Wednesday, Jan. 28

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Wednesday

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.  In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.  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.”  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. 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. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.   - Acts 9:36-42


The outstanding characteristic of this woman, Dorcas, was grace and ministering in selfless love. She helped others. Her very name, both in Hebrew and Greek, means Gazelle (I’m guessing she went by the Aramaic version her name Tabitha, rather than the Greek version Dorcas).  A gazelle is an animal characterized by grace.  We are also told that she was a disciple, this means she was a sincere follower of Jesus and an important leader in that Christian community.  The believers in Joppa have heard that the apostle Peter is in the neighboring village of Lydda, and in their grief they send for him to come to Joppa.  We don’t know for sue if they thought that Peter could raise her from the dead, or if they only wanted the comfort he might provide in the midst of their loss.  

The real question is, what is the purpose of this story?  What is the account of this miracle meant to show us?  Here again (just as in the previous miracle of the paralytic being healed) we get a story that shows us not only God’s power to heal physical disease and death, but His mighty power to bring us to life spiritually!  

In the same way that a paralyzed person cannot take any steps toward Christ until He first heals him, neither can a dead person live a life pleasing to God until He first brings them back to life.  The New Testament makes this point abundantly clear - we are DEAD in our sins until Jesus heals us and brings us to life.  

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world.  - Ephesians 2:1-2

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.  - Colossians 2:13


The name of Jesus is able to do what no amount of human persuasion or human power can ever do.  He alone can impart strength and sensation to paralyzed legs.  His power alone can raise a corpse from the dead.  He alone can call a soul out of spiritual bondage and give it eternal life.  


We are only His instruments, and if we think that any of the power depends on us, we misunderstand how He works. In fact, it is only when we sense our complete inability, as Peter surely did when he knelt and prayed for Dorcas to be raised, that we are in the place God wants us.  If you have any confidence in your ability to lead a soul to faith in Christ, it is misplaced confidence. But if you cry out, “O Lord, who am I to raise the dead?  But You can do the humanly impossible through me” - then, God will work wonders!

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, Jan. 27

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Tuesday

Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. - Acts 9:32-34

Here we have a story about the healing of paralysis of the body. For eight years it held this man impotent, unable to fulfill life as God intended human life to be lived.  We don’t know much at all about this man.  We are not told if he was a member of the church in Lydda, or if he was just some guy in the town.  All we know is his name, Aeneas, which was a very common greek name in the first century.  I think the point is that this could be anybody, this guy represents us all, he pictures the condition of humanity apart from Christ.

He was paralyzed; he could not move. This can happen to the spirit as well. In fact it does happen to many of us. Some of you are suffering from paralysis of the will, from paralysis of the spirit. There are things you have been wanting to do, knowing that you ought to do them. For years you have been saying, "Oh, I wish I could do that. I'd like to. Someday I want to do it." But you never have. You are suffering from paralysis of the will because you are looking to your own resources. You hope that someday, somehow you will get some new desire, and then when you feel motivated, then you will do it.

The truth is that apart from the power of Jesus Christ, you and I can no more take steps to change our sinful condition than a paralyzed man can get up and walk!  It is to this very condition of the soul that this story makes its appeal. Jesus Christ says to you, "Rise, and begin to live. Do what I’ve called you to do, and do it in my name!”  That is what this account is for - to show us that Jesus Christ can heal us from the paralysis of death.

It is very interesting to notice that the miracle Jesus does through Peter here in Acts 9, closely parallels a miracle that Jesus Himself performed in Matthew 9 - And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”   - Matthew 9:2-6


In this account, not only does Jesus also heal a paralytic, but He actually gives us the reason for why He healed him.  He is showing the religious leaders, and us, which is the greater miracle!  I think we have a strong tendency to focus on the wrong things.  We too often focus our hopes on the material world and the on the hope of a physical healing, but the greater miracle is not the fact that Jesus can make a lame person walk or a sick person well, it is the healing that Christ does in our hearts; the forgiveness of our sins and our redemption through the Cross!


Jeff Frazier

Monday, Jan. 26

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Monday

In the last year or so of Paul's life, when he was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote a letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. And, looking back across the years of his ministry, he spoke of the coming of our Savior Christ Jesus, "who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Tim. 1:10). That is the great and central fact in the good news about Jesus Christ: He has done what no other can ever do - he has abolished death. That is what is unique about the gospel!

Death has many forms. We actually begin to die long before we take our last breath. Death seizes us in many areas of our life other than the physical. There are many forms of death. Boredom is death. Sickness, of course, is death, but despair is also death. Fear and worry are forms of death. Mental illness is death, but so is bitterness of spirit. Death can seize our life while we live, and rule over great areas of our life long before we ever die. We know that from experience. But the great good news of Jesus Christ is that he has come to abolish death, death in every form, whatever it may be.

In Acts 9 we see two stories of healing from two different kinds of death.  We will see how in each case the power of Jesus Christ abolishes death. The first incident is a picture of death's power to paralyze.

 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. - Acts 9:32-34

If you have ever been to Israel, you have probably been to Lydda. If you fly into Israel that is where you land. The airport outside Tel Aviv is at the ancient town of Lydda.  It was to this village that Peter came on his way down from Jerusalem, visiting among the new churches of Judea and Samaria. The church had been thrust out from Jerusalem and pockets of Christianity had begun in all the villages in Judea and Samaria. In Lydda he finds a man who had been paralyzed for eight years.

Now Peter was no faith healer. He was not like the TV faith healers in America today who make grandiose claims of possessing powers to heal people. Peter never said that he had any power to heal anyone. "Jesus Christ heals you," he says. Peter was but the instrument and channel of his healing power.  This man was made well instantaneously. As we have seen before in Acts, these physical miracles are a picture of the spiritual miracle that God wants to perform in every human spirit. God heals physically. He still does, and there are numerous perfectly valid instances of modern healings. But one thing is true of those today, just as in New Testament days: God heals physically only selectively. He never heals everybody that is sick. Jesus did not even when He walked the earth.  He healed selectively, because it is intended to picture the healing of the soul. That is what God really wants. Any healing of the body is, at best, temporary. 

Every one who was ever healed in New Testament days died later on. The healing of their bodies was just temporary because it was designed to be a picture.  It is God's wonderful way of illustrating the healing of the sinful heart which would be eternal and which is really what God wants!  

Jeff Frazier

Friday, January 23rd

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Friday, January 23

Acts 10:44-48


While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Sometimes I like to read the headlines in the tabloid newspapers that line the check-out aisle in the local grocery store.

I get a chuckle out of headlines like, “Man Gives Birth!” or “Aliens Build Hotel in Manhattan!” or “Elvis is Alive!”

Imagine the headlines in the local tabloid of Caesarea the day after this story takes place.

“Romans Receive the Holy Spirit!”

“Romans are Baptized!”

I think we can scarcely imagine the shocking and even revolutionary nature of this story!

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.

I love that last line, “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”

I’m a Gentile and you are too, unless, of course, you were born into a Jewish family. Luke is saying that there was a time when we Gentiles were considered extremely unlikely  to respond to the gospel.

“...the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”

That makes me smile! We, who tend to consider ourselves as insiders, were once considered to be such outsiders that it was seen as a miracle when one of us came to faith!

I think there are several things we can take away from this story.

First of all, gratitude. We know the joy of salvation and the grace of Christ because of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius is regarded traditionally as the first Gentile convert to Christ.

We are his descendants.

Second, as followers of Jesus, we are now commissioned to play the role of Peter. We are be the one who is willing to reach across boundaries, to break the social and religious rules of the day, in order to share the good news with those who are hungry for truth.

Who do we regard as unclean?

Who do we regard as unlikely to respond?

What prejudices or attitudes do we carry that effectively keep people as outsiders?

Peter listened to God. Peter put aside his own prejudices and assumptions. Peter went to the home of Cornelius. Peter shared the gospel and the Holy Spirit took over from there.

What a great story!

May it be our story!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, January 22nd

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Thursday, January 22

Acts 10: 34-43


So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Picture the scene.

Cornelius, the Roman soldier who serves a pagan emperor, has invited a bunch of his Roman friends and family to his house so they can all hear what a Jewish man named Peter has to say about God.

Peter, the Jewish fisherman who became a disciple of Jesus, and who once tried to kill a Roman soldier with his sword, is being led to Cornelius’s house.

Just a few days earlier Peter would have considered it a sin to enter the house of a Roman. Just a few months before Peter would have hated Cornelius without even meeting him, simply because he was a Roman.

Peter preaches the gospel of Jesus to a room full of people that he would have regarded as unclean and unreachable “outsiders” just days earlier.

It’s a crazy and completely miraculous scene; one that simply could not have happened without God’s intervention and design.

God has arranged for an Apostle of the good news to be in the same room with a Roman spiritual seeker along with his friends and family.

God led Cornelius to Peter; and God led Peter to Cornelius. He brings them together by the power of the gospel and for the purpose of the gospel. Peter summarizes the gospel like this:

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

I think this story is an example of what some call a “divine appointment.”

As pastor I have the privilege of hearing lots of stories like this.

Our church has a very active food ministry, called “Shepherd’s Heart Food Pantry.” Many of our clients happen to be Spanish speaking. We are also getting ready to launch a church-wide 8-week small group experience called “The All Time Best Seller Book Club” and encouraging people to invite friends who may never have read the Bible to join the experience. Well, Erin Wise, who is the Director of Shepherd’s Heart Ministries, made sure to put a few Spanish versions of the New Testament on a table near the food pantry where they could be easily seen. Soon some of the Spanish speaking people coming for food started asking about the All Time Best Seller book Club, and before we knew it we had 17 families signed up for a Spanish speaking study group! And guess what? A couple of months ago we hired a new worship leader named Eli Munoz who happens to be bi-lingual. So Eli is leading our first ever Spanish speaking Bible study group!

That feels like a “divine appointment” to me! That feels like a Book of Acts story to me.

I could share many more stories just like that but the real question is, “What’s your story?” or, “What divine appointment might God have for you today?”

Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, January 21st

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Wednesday, January 21

Acts 10:21-33


And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?" And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me." And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord."


Back in 2007 our family traveled to Kenya with an FBCG short term team. While there we participated in a short safari experience which was one of the truly memorable events in our family life.

While on that safari we met a young man who was working as a kind of busboy at the safari village. He called himself, “Joseph.”

I noticed that his earlobes had been pierced and stretched out, like we had seen when we visited a Masai village a few days earlier.

I was curious so I asked him if he was Masai.

He indicated that he was indeed from the Masai people and seemed very glad that I noticed his ears. We then started a conversation.

A few minutes later my boys walked up so I introduced them.

“Joseph, these are my sons, Jordan, Jesse, Micah and Canaan,” I said.

He shook their hands very politely, then pointed at Micah and said, “What was this one’s name again?”

I said, “Micah.”

He said, “Like the prophet in the Bible?”

I was surprised so I said, “Yes, Micah from the Bible. Have you read the Bible?”

He said, “Yes, I am a Christian.”

Now I was really curious, so I said, “Would you mind telling us how you, as a Masai, became a Christian?”

He seemed delighted to be asked!

He said that as a Masai tribesman he grew up believing in one God; the God who created the world. He just didn’t know much about that God.

He said that when he was a young man he had a series of dreams that were very clear and very powerful. In one of the dreams he was trying to climb a long ladder into heaven only to be told that he was not permitted to climb all the way into heaven.

In another dream he was pursued by a bright light from heaven that would not let him hide. The light followed him everywhere, even when he tried to bury himself in the ground.

Then one day, he said, a Christian Masai missionary came to his village and began to teach the Bible. He had never seen or heard of the Bible before, but he said he almost immediately began to recognize some of the Bible stories from his dreams.

Eventually he came to understand that the way to heaven was faith in Jesus, and that the light that pursued him was Jesus, the light of the world. And he became a Christian.

In the story Luke is telling, we learn that Cornelius is a devout man who gives alms and prays to God the best he can. But then he has a vision in which God told him to send for a man who could explain the gospel to him. God simultaneously prepares Peter to go to Cornelius’s house. When he arrives Cornelius says:

"Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord."

Just as my Masai friend Joseph knew about God but needed a missionary to explain the gospel to him, so Cornelius needs Peter to explain how God sent Jesus to die on the cross for his sins.

God is teaching Peter that he is no longer to think of himself as an insider and the Romans as outsiders! He is not to think of the gospel as something to be hoarded and protected by insiders, but something to be shared with all people, whatever their religious or cultural background.

Have you ever slipped into thinking of the church or your faith in terms of insiders and outsiders? Many of us do. Have you ever thought of certain people as being beyond the reach of God’s grace? Sometimes it’s tempting to think that way.

Have you ever asked God to lead you to, and allow you to help someone like Cornelius? Would you be bold enough to pray that prayer?


Pastor Brian Coffey

Tuesday, January 20th

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Tuesday, January 20

Acts 10:9-20


The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them."

As people who have spent our lives as North American Christians we don’t tend think of food in religious terms. We feel pretty much free to eat anything that we find palatable, from cheeseburgers to pulled pork sandwiches. We might have medical or health reasons, like a peanut allergy, to avoid certain foods; or we might choose a vegetarian or gluten free diet; but we don’t think of food in terms of sin or disobedience to God.

Except for brussels sprouts! I personally believe brussels sprouts are evil, but that’s a story for a different time!

But first century Jews thought of food in religious terms.

Back in the Old Testament God had given his people certain commands about certain foods as a reminder of his holiness.

For example: They were to avoid shellfish and pork because those creatures consumed human waste and were therefore regarded as “unclean.”

These laws about food helped define them as a people, as “insiders.”

So when Peter says, “I have never eaten anything common or unclean...” he is saying that his obedience to food laws is part of made him acceptable to God. It was part of what made him a spiritual “insider.”

And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Throughout scripture when God says something 3 times; as when he called to young Samuel three times, or asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” he is saying or asking something very important.

Luke tells us that three times Peter hears a voice say, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

What does this mean and why is it so important?

God is shifting the discussion from food to people.

The ancient Jews not only regarded certain foods as unclean, but certain people as well. Anyone who was not a Jew was considered unclean before God and therefore beyond the reach of the blessing and grace of God.

God is telling Peter; “Not so!”

God is telling Peter that the gospel changes the game. Just as Jesus had forgiven Peter for his three denials, Jesus could forgive a pagan Roman.

Are people different from each other? Yes! Are there people who are spiritually lost or far from God? Yes! But there are no “unclean” people in the sense of being unreachable or unlovable!

I think it’s difficult for us to understand how earth-shaking this would have been for Peter. God is turning upside down everything he has always believed about God, about himself and about the world around him. God is telling him it’s possible to care for and love those he once despised and avoided. God is telling him that, in Jesus, his love and forgiveness is as available to the pagan as it is to him, a Jew.

God is preparing Peter for his encounter with a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

Who might God be preparing you to meet?

Pastor Brian Coffey