Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dogs and Children’s Crumbs



Scripture:

Mark 7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Mark 7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Mark 7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Mark 7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”
Mark 7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Observation:

A woman stepped out on faith to address Jesus. Not only was she a woman, but she was not a Jew, and as such would have been completely out of place having a conversation with a Jewish rabbi. This reveals the depth of her faith. She had heard about this man and the miracles that were being accomplished and she was desperate to find help for her daughter. So great was her faith that she didn’t bring her daughter with her, but simply believed that she could ask the man to do this work and it would happen.

Jesus’ response may, at first glance, seem a bit odd, however, he is referring to his ministry to the Jews. He is explaining to this gentile woman that he had come to preach first to the Jews. Now the reference to the dogs is not a derogatory term because he’s not referring to wild bands of dogs, but the term actually refers to the beloved household pet — the one that gets to sit on your lap and run around the dinner table being fed by the children when parents aren’t looking. The woman understands that he is there to minister to the Jews but she is the one who reminds him that the beloved household pets get fed as well, thus foreshadowing a ministry beyond the Jews but one that reaches out to the Gentiles. It was an expression of her faith and understanding that he was not just bringing salvation to the Jews, but this would be the redemption of all humankind. Further, this miracle is the only one in Mark that is done from a distance.

Application:

Dogs and children’s crumbs are a promise of a powerful kingdom that reaches beyond the visible and reaches into a future that touches you and me.

Prayer:

Lord, may I have faith like this woman and trust in you. Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Through Faith for Faith



Scripture:

Rom. 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Observation:

This entire concept of living by faith was new to those who had been under the law. As far as Paul is concerned prevenient grace is at work as the righteousness of God is revealed to Jew and Gentile alike.  Therefore we see prevenient grace opening the eyes of humankind to the righteousness of God. As we respond to God’s grace in our lives through faith we see the righteousness of God and are prompted to respond. One cannot be in the presence of the righteousness of God for long without sensing a need to respond through faith and it is in this step of faith that we are brought to faith. Therefore it is only by responding to what has been revealed to us by faith that we may experience faith for salvation and in this is transformation, for the one who has now experienced the righteousness of God through faith will live the sanctified life day in and day out by faith.

Application:

There is something, by nature,  inherently evangelical in this scenario. As the people of God respond in faith to the revealed righteousness of God they are transformed by faith. Through faith - for faith. The result ought to be an ongoing revelation of Jesus Christ in the personal life of the one living in faith. As we live in faith then it is through our faith that the righteousness of God is revealed to others around us — drawing them through our faith to faith.

This makes me wonder what may be happening in a church where there are very few being drawn toward faith. It seems to me that it speaks volumes about the faith of those who are already in the church, for it is through faith that people are brought to faith.

Maybe this phrase ought to make us examine our own walk with the Lord today. Have I been walking in faith — in a faith that reveals the righteousness of God? If others were to describe God by what they see in us, what would God look like to them?

The truth is simple. We are to walk in faith, a faith that reveals God’s righteousness in all that we say and do, thus our lives become a channel of God’s prevenient grace.

Prayer:

Lord, as I walk in a foreign land today, may your lead me, in faith. Amen.

Traveling Companions



Scripture:

Acts 27:1 ¶ When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius.
Acts 27:2 Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.

Observation:


Paul had appealed to Caesar and was now being sent to Rome. He is placed on the ship with a kind and supportive centurion, along with Aristarchus and presumably Luke who continues to write as if he were present. Luke and Aristarchus have been faithfully present with Paul in many circumstances of his ministry. Aristarchus is one of the gentlemen that the people if Ephesus tackle and take into the theater during the riot in Ephesus. He and Luke have been with Paul during the good and the bad and have now determined to travel with him to what will become the very end of Paul’s life.

Application:


The fellowship of the believers is a reflection of the relationship found within God, in the Trinity. As God’s children we are challenged to participate in the fellowship of the believers and there are times in which this becomes invaluable to our lives.

Paul’s companions had been team-mates when it came to his ministry. They had partnered together, covering numerous a wide swath of society and geography sharing the good news of the Way. Each traveling companion helped to support the ministry in their own way, whether using their vocational skills, financial resources, or ministry abilities, it all worked together for the good of the ministry. They had good and bad days in ministry, but they continued to work together.

The days of planting new churches must have been exciting and yet they suddenly find themselves in a new and different phase. Paul has become a prisoner and while they have not been arrested, they choose to be close by and continue to support him. In good circumstances or bad, these friends are staying close. They themselves are having to sacrifice their own “normal” lives to be close to and minister to and with Paul. Yet this is also a reflection of God. God’s love, kindness and patience with us are revealed in the relationship of these friends.

Paul beings the final journey to Rome and again, his friends would not have to go with him and yet you have the sense that no on head to ask, they just came along. These would be painful hours enduring a trip across the sea and all that this would bring. And just as these friends are called into the journey with Paul, there are times in life when we are either the companions, or we are Paul, and there is something amazing about having our traveling companions with us.

I think about those who sojourn the last hours of their lives — those who may have suffered terribly from illness and the journey seems unbearable. Just like Paul’s companions who were faithful, there are those of us who are called to be faithful companions of our loved ones and those with whom we have traveled through life. We are, at times, called to simply engage in the ministry of presence. Sitting, talking, waiting, going through ship-wreck, and yet all the while making the journey in the presence of God.

I am grateful for traveling companions with whom I have journeyed in life — family members, friends, and loved ones. May God help us to be the traveling companions that others need, and may we never take for granted the ones that he has provided. Cherish the traveling companions!

Prayer:


Lord, may I be a supportive traveling companion to others who have been on this journey, to your glory. Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rumors and Response



Scripture:

Acts 21:17 ¶ When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly.
Acts 21:18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present.
Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Acts 21:20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.
Acts 21:21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.
Acts 21:22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
Acts 21:23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow.
Acts 21:24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.
Acts 21:25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
Acts 21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Observation:

Paul arrived back in Jerusalem and the inner circle warmly welcomed him. They were excited to hear about the missionary journeys and all that God had been doing among the Gentiles, but there was a problem. Rumors had spread throughout Jerusalem about Paul’s ministry and the group gathered together to talk to Paul about this issue.

They were feeling the pressure of all the lies that were being spread and they thought that something had to be done to address them. They encouraged Paul to tackle the rumors by trying to prove to those who were upset that he was really a committed Jew. We don’t get a feel for the conversation but some commentators believe that Paul reluctantly agreed to the plan of action and probably against his better judgement. How would trying to prove anything to the rumor mill solve anything? But, indeed, they chose to try and respond by showing the people that Paul was committed to Jewish law and customs by joining with four men who had been under a vow. He went through purification with them and paid to have their heads shaved.

Paul’s action of joining with these four did nothing to dispel the talk against him. Those who were spreading rumors about him had made up their minds and nothing that Paul could do would change their opinion. John Wesley said that the response flowed from carnal wisdom and not from the Spirit. In this case, human wisdom tried to prevail and instead of simply being who he was in the Spirit, Paul agreed to try and appease the rumor mongers. It failed.

Application:

Social media has created a medium by which rumors can be fanned into flames in almost a nano-second. There is a great temptation, yes, even among God’s people — to participate in the spreading of rumors.

What are we to do in the midst of a rumor driven world? Let’s try and learn from Paul’s situation.

1) Don’t spread the rumors. Be the one who stops the talk.

2) Live your life in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Holy Spirit to be your guide in all things.

3) Be true to what the Spirit is saying. In other words, keep your eyes on Jesus and live in such a relationship with him that the only thing that matters is him!

4) Don’t react to rumors — even if they are about you! Go back to points 2 and 3 — live in the flow of the Spirit and keep your eyes on Jesus.

5) Don’t react with carnal wisdom — let the Spirit do the work. Writing that letter or response or doing things to appease people may simply make things worse!

The situations in which we find ourselves today are not new — only the tools that are utilized are new. May we learn from the past and put into practice the lessons learned in the present and may God help his people to be bearers of his truth, living lives of holiness on a daily basis.

Prayer:

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14) Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Preaching, Teaching and Healing: A Model for Ministry



Scripture:

Acts 19:8 ¶ He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Acts 19:9 When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
Acts 19:10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
Acts 19:11 ¶ God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,
Acts 19:12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.

Observation:

Paul was beginning his ministry in Ephesus and as usual, he started out by preaching in the synagogue. However, after three months the religious folks were no longer willing to listen to Paul. They were even sabotaging his ministry by speaking poorly of him. Because of this difficulty he moved from preaching to the lecture hall. We don’t know who Tyrannus was but it’s believed that he had a large lecture hall where possibly Philosophy was taught in the morning hours. During the heat of the day the hall would not normally have been used so it’s not difficult to imagine that Paul was able to use the hall from 11am until 3-4pm. The Christians may have paid to rent the hall during these hours, or it may have been donated to them for this purpose, but we do know that it became Paul’s practice to have these “hours” in which he could be found at this location. Daily he would lecture in this hall, possibly teaching the very students who studied philosophy in the morning and bringing them to a new philosophy or understanding of truth during his hours at the lectern.

His teaching began to draw massive crowds. The lecture hall probably held more than the synagogue could have held and now he wasn’t just preaching on the sabbath, but every day he was teaching Greeks and Jews alike. Not only was he preaching and teaching, but God was working miracles through him. People were overwhelmed with what they saw and would bring to him pieces of cloth for him to touch and then they would take that home to their sick friends or relatives and they were healed! What happened was amazing.

Application:


This was Paul’s plan for ministry. He had a strategy for church planting in a new city and it was one which focused on Christ. His preaching focused on Christ. His teaching focused on people getting to know Christ and in the midst of it all we see that Christ was his pattern. Jesus went about teaching, preaching and healing and now Paul is doing the very same thing. Paul admonished the people to follow him as he followed Christ.

Ministry should include the preaching of Christ. He is the one to be lifted up — he is the one to whom all preaching should point.

Ministry must include teaching — a teaching which challenges people to the very core of their understanding and encourages them to take up their cross and follow Jesus. It is a teaching which is robust enough that it can reach the mind of the philosopher and yet, gentle enough to touch the heart of a child.

Ministry must include healing — in the form of the transformative power of God’s Holy Spirit. This may include physical healing, emotional healing and/or spiritual healing but if there is no touch on the life of people then ministry is lacking.

The city of Ephesus was transformed during Paul’s period of ministry which lasted for nearly three years. A city which had worshipped their own personal goddess and had one of the seven wonders of the ancient world in their midst was brought to their knees by the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit through the ministry of Paul and his disciples.

Jesus is our model for ministry. All ministry must be Christ centered! Paul followed Christ. Paul encourages us to follow him as he followed Christ. May all ministry point in the direction of Christ — he is the living model.

Prayer:

Lord, may I seek your face today and may you help me follow in your steps.  Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Turning the World Upside Down



Scripture:

Acts 17:1 ¶ After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
Acts 17:2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,
Acts 17:3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”
Acts 17:4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
Acts 17:5 But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house.
Acts 17:6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,
Acts 17:7 and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”
Acts 17:8 The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this,
Acts 17:9 and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.

Observation:


Paul and Silas were developing a rhythm to their ministry. Paul had a plan for his ministry and this included going to the Jewish synagogue every sabbath. He knew exactly what he was doing and could preach well because he was a well-educated man. In the synagogue he would argue about the Messiah from the scriptures.

As a result of his preaching and apologetics a number of Jews became believers. Devout Greeks were known as “God-fearers” and a number of them kept the Mosaic laws, except for circumcision.

Macedonia was a unique region in regard to women. Here we see that a number of the leading women were coming to Christ and this was significant. Remember that in Philippi it was Lydia who first came to Christ and the church began to meet at her home. The women in Macedonia are significant to helping create a foothold for Christianity in Europe. Macedonia as opposed to Athens had different laws regarding women. The Athenian laws made women little more than the status of a slave and to educate her was to make her a prostitute. In Macedonia public statues were erected in honor of notable women and it was not uncommon for a man to take his last name from his mother. It was into this environment that God sent Paul — to Macedonia to begin the European work of Christianity.

As a result of Paul and Silas’ intentional effort to preach about Christ a number of people became believers and this troubled the religious authorities. They weren’t troubled because of Paul’s theology — they were jealous because of his popularity and that people were following what he had to say. The result of Paul and Silas’ work was that the peaceful little world was being stirred up in Thessalonica. Instead of business as usual on a day to day basis, this new faith in the Messiah was changing things and there were those who did not like change. They wanted the status quo, so much so, that the religious leaders were willing to get some “ruffians” to “ruff” up these men who were preaching about the Messiah. Not being able to find Paul and Silas they still wanted to make a point and drug Jason and some other believers to court claiming that they had turned the world upside down.

Application:

The most important thing for the religious leaders in Thessalonica was the status quo. They didn’t want anything to come along that would change the way in which they lived their lives day in and day out. They had positions of respect in the community. People listened to them and did what they told them to do and life just went on, day in and day out in a particular rhythm. Although they had preached about a coming Messiah, they probably had preconceived notions of what that was supposed to look like.

If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we like the comfort of the status quo. It feels good when life has a particular rhythm and routine and when that gets stirred up we become uncomfortable.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not called to the status quo. We are called to a radical obedience that turns the world upside down.

Our obedience to Christ should make those around us a bit uncomfortable.

Even in today’s world the reason that people don’t want Christians around is because it changes things. Many countries are uncomfortable with people becoming Christians because it changes the rhythm of society. If we think that being a follower of Jesus Christ is always peaceful and doesn’t cause consternation in society, then we don’t really understand what it means to be a Jesus follower. Following Christ has always been counter cultural — even when it came to status quo religion. Phineas F. Bresee, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene used to talk about Christianizing Christianity. There he was — stirring up trouble among the status quo Christians of his day!

We are called to follow the example of Paul and Silas - who turned the world upside down. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s not safe. It’s not comfortable. It’s world changing.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to faithfully serve you in obedience on a daily basis.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Very Much Annoyed



Scripture:


Acts 16:16 ¶ One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
Acts 16:17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Acts 16:18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Observation:

This is an interesting incident where Paul was regularly being confronted by a slave girl who was being used by her owners. Different translations have given us a variety of perspectives on his feelings toward this situation. The King James Version says that he was “grieved.” This conveys a feeling of sympathy, empathy and pain regarding the condition of the girl. She was being exploited by those who owned her and the injustice of the situation grieved him.

The 1984 NIV says that Paul “became so troubled” that he decided to take action. The language here is a little nuanced from the KJV, and not only does he feel a sadness or grief, but he is troubled to the point of intervention.

The latest NIV and NRSV both use the phrase “very much annoyed” to explain how Paul felt at the moment. It seems that we have struggled with English language terminology which is strong enough to convey how Paul was feeling at the time. What Paul was witnessing was a huge injustice. A young girl was being used to make money for her owners and not only was she being exploited, the spirit within her, not from the Lord was taunting Paul and his witness. He didn’t need this kind of support for his ministry. Therefore his response serves two purposes, setting the girl free and disconnecting the power and work of God from that of the men who were engaged in evil.

Application:

Is there anything that very much annoys us today — to the point where we would want to take action? There probably should be!

The injustice of exploitation ought to make us mad! There is a time and place for being grieved, troubled and just plain old annoyed. These are not un-Christlike attributes. Jesus was annoyed at the injustice that he found in the temple. He was moved to do something about it and Paul takes action as well. We are not to tolerate this kind of activity and as followers of Christ we are to help set people free from the bondage.

The ‘muddling’ of the Gospel should also annoy us. When those on the outside seek to ‘help’ us with our message then people will receive mixed messages. Followers of Christ should be responsible for the message that we present. Make sure it is presented clearly and don’t allow by-standers to be the extra support that you need. Proclaim Christ and allow his hand to be at work in the world so that his power is revealed.

There are moments when we will be righteously - very much annoyed and driven to action. Follow the example of Paul and be bold in response.

Prayer:


Lord, please give me discernment for those moments when I am to act.  Amen.