Your Faith Journey 89

During Sunday morning worship services and within the weekly Your Faith Journey devotionals from the past few months, we have gone on a journey through the first seven chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. The chapters reveal Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit coming upon the believers on the Day of Pentecost, and the season when Christ’s followers were being his witnesses in Jerusalem, performing miraculous signs and wonders, healing the sick and afflicted, helping one another as needed, enduring opposition from the religious leaders, all while the Holy Spirit enabled them to be “one in heart and mind.” All of this took place before persecution caused the earliest Christians and their Gospel message to spread beyond the city of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing” issues began to arise because of the differences between the treatment of Greek-speaking widows and Hebrew-speaking widows (Acts 6:1 NIV). To ensure that the needs of the widows were being met, seven men “full of the Spirit and wisdom” were chosen to be given the responsibility of overseeing their care (Acts 6:3 NIV). Because of the expansion of the leadership responsibilities beyond the twelve apostles, “the word of God spread” and “the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (Acts 6:7 NIV).
 
Today, we can learn a lot from our first century sisters and brothers in Christ. In order to continue successfully spreading the Gospel and making new, maturing, and fruitful disciples of Jesus, we must share the responsibilities of the church. Thankfully, there are many leaders and members of the body of Christ who are part of Avon UMC using their time, talents, and treasures to fulfill God’s will and spread the Kingdom of God into new hearts, lives, and families. If you are one of the faithful followers of Christ helping AUMC to share the Good News about Jesus and make disciples, thank you for your help! None of us are equipped to fulfill the Great Commission on our own. We need each other!

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Your Faith Journey 88

How good do you have to be to go to heaven? If you’re kind to your family members and friends, is that good enough for a ticket into eternity in paradise? Do you also have to be kind to people in need? How much of the Bible do you have to read and memorize to earn an “A” on your afterlife report card to gain acceptance into the ever after? Are angels in heaven taking weekly worship service attendance because you have a certain number of days you’re allowed to be absent before you receive an “unsatisfactory” on your permanent record?
 
In Mark 10, a rich young man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In the first century there was a widespread belief that a person’s wealth was equal to the amount of God’s favor and blessings in their life. It was assumed that the wealthy were going to inherit a pleasant eternal life because God already looked upon them favorably. Jesus shattered that myth when he taught his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23 NIV). Jesus’ followers were shocked by his statement. They asked him, “Then who can be saved?” Christ explained that you can not earn your way into heaven. He told them, “it is impossible” if you’re trying to be good enough or do enough good things to earn your way there (Mark 10:27). But it is possible to receive eternal life through faith, because “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 NIV).

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Your Faith Journey 87

Acts 5 reveals that the Jewish religious leaders had the apostles arrested and sent them to jail again (Acts 5:18). Their hope was that the message about Jesus, including teaching in his name, would cease. Instead, an angel set the arrested believers free from the jail and they went back to the temple and began to “teach the people” at daybreak (Acts 5:19-21). The temple guards were shocked to find empty jail cells, but they were able to find the apostles since the men were not trying to hide. The guards then escorted them to the Jewish supreme court, known as “the Sanhedrin”, to be quested by the high priest (Acts 5:26-27). He accused them by saying, “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28 NIV). Although the apostles had been previously warned by the religious leaders in Jerusalem not to teach or proclaim the truth about Jesus, they responded with strong faith and “great boldness” in speaking the truth as the Lord gave them opportunities (Acts 4:29). Instead of acting fearful as they stood before the Sanhedrin and were questioned, Peter and the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29 NRSV).
 
For the apostles, although they were Jewish men living under the rule of the Roman government, their allegiance was first and foremost to Jesus the Christ. What about you? If you had to rank your allegiances, what would you rank as first? Why?
 
How does the hierarchy of your allegiances impact your decisions and life?

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Your Faith Journey 86

Imagine being part of a church of thousands of people that can claim all of the members are one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32). It seems impossible. Yet, “all things can be done for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23 NRSV). A church united through Holy Spirit-guided thoughts, desires, and emotions would be a fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer from John 17, “I pray…that all of them may be one” (John 17:20-21 NIV). That’s what happened within the earliest years of the church, which is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. As the earliest Christians were united in heart and mind, there was a season when they “shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32 NIV). As a result of their selfless giving and generosity, “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34 NIV). Who wouldn’t want to be part of that kind of church?
 
Is Avon UMC similar to the church described in Acts 4? If not, are you aligning your prayer for the church with Jesus’ prayer?
 
Lord, unite the people of Avon UMC in heart and mind so that we are one just as you and Christ are one. Guide us to serve and give generously just as Jesus served and gave his life for the benefit of many (Mark 10:45). Amen.

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Your Faith Journey 85

While he was still with the disciples Jesus told them, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing” (John 14:12 NIV). There was a time during Jesus’ ministry that “people bought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed” (Matthew 14:35-36 NIV). Something similar happened to Peter. Acts 5 reveals, “people brought the sick into the street and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by” (Acts 5:15 NIV). Can the shadow of a person who believes in Jesus Christ and is empowered by the Holy Spirit be a source of healing for the afflicted? What do others experience when they are close enough for your shadow to pass by them?

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Your Faith Journey 84

The religious leaders kept Peter and John in jail overnight. The next day they questioned them about what the two disciples had been saying and doing, including healing the man unable to walk since birth, as well as proclaiming forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the death through faith in Jesus. Although they were warned not to speak in Jesus’ name, the two replied, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 NIV). When they were released, Peter and John went to their friends to share what the religious leaders said (Acts 4:23). The response of the group was to lift “their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:24 NIV). It is surprising that instead of praying for protection and safety, the believers prayed for “great boldness” in speaking God’s word (Acts 4:29). Have you ever prayed for “great boldness” to speak God’s message and Good News? The disciples also prayed, “stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30 NLT). Perhaps you have prayed for God’s healing power to help someone you love or even for yourself, but have you prayed for the Lord to do “miraculous signs and wonders” in Jesus’ name? If you have not, are you willing to start?

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Your Faith Journey 83

After healing a man who had been unable to walk since his birth (Acts 3:1-8), Peter noticed the crowd gathering around them, and took advantage of his opportunity to share the truth about the source of the man’s healing (Acts 3:11-26). The apostle didn’t pull any punches as he spoke, but instead he accused the crowd of sending Christ to the cross (Acts 3:13-15). Just as he had on the day of Pentecost, Peter invited the crowd to respond to the truth by repenting and turning towards God through faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 3:19-20). This greatly annoyed the religious leaders, so they arrested Peter and John (Acts 4:2-3). While the disciples were on trial, the religious leaders witnessed the strength of their faith and “the courage of Peter and John” (Acts 4:13 NIV). The strength and courage, along with the miracle everyone saw, “astonished” the ruling council of the Israelites, and “they took note that these men {Peter and John} had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV).
 
Christ can provide miraculous power, courage, and a supernatural faith for his followers through the Holy Spirit. But if he doesn’t perform miracles through you, is it obvious that you are a disciple of Jesus? Disciples are students or apprentices who learn from their Master. For disciples of Christ, we learn from our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and Savior of the world. Do others take note that you are a person who has “been with Jesus” because you think, speak, and act like Christ? If not, what needs to change in your heart, soul, mind, and life?

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Your Faith Journey 82

After Peter healed a man who had been unable to walk, a crowd quickly gathered around “astounded” by what they were seeing (Acts 3:10). “Peter saw his opportunity,” then shared the truth with them (Acts 3:12 NLT). He explained, “For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this” (Acts 3:13 NLT). The God of the ancestors of the crowd described in Acts 3 is our God as well. Just as the Lord brought glory to Jesus by working through the Holy Spirit to heal the man unable to walk, the Holy Spirit is activity at work within believers today. Many of us have had parents, grandparents, and great parents pass their faith along to the generations after them. It is our responsibility to share our faith in Christ with the generations coming after us. How are you intentionally sharing your faith in Christ with the next generations? Are you seeing your opportunities and responding to them? If not, now is a great time to pray for God to enable you to see the opportunities you have and to give you the courage to respond.


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Your Faith Journey 81

Two of Jesus’ disciples were going to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray when their plans were interrupted. A man who was “lame from birth” was at the gate asking for money. The man had no idea that his life was about to be miraculously transformed. Peter and John heard his cry for help, “looked intently at him,” then offered him a helping hand. They did not give him money. Acts 3 reveals that Peter “took him by the right hand and raised him up” (Acts 3:7 NRSV). The story is a reminder that there are people in need of help awaiting Jesus’ followers to acknowledge them, listen to them, then extend a hand to “raise them up” from where they have been to where God wants them to be. The story in Acts 3 reveals the power of the Holy Spirit at work within believers to transform the situation and life of a man in need. This is a season in our nations history for all Christians to be listening to cries for help and extend a helping hand to raise others up as the power of God works through us to transform individuals, communities, and our country. For those who are white, this is a time to listen to minorities, especially our black and brown neighbors, then do something to help.


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Your Faith Journey 80

Immediately after the day of Pentecost, when the believers became filled with the Holy Spirit, the community of Christians began to live their lives guided by God’s will revealed through the Spirit, the teachings of Jesus, and the experience of life together as the newly formed church. They were committed to Christ, which included loving God and one another. The description of life for the earliest believers is a living example of what the church could and should be. They were devoted to Jesus’ teachings and commandments, life together, sharing meals, prayer, living generously, worshiping God daily, and leading others to Christ (Acts 2:42-47). For Avon UMC to become an Acts 2 kind of church for our community and the world, we have to share the same commitments as the earliest Christians. What needs to change in your life so that you can be committed to experiencing life within the church as it could and should be? What needs to change in your life to enable our community and world to encounter the transforming power of Christ through AUMC?

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