Years ago in a meeting we were discussing evangelization. I asked the folks why they might want to tell other people about Jesus. They came up with a lot of reasons - because Jesus said to, because it's our calling, it's our Christian duty - the answers went on in that vein through the group. But they didn't come up with the answer I thought was paramount. So I asked them, "Do you love them?"
Jesus told us, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "love others as you love yourself". So we have to ask ourselves, "Do I love them enough to tell them what Jesus has done for me?" The great evangelist Paul also talked about the importance of doing things out of love in his letter to the people in Corinth. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
For reflection: What's love got to do with it? It's not just a "sweet old-fashioned notion" or a "second hand emotion" (as Tina Turner sang). Love is paramount. What's my motivation?
Let us pray. Father, I have not always acted out of love in what I have done. I have often failed you and failed the people I love. Increase my love for them, please, and help me to do all the things you have called me to do out of your great love for them and for me.
On the national Mall today there is a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the famous "I have a dream" speech by Martin Luther King. Dr. King had a big dream, but God's dream is bigger still.
God's dream is contained in Jesus' prayer, "that all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one; I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:21-23).
For reflection: Have I bought into God's dream? What am I doing to bring it about?
Let us pray. Jesus, we join our prayer with yours today - that we may all be one even as you and the Father are one.
School has begun in many places either last week or this week. Thinking about children reminded me of St. John's habit of addressing us as "dear children" in his letters.
By the time John writes his letters he is an older man. A little bit of the newness of Christianity has begun to wear off and some people have begun to slip back into their old ways. False teachers have come along and led people astray. John, one of the original 12 disciples, an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, sets out to correct this and does it by presenting for us several contrasts or choices. The first is light versus darkness. "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth." (1 John 1:5-6).
One of the false teachings in John's day was that you could gratify all of your physical desires in whatever way you wanted because your body was going to die anyway. That teaching is still around; it has never gone out of style. Christians today are still tempted by that teaching. But like the college freshman who discovers he has the option to eat ice cream at every meal, we eventually face the consequences of our actions. Some are physical consequences, like the gaining of weight, and some are spiritual consequences, like deadening our spirits to what is really right and wrong. When we deaden our spirits to the truth of right and wrong, we refuse to repent when faced with our sin. We prefer to walk in darkness rather than in the light.
For reflection: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2).
Let us pray. Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus to offer himself for my sin. May I always take advantage of that sacrifice and confess my sin. I want always to walk in your light. Please help me to recognize false teachings and to reject the lure of error and sin.
It is not easy to have the faith to believe that God will do what he says or that he will fulfill a promise, or enable us to do what he has called us to do. I'm sure the early disciples had their moments of doubt, so we are not alone when we doubt too.
In Hebrews 11 there is a terrific discourse on faith which is very encouraging as it goes through a list of ancient people and what they did by faith. First it gives a definition of faith - being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). There's the rub. How can we be certain of what we do not see?
Let's take one of the examples given in Hebrews 11. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son. They were not young when the promise was made to them, and it didn't happen for several years. It's no stretch of the imagination to think that there were times when they were not sure or certain. Do you suppose Abraham went around bragging to his relatives, "I'm going to have a son"? Maybe he did. But what might the reaction have been when he said this year after year, with no evidence, and he and Sarah not getting any younger? Thankfully, God continued to reassure them and provided the proof for their faith. They had Isaac. God had further promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham's faith extended to that promise, but he never saw the fulfillment during his lifetime. It was faith that enabled him to be certain of what he did not see.
For reflection: Even people known for their great faith struggled to be sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not see. Faith depends upon knowing God and trusting God to fulfill his promises. The evidence given in the Scriptures is that God is trustworthy. What evidence have I seen of that in my own life? Am I sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see?
Let us pray. Father, I know the promises you have made to me. Some of them I have seen come to pass, and some not. Today I need encouragement and reassurance so that I can continue to have faith.
The first few stories of healings and miracles in the Acts of the Apostles are not just to show us that the healings and miracles continued. They are also to show us that the Gospel message is for everyone. Peter and the other disciples thought that the Messiah was only sent to the Jews. But Peter has a vision about unclean foods and goes to speak to a Roman officer, who receives the Holy Spirit and then is baptized. The Messiah is for Jews and Gentiles alike.
Another point in these early stories is that the Gospel message was being spread far and wide even through the disciples had not traveled many miles from home. Philip witnessed to and baptized the Ethiopian, who took the message back to Ethiopia. Peter healed Aeneas and raised Tabitha in port towns, where travelers and sailors would hear about the healings and tell the stories wherever they went. Peter witnessed to the Roman centurion Cornelius, who had 100 men under him, and who could be re-posted elsewhere when needed. Paul had been sent home to Tarsus (another port town) to keep him from being killed by the Jews in Jerusalem. The initial disciples were simple men who did not have contact with the movers and shakers of the day. So God moved them where he wanted them so that the message would spread.
Peter and Paul both realized that God wanted all to be saved and none to be lost. Peter said, "He (the Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Paul told Timothy that God our Savior "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
For reflection: God always knew about the "six degrees of separation". The person we talk to no doubt knows someone else God is wanting to reach. Who might need to hear of God's love today or tomorrow?
Let us pray. Father, I haven't always been as diligent about your work as I should have been. Please forgive me and give me more opportunities to tell others about what you have done in my life.
We interrupt our story of Cornelius, the Roman officer, to let you know what is happening with Peter. We skipped over Acts 9:43 about Peter staying in the home of a tanner named Simon. Since a tanner handled dead animals, Simon would be considered "unclean". So Peter was breaking a Jewish tradition, and making himself ritually unclean, by staying with Simon.
About the time Cornelius is sending his men to bring Peter to his house, Peter has a vision wherein a voice tells him to "kill and eat" all the kinds of unclean animals he is seeing. Peter refuses because he has never eaten unclean foods before. The voice says, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Peter carries on this exchange three times (Acts 10:9-16). Peter comes out of the vision, and while he is still thinking about it, the Holy Spirit tells him three men are coming to fetch him (the ones sent by Cornelius) and he should go with them.
The next day Peter and a group of disciples set out for Cornelius's house. Going into the home of Cornelius, a gentile, also breaks another Jewish tradition which would again make Peter ritually unclean just as staying in the home of Simon the tanner did. But now Peter realizes the message God was giving him in the vision - he should not call any person unclean (Acts 10:27-29).
For reflection: Am I judging others as being "unclean", beneath me or not worth my time? (By the way, I saw Woody Allen's movie "Blue Jasmine" over the weekend, and it has this same theme. The truths of the Gospel are always current.)
Let us pray. Father, forgive me for the times when I have looked down on others, turned them away, passed them by. Help me to see all people as persons you have created and whom you love. Help me to see them and love them as you do.
After Peter brought Tabitha back to life, he stayed in the port city of Joppa for a time. Meanwhile a Roman officer named Cornelius, stationed in Caesarea, another port city north of Joppa, has a vision. An angel appears to him and tells him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter. The angel tells him in whose house Peter is staying (Acts 10:1-7).
This story is similar to the story of Saul who hears Jesus audibly speak to him and than Ananias has a vision telling him where to go to find Saul.
What strikes me today is that God spoke to people in multiple ways: audibly, through visions and through angels. Were they unusual - and so they were recorded? Were they just for certain leaders? Were they occurring to many people, but these were recorded because of their notable outcomes?
It is hard to know for sure. These means of communication were not unique to the time of the apostles because we see them throughout the Old Testament also. And since the time of the apostles there have been people throughout the history of Christianity who heard an audible voice or saw visions or had significant dreams. The records exist of what they heard and saw.
But who is Cornelius that he should see an angel? in this Cornelius is not a Jew, not a believer (yet) in Jesus. He is an officer in the Roman army occupying Israel. However, he is a God-fearing man who prays and gives generously to those in need. This story is told, we eventually discover, because of the lesson Peter and the others learned through it (the story continues through Acts 11:18).
For reflection: Do I think visions, angels and audibly hearing God were unusual in the time of the apostles? What about now? Have I or someone I know experienced one of these? Would I be open to God speaking to me in one of these ways?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, author of the universe, I want to be open to whatever means you use to speak to me. I would rather you speak to me through some unusual means, than that you not speak to me at all. I want to know you in all the ways you can be known.
(Comments are open. Do you have a story to tell of how God has spoken to you? If you don't want to post it publicly, you can send a private email through the prayer request form on the home page or call 301.760.7744 to talk.)
Were these people who were healed or raised from the dead anybody special? Not necessarily. We don't know anything about Aeneas except that he had been bedridden for eight years. Tabitha though was well-loved for doing good and helping the poor. Perhaps she was a seamstress since the story mentions the clothing she had made (Acts 9:36-39). But the people healed by the disciples, and by Jesus, were ordinary people. They were not the leading citizens of the day, the politicians or the preachers. They didn't do anything to "earn" being healed or raised from the dead. It was just that someone loved them enough to bring them to Peter's attention. In Aeneas's case they asked for healing. In Tabitha's case they didn't even do that. They were already mourning her death and Peter had to send them out of the room so that he could pray, seek the Lord's guidance and act on it.
We know from the Gospel accounts, Peter was not a perfect person. Presumably Aeneas and Tabitha were not perfect either. Healing does not seem to depend upon our perfection, but on God's.
For reflection: Have I not asked for healing for myself because I didn't think I deserved it? Have I not prayed with someone else for their healing because I didn't think I was good enough?
Let us pray. Father, I thank you that Jesus prayed for me before I ever heard of him. I thank you that Jesus died for me when I could never deserve such a sacrifice. I thank you that in your great goodness and your perfection you remember me every day whether I remember you or not.
I thank you that others have prayed for me too. Now I offer myself to pray for others as you lead me to do so.
"Please come at once!" the messengers urged Peter. The beloved Tabitha had died (Acts 9:36-43).
Why send for Peter when someone has died? What did they expect him to do? Did they want him to be there to mourn with the community, or lead a memorial service? Or did they hope he would raise her from the dead?
Peter expelled the crying mourners from the room. He knelt, prayed, and then commanded Tabitha to get up. As with Aeneas (Acts 9:32-36) we see Peter use the command, "Get up." We don't know what Peter prayed while kneeling. Perhaps he was seeking the Lord's direction on whether to raise the woman back to life or let her go. And hearing that direction, he simply commands her. The faith to command, as we mentioned last week, comes from knowing the Lord's will.
The purpose of healing Aeneas and raising Tabitha was two-fold: it was for the benefit of the person and it was for the benefit of the many people who heard about it and believed. Many more people came to believe in Jesus because of Aeneas and Tabitha.
For reflection: People are still being healed and raised from the dead today. They may live next door to us or they may live half-way round the world and we find their stories on YouTube. The question, though, is still the same as it was in the time of Jesus - will we believe?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, I pray with the father in Mark 9:24 - "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
Healings continue to be reported in the Acts of the Apostles as we return to Peter's life and ministry in chapter 9:32. Peter healed a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed. How? Simply by saying to him, "Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat." There is no long drawn out prayer. There is no, "Oh Lord, if it be your will." Instead there is a statement of faith, "Jesus Christ heals you" followed by a command, "Get up and take care of your mat."
Who knows how many people Peter witnessed Jesus healing? No doubt quite a few, so he learned from the master. Jesus healed simply by command. Jesus knew it was the Father's will to heal people; so Peter knew it was the Father's will to heal people. Both acted out of complete faith, with no doubt of what the Father wanted done.
For reflection: How often am I able to act confidently, out of complete faith? Do I know that it is the Father's will to heal?
Let us pray. Father, sometimes I lack the faith to do the things I know you want done. Sometimes I am afraid of being ridiculed. Or I am just afraid of doing things "wrong". I am the one in need of healing today, Father. Heal me physically, spiritually, emotionally. Heal my unbelief.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.