God Was With Them

Acts 7:48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands."

As I researched different commentaries on Acts chapter 7, I found this comforting theme woven throughout: God was with them.

Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin, an assembly of 23 to 71 men representing each city in the land of Israel, was a result of charges which were brought against him by this very group. The charges implied that Stephen had spoken blasphemous words against Moses, that he had spoken against the law, and that he had suggested a change in Jewish customs. The Sanhedrin was up in arms that Stephen had suggested that God had never confined himself to one place, such as the temple; and that he had suggested the Jewish people had a habit of rejecting people God sends to them (ie: certain carpenters).

It has been suggested that this testimony in Acts 7 is not really a defense coming from Stephen. Rather than defending himself, Stephen wanted to proclaim the truth about Jesus in a way people could understand. In Stephen's answer to the High Priest's question, "are these charges true?", he outlined the history of Israel; and throughout the years, in the good and the bad, God was always with them:

-God was with them even though for hundreds of years, Abraham's people were enslaved and mistreated.

-God was with Moses, throughout his 40 years in Midian, before he even appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him "take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."

-God was with Stephen when he was stoned after suggesting to the Sanhedrin that they were rejecting Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.

-God was with Stephen when he "fell asleep".

And yet…

-God was also with Saul, though he stood watch over the coats of the witnesses at Stephen's stoning.

Kitchen Table- God Was With Them.JPG

This table was the centerpiece of my grandparents' modest house in Lamesa, a mostly blue collar town in West Texas. At one end of their street was the golf course and tennis court where I enjoyed going on walks, scanning the outside perimeter for rogue golf balls that I could claim. On the other end was a farm with cotton fields for days.

My grandma, a teller at the “Savings & Loan” where there was always an orange lollipop waiting for me when I visited, was also a devout member of the local Church of Christ. My granddad, who owned and ran “Baldwin's” store, the local hot spot for clothing, shoes and accessories, was equally devoted to his Methodist church in town. Until the last few years of my grandma's life, Charles and Peggy kissed each other goodbye every Sunday morning and headed to their separate houses of worship while the lunch roast simmered in the oven. Once church services let out, they would each return home to reunite at the table and share lunch with each other and their children, and eventually, their grandchildren…

Years later, when I was a student at ACU visiting Lamesa for some random weekend (when my dirty laundry bag was bursting at the seams), or when visiting over Thanksgiving break, I'd wake up hungry and bleary eyed and shuffle into the warm kitchen for some weak coffee and toast or cereal. Each morning, I would find Grandma and Granddad settled in at the kitchen table, sharing time in prayer and meditation together. They'd take turns reading out of their dog-eared devotional books, and the words coming out of their mouths sounded like symphonies. I felt it then, and I remember now, that their love and devotion to God, regardless of which denomination they belonged to, blessed their love for each other, and their love for me.

That kitchen table regularly brought together a Methodist and a Church of Christ member. God was with them there. I think it took a lot of years for my grandma to accept that God was beyond the walls of the Church of Christ. She truly feared that my granddad's worship at the Methodist church might be a roadblock to his eternal salvation. I remember her telling me more than once how important it was to have the same faith as the man I married (and I am pretty sure by “faith” she meant the same denomination as well). While I do think having the same church background as my husband, Adam, makes aspects of life easier than they might be otherwise, I'm thankful for the freedom we have in our conviction that God is not only in the temple.

God is also outside the temple. He is with people no matter their circumstance, whether they are going to the “Church of Sand Volleyball” in Los Angeles on Sundays, or the churches at "5th and Bedpost” or "Heavenly Rest” as we called them in college. Whether they are sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the highway, or unpacking boxes in their new home. Whether they are begging on the corner of the street downtown, or covering themselves with a tattered blanket in the park as they go to sleep for another frigid night. As I’ve heard it said in sermons from my past: “God meets you wherever you are… He just doesn’t want you to stay there.”

Angie Willis

Culver Palms Church of Christ, Los Angeles, CA


In Acts 6, Greek speaking widows complained about the distribution of relief given to them compared to the Hebrew speaking widows in the church. The Apostles responded by appointing men to concentrate on material service so they could remain focused on spiritual service. One of the appointed men was Stephen, who was faithful and full of gifts from the Holy Spirit. Other men, who were threatened by his obvious wisdom and authority, sought to undermine and plot against him. Below is a prayer of repentance.


Dear Lord,


Forgive me for not being joyful

Of Your blessings.

Your countless creations lavishly blossom,

Your spectrum of gifts explode in abundance,

But I hold on tight to what I have,

Keeping it hidden and out of the light.

I cling to pride and stinginess.

Your generosity is forgotten

In worries of having enough,

Of being seen as enough.


Forgive my amnesia

Of the aha moments and answered prayers,

The shelter and food,

The closeness to You.

The inheritance.

When you stand against my anxieties,

When you give me strength to meet them.


Forgive me when I’m jealous.

When my inner poverty injures

And I take what doesn’t belong to me

Though You give more than enough.

You supply me with surplus.

Forgive me for ignoring the fears of others

Who hold on tight to what they have

And injure and take

Because they’ve forgotten who You are.


Forgive me for not trusting

That You are good.

For not believing You,

For not trusting You

With this creation.

For not trusting You

With my life.




LaCanas Y Tucker

Manhattan Church of Christ

New York, NY

Freedom to Flourish

You’ve been there. Scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. This once storehouse of pictures of friends’ kids, yummy meals, first days and last days, ball games and special events meant to be celebrated, has now become a landmine of unflattering images of one political candidate or another. One can hardly peruse the news, social media, or even engage in trivial conversation these days without some element of politics rising to the surface. Memes and tweets about fact checking and highlights from the debates usher us to conversations laden with sarcasm and fear. These are troublesome times.

That is where we find the Jewish leaders at the beginning of Acts 4. They are afraid because Peter and John are gaining traction and healing people and telling them about the Resurrection of Jesus. Believing in resurrection was just something Sadducees didn’t do. Their answer was to throw Peter and John in jail. This didn’t seem to phase Peter and John or the crowds of people, because the number of believers continued to grow.

The real question the Jewish Leaders wanted answered was, “By what power or name did you do this?” Charismatic Peter defends, “If we are being called into 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, It is by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified and God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.”

The Jewish leaders found themselves in a predicament. These men before them were plain, ordinary men, speaking with authority and confidence. But more than that, there was a former lame man walking around that could not be ignored. It was undeniable that these men had been with Jesus. The only thing that could be done was to stop them from continuing to spread this news of Jesus.

As they sought to shut down this advancement, Peter’s response was, once again, clear. “ Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Even tough the Jewish leaders continued with threats, they had nothing else to stand on, so they let Peter and John go. The believers praised God upon the their return. After hearing all that the Jewish leaders had done, the believers commissioned Peter and John to speak with boldness in spite of threats and advances. The Holy Spirit blessed them and as a result, the people lived in harmony, sharing their possessions and no one was in need. This communion and unity among the believers was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Community was the result.

Throughout this passage we see a colossal contrast between fear and faith.

The Jewish Leaders (fear):

  • were disturbed
  • seized Peter and John
  • threw them in jail
  • gathered and stewed
  • feared the spread of the message of Jesus
  • threatened
  • ultimately gave in when they had no ground to stand on

Peter, John, and the believers (faith):

  • teaching and proclaiming Jesus
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • showed kindness
  • healed in the name of Jesus
  • stood firm in conviction
  • calmly stood up to threats
  • remained faithful to the Lord
  • remained committed to the cause
  • praised God
  • spoke the Word of God boldly
  • had unity and communion
  • shared everything they had

Fear stifles. The Jewish leaders were anxious as this Way they did not appreciate or understand was gaining momentum. This Jesus momentum was shifting the allegiance of their own devoted followers. A decline in followers could have an adverse domino effect. Fear counters with strident reaction. Worry, anxiety, rash reactions are the result.

Faith gives freedom to flourish. With faith, one can step with boldness in the face of challenges and uncertainty. As Peter and John are thrown into jail for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and healing in his name, they respond to the high priest’s fearful accusations with confidence. The Jewish leaders acknowledged this courage and realized that the disciples’ confidence in the Lord was stronger than their fear of what could happen as a result.

Though I’m not comparing the 2016 election and its results to the Way of Jesus and His resurrection, November 8th is going to come and go. We are going to face other unknown, possibly challenging circumstances in our lives. We can choose to approach uncertainty with fear or faith. Regardless of the end result, we must choose to be confident and say with conviction as Peter, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” Daily, we face this choice. Choose faith. Choose freedom. Choose to flourish. Choose Jesus.

Summer Morris, Children’s Family Minister

North Davis Church of Christ, Arlington, TX


Jesus Tore the Veil

Acts 3 takes place in Herod’s temple. While it is easy to find diagrams and maps of the temple through a simple search, the actual placement of the gate called Beautiful, mentioned there, is unknown. Despite the debate about where the gate is, there is little argument about where the gate led. It led to the women’s court. The women’s court was the space in the temple beyond which women were not permitted to pass. Women could not pass through the Nicanor gate, and could not enter the men’s or priest’s courts. It was outside of the women’s court that Peter and John found and healed the man who was lame from birth. After his healing, Peter preached a short sermon that retells the gospel story. He tells the people gathered in Solomon’s Colonnade that Jesus was the messiah and that they should not be surprised that under His authority the man was made strong again.

Peter and John were likely speaking to a mixed gender crowd because of their location in the temple. Men and women who came to the temple to beg or sacrifice or worship would have all been gathered together here. Women would have seen the miraculous healing of the man who was lame since birth, they would have heard that the healing was done in the name of Jesus the messiah, they would have heard that the earth would be blessed through their offspring, and that the messiah was sent that they might turn from their evil ways.

Peter’s sermon was preached to all who were present, including the women because women were permitted in this part of the temple. Christians of all denominations agree that the message of the messiah is for both men and women. Sadly, what we do disagree about is what women are to do when they believe the gospel. Many would say that women who believe ought to stand quietly in the women’s court and leave the work beyond the veil to the men in the men’s and priest’s courts. And yet, Jesus tore the veil. Three of the gospels tell us that when Jesus died, the temple veil tore from top to bottom. This tearing represented what Christ’s work on the cross did. It opened access to the holy of holies for all who believe in Him. No longer do believers have to offer sacrifices because Christ is the sacrifice, Christ is the way to the holy of holies and this access was not granted to male believers alone. Why then do we persist in maintaining temple like structures in our churches today? Why do we keep women in the women’s court and deny the full work of Christ for the entire body of Christ?

Today, there are special meetings that only men are invited to, meetings in which significant decisions are made in the absence of women. Men meet behind doors that are literally and figuratively closed to women. Many churches have knit the veil back together in order to maintain an order that Christ has already destroyed.

Most who read this will already agree with me, for this reason, it may seem too small an assertion to make. Maybe. I would like to encourage those of us who have heard the gospel and have left everything to follow Jesus, to begin to have discussions about how we are no longer required to maintain the structures of the temple. Instead of replicating the temple and its hierarchies, we ought to accept the good gift of the gospel that Jesus died so that we could all come before God via Christ alone. When we talk about women and their roles in the church, let’s add this to the narrative. Jesus is our high priest and there is no other. There are no barriers to our access to Him and the earthly barriers that have been created were created by men alone.

Who else does the church keep from full participation? As we advocate for ourselves and the right to be full participants in our churches, let’s consider who else may feel excluded and belittled by the maintaining of these ancient structures. I pray that God will give eyes to see and ears to hear what the spirit is saying to the church.

“God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” Acts 3:26

Spring Cooke
Chicago, IL

Let's Go Back

Let me tell you about someone I know. This person is a liar, cheater, and a murderer. This person is ugly, weird, gay, white, black, liberal, conservative, foreign and annoying. I see this person everywhere I go. This person is my neighbor, a classmate, and a co-worker. I see this person at the store, the mall, the bank and sit behind them in the car line at Starbucks. This person has secrets unknown to the world, and has a story that is messy, damaged and raw. This person has been rejected by the church. Do you know this person?

Let me take you back to our roots…

The day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 is historically one of three annual Jewish festivals, called Shavuot. Shavuot was celebrated in Israel to observe the beginning of the wheat harvest, and to commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christ was crucified at Passover and ascended to heaven forty days later. Ten days after his ascension, the Holy Spirit roared through a gathering of people, prompting them speak in tongues and for Peter to give a sermon of lifetime. Peter’s words pierced the hearts of three-thousand people that day and thus founded the Christian Church.

As the Holy Spirit rolled through, those speaking in tongues were accused of being drunk by the Jews (Acts 2:13). Peter however, knew that this was a sign of the Holy Spirit, which had been predicted by the prophet, Joel.

“In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:18) As Peter set the record straight and preached the witness of Christ’s death and resurrection, those listening responded. Acts 2:37a says, “Peter’s words pierced their hearts…”

The word pierced has also been translated from the original Greek to mean cut or pricked, but all are words that we can understand as words causing pain and bloodshed. When skin is punctured, we apply pressure and close up the wound. In this case, their hearts were so deeply wounded by words they were hearing that they knew they would never be the same, so they repented and were baptized. Roughly three-thousand people received the gift of the Holy Spirit that day and went on to build a community of believers.

Before Peter’s sermon, Jews were ridiculing something they did not understand (Acts 2:12-13). I think back to the person I know who has been rejected by the church. The person I do not understand. That person has been placed in each of our paths, and I have to admit that some days it is easier to ignore that person or to allow my lack of understanding or fear to be the wall that stands between us. Acts 2:9-11 names over sixteen nations represented on the day of Pentecost and some scholars believe that over thirty nations were represented in the three-thousand saved that day. These people spoke different languages, there were Jews, gentiles, men, women, liberals, conservatives and those of different skin color and cultural backgrounds. However, the Holy Spirit did not discriminate and a group of believers were created. Our Christian heritage is one of unity poured out by the Spirit.

Christians, come back to this place with me. Come back to a place where the Holy Spirit enters and we cannot help but repent. Come back to a place where fear of the unknown does not control us. Come back to a place where truth is spoken and we listen. Come back to a place where people of different backgrounds can be united because Christ bled, died and rose again, and that is the only truth that truly matters. Come back to the place where our hearts are pierced for truth and for what we do not understand. Come back to our roots. Take this journey with me, because the three-thousand had each other, and those rejected need us, and I need all of you.

“And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47b

Lauren Rutland Hightower
Children’s Minister
University Church of Christ, Shreveport

The Will of My Father

It’s a common thing to hear Christians say, “Come Lord Jesus!” We look at the world around us and see so much corruption and brokenness and we just want Jesus to come and fix it for us by taking us home to be with him. I have been guilty of that myself until a while back when I was at a women’s conference and heard a different perspective on this desire of ours. One of my favorite Bible teachers, Christine Caine, posed this question: How could we be so eager for Jesus to come back so quickly when so many people we see around us are utterly lost in sin? It was a very convicting question for me. Our desire for Jesus to come back soon is so selfishly driven and absolutely not like the character of Jesus. We want to go and be with Jesus, meanwhile we are completely content to leave the rest of the world in the lost state that it is in.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he spent time with his disciples and before he ascended they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) He answered them saying, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (vv. 7-8) If I could reword this conversation it would go like this: The disciples ask Jesus, “Are you going to fix everything now?” Jesus replies, “This is what I need YOU to do...”

Often, we focus on the fact that Jesus came to die for our sins, and rightly so, but we forget that his purpose was so much greater than that. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
(Luke 4:18-19 NASB)

This is the work that the Father sent the Son to this earth to do: to proclaim the good news, free the captives, help the blind to see, free the oppressed, and proclaim the coming judgment of God. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

His final words to his followers were a charge for them to get busy. Not to wait for him, not to just go about their lives thankful for their own salvation, but to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and to get to work! Jesus’ charge to his followers did not stop with the disciples, rather it is something expected of us as well. While we are still living in the fallen world we live in, we are to be about our Father’s business, not walking around with our heads in the clouds waiting for Jesus to come back. Every single day, we encounter people who are captive, blind, lost, brokenhearted, and oppressed. If we believe we don’t, we need to open our eyes.

One problem is that when we do try to fulfill his commission, we fail miserably because we rely solely on our own strength and understanding instead of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. We have not been left alone to figure this all out on our own. Jesus didn’t ask us to do anything without first showing us how to do it or without empowering us through his Spirit. We can see through his encounters with people how we should encounter the lost of this world. He met their physical needs, he restored their dignity, gave them value. He cared for them and loved them. Sometimes he rebuked them. For some, it may have been the simple fact that he spoke to them when society had cast them aside that meant the most to them.

Jesus told his disciples that his food is to do the will Of his Father. (John 4:24) What he meant was that doing the will of his Father is the only thing that truly satisfies him. My prayer is that we will share that sentiment, that we can honestly say that the only thing that brings us real satisfaction is to do the will of our Father.

Karisa Madera
Central Church of Christ
Del Rio, TX