“Remove the Unbearable Yoke” (Acts 15: 9, NIV) by Carley Evans

“[God] purifies their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:9-11, NIV)

So says Peter to “the believers who belong to the party of the Pharisees” who are calling for the Gentiles to “be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

Peter argues God shows His acceptance of these Gentile believers by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He gives Him to Jewish believers. After all, says Peter, God “knows the heart.” (Acts 15:8) James agrees with Peter, speaking before “the whole assembly” (Acts 15:12) that they “should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19) A letter is sent to “the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia” telling them that “it seems good to the Holy Spirit not to burden you with anything beyond” a few things they would “do well to avoid.” (Acts 15:28, 29)

We are able, if willing, to learn a lot from Peter and James. Often we burden babes in Christ and even mature believers with impossible rules, requirements, regulations — you’ve got to do this and not do that or God will not be pleased. We forget God knows the hearts of His people; He knows long before we do who hears and believes the good news. So, let’s not “test God.” (Acts 15:10) Let’s refrain from burdening ourselves and one another with a yoke God has removed.

“Always A Consequence” ( Acts 5: 1 – 10, NIV ) by Carley Evans

Familiar with the expression ‘I’m my own worst enemy’? God does not punish us when we fall into a sin — that punishment fell upon Jesus as He suffered and died on a cross. But, though God forgives and forgets our sin, a consequence always follows. Some consequences are relatively minor; others are devastating.

Ananias and Sapphira, when learning that Joseph — you know, Barnabas — has sold his field and given all the monies to the disciples to help the needy among the brothers and sisters in the Lord, decide to do the same. However, rather than tell the truth, they lie. They pretend they are giving the whole amount gained from selling their piece of property. When confronted by Peter, Ananias falls down and dies. Later, Sapphira is given the opportunity to ‘come clean’ so to speak. But, she lies — telling Peter that the monies given represent the entire price of the property. Peter tells her bluntly she is going to die. And she does.

Seems like punishment, doesn’t it?

But, I maintain it is not. Rather, their deaths are consequences. For all we know, Ananias had a heart attack and Sapphira a stroke upon being confronted with such a public shame. Imagine it: the entire church body is “sharing everything.” (Acts 4:32) And, “there are no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:34) Barnabas generously shares all he has gained from selling his field. Ananias and Sapphira are jealous — they want the attention and acclaim Barnabas obviously receives.

This couple lies to God, the Holy Spirit. As Peter says, “How can you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look!” (Acts 5:9)

Public shame, pride, and their unforgiving spirits — yes, their unwillingness to ask for and receive forgiveness — these kill Ananias and Sapphira.

“Through His Name” ( Acts 10: 43, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

“All the prophets testify about [Jesus Christ] that through His Name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

Peter preaches this to Cornelius, who has recently sent for him after “a man in a dazzling robe” stands before him and tells him that He has heard his prayers. Cornelius says to Peter, “You did the right thing in coming. So we are all present before God, to hear everything you are commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:30,33)

Peter begins by verbally recognizing that “God doesn’t show favoritism.” (Acts 10:34) Peter realizes that “in every nation the person who fears [God] and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:35) Peter then proceeds to tell Cornelius of the events which led to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Peter proclaims, “[Jesus] is the One appointed by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42)

If Jesus judges you as clean, then you are clean.

With Peter’s words, Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him, believe and through the Name of Jesus Christ each is saved from his sins. The Holy Spirit descends on each one so that they speak in other languages and declare the greatness of God. At this point, Peter calls for these new believers to be baptized with water for they have already been sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Seeking God and being sought by Him — in every nation, people are being saved. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

“Even When We Are Enemies” ( 1 Peter 5: 10, ESV ) by Carley Evans

Peter writes that after we suffer awhile, specifically a little while, “the God of all grace, who calls [us] to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish [us].” God isn’t going to relegate His responsibilities to anyone else, including us. Yes, Peter calls us to resist our adversary who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:9,8) But Peter knows, as should we, that it is God the Holy Spirit who enables us to “be sober-minded [and] watchful” and to stand “firm in [our] faith.” (1 Peter 5:8,9) This is the reason Peter exhorts us to “cast all [our] anxieties on Him.” After all, says Peter, Christ “cares for [us].”

Jesus cares for us. Let that truth sink into your heart. Jesus loves us. He loves us enough to give His life for us. Even when we are His enemies, He dies for us. Paul reminds us that if Jesus is willing to die for us when we are His enemies, how much more is He willing and able to give to us now that He has made us His friends!

“Before The Rooster Crows” ( Matthew 26: 75, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

God is in control. Foreknowledge without changing that which one knows is synonymous with control. God has not set the universe in motion only to sit back and watch in bewilderment to see what may or may not happen. Rather God knows exactly what is to happen, when it is to happen, and why it is to happen.

Jesus knows His crucifixion is coming. He even tells His disciples the details. Jesus also knows that “before the rooster crows” His friend Peter will deny even knowing Him three times. He knows Judas is the man to betray Him, saying, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me.” (Matthew 26:21) Jesus even knows the details of this betrayal long before they occur. He knows Judas is offered thirty pieces of silver; He knows Peter is to threaten the guard with a sword; He knows Judas is to kiss Him. Jesus knows He is to pray for deliverance from the horror of the cross, and sweat great drops of blood before He submits to His Father’s will.

Jesus – who is God the Son – does not change any of these events. Neither are the details altered.

Moments do exist in which Jesus appears to not know what is happening — one example is the woman who touches the edge of His robe so as to be healed. Jesus is aware power has gone out from Him, but He searches the great crowd to discover who has touched Him. Another example — Jesus sees the fig tree from a distance, goes to it, discovers no fruit and curses the tree. He appears to be unaware that the fig tree is barren.

I do think this lack of knowledge on Jesus’ part is just an appearance of ignorance. He wants the crowd to realize the woman is healed; He wants His disciples to know the reason He curses the fig tree. He must lightly feign surprise, curiosity, a lack of foreknowledge.

Jesus obviously chooses to limit His power, but He does not limit His full awareness of past, present, future. He knows. And because He knows all, He controls all. Jesus tells Pilate the truth when He says “You would have no authority over Me at all, if it hadn’t been given you from above.” (John 19:13)

“You say to me, therefore, ‘Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will? But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:19-20)

“Open Talk” ( Mark 8: 32, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

While traveling between villages, Jesus asks His disciples who the people believe He is. They say, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:28) Oddly enough, these opinions of Jesus’ true identity show that belief in resurrection from the dead is not an issue for “the people.”

Jesus then asks the disciples, “But you, who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) And Peter’s response is immediate. Peter calls Jesus “the Messiah!” (Mark 8:30) Jesus warns Peter and the disciples to keep this information to themselves.

As they continue, Jesus begins to teach them about His upcoming rejection, trial, scourging, crucifixion, and His ultimate triumph: His resurrection. “He is openly talking about this.” (Mark 8:32) And this bothers Peter so much that he takes Jesus aside. “Come here, Jesus.” He “begins to rebuke Him.” (Mark 8:32)

If you will indulge me some conjecture, imagine Peter standing tall over Jesus like a big brother telling Him, “You mustn’t talk about these things; don’t You know how upsetting this is for those of us who have given up everything to follow You? Don’t you know we’re scared? Can’t You tell that we keep anticipating Your triumph over this evil regime? What are you talking about? Come on, get Yourself together and let’s make this happen already!”

Jesus turns away from Peter, and “looking at His disciples, He rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind Me, Satan, because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!” (Mark 8:33) Then He calls out for the crowd that has obviously been following closely and says, “If anyone wants to be My follower, He must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life? What can a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

“Unless You Turn” ( Matthew 18: 4, ESV ) by Carley Evans

Jesus’ disciples feign wanting to know “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1) Imagine them looking at one another, thinking – for example – “Surely I’m better than Matthew; after all, he’s a tax collector!” – or – “I’ve got to be greater than Judas; after all, he complains about wasting an expensive ointment, pretending he cares for the poor.” Martha must think, “I’m better than Mary.” After all, Martha complains about her sister, Mary – implying that she is lazy. Martha wants Jesus to rebuke her for sitting at His feet while she prepares the meal. Peter even briefly appears to think he’s better than Jesus, rebuking Jesus for saying that He will be killed and rise from the dead. “Far be it from You, Lord! This will never happen to You.” (Matthew 16:22)

When they ask Him about being the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus shows His disciples a child. He tells them that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus calls us to turn and become like children. Sounds similar to turning back the clock, perhaps wiping the slate clean and starting over from a place of innocence and great humility. We are to think better of others than we do of ourselves; treat others as we would wish to be treated. We are not to put stumbling blocks in the way of others; or lead others into temptation. Jesus warns, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened about his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” says Jesus. “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

“Seven Abominations” ( Proverbs 6: 16, ESV ) by Carley Evans

“Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

God mentions eyes, tongue, hands, heart, feet, lungs, (arms, legs — think about it.) The abominations which God hates are essentially the body parts of people who practice: haughtiness, deceit, wicked scheming, perjury, murder of the innocent, glorying in evil, and the sowing of discord. Their opposites are people who practice: humility, truthfulness, glorying in goodness, faithfulness in witness, protecting the innocent, and the sowing of harmony.

Peter writes that we “through the knowledge of [Christ]” and “through [His] precious and very great promises become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3,4) Because of this truth, Peter encourages us to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7) We are not to “forget that [we] are cleansed from [our] former sins.” (2 Peter 1:9)

“Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1-3) For “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10) If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

“Love At Full Strength” ( 1 Peter 4: 8-9, NEB ) by Carley Evans

Peter calls us to “lead an ordered and sober life, given to prayer” because “the end of all things is upon us.” (1 Peter 4:7) Even above this ordered life, however, Peter urges us to “keep [our] love for one another at full strength.” This brotherly love – at its full strength – “cancels innumerable sins.” Perhaps this is partly true because Jesus recognizes our love for Him in how we treat one another.

Paul says, “I will show you the best way of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) The best way is love. Paul reminds that “if [we] have no love, [we] are none the better” even if we “have faith strong enough to move mountains.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) Above all else, “love will never come to an end.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) “There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Let us love one another.

“Set Your Hope On Grace” ( 1 Peter 1: 18 – 19, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

“You are born again,” writes Peter. (1 Peter 1:23) “Conduct yourself in fear during the time of your temporary residence.” (1 Peter 1:17) After all, says Peter: you are a “living stone, being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) “You are [part of] a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] possession.” (1 Peter 2:9) Therefore,”be holy, because [God is] holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Because you are a “stranger and temporary resident” of this earth,”rid yourself of all malice.” (1 Peter 2:11,1) “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) “Be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13) Remember that “you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:3)

“Now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith — more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him though you have not seen Him.” (1 Peter 1:6-8) Even in these various trials,”you are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5) “Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)