Friday, October 26, 2012
Acts 24:25 And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”
Paul had been taken to Caesarea where he was to stand trial. The governor of the area was Felix, a rather corrupt man. He made his money by taking bribes from those within his power. Bribes were not the only thing that he had taken, he had also taken another man's wife. Drusilla had been married to another man, a king from another region. She had married him at a young age but by 16 had engaged in a relationship with Felix. She was a Jewish woman who would have been raised in accordance with the laws of Moses and an expectation of righteous and upright living. Now, she is around twenty years of age, divorced and married to her second husband, Felix. It is this couple that invites Paul to argue the faith before them. More than likely they were hoping to be entertained by his theological arguments regarding his faith. Instead, he begins discussing the lifestyle that God's people are to follow. They are to treat people justly, they are to maintain self-control and be aware of the coming judgment. Obviously this message gets to Felix. He becomes frightened. Isn't this a turn of events! Shouldn't it have been Paul that was frightened to have to argue his case before the governor. Instead, through the subtly of Paul's message, it is the governor who is in the "hot seat." Not knowing how to rightly respond, Felix sends Paul away. Better to have him out of sight than to fill him with conviction. More than likely Felix thought that eventually Paul would offer a bribe to be set free. He never does and remains there for two years. And what about Drusilla? She appears to be unmoved.
Paul could have argued his own defense in front of Felix and Drusilla but instead, what might be easy to miss is that he actually brings a message which he knows will bring convictions to their own lives. Why? Is it because he wants them to feel bad? No, because even in this situation, where Paul is the prisoner, he is trying to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are lost and desperately need salvation. Felix and Drusilla were lost! They had made decision after decision that was leading them to a path of destruction. Paul did not relish in this. Instead he pointed out that God demands justice and self-control. Why? Because these were the points of temptation in Felix and Drusilla's lives. Felix did not act as a just governor. In fact, he was a very corrupt governor and that corruption would eventually lead to his demise. Paul wanted to save the man. The prisoner wanted to save those who had imprisoned him. And Drusilla, she struggled with self-control. She had been willing to throw away a marriage to a king so that she could be with Felix. She was the daughter of Agrippa I, she was Jewish, she was from a royal household and yet she seemed to be the daughter of scandal. She had shown no self-control but had simply followed the passions of her heart which had brought her to the place where she was that day. And Paul preaches out of a heart of compassion, that God's people are to be a people of self-control.
Finally Paul leads into this discussion of coming judgment. Why? To scare them into repentance? I'm not sure that it was about fear, but about realistically placing before them the fact that there would be a day of judgment where they would be held accountable for their actions. Sometimes we need to experience some healthy fear and respect for God. I know that in today's day we shy away from some of the negative discussions, but should we? Paul was simply being forthright and honest with Felix and Drusilla. They were not living as people of God, and as a result a day of judgment would come!
Conviction gripped Felix. He knew he was in the wrong. But his response is the one that we so often encounter. Instead of responding to the call of God, instead of repenting, he put it off. He didn't want to be confronted and maybe it would be easier to go on with life if conviction weren't staring him in the face. However, we all know that simply putting it off is not a solution, and it wasn't a solution for Felix. If we are sensing God's leading or conviction on our lives we need to respond -- now! It is not something that ought to be put off. God places his truths before us so that we can ask for his help and leading so that we can live our lives as people of God. Transformation is possible. Paul was confronted on the Damascus road and that very day he said "yes" to Jesus and his life was never the same.
What happened to Drusilla? We know that she lived life, had two children and died in the explosion of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed the city of Pompeii, along with her son. Her day of judgment certainly came!
Lord, may I be obedient on a daily basis to the truths which you place before me. Amen.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Acts 13:9 But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him
Acts 13:10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?
Paul encountered a man who was a false prophet and also a magician. He was influential with the leaders of the area, able to share with them what seemed to be great words of advice, as well as do magic acts which gave the appearance of great power. However, when Paul met with this man, he could see right through him. He could see that this man was simply trying to improve his personal image, gain power and use it for his personal benefit. Also, while pursuing his own personal good, he was very willing to lead others astray. God has provided straight pathways for us, but self-interest turns those paths into winding roads which lead to destruction.
As followers of Christ we must pray for a discerning spirit. God is good and faithful and has prepared straight paths for us. What does that mean? It means that when we are sensitive to him and his leading, it becomes easy to know the direction in which we should go. Unfortunately it tends to be the voices of those who appear to be well-meaning individuals that can lead us astray. Why was Paul able to discern who was a true follower of Christ and who was not? Somehow he was able to see right through this individual for what he really was. He could see that he was the "son of the devil" an "enemy of all righteousness," "full of deceit." What's amazing is that the proconsul could not see it! This man had come in and dazzled the leadership team with all of the wonderful things that he could say and do. They were blown away by his personal prowess, charismatic personality and bag of tricks! The result was that the straight paths that God had prepared for his people were being made crooked. Being a follower of Christ was being portrayed as something it was not, and made much more difficult than God had intended.
In reality there may be times that we are making the straight paths of God crooked by our very own behavior. We may think that we need to take the matters of life into our own hands and when we do, we make the straight paths crooked. Suddenly we discover that we are no longer trusting in God for his leading and guidance and instead of following his easy path, we end up somewhere that he had never intended. One day we wake up and wonder how in the world we have arrived at this destination rather than the one that God has prepared for us. It's time to stop trying to do things with our own human power, to stop making the straight paths crooked, and completely and totally depend upon him.
Lord, may my life be one of complete and total dependence on you. Amen.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Acts 10:34 ¶ Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
Acts 10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Peter answered the call of God and moved out of his comfort zone to a people whom he had always considered unclean. This experience was for him personally, but also corporately for the Jewish Christians who began to realize that the good news was for all the world. Peter's message here expresses the fact that God does not show partiality. God doesn't favor certain people over others. This was a huge statement because it meant that God did not favor the Jews over the rest of the world. The new covenant changed everything and now the door was open to the infilling of the Holy Spirit to all of those who would open their hearts and lives to God, allowing him to transform them into the people of God.
This statement by Peter is so very significant, the idea that God shows no partiality! It also means that we should show no partiality, and yet, I'm afraid it's so easy to do that just. If we think about it, we tend to feel the most comfortable with people who are like us. Who do we hang out with? Who do we minister to? And yet, God does not show any partiality!
If we think about it we tend to fall into patterns where we see "normal" as looking just like us. Whether it's the way that we define success, ministry, or even godliness. God shows no partiality to nationality, gender or race! The reality is that there are multitudes of cultures that exist in the world --even sometimes within our own microcosms. Where we live in East Ohio there are numerous cultures present in a very small geographic region. Being a student of Church History I've enjoyed learning about the different groups which settled in the area, but they have all left a lasting imprint on the region, and a different culture. The Friends who came over from Pennsylvania settled around Salem and were incredible people of peace who helped with the underground railroad during the civil war. The Scottish came, and continued to invite their friends from back home to come and settle in an area called the Scottish Mile, establishing numerous Presbyterian churches, and bringing with them their culture. The Moravians came and brought with them a deeply contemplative spiritual life and German-speaking culture, as well as a missionary spirit. The Amish and Mennonites came seeking freedom to be separate from the world and worship God in the way that they believed he was calling them. Our cities became populated with immigrants seeking work in an age of industrial revolution. Entire groups from the "old country" came and began to work in the steel mills, pottery factories and rubber plants. Communities of Italians, English, German, Greek and Easter Europeans began to dot the countryside. On this west-side of the Ohio river we were also a "free" state so that those who had been oppressed by slavery could move into the area and enjoy a new-found freedom. And today, the migration from the south continues as Spanish-speaking individuals move into the region. And not only from the South, but from South Asia as well and daily I see my neighbors walking through our community dressed in their clothing from their native India. Therefore, within a region that is only a two hour drive east-west and three hours north to south, numerous cultures can be found!
And yet -- I have to confess, our church looks rather monolithic! I think we would need to be willing to confess that we have been comfortable with those who are most like us and to reach out beyond those barriers makes us uncomfortable. Peter was extremely uncomfortable and didn't think he could do it -- until God got ahold of him and gave him a vision to reach beyond the barriers which had been placed around him. Now, he understood that God is not partial! All people who fear God and do what is right, are acceptable to him. If that is true, maybe we need to ask God to help us to break through the barriers which we may have personally created that keep us from reaching out to a very diverse world that is in need of knowing Christ.
Lord, please help me today to see the world with your eyes -- and love ALL of those who you have placed around me. Amen.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Neh. 3:12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
Luke 23:28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
Luke 23:29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’
Luke 23:30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’
Luke 23:31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
In both of today's readings we find women present in rather improbably situations. In the story from Nehemiah we find a ruler of Jerusalem who, along with his daughters is making repairs to the walls of the city. Why were they there? Some commentators suggest that they were not really physically present, rebuilding the walls, but simply were wealthy women who could pay laborers to rebuild their section. While this might be true, the actual mention of the women in this place becomes curious. The reality is that as you read through Nehemiah it doesn't sound like there were many "extra" people around who could have been paid to do the labor. Every person they could grab in the city was either helping to physically rebuild a section of the wall, or standing guard, protecting them from their enemies. This would lead us to believe that these women truly were out there with the men of the city, working with their bare hands to rebuild a section of the wall. And why not? They were living in desperate times and their father was head over half of the city! One would image that he did not have any sons and so it appears that he rallied his entire family to go and work together with the rest of the believing community to build a future for all of them. Unusual times required unusual action!
This brings us to the New Testament passage where Luke interjects these women into the story where Matthew and Mark do not include them. Why? Somehow Luke seems to notice the women in the entire Gospel story more than Matthew and Mark. Combined Matthew and Mark mention women 49 times in their gospels, but Luke alone mentions them 43 times. What was it about the presence of the women that Luke believes is important for us to know? Somehow he wants us to know why they were there. On the day of the crucifixion the mobs and cried out for the death of Jesus. The very ones who had experienced what Jesus had to offer were now the ones who wanted him dead. Somehow we have thought that it was a turn-around of the entire crowd, but Luke gives us a glimpse into the confusion which was occurring that day. Not everyone wanted Jesus crucified and the women of Jerusalem saw him for what he really was. They were not crying out for him to be crucified, but were weeping and beating their breasts because he was dying!
Jesus turns and looks at them and tells them not to weep, but this is not a condemnation, but rather a comfort. He doesn't want them to worry about him because he knows that worse days are coming for these women. Jerusalem would fall in a few short years and the suffering that the women of the city would endure would be more than many could bear. It had always been the prayer of women that they would not be barren, that God would open their wombs and they would bear children. However, today Jesus looks at them, knowing the suffering that lies ahead and tells that they will now be blessed if they do not have children in the coming years because if they do, they will suffer even more watching their children go through persecution. It would be better at that time to not have children! It would be better if creation -- the mountains would cover and protect them from what is to come.
While it may seem out of place that the women were present in these circumstances, it appears that God was using them to make a difference. Whether we are male or female, it doesn't matter, but there are times when we find ourselves in unusual situations. The important thing is that no matter the circumstance, we are to be obedient to God. Circumstances should not dictate our behavior -- and for that matter, nor should culture. Over and over again we recognize that being faithful to God is counter-cultural and in that way we may end up in places that we may never have imagined. Why were these unusual people there? Because they looked beyond the expectations of others and were simply obedient to God.
Lord, may I be willing to walk into whatever circumstance that you desire -- for your glory! Amen.