“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, ESV)
If someone were to ask you if there were any good parts of this pandemic, would you look at them like they were crazy, or would you be able to give an answer? After reading the story of Peter and John in Acts 3:1-10, I thought of our Community Response food distribution at West Rowan. I realized that this is one of the good parts of the pandemic for me. Of course, I am not saying that people needing food for their families is good, but the opportunity for us to engage with those in need and to enable blessings in the lives of others in the Name of Jesus Christ has been amazing.
Acts 3:1-10 tells the story of a man who was lame from birth. Every day, he was placed at the temple gate called Beautiful, so that he could ask for money to meet his needs for food and other necessities. How hard it must have been for this man to sit there each day, knowing that others looked down on him for his situation. Maybe he wondered what they must be thinking of him. I am sure that many people gave him a look of disgust, because I have seen this happen in our present society. When the man asked Peter and John for money, Peter said “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6, ESV). Peter and John did not keep walking since they had no money to give. Instead, they stopped and were willing to engage this man. This lame man’s greatest need was not silver coins or even healing. His greatest need was the source: the power and strength of Jesus Christ.
The man’s physical healing did not come until verse 7 which says, “and he took him by the right hand” (ESV). There is significance in the specific wording of the author, Luke. The right hand has been a symbol of fellowship, greeting friends, and of acknowledging someone in or of the same social class in life. By reaching out with his right hand, Peter is breaking all the rules, touching this man as an equal, as he raises him up to walk and to be welcomed into the temple for the first time. I think this act of Peter and John says something about noticing the people who are around us, reaching out when we can, and using the resources God has given us to bless others in His Name.
The first week of our nightly food distribution at the West Rowan campus, I realized I was more focused on meeting the immediate physical needs of the families by handing out the bags of dinner to the cars driving up. Maybe I felt they would be embarrassed that they needed help to feed their families, and in a hurry, just wanting to take the bag of food and go.
Yet over the last many weeks, we have had the same families come each night. As we started to engage in conversation and look at them intently, as Peter and John did with the man at the gate, fellowship has emerged. Many of the families have started to share their names, their struggles, upcoming surgeries, illnesses, and even smiles and laughter with the volunteers who are handing out the bags of food. The truth is that both the families and the volunteers might have thought that their greatest need was food, when in all actuality, their greatest need has been to be engaged with and be loved in the Name of Jesus. In a world that is feeling desperate, are you noticing the broken and lost around you? Are you using the resources God has given you to engage with those in need? Are you just meeting the physical needs of others, or providing them with their greatest need: fellowship and the love of the Savior Jesus Christ?
In Acts 3:11-26, we find Peter and John in the temple, sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ, the One that was crucified just a few months earlier, has been risen and has defeated death for each person’s sins. Peter, who once was frozen in fear and denied that he even knew Jesus during His trial and crucifixion, was now speaking with boldness and courage. Then in Acts 4:1-4, the priests and captain of the temple sent them to jail for the night. The event that had terrified them before Jesus’ death was now something they no longer feared. And because of their boldness, many people heard the story of Jesus and believed.
Have you ever really thought about how easy we have it when it comes to talking about our faith, what God has done for us, and the salvation we have received through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ? I mean, the worse that can happen in our society is that someone rolls their eyes or tells us to shut up because, in their minds, we are wrong. It may even cost us a friendship. But that’s all. So why do we sometimes become frozen in fear and unwilling to share our faith? The only reason I could think of is that sometimes I focus on how small and weak I am, which leads me to doubt the mind-blowing promises of God. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, then who could be against us?” Romans 8:31 (ESV). “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1 (ESV).
In the movie, Lion King, one of my favorite parts is when the cub Simba is cornered by the hyenas. When he roared, they laughed at him, so he roared again. This time, they cower down and whimper. The reason they cowered down and whimpered was because Simba had someone to back him up when he roared. His father, Mufasa, roared behind him. This gave Simba the courage and boldness he needed.
Peter and John had a personal relationship with Jesus and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Even though they were ordinary men, they were speaking and acting like extra-ordinary men, without fear of consequences. They knew that God was behind them and they could share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with boldness and courage. “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20, ESV).
It doesn’t matter how small or weak you think you are; as long as you have someone big and strong behind you, you should be able to roar with boldness and courage. What fear is keeping you from boldly sharing your faith with others? Who can you share the story of the Gospel with this week, knowing that God is behind you?
Peter and John had just returned from their confrontation with the Sanhedrin. I am sure they were feeling more than a little fear. Sometimes when we read the Bible, we forget that these were real people with real human emotions. They had seen miracles performed in their lives and they were changed, but I am sure they still felt concern about the threats that had been made to them by the chief priest and elders, especially after being placed in jail and then released. Despite the fear, they were able to act with boldness and courage.
This world is full of difficult times. At any time, we could face job loss, death of a loved one, loss of income, or even persecution for our faith (although it might not be as extreme as being thrown in jail). How do we overcome these hard times with boldness and courage? We can look to Acts 4:23-24: “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God…” (ESV). This little band of Christians turned at once to the Christ in whose Name they had been forbidden to speak. This prayer gives us a great example on how to overcome hard times with boldness and courage, and how to continue to share our faith, despite our trials.
When hard times hit, so many times our first response is to ask for the situation to be changed. We do not like going through difficult times. Instead, in Acts 4:29, they ask God to pay attention to what is being done to them … and then they leave the matter with Him. They did not pray for protection for themselves or ask to have fire rain down on their opposition so there would be no more threats. They did not ask God to take them out of their time of trouble; instead, they asked to be empowered. Their focus becomes not on what they want God to do to others or for themselves, but on what they want God to do through them and around them. Their prayer was specifically answered as the Holy Spirit filled them and the place in which they were gathered was shaken (Acts 4:31).
One of the weekend messages that hit my heart the most was when Senior Pastor Mike Madding shared his experience in Egypt several years ago. He talked about how one of the Christian churches in Cairo had been burned down by the Muslim extremists. The Christians of this church were not praying for their own safety as they met again the following week, in spite of the obvious threats. Instead, the members of this church prayed for the Muslims to see God at work in their country and for God to work through and around them. When I think of the boldness of the early church through prayer, I think of the Christians in Cairo. I want to strive for that boldness during difficult times. I want the courage to show my faith in times of persecution.
How are you dealing with difficult times? Are you praying for the trial to be over or the situation to change? Or are you praying for boldness and for God to work through you and around you?
Our average life span is about 80 years. As Christians, we are called to make the most of our time here on earth to reach people for Christ, very much like those of the early church. God calls us to be bold so that we can help change others’ eternity through generosity and boldness. During a time where there is much financial pain with many people in need, it is very easy to get off track and keep what we have to ourselves. We can begin to focus on the fear that there may not be enough for ourselves.
The members of the early church were being threatened and persecuted in a time of trials and hardship. It would have made sense to batten down the hatches of their homes and take care of their families and themselves first. But if this had happened, would the church have grown to what it is today? Instead, the Bible tells us that “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need” (Acts 4:32-35, NLT).
Psalm 24:1 reminds us, “The earth is the Lord’s; and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him” (NLT). When we begin to understand and accept that everything belongs to God and that we are only here to manage it for His glory, our false sense of ownership ends and boldness in generosity begins. Seeing all that we have as gifts from God, and not as our possessions, will help us loosen our grip and learn to give back to God. All our money, time, and treasures are full of powerful, Kingdom-growing potential.
We give out of obedience to Scripture; but we also give out of a sense of gratitude. We give in the knowledge that God will use our temporary, finite resources to build an eternal, infinite Kingdom. We give for an impact that will last forever.
Peter, John, and the members of the early church were being watched by others. The people of their community knew the threats that had been made to this group of Christians if they continued to speak of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. They probably looked on with astonishment that, despite the threats, they gave all their possessions to take care of those in need and spread Christ’s love. The compassion and boldness that was witnessed lead to the growth of the Kingdom of God.
Ask yourself: Am I acting in boldness with my resources to advance the kingdom of God? Or, I am I living in fear and taking care of myself?
In the late 1970’s, my family lived in Haiti so that my father could build a hospital for a mission team high in the mountains in a village named Bonn Fin. I remember being told many times how the property was obtained through a miraculous way and it has stuck with me many years later.
The mission team was told that there was a perfect place to build a hospital in a region that desperately needed medical treatment. The property was owned by the local Voodoo medicine doctor who did not have the best reputation. He was a man to be feared and considered to have great power in the Voodoo community. The site for the hospital they wished to build would sit in the middle of this Voodoo community. The missionaries who felt called to build the hospital in this part of Haiti were warned that it would be dangerous and fruitless to approach the medicine doctor to buy this property. After much prayer, the team boldly went to visit the medicine doctor to make the request.
It probably would have been much easier for the team to look for another piece of land. Looking back at this story, there must have been a great deal of fear on their part as they were going to make this request. But they were going in the Name of Jesus. Upon arriving at the home of the medicine doctor, they were greeted with friendliness. The medicine doctor told them he had been expecting them and that he would not sell the property, but instead give the land to them. He shared with the missionaries a dream he was given that one day soon, several white men would come and want to buy the land to build a hospital. He was told to give the land, for the hospital would save many lives.
This story came back to my memory when I was reading Acts 4. I thought about how Peter and John were warned not to speak of Jesus or to share the resurrection story. Instead, the apostles trusted God’s work and His miracles and they asked to be enabled and empowered by God. What would have happened if Peter and John had given into the threats and fear? It was a possibility: they were still humans with real emotions.
Hospital Lumiere (Hospital of Light) is still serving the small Haitian community 42 years later. Many miracles have been performed in the Name of Jesus, saving many lives, both physically and spiritually. It happened because a few men ignored their fear and boldly followed God’s plan. In what area of your life is God calling you to face your fear and boldly follow your faith in God?