Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Tree of Life: Fearless Courage in the Face of Fire

Last week we explored the impact that the first Pentecost made on the disciples.  They went from fearful disciples to fearless witnesses.  Of course, the argument can be made that these disciples were used to being around the supernatural; after all, they followed Jesus for three years, and saw him do one miracle after another.  The disciples themselves even saw a measure of success in miracles when they were sent by Jesus to be his representatives.  All of that greatly increased when they received Holy Spirit sealed within them at Pentecost, and they were never the same.

Today, I want to explore the response of the people that John and Peter went back to after their interrogation by the Chief Priests and law makers.  Acts 4:23 tells us that “Peter and John, after their release, went back to their own people and reported everything they had said to them.”  So, who were these people that were called “their own people?”
Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly, but we can deduce that they were Jewish people, probably even from an area in Galilee or in close proximity.   They most likely were not educated; or even world savvy.  They were probably farmers who had experienced very little persecution in their lives.
In other words, they were ordinary people doing ordinary things.
This is what makes their response after hearing John and Peter’s report so extraordinary.  Think about it.  If you were part of a group and your leaders were just threatened, imprisoned and commanded to no longer share their message, what would you do?  Would you do some quality control and make concessions or would you back down completely, deciding the risk was too great for yourself, your family and your finances?
Or, would you do what they did? They began to praise God and declare that everything in the universe was his.  Then, they made a very bold statement by asking Jesus to “consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your words with great boldness.  And, oh by the way, can you also release more healing and signs and wonders through the name of Jesus?”
It was the miracle of the lame man walking that got Peter and John in trouble in the first place, and then their testimony about Jesus that followed it.  And, now these ordinary people are asking for the privilege to go through the very fire that John and Peter just walked through.  They prayed for more persecution so that the good news of Jesus will go into more places and more lives will turn to follow him.
I just keep wondering, “Do I have what they had?”  Do I have fearless courage in the fire?  Do I have the perseverance I need to walk out my call to follow Jesus, no matter what happens?  Can I be faithful?
Do you ever wonder about it?  What if our country wasn’t free and the cost for following Jesus was to lose our jobs, or to be imprisoned, or even to die?  Is he really more important than everything else in our lives?
I’ve been walking through a lot of fire in my life recently. It’s not life threatening persecution but it’s been a lot of challenges that have continued to come at me in pretty much rapid fire; enough so that I don’t get to catch my breath in between  each volley of fire.  This weekend I was tempted to cry out “Uncle” enough already, but when I turned to Jesus and asked for his help, he was so gracious to point me to a word of encouragement that pointed me to perseverance:  read it with me from 2nd Thessalonians 1:
Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. 4 We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. 5 And God will use this persecution to show his justice and to make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering. 6 In his justice he will pay back those who persecute you.

7 And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. . . .
10 When he comes on that day, he will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe. And this includes you, for you believed what we told you about him.

11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
That word was like a warm bath; it soothed and encouraged me and gave me the strength I needed to get back up and face the next challenge that came towards me.

Perhaps one day, I will truly have the fearless courage under fire that these ordinary people in Acts 4 had as they became bold, powerful, witnesses that not only spoke the good news but demonstrated it in signs, wonders and miracle healings.
What about you?  Where does your faith muscle need to be developed so that you too, can say, to the fire of life or persecution, bring on more, I am ready to face whatever comes?  What needs to happen to help you get to that point?
Remember, you are not alone. You literally have Holy Spirit dwelling in you, giving you everything you need to face each day.  Meditate on these Scriptures this week as you let them permeate each area of your life that isn’t quite ready for the fire that you may be currently walking in or you may face in the near future.
2 Thessalonians 3:3
3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 Corinthians 10:13

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Isaiah 43:1-2:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
John 10:10

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
1st John 4:4

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.
1 Peter 1:7

7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

And, finally, don’t forget about your trunk:  the part of the Tree of Life that is our community, our support system.  Share your struggles and ask for prayer.  Last night after a team meeting, they gathered literally all around me forming a circle of prayer and bathed me in their love and prayers for God to strengthen me for the battle. 
Go in courage in Jesus name!

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