Friday, February 26, 2016

From the Dead: What's Your Story?

Despite the fact that Christians are supposed to share their faith all the time, I've really only shared my faith a handful of times with people. It all began when I was 12 years old. I shared the gospel with a shy and quiet girl at my junior high. At that time, I was super young in faith, and I doubt I shared a ton of the actual gospel message...I shared something else.

Later in life, as I became an adult, I became better at sharing "the good news." By this I mean that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh (John 1:1-14), a sinless and perfect man who died a criminal's death in the place of all the actual criminals in the world. He was dead for three days, and then under His own power (John 10:18) resurrected from the dead as the first person to resurrect and live forever. He was the example of what God plans to do for all who put their trust and faith in Jesus...

I would tell them that...mixed in with something else.

The gospel alone is exceedingly powerful. However, strangely, that is not purely how faith is shared. Which brings me to the last person who is raised from the dead:


Who? Exactly. The story of Eutychus is a weird freak accident mixed in with a ton of other stories in a book of the bible called "Acts."

The book of Acts is written by Luke (who also wrote the gospel Luke). I had forgotten, but someone reminded me, that Luke wrote the book of Acts to a specific person: Theophilus.

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. - Acts 1:1-2

But guess what? He wrote the gospel of Luke to Theophilus as well!

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. - Luke 1:1-4

So, Luke writes two books of the Bible that, when I think about, truly exemplify the way people typically share their faith.

  1. We first hit you with the gospel of Jesus Christ
  2. Then we bombard you with stories about how we have seen the Holy Spirit at work in both our own lives and the lives of others.
We will tell you of everything we witnessed that confirmed to us that the Jesus of the Bible was real. Do you think we just heard this story about the 1) life, 2) death and 3) resurrection of some guy who claimed to love us and that was it? No! ...We gathered some experiential evidence. We saw things. We felt things. We did things ourselves that we know were beyond our power. And we knew: umm...this is real!

And we share that evidence. We all have our own "Acts" that we share with people. One of Luke's stories was about a young man named Eutychus:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.” When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted. 
- Acts 20:7-12

Let me tell you what the morale of this story is not
  • Don't preach too long
  • Don't fall asleep in church
Even though I don't enjoy an overlong service...that's not what this about. Even though it's sort of embarrassing to sleep in's hardly a death sentence. What this is about is Luke saying: 

"Look at what God did Theophilus!"** 

In John's gospel, he states that he didn't write everything down. But what he did write down...he wrote so that you (the reader) would believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30-31). Luke is no different. Luke was an eyewitness to this event. And since he was a medical doctor, he knew what he was talking about when he said: "he was dead." But the power of God in Paul... The Holy Spirit in Paul... The working of Jesus, from that gospel I told you about earlier, gave life where there was death!
"Look at what God did Theophilus!"

And then Paul went right back upstairs, ate, and resumed his preaching until the break of dawn.  

Note: Paul only planned to preach until midnight. And what you'd think would be a "let's call it" moment, actually sparked an even greater fire in the hearts of Paul and his congregants. They'd all seen it--the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit and they stayed in that room until daybreak. 

Luke is telling all of this to he too could become a believer. And by believing have life in Jesus' name. 

**Don't we all envision Luke the Evangelist as Ryan Gosling? No? It's just me? Fine then...

Friday, February 19, 2016

From the Dead: Tabitha

People generally have a hard time believing in miracles. A miracle is an event that simply can't be explained by natural or scientific laws. Miracles breaks the laws. Miracles spit in the face of laws.  

But many people feel shattered by believing in miracles. It's too illogical and dumb. Thomas Jefferson had to slice and dice his bible in order to arrive at a faith he was comfortable with. And likewise now, some of us just toss out the pieces we can't muster up the faith to believe. Which is rough...when faith is really all that commends one to God: 

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. - Hebrews 11:6

Don't let this be your Bible
Many of us want to rest on moral goodness. We like the old "I've tried to be a good person...I've loved people...never killed anyone" argument. Which is good! Thank God you didn't commit crimes... But, in all seriousness, God does ask for moral goodness in the Bible. Yet, it always falls short. My moral goodness is always mixed in with moral badness, and then I'm somewhere creating my own view of righteousness. One that is based on a series of weights and measures. Something that is very subjective. But, God has been very objective regarding the power of faith: 
  • For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." - Romans 1: 17
  • Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for "the righteous man shall live by faith" - Galatians 3:11
  • But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. - Hebrews 10:38 
I could find more scriptures that drive the point home. Faith > Moral Goodness. 

But does that mean we have to believe in the miracles? I see how you might think it's too much for Jesus to feed thousands of people with a sack lunch. I see how you might think it's too much for Jesus to walk on water. To heal the sick. To raise the dead.

However...the whole basis of Christianity is that a guy died a criminal's death for our sins, was dead for three days, rose from the dead, talked to His friends and then ascended in a cloud. A CLOUD!

...if you can believe that happened, you should technically be able to believe anything! But we believe that and almost nothing else. 

You know what though? If you believe that, it's enough. It really is. It's enough for you to be counted with the righteous. But it's not enough for you to experience the full power of Christ in your life. Which leads me to the raising of Tabitha. 

Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, “Do not delay in coming to us.” So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
Acts 9:36-42

Tabitha or...Rapunzel?
There are a lot of things at play in these verses. I could talk about how great a disciple Tabitha was. She appeared to be a servant to the widows. Widows are your most vulnerable, dependent, and helpless members of society...and Tabitha was their go-to. But that's not what this is about. It's about what people did when she died. 

They washed her body and laid her in an upper room. And then called Peter. 

They believed in something! They believed the gospel, yes, but they also believed in the power that Jesus left behind for His people! And, I'm guilty of not believing in the power that remains. Sometimes I act like all the power ascended in the cloud, and like I'm a powerless person waiting on the return of my savior. I AM waiting for His return. But He hasn't left me powerless for the wait. 

The people who washed Tabitha's body knew this. 

And Peter knew it too. I can't even imagine what it was like to be him in that moment. He'd never done this before. But I believe that he believed in the power that Christ had left in the earth. And so he knelt down by her bed, and he prayed to the God of power and then he turned to her, and (I believe) said with power and conviction: "Tabitha, arise."

Oh to be a fly on the wall in that room. I bet Peter's gaze was like steel! I bet it was so hardcore. He wasn't powerless. He believed in the miracles that spiral out like a ripple effect from the miracle resurrection of Christ. That one event is still making waves. It still has power. We're not in a waiting room. Peter wasn't in a waiting room. 

He had power. We have power. Now, I'm not saying to go strolling through cemeteries testing theories...but Peter walked in that room and did something he had never done before! We have no idea what new and amazing thing we're capable of. 

Might be a miracle.