There’s No Such Thing as Good People (My Redeemer Lives 6:3)

When was the last funeral you went to? When was the last time you have been connected enough to a loss to contemplate it within your church community, with your co-workers, your family, or friends from across the street?

There is a phrase I have noticed crop up, either as a new response to loss or an old one I just never paid much attention to:

“They were such a good person!”

You don’t have to lose someone to hear this phrase, or use it for that matter. We throw it about when talking idly about people in our lives. I think we want a way to honor them, honor goodness in a world that holds far too little of it. It is important for us to honor one another, yes, but we also need to be careful not to honor people so much that we miss the God who is at work in their stories.

Resurrection reality: There are no good people.

Today, I want us to look through the very faint goodness found in people, to see the actual goodness of Resurrection.

It would be easy to read Tabitha’s story in Acts 9:32-42, and get lost in the goodness factor. Read through that segment of Scripture below and take note of anything you read that would maybe cause you to say, “Tabitha was a good person!” —

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

Notice Acts 9:39 in particular. Can you see how one might get easily distracted by the women weeping and showing the garments Tabitha lovingly wove for them? When has someone made something for you by hand? When has someone noticed your need?

It is a beautiful gift to use our talents to care for others, to encourage others, but that isn’t the real goodness we find in the account. Read the passage above again, Acts 9:32-43. This time listen for the heartache, listen for words that celebrate community and recognize the loss of one of their own.

“…while she was with them.” (Acts 9:39b)

What a powerful phrase tacked onto the end of Acts 9:39. All these women standing around, sharing with Peter and sharing together the loss of a friend, a leader, a woman of influence in their lives. Her clothing wasn’t just clothing. God uses small things like clothing to remind these women, through Tabitha’s hands, that they are valued in Christ Jesus. That he wants warmth for them, lasting spiritual warmth, not only clothes-on-their-back warmth.

Tabitha might have made coats or everyday garments for the women to wear, and some of it may have been undergarments, which strikes me as deeply personal. I’m thinking of the Undies for Everyone campaign or the socks and underwear collected alongside backpacks for a back-to-school gift for someone. This is God at work in Tabitha. It’s always His Spirit at work when anyone asks, “Who needs underwear today?” We just aren’t capable of such goodness.

I know we want to believe in some basic goodness to humans, but I think when you look around enough, you’ll see the truth that goodness is only found in our God in us. Go back to Act 9:40-42 —

But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

Acts 9:42 tells the rest of the story — many believed signifies that real goodness points to the Lord, not to people.

Tabitha, Peter, those widows — they were God’s people, not good people.

Today, we can praise the Lord not for goodness in this world, but for the reality of Christ’s Resurrection lived out in us as we walk along each of our paths.

God’s people, bringing His goodness, His grace, and His glory…one pair of underwear, one hug, one listening ear at a time.

In the comments share with us one story of someone living the resurrected life and making yours a little brighter.

We may not be good people, but we are God’s people….in this life together.

Where do you see God’s Resurrection goodness shining through in tangible ways?

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Resources:

http://biblehub.com/greek/5509.htm

https://www.undiesforeveryone.org

Hope for Sermon Sleepers (My Redeemer Lives 6:2)

When we were in college my husband did this annoying thing where he woke me up in the middle of class.

We weren’t even dating, but he felt a moral obligation to make sure I got my money’s worth out of every syllable from my New Testament professor. I remember vaguely thinking something along the lines of, “Who is this guy?!”

Then, we started dating and we sat in church together. Sure enough, he started waking me during sermons too. Grrrrr. That wasn’t just irritating. It was embarrassing. I was a theology major for pity’s sake! More than that…

I loved Jesus. Why was it so darn hard to stay awake for Him?

Dave never added to my humiliation. He really just gave me a quiet nudge. He was giving me kindness, reminding me of what I believed…sermons are important. I came to church to be filled with the Word, not take a nap. I wanted to stay awake for things. I really did. As an adult I recognize that I need a substantial amount of sleep to function well. College held lots of late nights and just enough immaturity for me that I couldn’t quite stay awake when someone started talking theology for more than 10 minutes. (Ironic, I know.) Because of my embarrassment, I always transformed Dave’s little nudge into righteous anger in my mind saying to myself, “I wasn’t asleep! He’s so sensitive. Seriously, Dave, lighten up.”

It wasn’t until, at just the right moment, Acts 20 crossed my path, that I found hope for my sermon sleeping and, as hope usually looks, it came in the shape of a little bit of Law, and a whole lot of Gospel.

Please read Acts 20 to find what I think is the first recorded Biblical account of sermon sleeping:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Eutychus, my friend, when I get to heaven, I look forward to saying thank you for lifting my shame.

God knows just what we need. This passage brought up three questions for me in quick succession:

Question #1: Who in the world falls asleep while Paul, the Paul, is talking?

If anyone is going to be interesting, I wondered, isn’t it going to be Paul? I puffed myself up thinking I would never fall asleep listening to Paul. I would give up life and limb to be that guy listening to the Apostle Paul.

The Law rushed in — I fell asleep all the time. Wasn’t God’s Word interesting enough by itself for me? Wasn’t I falling asleep to the Apostle Paul’s writings essentially?

Boo. No one likes a soul that tattles on itself, but that’s exactly what God gave us and it’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s easy to blame the pastor or blame the church when we don’t like a sermon. It’s easy to call it uninspiring or unrelatable. It’s easy to write our grocery list too, or mentally check off what needs to be done for the week. It’s easy to check out in our drowsiness. Life is busy and life is exhausting.

The Law told me that day that I was guilty. It’s my own job to get enough rest, stay alert, and “get something” out of the sermon. I had closed my heart, intentionally or unintentionally, to hearing the grace God was reaching out to me with and responded with,

“No thank You. I’m a little too tired right now.”

Question #2: If I loved Jesus enough, wouldn’t I stay awake?

Quickly, my mind flitted to another question. My conscience began to prick in all the best ways when I heard Eutychus’s story. Here is another young adult, just like me, hungry for the Word of God, but battling the Old Adam of sin and, in many ways, a slightly drowsy faith walk. Paul himself teaches us in Romans 7:15:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

I think young adulthood is when you first become glaringly aware of this dynamic. Even when we try really, really hard, we end up with palm to face wondering what in the world went wrong.

Eutychus wanted to hear the Word. I mean, he showed up and I think that’s important to note. Then, Paul talked…and taught…and talked…and taught. It was after midnight. It’s hard to listen to theology after 9pm, much less midnight. I’m not excusing his action (or inaction, really) or mine, but it’s very important that we understand that God’s economy doesn’t work by separating the sermon-sleeping goats from the righteous, alert, and attentive sheep.

Should we stay awake and learn? Yes! But neither Jesus’s love for us, nor our love or belief in Jesus, is dependent on our abilities, ever.

Next came the Gospel…

Question #3: Is that a resurrection?

Read Acts 20:9-10 again, so we don’t miss this moment of abundant grace and mercy:

And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

Three stories up, a long fall down, and taken up dead — that might have been the conclusion to Eutychus’s story. The Greek term for dead in Acts 20:9, nekros, literally means what lacks life. There are 130 occurrences of this Greek root in the New Testament and they are all either about dead people, being dead in our sins without Jesus, or the power of God to raise the dead. How very appropriate.

The Holy Spirit moved in Paul, and in Acts 20:10, Paul went down to Eutychus and took him in his arms, calmed the weary crowd’s fears, and God brought grace.

The link between resurrection and forgiveness in this instance could not be stronger. Eutychus, Paul, and the rest of the congregation took one who once was dead and ate, drank, and conversed with him for the rest of the night. There is so much comfort to be had there! Yes he was alive, which is comforting, but he was also given grace, which means grace is available from this God they came to hear about from Paul.

There is hope for sermon sleepers, resurrection hope.
Where there once was heartache, there now is Hope.

I didn’t deserve it, but God as always gave all the grace. I stopped looking at Dave like he had twenty heads. Eventually, I stopped falling asleep (probably because there were toddlers to take care of in the pew, but that story is for another day).

Romans 7:16 gives Truth:

Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 

The Law is good. Sleeping in church is not good. Avoiding God’s Word in any way is not good.

Go just a little further to Romans 8:1-2 for Truth and Grace:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Jesus changes everything, for Eutychus and for me. We are ruled by Life, not death, not condemnation. I can hear the Law and there comes the Gospel. It’s a beautiful thing.

Something I’m gonna want to stay awake for.

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*Greek reference: http://biblehub.com/greek/3498.htm

Waiting for Something Better (My Redeemer Lives 5:4)

When we moved from Ohio, one of the things I was going to miss most was what I mentally thought of as our “Ascension Crew.” This was a small group of pastors and their families. Most were quiet guys, but powerful things happen when we sit in awe of a Resurrection God together.

The thing that got them really excited was… one often left unmentioned New Testament Story, sandwiched between two more-often-told accounts: Easter, when Jesus rose, and Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the scene.

Did you guess it?

Yes, they loved Ascension.

This fact originally cracked me up.

One day I walked through a meeting they were in and I kid you not, I saw actual faces lighting up… joyful man-boy faces of varying ages and stages lighting up…over Ascension.

I didn’t get it then, but after one time of sitting in the worship they designed to celebrate all that God does and says through Ascension, I was all-in right alongside them – face lit up, in awe of our Resurrection God.

What is Ascension and why does it matter?

Those are the Resurrection questions we are going to answer today.

Please read Acts 1:1-11 below:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Remember that the timeline of Acts is right after the Gospel accounts. The Bible is not always chronological – it doesn’t run in a timeline start to finish from cover to cover. Notice in Acts 1:1 how Luke, the author of the book of Acts, references the “first book.” That book would be the biblical Book of Luke. Acts is Luke’s continuation of his witness of what God was doing through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirt, and the early church.

What insight does Acts 1:3 give us about Jesus and the resurrection?

Jesus appeared alive to them…for 40 days…talking, teaching, interacting. This wasn’t a one-time shot on Easter morning. The Resurrected Jesus had some time and some relationships, and many proofs on this Earth. Acts 1:4 uses really cool terminology in my ESV Bible, “While staying with them…” Other translations include gathered with them, while eating with them, assembled or simply together.

Jesus’s time for those forty days was a gift – a gift of proof and witness (which we’ll discuss in our final week of study) – but also a personal gift for many of those disciples I am sure.

It’s never easy to say good-bye, but just like everything else, Jesus knew how to do it and do it well.

God had a plan from the beginning of time and Christ carried out the work He was sent to do. It was time for the plan to continue.

It was time for the Holy Spirit.

Acts 1:6 tells us that the disciples, at least some of them, recognized the incompleteness of the restoration that we live in, the time of waiting we live in, this side of Jesus’s return for us. Acts 1:6 reveals that the disciples had personal and communal concerns, desires, and needs, just like we do, and that Jesus allowed them to ask questions of Him about these concerns.

Were they going to get the restoration of the people of Israel, the nation of Israel, that they wanted? In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them, I have a different plan, a bigger plan, a plan for Jerusalem, Israel, Samaria, and the whole world.

Next… Ascension!

Reread Acts 1:9-11. In your Bibles, or on a piece of paper, note every “heavenly” reference you can find, descriptors reminiscent of pictures of heaven or passages you’ve read about heaven.

One minute the disciples are talking about Jesus and the next He’s reigning in heaven. Well, there you go. No big deal.

It is a big deal! Can you imagine?

Ascension reminds us of Who Jesus is and we often need to be reminded. I love that Jesus is my friend, that He’s my companion, my comfort, every present listener.

Every once in a while, I need to be reminded that He is God.

God with a capital G, not a little g. Jesus is God of the Universe, King of Kings, Mighty, Just, Ruler, Lord of Lords, and so much more.

Ascension reminds us not to make Him small.

Ascension reminds us that there is a time of waiting, but God does act and it’s not on our timeline. It is on His timeline.

Luke finds this experience so important that He bears witness to it twice. Read Luke 24:50-53, which is actually his first account, his first book written to his friend, Theopholis:

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Here Luke gives us the tidbit that when they were done gazing to heaven, the disciples responded with the natural outcry of worship.

Next, in the Book of Acts, the Spirit will come and the Church will be born. We go to church to hear from a Big God. Sometimes we need Ascension to remind us of this. It is an honor and a privilege to meet with others and worship Him in the waiting.

We have a Great Big Awesome God. He is our Resurrection God. He is our Ascension God – on His throne, reigning in our lives and over this world, even when we cannot see it. One day, He will be our Restoration God, even as we are restored today through Jesus’ death and resurrection, just wait for the Restoration to come. I have no doubt it will leave us standing with our mouths hanging open, staring at the clouds, and worshiping in the fullness of joy.