Old Testament) must have felt ancient…like we might feel in a long-deserted antebellum mansion.

The Apostles have a distinct place
where they belong in God’s history.

Then Peter begins to see connections. Believing Jesus is the Messiah, he reads these ancient texts differently. He discovers verses—instructions, really—that pertain to him, to this moment, to the lives they will live moving forward. Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles have a distinct place in history! Their lives connect to prophecies made hundreds of years earlier. They belong.

A couple of observations here. (We won’t even talk about choosing Matthias today.)

It’s natural to focus on the present and what’s happening around us, but God has a bigger plan. We are not part of prophecy in the specific ways the disciples were, but we’re still part of the plan. When things get heavy around us, when we are betrayed, when we don’t know where to step next, God is already implementing His plan. Out waiting is part of what’s necessary for the plan to fall into place.

We cannot expect to endure the difficulties and betrayals of life without a strong foundation in God’s Word.

Peter knew a lot of Scripture already. From these first few chapters in Acts, it’s clear Peter’s knowledge of the scriptures combined with the Holy Spirit’s presence to produce understanding in Peter’s mind…and out of his mouth. His go-to phrases seem to be, “It is written” (e.g. Acts 1:20) and “[So-and-so prophet] said” (e.g. Acts 2:16, 3:22). We cannot expect to endure the difficulties and betrayals of life without a strong foundation in God’s Word. We must pack our brains full of individual verses and longer passages so the Holy Spirit can use them at the right times. The more specifically He can select a verse to bring to our minds, the more succinctly we will be directed and the more clearly we will speak truth.

I am so convicted about this. I lean heavily on the verses I learned as a child, which is well and good, but I should be continuing to learn new passages and review the older ones even though it’s harder to commit things to memory here in middle age.

Oh yeah, Peter was middle-aged too. Just one more way we’re alike even while he challenges me from two thousand years away.

What were the disciples feeling while they waited on the Holy Spirit (Acts 1)? Clearly, betrayal from Judas but also a sense of belonging to God’s history. More evidence that my #waiting is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Has God spoken to you through his Word in a time of waiting? Do you see something else in this passage? How do you continue to memorize Scripture? My readers and I would love to hear your responses to any of these questions. Drop a note in the comments below!

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!

King David thought alot about the heart, and he knew what Jesus also told us in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said,

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  –Matthew 5:8

David wrote,

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  –Psalm 24:3-4

Being in the presence of the Lord…seeing God…requires that we have pure hearts. Thankfully, Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to be counted among the pure-hearted. People in Old Testament times didn’t have that confidence during their lifetimes.

As we continue our series, Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament, just one Old Testament figure comes to mind when I look for someone pure-hearted: Joseph.

Genesis 37, 39-47.

Joseph was his father’s clear favorite out of twelve sons. One day he dreamed his parents and brothers would bow down to him. Maybe he didn’t realize it was a prophetic dream. He naively shared the dream with his brothers, who immediately resented him far more than they had before. They were so angry that they sold him into slavery and lied to their father, saying he had been killed. That’s the short version.

God did it, but it
looked like a coincidence.

Joseph ended up in Egypt and somehow came to serve in the home of Pharaoh’s captain of the guard, a man named Potiphar. It’s not really a “somehow.” God did it, but it looked like a coincidence from the outside.

Oh yeah, Joseph was super-handsome and super-qualified for every task he was given. The fact is, “the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3) and blessed Potiphar’s household because of Joseph’s presence.

Exhibit A for a Pure Heart

Here’s how we know Joseph was pure in heart. Potiphar’s wife noticed him and invited him into her bed—not just once but daily. And daily, Joseph refused. I don’t think it was because she was ugly or old or any of the superficial reasons one sees on modern TV. Look what Joseph said:

“My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9

Exhibit B for a Pure Heart

Joseph’s pure heart
prevented resentfulness.

Eventually (to make another long story short), the wife got insulted and accused Joseph of trying to rape her. Potiphar threw Joseph in prison where he was so successful—despite it being prison!—that the warden put Joseph in charge of everything in the prison (Genesis 39:22). Joseph also developed a reputation there as an interpreter of dreams. Joseph’s pure heart prevented him from being resentful of either his brothers or Potiphar.

Exhibit C for a Pure Heart

After several years, Pharaoh had a prophetic dream that only Joseph could interpret, which led to Joseph’s installment as second-in-charge of all Egypt (Genesis 41:41-43). Because of Joseph’s careful planning and the success the Lord always gave him, Egypt was the only country in the region to successfully survive a seven-year drought. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt in search of food, and they bowed to the unrecognizable Joseph—just as he had dreamed so many years earlier. Even in this moment when even the holiest among us might crow just a little, Joseph cried and celebrated the reunion (Genesis 45:15, for example). His pure heart lasted a lifetime.

Joseph Saw God Work

Joseph saw God work and
experienced God’s blessings.

Joseph didn’t “see God” in the way we imagine Jesus meant in the Beatitudes, but he certainly saw God work and experienced God’s blessing even in the most difficult circumstances. Remember what he told his brothers after their father died?

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  –Genesis 50:20

As Jesus’ many followers heard him preach this inside-out sermon, so different from what they usually heard, I wonder if there were one or two who could remember Joseph’s story and know Jesus’ ideas weren’t as far-fetched as they seem.

Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament: Joseph was pure in heart, and he saw God work. My #heartpurity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

We don’t know how Joseph maintained his purity through all those years. What do you do to keep a pure heart? Please share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

For more about a pure heart, check out this post from my Intentional Parenting blog: On Purity.

There’s This “One Thing”

Jesus told the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Jesus said to Martha, “Few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

For the young ruler, the one thing was what he would gain by losing his possessions. For Martha, her sister had found the one thing and she was left holding the oven mitt.

But I think, at the root, these two very different people lacked the same one thing. Continue reading

What If God Put Controversies in the Bible on Purpose?

One aspect of a bigger thought process I’m in right now.

There are some things in the Bible that just aren’t clear. When Paul talked about mystery (e.g. Ephesians 6:19), he wasn’t joking! If you read your Bible honestly and extensively, you’ll see why there are controversies among modern believers. Just to name some of the big ones,

  • Timing of the rapture
  • Role of women in church leadership
  • Baptism’s relationship to faith
  • election/free will

There’s a part of me that says, “If the brightest minds haven’t resolved these issues in the 1500-ish years since the Bible was codified, I’m not going to figure them out.” But there’s another part of me that says, “I need to know the right answer, and I need to know it now!!!!!” I’m still trying to find a balance because I believe God enjoys our inquiry and wants us to pursue knowledge of Him (Romans 11:33my favorite, Hebrews 11:6), but He also expects us to practice our faith, which often means we trust without evidence (Hebrews 11:1). Continue reading

Blessed Are: The Hungry and Thirsty

For our on-going series seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament,
welcome a special guest for this month: Leigh Powers. You'll be blessed by
Leigh's reflections on an Old Testament prophet you probably don't know! 
Read more about Leigh at the end of the post.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  –Matthew 5:6

Huldah lived through some of the
darkest days of Judah’s history,
but she never stopped hungering
and thirsting for righteousness.

Scripture remembers Josiah as one of Israel’s greatest kings, but at the center of Josiah’s story is a woman who we sometimes forget: the prophet Huldah. Huldah lived through some of the darkest days of Judah’s history, but she never stopped hungering and thirsting for righteousness. She remained resolutely committed to God and God’s Word, and the Lord saw that her hunger for righteousness was satisfied. Continue reading