Keys to A New Beginning (e)
How many of us would
like to have a new beginning? We may often dream about how we would do
things differently if we had life to live over. We would want to make some
crucial changes in hopes of a different life or a new beginning. As a matter
of course, this only happens in our dreams. Although it is impossible to
live life over, you can have a new beginning. A new beginning is our only
hope, for life moves forward even when we look backwards. It is not what
has happened, but what is about to happen that is all-important.
As the book of Acts
opens, we find Jesus ministering to his disciples. He is helping them cope
with their misunderstanding, failures and desertion. His post-resurrection
ministry is for the sole purpose of giving them a new beginning. He is
in the process of moving these weak, self-centered and disheartened disciples
into becoming a new breed of believers. So he spends forty days encouraging
them, teaching them and commissioning them. He is depending upon them to
turn the world up side down with the message of salvation.
Too often, when I study
the book of Acts, I only see the results. I lose sight of what is taking
place. I see the results of the Spirit's coming. I see the results of Peter's
sermon. I see 3,000 are baptized. I see the Lord adding to the church daily
such as should be saved. Yet, too often, I fail to realize what made possible
the power of the Holy Spirit and the earth shattering response by those
Let us look at the basic
steps they took to have this powerful new beginning. Hopefully we will
find the clues to a new beginning for our own lives.
Trusting In God's
A new beginning
is discovered as we trust the plan of God. It is not always easy
to follow God's plan. At times our lack of understanding and unanswered
questions holds us back. The fear of not knowing how God is going to work
things out holds us back. At these crucial times we must have faith in
So when they met together,
they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom
to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates
the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when
the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Jesus never told them
when or how God would accomplish his purpose. He simply says you must go
to Jerusalem. I am sure this plan wasn't all that exciting. Jerusalem was
the place where Jesus was crucified and the people were hostile to the
disciples. Remember how they were careful to lock the door when they gathered
together in a room in Jerusalem? They were afraid of the people of Jerusalem
and wanted to go back to Galilee. But Jesus told his disciples to wait
in Jerusalem. Why? He wanted them to witness there. So they followed God's
Jesus also told his
disciples they must witness in Judea and Samaria. Now, that was another
problem. Why? Jews despised Samaritans. They called them half-breeds. Not
only that, Jesus said, his disciples must take the gospel to the end of
the earth. This meant beyond the nation of Israel. This was really a problem
for the Jewish disciples, who called Gentiles dogs.
The 11 disciples standing
there on the Mount of Olives didn't have a backup plan. There was only
one plan. It was absolutely essential that it be followed. It is no wonder
they were asked, "Why are you standing here gazing up into the heavens?"
God's plan needed to be put into action. Will Rogers once said, "Even if
you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just stand there."
The first century disciples
experienced renewal upon following God's plan. You can't go wrong if you
seek to build your life upon his plans. It is his plans that give us a
solid foundation upon which to build our lives.
Throughout Acts chapter
one, we see the disciples seeking to follow God's plan. They return to
Jerusalem according to Jesus' instructions. Upon their return they seek
to further carry out God's plan as they seek to appoint someone to take
"For," said Peter,
"it is written in the book of Psalms, "'May his place be deserted; let
there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "'May another take his place of leadership.'
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us
the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from
John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of
these must become a witness with us of his resurrection." So they proposed
two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then
they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two
you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left
to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias;
so he was added to the eleven apostles.
by chance. It is crucial for us to believe that God has a plan and it will
succeed.They could look back to the resurrection, to his ascension
into heaven to be at the right hand of God. They see the fulfillment of
God's eternal plan. Now their faith can sustain them as they wait for the
next act of God.
Paul found new direction
from God by getting in tune with God's plan when he received the Macedonian
Paul and his companions
traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept
by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When
they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the
Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went
down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia
standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul
had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding
that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
From there we traveled
to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.
And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city
gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat
down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those
listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city
of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond
to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized,
she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord,"
she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.
If we follow God's
plan, he can enable us to fulfill his plans according to his timetable.
century Christians got in tune to God's plan. If we are not discovering
renewal, maybe it is time to evaluate our plan in light of God's plan.
Maybe that brick wall God has put in our way is trying to tell us something.
When we are just spinning our wheels, maybe we need to reevaluate our strategies.
Trusting In God's
Listen to the last words
spoken to the apostles by Jesus in answer to a question. "Lord, are you
at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them:
"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his
own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on
you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:6-8)
These verses are
perplexing. Jesus held a 40-day seminar after his resurrection
to teach them about the kingdom (v. 3). Why do they still have questions?
Jesus simply said, "It is not for you to know the times or the dates .
. ." For most of us, that answer isn't sufficient. We don't like piece-meal
revelation. But it is God's way of not burdening us with the tomorrows.
If they had known what
God was about to do, they would have broken their necks trying to force
it to happen according to their own plans. That was a burden that only
God could bear. It was up to God to make it happen, at his timing. Jesus
simply says, "Wait in Jerusalem until God empowers you from on high." How
long would they have to wait? How would God make it happen? What would
be required of them? They were simply told to wait in Jerusalem.
For many, waiting
is a terrible thing. I remember my military years; we were always
in a hurry to get to where we were going. Usually when we got there, we
always had to stand around and wait. We always called it a game of "hurry
up and wait." Most of us are not very good at waiting. We don't even like
waiting in a fast food line at McDonalds. To most of us time is of the
essence. Yet, we have no special place to be.
Waiting upon God
is much different. With God a day can be like a thousand years
and a thousand years is like a day. We may begin to think that the Lord
is slack in his promises.(2 Peter 3:8-11) The event, which was about to
take place in Jerusalem, had been planned in the mind of God before the
world was created. The faithful of Israel had been waiting for thousands
of years. Here in Acts the faithful are still waiting for God to manifest
himself. Sometimes it is like this when we seek personal growth. We think
that it will never come, it takes a lifetime.
Power comes to
those who wait upon God's timing. "I wait for the LORD, my soul
waits, and in his word I put my hope." (Psalms 130:5) "For evildoers shall
be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth."
(Psalms 37:9) "Wait for the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to
inherit the land . . . " (Ps 37:34) "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take
heart and wait for the LORD." (Psalms 27:14 "These all look to you to give
them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather
it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things." (Psalms
The reason soldiers
spend so much time "hurrying up and waiting" is because the generals have
an overall battle plan that must be put in place. Assembling the forces
to carry out the battle requires time. Each squadron or platoon must be
put in its proper place before the overall battle plan will be effective.
But when everything is in place, you move out. You may not know when you
are moving out, but you trust those in charge. They didn't know exactly
when or how God would put his plan into action, but they waited upon God
to put his battle plan into action. God is waiting for Jews from every
nation under heaven to gather on Pentecost. He is going to make his announcement
at the proper time.
We can only wonder.
How much easier would it have been to wait in Jerusalem, if they had understood,
God had planned for them to be in that upper room before the world was
created. It was foretold by Isaiah. (Isaiah 2:1-5) The details of
what was happening in that room was planned long before any of them had
set foot on earth.
How much easier would
this make our waiting upon God? Of course, concepts like this we only debate.
We seldom enjoy the reality of it all. God knows what my tomorrow holds
in store. He is already there working out the details of my life. Renewal
comes when I began to live in the reality of it all. Again the Psalmist
writes, "O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress .
. . " (Psalms 59:9)
Trusting In God Through
What do you do
while you are waiting upon God? The time we spend in waiting upon
the Lord is meant to be active times -- not passive times. It is a time
where we work at what is at hand -- rather than that which is to come.
When a soldier is waiting on the final order to enter battle, the soldier
spends his/her time making sure that the weapons and machinery are in working
order. They spend their time in immediate preparation.
So it was with the disciples,
" . . . they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives,
a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs
to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James
and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus
and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together
constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother
of Jesus, and with his brothers." (Acts 1:12-14)
After the ascension
of Jesus Christ, prayer is the very first thing the disciples engage in.
In that three-quarter of a mile walk back to Jerusalem, they began to realize
they would need God's help. God's plan has brought them to center stage.
Now, "They all joined together constantly in prayer . . . " Here
is a powerful message for a church seeking renewal. One version says they
made prayers and supplication. They were asking God to supply their needs.
They were relying upon God's power to fulfill God's plan. I can only wonder
if the doors are still locked.
You can have a drawer
full of blueprints, they may be great blueprints, but they are powerless
to make anything happen. It takes more than a blueprint to make something
They had the blueprint
of God's kingdom. Jesus had been teaching them all about his kingdom during
that forty-day period. They knew they had to be in Jerusalem. They knew
that they had to pick someone to take Judas' place. They knew that they
would have to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. They knew all about water
baptism. They knew that one must obtain salvation through Jesus Christ.
They knew all they needed to know, at the present, about the nature of
the church. They were greatly anticipating how God was about to use them.
But they also understood that God's blueprint would be powerless without
Prayer was an important
part of Jesus' life. We find him praying through all the blood, sweat and
tears. Prayer made his ultimate sacrifice possible. It was Jesus' prayers
in his last hours on earth that makes the work of the disciples possible.
Jesus had prayed that the world might believe on him through the words
of the disciples. (John 17:20) In Acts, we see these prayers being answered.
Then he prayed, "Father let this cup pass . . . but more importantly .
. . let your will be done." Prayers seeking God's will to be done in our
lives are always powerful and prevailing. Jesus discovered this power in
prayer while others were sleeping.
Prayer gives us
a new lease on life by directing our focus on fulfilling God's plan for
our lives. Although we have no record of Jesus' disciples praying
before Acts 1, we do know that Jesus taught them to pray. We are certainly
not told the content of the prayer, but we can safely assume their prayers
were directed toward the fulfillment of God's plan for this new beginning.
Immediately, when Peter
arises from prayer, he says the scripture must be fulfilled concerning
Judas. They must choose someone to take Judas' place. They understood that
it was God's plan. It is hard for me to imagine them focusing on Judas'
failure without being acutely aware of their own failure in the last hours
of Jesus' life. As they come to God's throne in prayer, they are no doubt
concerned about finding the power and wisdom through prayer to do what
God asks of them in this new age. They have learned from experience that
they can not run headlong in their own strength. Even though they have
the blueprint for selecting someone to take Judas' place, they do it with
a total reliance upon God. They cast the lots for God's approval. They
confess their inability to choose the man with the best heart. They go
as far as the blueprint will take them, then they put their success in
the hands of God.
The Bible says that
if "we ask anything according to His will," He hears us. The disciples
had sought greatness all through Jesus' earthly ministry. Now they find
themselves on center stage. I can only wonder, could the disciples identify
with the lines I am about to read? They may define how they felt.
I asked God for strength
that I might achieve;
I was made weak that
I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health
that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity
that I might do better things.
I asked for riches
that I might be happy;
I was given poverty
that I might be wise.
I asked for power that
I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness
that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things
that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that
I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked
for but everything I hoped for;
In spite of myself,
my prayers were answered -
I am among all men
most richly blest.
Breaking free from self
is not difficult, it's impossible for Christians to do so without
God's leading. Trusting in God's plan, trusting in God's timing and
trusting in God through prayer are only possible when we know that apart
from Jesus we can do nothing. It is only then that we can experience
C. S. Lewis said: "There
are better things ahead than any we leave behind." I believe he is right.
"I pray that out of
his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit
in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power,
together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep
is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians