Tag Archives: faith

The Early Christians Recognized this Threat

Sometimes it really strikes me—the irrationality of unbelief. The refusal to bow to fact, to rational argument, even the clear hand of God. What is most striking is how the most unbelieving can also be the most religious.

In Acts 4, Peter and John, by the power of Christ, have just healed a man lame from birth, convincing 5,000 people to follow Christ, demonstrating the power of God. But the ruling religious Sanhedrin of Jerusalem arrest both Peter and John and throw them into jail. The religious leaders could not deny the healing. They could not deny the power and boldness of Jesus’ uneducated disciples, but they want to stop them.

They knew about Jesus’ miracles. When Jesus died, they saw the massive temple veil rip from top to bottom. They could not deny Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts 5, Gamaliel, a wise elder member of the Sanhedrin even warned them that if what Peter and John did “is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” They could have reconsidered their position, but they refused.

Unbelief shows little compassion for those freed by Christ from bondage. The religious establishment did not share the healed man’s joy. They did not empathize with his years of infirmity, his inability to care for himself, his wasted talents, his decades of destroyed dreams, the lectures from others about his imagined “sins” that brought his condition, the taunts of thoughtless children. They were lifeless and loveless.

Stone-cold unbelief can strike fear in those who speak truth, especially if the unbelievers have more power, money and political authority.

Don’t we find stone-cold unbelief in our own world today, even in our churches, whether in India or the USA? In both nations, men and women with power and authority care nothing about the God of the Bible and want to hurl Him from His throne (see Psalm 2). At times, they appear to be invulnerable, subject to no other law but their own whims and agendas that drip with unbelief and contempt for God and others they regard as lesser than they.

The early Christians recognized this threat. They saw the odds against them, but they did not flinch before the stronger foe. Peter said, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

They went to prayer, remembering the God who called them is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. They remembered Jesus’ wondrous acts. They remembered how God uses even His enemies to accomplish His purposes. They knew that the stronger power of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead would sustain them. The scriptures tell us they prayed for boldness to preach, for signs and wonders.

God answered their prayers. He filled them anew with His Holy Spirit. In time, in 70 AD, after much patience and giving the religious authorities forty years to repent of their unbelief, He destroyed their decadent and unbelieving religious structures. In the meantime, the gospel continued to spread to “the uttermost parts of the world” as it does today.

May God help us to continue steadfast in their footsteps before our present opposition. The gospel of Jesus Christ always has the last word.

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How to Convince Many

Often, Christian witness today is based upon apologetics—rational arguments. While apologetics has importance and may win a few people to Christ here and there, too often we are satisfied with a few. The problem with apologetics is the likelihood for someone to make counter-arguments and excuses. The arguments may go on forever.

Acts 3 demonstrates that in the power of the Holy Spirit, our witness can become an irresistible force with which no one can argue.

Acts 3 begins on an average day with Peter and John just before afternoon prayer at the temple. They confront a lame man. For years, the man was a fixture at the temple gate, eking out a living in the only way he knew—begging. Most likely, Peter and John had noted the man before, but on this day, the Holy Spirit enabled them to really see him.

They did not just stop to toss him a coin or two, or ask God to bless his day with successful begging. Instead, they invoked the authority of God to heal the man. That day, the man, lame from birth, stood and walked.

A great crowd saw the miracle and gathered around, amazed. They were not hostile. They gazed in wonder. They all had seen this man for years, carried in and carried out, unable to move on his own. Now, he was running and leaping in joy. The healing of the lame man got their attention.

Peter and John quickly told them it was not their own power, but the power of Jesus that healed the man. A few weeks earlier, some of the people who heard this had called for Jesus’ crucifixion, but they did it in ignorance, not knowing who Jesus really was. Peter told them how the prophets prepared the way for Jesus and for this day. This healing was a sign that a time of great restoration had begun that will eventually rid the world of Satan, evil and death.

The amazed people hung on to Peter’s words. In Acts 4, we read that at least 5,000 men believed the message because of what they saw that day.

A display of God’s power prepared the way. The people could not deny what happened. Arguments alone would not have won so many people.

This same power of God is available in our own day. Our evangelists in India, many from non-Christian backgrounds, experienced healing and deliverance which brought them to Christ. Now, they go into unreached areas doing the same works in the power of the Holy Spirit that changed their own lives. Acts 3 is taking place all over India today—power encounters that convince many that Jesus’ power exceeds the power of their old deities.

Acts 3 is our model as well. Let us not be cowed by the anti-supernatural element in many of our churches that tries to preserve an orderly status quo but paralyzes our influence. Let us not say we aren’t good or pious enough for this. Like Peter and John, we have been made clean by the blood of Christ.

Around the world, people are convinced more by God’s power, less by arguments. In today’s evil world, why would Jesus abandon his most powerful weapons against Satan? Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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God’s New Thing

In our troubled days, it is good for us to remember and practice what Jesus’ disciples learned and did as they faced their own days of uncertainty when Jesus left them and ascended into heaven.

The memory of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was fresh. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. But now, He did something totally unexpected. He was not about to restore the kingdom of Israel as they hoped. Instead, Jesus was about to leave them.

This caught them unawares. Now, the future became a question mark to them. Their expectations became irrelevant. Instead, Jesus promised them the coming of the Holy Spirit about whom they knew nothing. In effect, Jesus told them, “You are at the beginning of a New Thing.” But they still didn’t understand the implications of that “New Thing.”

In His departing conversation with His disciples, He gives them at least five instructions as they wait for this “New Thing.” His instructions carry down to us as we wait for God’s “New Thing” in our own time of uncertainty and change:

  • Give up your own expectations.
  • Trust Christ Himself alone—He has the bigger picture.
  • Don’t try to figure out the future. Live in the present and leave the future to God.
  • Trust the power of the Holy Spirit to take you to the promised “New Thing” about to happen.
  • Continue in prayer and supplication before God, and expect God to answer with great and mighty things.

This was a huge and painful paradigm shift for the disciples, but they still trusted Jesus to do what He promised.

Acts 1 tells us that 120 followers of Jesus gathered together and prayed “steadfastly,” that is, without distraction. They prayed “continually,” that is, with perseverance. They prayed “with one accord,” that is, with united focus on Jesus’ instructions. They prayed “with the women,” that is, with those they normally didn’t pray with but who shared the same Lord and destiny.

The Greek word for “to pray” (see also 1 Timothy 2:1) indicates they prayed prayers from the heart directly to God, not as a rote religious ritual. They did not just voice wishes but direct and specific requests of God. They kept a spirit of thanksgiving, remembering Jesus’ miracles, His resurrection, and everything else He did in love for multitudes of people. They knew they were not abandoned, though they still didn’t understand the profound changes about to happen.

They did not focus upon their weaknesses and failures. Their small number did not trouble them, nor the formidable power of the Romans or the impressive religious establishment. The size of the unbelieving community did not sway them, nor did their lack of social or religious influence.

They kept focused on the promise—the good future to which Jesus pointed them and the power He had already displayed in their own lives and those of others.

In our troubled days, let us remember that Jesus has not changed. The promise of the Holy Spirit He gave to His followers comes down to us today. Let us continue to follow the instructions Jesus gave His uncertain followers that we might live out the “New Thing” God has for us in our own day and for a world that still does not know Him.

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What Does Abundant Life Look Like?

In John 9, Jesus heals a beggar blind from birth, enabling him to live a full life, not just live on the edge of life. The religious leaders of the day opposed this healing for silly and irrelevant reasons. In John 10, Jesus responded to the religious leaders with the parable of the Good Shepherd (Himself), contrasting Himself with the false shepherds of that day.

Unlike the false shepherds, Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What would Jesus say about today’s prominent religious leaders and Christians? Do we live the abundant life, reflecting our Master? Truth is, to the world, the church often appears weak and irrelevant. Too many churches do not preach the Word. They dilute the gospel and its mission. Its people are rampant in unbelief. Its young people look elsewhere for answers the church does not provide.

Christian marriages fail as often or more than those in the world. Where are the signs and wonders? How many churches go for years without a single conversion or baptism?

Recently, I heard of a church that was closed down and sold to Buddhists. Weak preaching and teaching and lack of faith in God’s power gave the people no motivation to keep coming. The few who were left sold the building to the highest bidder. False shepherds.

We have more Bible reference books than ever, better-trained pastors—but more ignorance. Most people still cannot give a reason for the hope in them. They don’t know how to pray with power. Again, false shepherds.

As a church, we have allowed the world’s agenda to govern our lives and attitudes. Few Christians develop a Christian worldview, applying Bible standards to situations in the natural world. Is it any wonder the humanists and secularists have taken over? It is because of our weakness, not their strength. False shepherds, just as in Jesus’ day.

What does the abundant life look like? Think of Brother Lawrence, a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery, a man of limited schooling, born in poverty, suffering from wounds of war and imprisonment, awkward and rough in appearance. He had none of the things most of us count as needful for life. Yet he exhibited a profound wisdom found in few men. He found such joy in practicing the presence of God, he became the envy of all who met and knew him.

The collection of his letters and conversation, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” has become a classic portrait of the abundant life Jesus intended for all of us.

What does this mean for us today? To really believe and practice God’s presence means His presence will be strong in our meetings. We will no longer need gimmicks to attract people. People will hunger for God’s Word and ways. Preachers will preach with Holy Spirit anointing. The church will manifest the presence of God in signs and wonders.

Salvations will come by the millions from every class and age group. The love of God in our midst will overcome oppression, racism, immorality, hatred, anger, fear. Social transformation will take place. The gospel will burst out of the churches into the surrounding communities and into other nations of the world. Laws will change, becoming more righteous and just.

Amen! Let that day come, Lord Jesus!

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Which Camp Are You In?

The Gospel of John’s account in chapter 9 of Jesus’ healing of the blind man at the temple gate that we examined last month brings us to another side of the matter.

John shows us that the blind man’s healing did not suddenly end all his problems. When Jesus healed him, not everyone rejoiced and praised God for this good thing.

The religious Pharisees became very upset. Although the man had sat at the temple gate for years, they apparently paid no attention to him. They did not take compassion on him. They did nothing to help the man to better his condition. They just left him at the gate to beg and barely survive. They just assumed the man was a sinner who deserved his fate. Jesus’ compassionate act put them in an embarrassing position.

These religious Pharisees were those to whom others traditionally looked for religious advice and counsel. But Jesus demonstrated godly authority, power and compassion they did not possess. He demonstrated that they were really charlatans. With this healing, they must humble themselves and submit to Jesus or resort to reckless means to discredit Jesus. They unwisely chose the latter course.

Jesus’ healing violated their protocols about how and when these things should happen. Also, since they were unable to heal the blind man themselves, they feared that people would look to Jesus rather than to themselves as their authority. None of this met the man’s real needs.

They regarded themselves as a religious elite. To them, Jesus threatened the social order, namely, their own power. Behind their anger lay fear and jealousy because this man, Jesus, from a small town demonstrated God’s power and authority they lacked.

These religious phonies also reacted by attacking the healed man’s character and throwing him out of the temple as an example to others who dared to challenge them. They wanted to intimidate others who might question them. They refused to consider the possibility that Jesus’ power to heal demonstrated His authentic authority from God. Their power over the people meant more to them than a diligent search for truth.

The work of Jesus always winds up dividing people into two camps—those who accept His transforming power and those who rely only upon themselves, even when they use religious terms.

Does not this story of the blind man reflect what has happened to many of you who read this? Like the blind man, you have submitted yourselves to Him, but there are people in your lives who do not rejoice with you in your new-found freedom. They see you as a threat.

Jesus did not leave the man alone in his predicament with the religious leaders. He came to him and encouraged him. The man submitted to Jesus, and Jesus met the man’s need in the face of fierce opposition. He will do the same with each of us who puts our ultimate trust in Him.

We believers in Jesus Christ must ask ourselves: Are we more like Jesus or the Pharisees in our attitudes toward those who suffer for no fault of their own?

Let us who know the power and authority of Jesus Christ in our lives help to make His saving power manifest in all of India and throughout the world.

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What does a good God do with evil?

John 9 is a passage that probably applies to most if not all of us. The story really begins at the end of the 8th chapter when Jesus leaves the temple in Jerusalem. On His way out, He and His disciples meet a blind beggar who sits at the temple gate.

The man has suffered blindness since birth. The context suggests he was a fixture at the gate for years, seen by everyone as they entered and left the temple. He was a familiar sight to the disciples who asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

It was the wrong question, and Jesus corrected them. His response is usually mis-translated in our English versions. Without going into all the technicalities of Greek grammar, His response should be translated something like this: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but let the works of God be made manifest in him.”

Jesus’ response should become a comfort to all of us. Not all of life’s misfortunes result from personal or family sin. This includes events such as the loss of friends or loved ones, congenital illness, accidents, death of a child, or a host of events that prevent us from developing gifts or fulfilling good and reasonable dreams.

The disciples reacted to the blind man like Job’s “friends” reacted to his calamities. Jesus reminds His disciples (and us) that God does not cause evil. He does not bring sorrows, calamities and limitations in our lives, even for His glory. These misfortunes come from the devil, whose work He has come to destroy. In other words, the only one at fault is Satan.

This should be good news to all of us who suffer for seemingly irrational purposes. We may even wonder what sin we have committed for God to punish us like this.

Jesus demonstrates to the disciples (and to all of us) that God desires to bring good out of the evil in our lives. Having secured the blind man’s permission, He heals the blind man, enabling him to see for the first time in his life. No longer does he have to sit and beg at the temple gate. Now, he has the opportunity to live a fulfilling life rather than live on the edge of life.

What a lesson to us! Jesus wants to make the works of God manifest in us. He especially wants to heal those areas of misfortune in our lives that come to us through no fault of our own. When we give Him permission to heal, no longer are we bound to our past or to family or environmental circumstances we cannot control.

God does not cause evil, but He can use evil to humble and prepare us for His greater works in us. When we give Him permission, He will change our circumstances in ways possible only with Him. He will make a way where there is no way.

Someone has said, “The Crucified God is not in control of evil, sickness and suffering because He is too busy destroying them and bringing good out of them.”

All of this is part of the Good News that we should make part of our own lives and share with those who have yet to hear of Him.

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How to Perceive Jesus

Many people say they believe in Jesus, but they are not true believers. What we believe about Jesus makes all the difference.

In John 7, Jesus’ own brothers “believed” in Jesus, but they believed He was a magician and a secular Messiah. They saw Him as a celebrity who needed to put Himself out before the world.

This chapter takes places near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, just before He goes to Jerusalem. These brothers, His own flesh and blood, grew up with Him from infancy. For nearly three years, they saw his miracles and heard Him teach. They regarded themselves as on His side.

But something did not penetrate their thinking. They still did not understand that He came to seek and save the lost, to destroy the works of the devil, to reconcile fallen men, women and children to God.

If Jesus’ own flesh and blood did not really know Him, what does that say about us in our own day? Many in our own generation have gross misconceptions of Jesus. To some, He is a moral wisdom philosopher and example. Others see Him as a revolutionary. Still others view Him as a fulfiller of wishes, a mystic, a political figure. Very popular today is the misconception of Him as the name-it-and-claim-it proponent of the prosperity gospel.

Most people see Jesus as a real person, but disagree strongly about who He was or is. Some say He was a sinner like everyone else. Even many so-called “evangelicals” in our age of tolerance find it hard to accept Jesus as the only Way.

It is clear that John, the writer of this gospel, identifies Jesus Christ with His passion. Two-thirds of John’s gospel is taken up with the final week of His life, with His death and resurrection. He came into this world to give His life—to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Any other identity we give to Jesus is wrong.

Correct belief in Jesus’ identity is critical to our salvation. Jesus Himself said, “Except you believe that I am He [that is, God], you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). By God, Jesus clearly meant He is One with the all-righteous Father, maker of heaven and earth. This is a far cry from the ideas of many people, including many who go to church every Sunday.

We cannot pervert the truth of His nature and discount His exclusive and stated mission without paying an eternal price.

Do we believe in Jesus as He really is, or do we impose our own assumptions and presuppositions on Him? It is easier than we think to let the relativistic standards of the world influence our perception of the One we call Savior and Lord. Satan works overtime to distort the understanding of God’s children.

How we perceive Jesus influences the way we pray, or mis-pray or don’t pray at all. How we perceive Jesus influences the degree we share His passion for the lost and the importance of His Great Commission.

Let us resolve to better know Him so we may better share Him with millions who hunger and thirst for the righteousness only He can give.

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They Never Really Knew Him

Selfish and materialistic, that’s what they were.

Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five loaves and two fishes. After this miracle, they wanted to seize Him by force and make Him king. They said, “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

Jesus came to another conclusion: “Truly, truly I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” In other words, they viewed Jesus as a fellow with magical powers who would fulfill their material needs and desires, someone like Aladdin.

They based Jesus’ value to them on what they could get out of Him. They had no idea of who He really was. What they expected from Him was wrong.

Are we any different? Do we value Jesus for who He is, or for how He meets our expectations? Do we interest ourselves in His view of things or do we want Him to fulfill our agendas? We should not answer this question too quickly.

At this writing, the US presidential election is not yet settled. Christians seem as divided over this matter as they were over slavery during the Civil War. A lot of hateful words and accusations go forth from Christians on both sides as they did long ago.

During that traumatic time, Abraham Lincoln said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; each invokes His aid against the other…the prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Whoever wins in the end, whoever loses, lies in God’s will, and may take place for reasons that have nothing to do with why we voted as we did. We may believe we know God’s will in these things but may discover in eternity we knew nothing of what was going on. Jesus’ twelve disciples walked with Him for three years. They thought they knew Him, but in the end, after Jesus died and He did not meet their expectations, they discovered they never really knew Him.

All their expectations had to die. During that agonizing time, they hid out in the room where they ate their last meal together before the Jewish religious establishment seized Him and the Romans crucified Him.

Only after His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit did it finally make sense to them. Only then did they truly come to know Him. First, they had to admit they were wrong. Only then could they emerge from behind locked doors and take their message to the world.

I am always amazed that a great evangelist like Billy Graham felt the need to confess his sins daily before the Lord. He credits his remarkable team for many times saving him from himself. If that was true about a great man like Billy Graham, what does that say about the rest of us?

These humbling experiences helped to make Billy Graham the outstanding evangelist he became.

Let us take these uncertain times to come to know Him more truly than we ever knew Him before. Let us humble ourselves and set aside all unworthy expectations. The more we know Him, the more clearly we will proclaim His Good News, not just our limited version of it.

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Humbled by Grace

One day, we will stand before God to account for our lives. On that day, we will see Him in all His glory, majesty, holiness, power, righteousness, and truth. On that day, we will see with our own eyes why He is King of kings and Lord of lords. On that day, we will worship Him.

How we worship Him now should really become a warm-up for that day. Worship is learning to know God for Who He is and knowing ourselves for who we are. One good thing to keep in mind: He doesn’t need our worship, but we need to worship Him because our very humanity depends upon Him alone.

What does this mean in real life? John 4 gives us a good model of true worship…

A Samaritan woman approaches a well alone, to collect water. A woman of low repute from a despised minority, she comes in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and whispers of those who look down on her. She is a woman who thinks little of herself.

She meets Jesus at the well. Because of who He is, we can be sure He was waiting for her.

John records the conversation. Jesus’ insightful line of questions and comments reveals the woman as one who prioritizes material things over spiritual, and who at best probably follows only perfunctory religious practices.

By the conclusion of the conversation, the woman has become a new person. She discovers that in Jesus, she was talking to God. She discovers that God delighted in her. In spite of her disgraceful failures in life, He saw something in her worth redeeming, something precious nobody else saw, including herself. All at once, she has new hope, new joy, a new future she never thought possible.

That day, the Samaritan woman saw God as she never saw Him before. That truth about Him touched her spirit in deep, personal ways and transformed her life. She responded by telling everyone she met what happened. She wanted everyone to meet this One who was like no other.

That day, the Samaritan woman experienced what Jesus meant when He told her, “He who worships the Father must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” She learned that worship means meeting God, bowing in submission to Him, delighting in Him, loving Him and enjoying Him because it became obvious He delighted in her.

Jesus was not put off by the things that caused others to shun her because He knew what He could do in her life. Change came, not through religious practice and habit but in relationship. That message to the Samaritan woman is just as true for you and me as it was for her two thousand years ago.

Like that woman, each of us has things in our lives of which we are ashamed. We fear judgment by others. Do we experience the King of kings like the Samaritan woman did, in His kindness, love, wisdom, patience, joy, strength, tenderness, peace, humility and generosity? Such a relationship evokes the true worship of humble repentance that brings transformation and joy.

Let us truly and humbly bow our hearts before Him. Then we, too, will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Like the Samaritan woman, we will want others to meet and worship Him who is like no other.

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What Makes Jesus Mad?

What makes Jesus mad?

In John 2, we find Jesus cleansing the temple, driving out merchants, moneychangers and cattle. He must have shown real rage that day. By Himself, he drove out all of them with only a small whip. We find similar accounts in the other three gospels. Most of the time, we don’t think of this angry side of Jesus—nor do we like to.

In his book, “What Made Jesus Mad?”, Pastor Tim Harlow observes the recorded times when Jesus showed anger. Pastor Harlow notes that at no time does Jesus exhibit anger against “sinners,” but only against religious people and His own disciples.

In every case of Jesus’ recorded anger, we find him directing His wrath against those who claimed to know God but blocked others from God’s grace. When we examine the accounts of the temple cleansing in detail, we find that the Jewish religious people were blocking God’s grace from “the nations,” or Gentiles. He rebuked His disciples for blocking the children from seeing Him.

Jesus’ love does not permit anyone to turn away those who need Him. That is also the message of the torn veil in the temple—all peoples have access to a holy and loving Father.

How do we block others from God? We block them by judging them less than worthy when they don’t meet our standards. We create spiritual “elites.” We block others by legalism, by trivializing what is essential and making essential what is trivial. We block them by pretending to be holier than we are—the word is “hypocrites.” Jesus had a lot to say about that.

Do our own churches block others from hearing the gospel? Our churches should be filled with homosexuals, prostitutes and the homeless. Why do we so rarely find them? Our churches should be sharing the light and bringing people out of darkness, but most churches do not support missionaries to the unreached. Are we examining the reasons for this failure to win others?

Do we block the Good News from those who have never heard? “Unreached peoples” are “the nations” of our own day—those who cannot hear the gospel until someone goes to them (or are sent by those with kingdom vision). They cannot absorb the gospel by osmosis from neighboring cultures. According to Bethany Global University, 3.14 billion people remain “unreached.” Of the 400,000 missionaries worldwide, only about 13,000 focus upon reaching “unreached peoples.”

What about the churches? Bethany Global University finds that 99.99% of all church money goes to causes other than reaching the unreached. Here, Jesus’ people have dreadfully failed, and yes, Jesus has every right to be mad.

Isobel Kuhn, missionary to the unreached Lisu people of China, has written, “I believe that in each generation God has called enough men and women to evangelize all the yet unreached people of the earth. It is not God who does not call. It is man who will not respond.”

The Pharisees did not learn their lesson. Instead, they rejected the rebuke of Jesus, and the temple was destroyed. The disciples, slow to learn, finally learned their lesson. The Spirit-filled church expanded throughout the known world, and you and I are their legacy.

What will future generations—and our Lord Jesus—say about us in our generation?

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