Christian atheism is to believe in God but to live like he doesn’t exist. I want to believe in God and live like I truly believe in God.
Acts 4:5-6 (NIV)
The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family.
Peter and John are standing before the same Jewish ruling council that ordered the execution of Jesus. Peter and John are in hot water, not because of something they did wrong. But once again, something they did, right. They were walking into the temple for prayer. And a man was sitting outside the gates which had been there his whole life. This man had never walked a day in his life. Everybody knew him because he sat there begging for money. After all, he was unable to work. Peter and John walk up for a prayer time, and the guy asks for money. They said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have, we give to you.” He reaches down and helps the guy up. The guy stands, walks for the first time, and starts jumping up and down. This miracle demands an explanation to everybody who’s gathered at the time of prayer at the temple. This miracle stirred up a large crowd and started a commotion.
Peter and John are now called forward to meet with the religious leaders because they want to know how this miracle happened. So they’re standing in front of everybody on the other side of this miracle, wondering if they will kill Peter and John like they killed Jesus.
Acts 4:7-13 (NIV)
They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Looking up words in the original Greek language is often helpful because you can get a broader picture of what the author is trying to convey. When looking up the word unschooled, it means illiterate. We know that Peter was unschooled because his background was as a fisherman. The next word they call the men is ordinary. Translating the word ordinary can also mean idiots. These were unschooled idiots. The religious leaders were blown away because they weren’t specially trained, and yet these ordinary men were able to perform a miracle.
I’m so grateful that God doesn’t call the qualified, but he qualifies the called. He’s not looking for the brightest. He’s not looking for the smartest; He needs a willing heart. A surrendered heart is someone who’s saying, “Here I am, God. Send me!” You’re not disqualified for what you know or don’t know. You’re qualified by who you know and by understanding that salvation is found in no one else.
They saw the courage of Peter and John and were astonished. They took note because these men had been with Jesus. Where did they receive their courage? Well, it comes from having spent time with Jesus. These men had courage and boldness about Him. They stood facing their trial and said, “You’re the one who killed Jesus! Good thing he could raise himself from the dead.” Peter and John weren’t specially trained, but they had been with the most courageous man who ever lived. If you need courage, there’s no courage like knowing Jesus.
We live in a scared world that needs a fearless church. They need a church that would say, “Hey, I get that you’re afraid about the economy, about health, and things going on around the world. But when you have been with Jesus and see what he went through and came out the other side, you know that God is for you and with you. Nothing is going to cause him to leave or forsake you. You might need a message of courage today because you’re going through it. Let’s look at these guys, guys. They had courage when facing the most prominent enemies and people that had killed Jesus. No matter the hardship you face today, or tomorrow, you have everything you need in Him.
There are different hardships that we face. The first hardship is trials. James 1:2-3 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” This perseverance is needed to help you become more like Christ. The key word is attitude.
The difference between trials and testing is that trials come from life and testing comes from God. A lot of people are afraid when they hear that God tests them. God doesn’t need to test you to know your heart. He already knows your heart. God tests us so that WE can know OUR hearts. Testing is God saying, let me put this little challenge in front of you. So you can overcome this challenge. Then you can look at how far you’ve come. The key word is faithfulness. Faithfulness is key during testing. We are faithful to God, not because of our circumstances, but because of our Savior.
John 15:1-2 (NIV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
John 15 is the last sermon Jesus ever gave before he offered us his life. He tells us that He is the vine and the Father is the gardener. He goes on to describe two cuts that the Father makes. Jesus says his father cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, and he prunes so that they will be even more fruitful. Fruitless gets cut off. Every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes. He’s shaping you. Pruning is not a punishment for something you’ve done wrong. It’s a reward to make you more fruitful.
Pruning is not a punishment; it is a reward.
Sometimes we think God is pruning us because he’s disciplining us. That’s not what he’s talking about. Jesus didn’t need to be disciplined, yet he experienced pruning. Suffering from God is not a punishment; it is a gift.
Hebrews 5:8 (NIV)
He [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered.
Suffering is a part of life. If anybody has told you the gospel alleviates suffering, that’s a false gospel. The gospel is not that God takes away suffering. It’s that he joins us amid our suffering. None of us would choose for ourselves to endure suffering. But we are grateful for the gift of a heavenly Father; who understands there are some things we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, but we need to go through them to make this life worth it. Do you want your life to be worth it? It’s not going to be easy, but with Jesus, it’ll be worth it.
Just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s not simple. Let’s keep it uncomplicated. Jesus is the King of making things uncomplicated. He says, “I’m the vine; you’re the branches. You’re fruitless, or you’re not.” God will cut that branch off if you are not living a life of faith. Savage, but it’s true. God will prune you to help you grow even more if you are fruitful. Pruning is not punishment; it’s a blessing. God wants you to succeed. If you can say in your heart, “God, I wouldn’t choose for you to cut me. But if you think I need some pruning In my life, I will embrace it.” If you can do that, I’m telling you, you’re on your way.
The night Jesus was in the garden, he asked his friends to pray for him. He was about to face the most gnarly pruning yet. Jesus even asked his Father if He would take the cup from him if there were any other way than the cross. Jesus waited for his Father to respond and checked on his sleeping friends who were supposed to be praying. Jesus then tells the Father, “Not My will, but Your will.” Jesus chose to embrace the pruning. You might need to embrace what God’s removing from your life right now. I’ve gone through it by losing people I cared about in my life. As much as I wanted to hang on to that friendship, one day, I realized I was fighting for a friendship that wasn’t being fought for. Maybe God was pruning that friendship out of my life because he wanted a new direction for my life. Nothing will change the direction of your life more than the people you spend time with. Embrace that sometimes you need a cut.
Peter and John were described as unschooled ordinary men. But what stood out the most was their courage. They understood that they were men that had been with Jesus. Courage is what you need in a pruning season. It takes courage you trust God even when you don’t understand. Everybody thinks that surrendering is a sign of weakness. But there’s a big difference between giving up and giving in. Giving in is when you say, “Okay, God, let’s do it your way.” That takes courage. You might need to say bye to some things in your life. Embrace the pruning with courage that can only come from how much you know in the Bible. Courage comes from being with Jesus.
John 15:3-5 (NIV)
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
The more time you spend with Jesus, the more you become like him. When you hang out with the most courageous man, who’s ever lived, you’re going to be pretty brave. Keep going, courageously continue embracing the vine so you can have the flow from your life source. You don’t get the flow if you’ve broken off from the vine. The flow is the power of the Holy Spirit made possible through the forgiveness of your sins and your relationship with Jesus. That’s where the flow originates.
Pruning gives us perspective.
We need Heaven’s perspective when we go too long without being pruned. We get selfish. I remember I first started following Jesus and hit my first pruning season. I had sold my car to pay for college. Then later, I had a family member say they’d give me a car. I was super grateful, so my buddy and I flew to Texas to get the car. The day after I returned, I got into a car accident and totaled the car. I went to my pastor’s house (who was my future father-in-law) and told him that the devil was attacking me. I admitted that I was driving too fast. But there’s no way it could have been anything but the devil messing with me. Without missing a beat, he says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee.” He’s like, “What you need, son, is perspective.”
Perspective is prayerfully discerning the situation when we don’t know where the hardship comes from. If you can get perspective, you can discern if it’s a trial, and you just need to hold on and keep an attitude that looks like Christ. Maybe the hardship is a test because God loves you. He’s showing you how much you’ve grown and helping you become stronger. In that case, hold on, stay faithful, and don’t give in. Or maybe you need pruning even though you wouldn’t choose this for yourself. You need courage that only comes from Jesus.
God, it’s me again. I am not too prideful to admit that I need your help. I needed to be saved yesterday, I need to be saved today, and I will need to be saved tomorrow. I need the help of the Holy Spirit because I want to do everything you’ve called me to do. Lord, I can even sense the things in my life that you’re cutting out of my life. God, I don’t want to say goodbye to those things because they’ve comforted me. But, Father, you care more about my character than my comfort. So, Lord, I embrace what you’re doing in me and ask for your help. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.