Thursday, February 28, 2013
1Cor. 13:8 ¶ Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
1Cor. 13:9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
1Cor. 13:10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
1Cor. 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
1Cor. 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1Cor. 13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth brings us to this climatic moment in his writings. He has talked about being a part of the body of Christ and about different gifts within that body but now his language shifts focus. This entire chapter, known as the love chapter, is completely different because the focus on love is not on a "thing" but rather on God, himself. This word describes the very nature of God and therefore Paul's descriptors are of God's nature.
Love never fails! That's right -- love can't fail because love is the nature of God and God never fails. We have been invited to become partakers of the divine nature -- to partake in the very nature of God's love and this surpasses anything else, any gift of the Spirit, which we may encounter. All of those things become fringe elements when it comes to participating in the love of God.
The people had been arguing about which gifts were greater. Compared to the love of God they are all nothing! Therefore if you have a gift of prophesy -- that's nice, but it will come to an end. If you have the gift of speaking multiple languages -- you are blessed, but that's not going to make any difference. Wesley reminds us that in heaven there will be only one language and the gift of tongues or languages will be completely obsolete. And what about knowledge that we gain while here on earth? Can't you imagine that the things that we learn here are but a small glimpse of the knowledge and understanding of God? That's why all of our study and all of our degrees will be nothing in the presence of God. If we are united with God, wouldn't we all have access to the same knowledge? Therefore our limited knowledge which is locked up in the flesh will come to an end.
We are limited in our knowledge, understanding and ability to prophesy by ourselves. It is our lack of spiritual growth that stunts all that God wants to do and accomplish through his people. Interestingly the Greek word used in verse ten is te-leion often translated perfection or goal. Maybe what Paul is telling us is that we are to continue to grow spiritual, continuously reaching toward the goal which brings about perfection or completion. But what is the goal? The goal is love because love is the nature of God and as we grow in him, there is ever increasing participation in him.
Paul talked about this growth in the spiritual life, referring to the fact that when we are children we have the characteristics of children. We speak, think and reason like children. But when we grow up we change -- and the same is true spiritually! We are never to be staying in the same place spiritually but always to be growing and maturing. There are things that we don't understand at this point and time of our journey but the goal is none other than God himself and if we continue to face in his direction, the closer that we get to him, the clearer he will become until finally when we are in his presence we will be with him, face to face. As I grow in him, my participation in him increases.
Yes, I can have faith and hope in my loving God, but there is nothing greater than love -- because love is God and God is love. This is so profound that Paul wants his followers to understand that everything else that we fuss or argue over is nothing compared to participating in God through Christ and allowing his love to transform us into his holy people.
If we become focused on the wrong things we will be drawn away from the goal or telos of all humankind -- which is love. That's exactly what Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand and it's important for us today as well. Too often in the church we have become focused on externals -- on our own personal holiness (if there can actually be such a thing) that we have drifted along with the Corinthians. We need to be reminded that there is only one goal or purpose in life and that is to get to know God. It is in knowing him that we are invited to partake in his divine nature, which is love. This is not an earthly or human kind of "luv" but it is knowing God. God's passions become our passions -- God's heart becomes our heart -- and we are driven by our desire for him. When we fall deeply in love with God we also fall deeply in love with the world that he created. His desires for all of creation become our desires for all of creation and our daily lives are driven by God's desires. That is why everything else becomes fleeting in light of the depths of our personal relationship with him. All these other things -- prophesies, tongues, knowledge -- can become a distraction to truly knowing love. This is the goal. There is nothing better than love, because love is God.
Lord, please help me to know your love -- and you more and more each day. Amen.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Mark 6:30 ¶ The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
Mark 6:31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6:42 And all ate and were filled;
Mark 6:43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.
Mark 6:44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Mark 6:45 ¶ Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
Mark 6:49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out;
Mark 6:50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Mark 6:51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,
Mark 6:52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
There is a sub-story happening behind the scenes in the feeding of the 5000. What is happening here is Jesus' care and concern for his disciples. As the scene opens we discover that the disciples are exhausted from their time in ministry. They are tired and they are hungry. Jesus tries to take them away from the crowds so that they can rest. He knows that they have had no break and nor have they had the opportunity to eat.
The crowds discover where the disciples and Jesus are and show up -- thousands of them! While the disciples are tired and hungry, so are the crowds. Jesus performs his miracle of the feeding of the 5000 but notice at the end, when they pick up the left-overs, there are twelve baskets full of broken pieces and fish. One basket for every single disciple. Yes, there was a miracle of feeding the 5000 and we tend to focus on that moment, but was that miracle really one that Jesus used to take care of his disciples whom he knew were tired and hungry?
Jesus continues to care for the disciples, making them get quickly into a boat. He wants them to get away with their food and head off to get some rest. Jesus will dismiss the crowds! During the night Jesus catches up with them out in the middle of the lake. They are scared to death at this vision of Jesus walking on the water and he steps into the boat and everything becomes calm and peaceful. But at the end we are told that "they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves." What did the loaves have to do with Jesus calming the sea? They had not connected the dots that everything Jesus had done that day had resulted in his care for them. They saw the loaves as a miracle for the 5000. It was a miracle of loving care for the disciples.
How often do we fail to see that God really cares for us? The disciples didn't understand about the loaves and I'm afraid that too often we don't understand what it is that God is doing around us. We look at the externals of circumstances and fail to see behind it all that God is showing his loving care for his followers.
It's easy to get burned out as a follower of Jesus Christ. There are always people who need love, help and attention in the world. There will always be people who need us to minister to them. There is something touching in this passage for the follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus knew the physical needs of his disciples and he worked hard to care for them. He knew they were hungry and he provided for them. He knew they were tired and he put them in a boat and sent them away from the crowds. Jesus knew that they could not be engaged in ministry 24/7 or they would have no strength or energy. He recognized that they had to have time to be alone.
Jesus knew their need for sustenance and he was ready to provide it for them. We need physical food on a daily basis, but just as much as we need physical food, we need spiritual food. Jesus knows this too and is ready to provide it for us, if only we would "understand about the loaves." The loaves were a symbol of God's loving care for his disciples and a promise that he would sustain them. We don't have to get burned out in serving the Lord. If we do -- then we don't understand. God loves us and he will provide for us but we must allow ourselves to be dependent upon him. Look behind the obvious and there we will find the continued and sustained love of God for all of his children.
Lord, thank you for your sustaining grace day in and day out. Amen.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Mark 5:36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Here we have two stories of Jesus' healing power that are folded into one. A leader from the synagogue comes to Jesus and asks him to come to his home because his little daughter is sick. Before he can get there a woman steps out of the crowd, reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus' garment because she is in desperate need of healing. She is healed but it stops Jesus in his tracks. He knew that power had flown out of him. He then commends the woman telling her that it was her faith that made her whole. But in the meantime he has been delayed in getting to the home of the synagogue leader whose little daughter is sick. At that very moment people from the leaders home show up and tell them not to bother to come. Jesus didn't make it in time -- the little girl has died.
It is in this very moment that we are brought into today's verse of Scripture. Jesus overhears the message that is brought from the home. What was it that Jesus had just told the woman? He had told her that it was her faith, or her belief in him, that had made her well. He wants the official to understand this truth. Fear cannot rule the day but instead there must be a belief or trust in Jesus. "Do not fear, only believe." Jesus went to the house and the daughter was healed. He asked that they keep the story quiet. He didn't want a lot of attention for the things that he was doing, although that was inevitable. The temptation would be for people to come to Jesus wanting to see his "magic tricks" and not to have faith in him as the Messiah. He was not bringing magic to the people, he was bringing a faith or belief that would literally transform their very lives and future.
Fear and belief can be found on opposite ends of a spectrum. Our relationship with Jesus Christ will also be found somewhere on that spectrum. Unfortunately when it comes to putting our wholehearted trust in Jesus Christ we often cling to our own fears. There are times when we cloak our fears in rationalization; over thinking situations, and believing that we must take control of our circumstances. The Lord is asking us to put aside our natural tendencies which will lead to fear and wholeheartedly abandon ourselves to him.
There are so many things in life over which we have no power or control. We can worry and focus on those things which bring fear or we can focus on Jesus Christ who transcends the things of this world. When we become focused on the path we will live in fear, when we focus on the goal, we will live in faith.
Lord, please help me to keep my eyes on you today -- the goal of all things. Amen.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Num. 18:29 You must present as the LORD’S portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’
Instructions were being given to the Levites regarding offerings. The people were to bring a tithe to the priests and from this the priests were to present a tithe to God. The instructions for the priests were simple in regard to their tithe. They were to give God the best and holiest portion of everything that they were given.
We read later about the failure of the priests. Eli's sons were wicked because they wanted the very best of everything for themselves. They would use a utensil and dig out the best pieces of meat for themselves from the offerings to God. They were selfish and were punished because they would not give to God. God's desire for his servants was that they would give to him out of the generosity of their hearts nurtured in a personal relationship with him.
Have you ever been at the receiving end of donations? As a missionary we collected all kinds of interesting things that people thought they could send off to the missions work. Imagine paying customs fees only to open a box with 20 year old used magazines and clothing that had gone out of style the same year the magazines were published. There is always the lingering story of the box of used tea bags that was sent to missionaries. Surely those poor people overseas could use them a second time! Or the box of left shoes my parents received in Germany following World War II; there must be a lot of people around with their right foot blown off!!!
While we laugh at these stories which are sad but true -- we must examine ourselves and determine whether we are stingy with God. God was only asking for a tithe -- a tenth of what people and priests received. They could have the other 90%. But in giving to God we are to bring him our very best! Unfortunately human nature tends to make us stingy. First off -- we don't even want to give a tenth. Today's Christians are considered some of the most generous people in the world, but on average they don't give ten percent to the Lord. Why is that? Why have we become stingy with what we have? God says that we are to give him the best ten percent -- and why not?
Just imagine what would happen if God's people were not stingy with God but gave him our very best. What if we gave him our very best work ethic? What if we gave him our very best attitudes? What if we gave him our very best time of the day? What if we gave him the best of everything? But too often we give God our left-overs. We squeeze in some time for God or the church IF there is time after we've done everything else we want to do. We might squeeze in some time for our devotions at the end of the day IF the basketball game ends early enough and I'm not too tired. We might be kind and loving to those around us IF they are nice to us.
God didn't ask us to squeeze him into our lives. He wants to be the very center of our lives and everything else is to flow from this. We are to bring him our very best each and every single day. The result is a healthy balance in life. God's desire is always for our well-being and part of that is having a healthy attitude towards the things that we might think are ours. If we hold lightly to our own self-interests then we can enjoy life so much more. Let's give God the very best of all we have and then relax in him and his leading.
Lord, thank you for all you've given me. Please help me have a heart filled with love, gratitude and generosity. Amen.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Num. 16:1 ¶ Now Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben—took
Num. 16:2 two hundred fifty Israelite men, leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men, and they confronted Moses.
Num. 16:3 They assembled against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! All the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and the LORD is among them. So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”
Num. 16:4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face.
Num. 16:5 Then he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will make known who is his, and who is holy, and who will be allowed to approach him; the one whom he will choose he will allow to approach him.
Num. 16:6 Do this: take censers, Korah and all your company,
Num. 16:7 and tomorrow put fire in them, and lay incense on them before the LORD; and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You Levites have gone too far!”
Num. 16:18 So each man took his censer, and they put fire in the censers and laid incense on them, and they stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron.
Num. 16:19 Then Korah assembled the whole congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to the whole congregation.
Num. 16:35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the two hundred fifty men offering the incense.
Often in his ministry and leadership there were those who opposed Moses. I don't think he probably looked or acted like the kind of leader that they people thought that they wanted or needed. They really couldn't figure out why God thought that he was so special and they would become jealous of him. This was another of those moments. Here we find Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On becoming frustrated with Moses -- or maybe overly jealous. They thought pretty highly of themselves. They were considered leaders of the congregation. One translation even calls them princes. They were well-known men that people held in high esteem but evidently this wasn't enough for them. They went and confronted Moses about his leadership -- but not just about his leadership but about his character. No man before or since Moses has met so personally with God on a regular basis and the men of the community failed to see that this humble leader had been made holy by God. Somehow these men failed to see the correlation between spending time with God and holiness. Moses spent his entire life on a spiritual journey, ever climbing higher and closer to God. Somehow Korah and the others believed that Moses had exalted himself above everyone else. Without the relationship with God, Korah thought he could simply declare himself and his followers as having the same rights and privileges of Moses.
The problem with this story is that Korah was dealing with God! God can't be fooled. People may be fooled by charismatic leadership abilities but God looks at the heart. Moses was the one who came to him with a humble heart and had fellowshipwith God in the tent of meeting. The others probably couldn't have been bothered to spend the time and nor would they have wanted to change their selfish ways. Instead they thought that somehow meeting with God in his holy presence was a right given to them by the community. They did not understand the importance of a relationship with God and so somehow thought they could push their way into God's holy presence. But they were not clean and could not stand in the presence of God. God's holiness will burn up that which is impure and so the 250 men who came to burn the incense, thinking it was their right, were consumed by the fire of God.
I suppose that it is possible to fool those in the world around us and allow them to see only what we want them to see -- but God will not be fooled. What is interesting in this whole story is that Moses and Aaron revealed the very heart of God in their reaction to what happened. They had both been spending time with God and both had been faithfully serving him. As the holiness of God began to consume the people Moses and Aaron began to intercede for them.
In reality the men in this story were responsible for their own deaths. God had instructed regarding those who were to bring offerings to him. The holiness of the people serving him was important because God's very nature of holy love is a consuming fire. That consuming fire will burn up anything that is unholy so that it leaves only that which is pure and clean. This is why God had restrictions on who could come near to him because he knew that not everyone could survive in his presence. It was the men who ignored the instructions of God and wanted to show their human worth and that they were worthy to be in the presence of the most holy God. As unclean men they held up the censers and called on the presence of God. The problem for them was that God answered their prayer and his fire came out and burned up all that was unclean -- the men -- and left the brass censers.
Are we ever tempted to pretend to be God's people? Do we go to church once a week and declare that we are "Christians?" Do we lift ourselves up to be leaders among the church assembly -- or within the community and feel that we have a "right" to make decisions about what happens in the house of God? This is a scary position in which to find oneself because we may be able to fool some of the people around us but we will never be able to fool God. He sees our hearts and he knows our motivations. The result of the arrogance of Korah and the others was death. The result for us today will be the same if go on living in arrogance before our God. He is calling us into a personal tent of meeting -- into a daily walk with him in which we are transformed by his holy presence. This is real transformation and it only comes from God.
Lord, please examine my heart and motives today. Amen.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Num. 13:25 ¶ At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.
Num. 13:26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
Num. 13:27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
Num. 13:28 Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.
Num. 13:29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
Num. 13:30 ¶ But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Num. 13:31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.”
Num. 13:32 So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.
Num. 13:33 There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
The spies went to check out the promised land. What did they find? They were amazed at the land and all that it had to provide. It literally seemed as if the land flowed with milk and honey! But the majority of the spies had grave concerns. The people seemed so big! How in the world could the little people -- the Israelites -- go against such a people?
Think about it -- these people had been serving the Egyptians as slaves. More than likely they had suffered from poor nutrition during those years and would have been of small stature. Can you imagine what those "big" people of the land of Canaan looked like to them. The only reference they had was a story from history about the Nephilim. These were the people mentioned back in Genesis who were known to be of giant size. In reality they probably were not giants, but they seemed like it to the small Israelites.
But this story tells us much more about the mind-set of the Israelites than about what they really were seeing. They were not just physically seeing giants, but they were seeing giants in their own minds. Their fear got the best of them and they could not imagine going up against those people. They said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they re stronger than we." This was, in fact, the truth. The people were much stronger than they were -- BUT -- that was never to be the point, was it? What they failed to recognize was that their God was greater than those people! He had fought for them in the past and he had promised to fight for them in the future.
This made me think about how often I see giants in front of me. Are the issues of life really giants -- or are they simply giants in our own minds? Are we seeing giants and believing that they can rule over us, all the while forgetting that God is the one willing to do battle for us! Just imagine what those human giants look like to God.
At the end of the day this really has to do with trust in God. If we believe that we can overcome all obstacles on a human level, we most certainly will fail. The children of Israel somehow forgot that it was God that was going to do the fighting for them and they gave up. God will fight for us -- if we simply put our trust in him. Maybe we ought to stop seeing giants -- and start seeing him.
Lord, thank you for helping us in the battles of life. May I not go looking for giants today but put my trust in you! Amen.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Psa. 27:7 ¶ Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
Psa. 27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, do I seek.
Psa. 27:9 Do not hide your face from me.
¶ Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
Psa. 27:10 If my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will take me up.
David didn't have a "once in a while" relationship with God; instead he had a relationship in which he reached out in a personal walk on a regular basis. He didn't sugar-coat the relationship either, but would share from the very heart of his being the struggles that he was facing. He loved God deeply but he also lived a rather tumultuous life with plenty of enemies and other distractions. He regularly cried out to God and sought his guidance in his life.
The very heart of David led him to seek the face of God. He realized that to be in a proper relationship with God meant that they needed to meet on a regular basis, face to face! The face of God shining down on David was what sustained him on his daily walk and he didn't want anything to happen that would destroy that relationship. David was not a perfect man and the result was a fear that God would turn his back on him and that he would no longer be a reflection of God in the world. David comes to the realization of an incredible truth -- God never turns his back on his children! An earthly mother or father might forsake their child, but God NEVER will!
God's incredibly deep love for us is revealed in this passage of Scripture. God never, ever turns his back on his children. God is constantly facing in the direction of his children, reaching out to us with his grace, desiring for us to turn toward him and be in a relationship with him. This grace and love is far more than any of us could probably truly imagine. It is deeper than the love of a mother and father toward their child.
Sadly there are many today who have been abandoned by earthly parents. Single parenthood is at an all-time high as people feel that they have a right to do their own thing. Unfortunately we seem to forget that when we do our own thing, we leave wounded individuals in our wake. Mothers and fathers forsaking their own children just for the sake of their personal needs and desires. This reveals the sin of humanity to us. God doesn't turn his back on us, we turn our back on God. God's face is no longer shining on our face, but instead we are walking in the darkness of self-centeredness. It is in that moment that we can become so consumed with ourselves that we might be willing to cast off our own children.
There is good news for the walking wounded of our world today. God is the God of our salvation. He is wanting us to turn our faces toward him -- to seek his face -- and in doing so his loving radiance will be showered on us. The loving embrace of God is far greater than any human experience and will sustain us into all of eternity. Yes, people in this world will let us down. David was deeply hurt by those who were supposed to care for him but he found his healing in the loving embrace of God who was smiling down on him. No wonder David ran to him on a daily basis, crying out for God not to hide his face from him. God won't hide his face from us. He is waiting for us to come and join him every day and his loving arms will sustain us through the junk of life.
Lord, thank you for your incredible love. I want to seek you and your face every day! Amen.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Acts 28:16 ¶ When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
Acts 28:17 ¶ Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.
Acts 28:18 When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.
Acts 28:19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor—even though I had no charge to bring against my nation.
Acts 28:20 For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
Acts 28:21 They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you.
Acts 28:22 But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
Acts 28:23 ¶ After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.
Acts 28:24 Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe.
Acts 28:30 ¶ He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him,
Paul has now arrived in Rome and is settling into the home in which he will live under house arrest. Paul seems quite at peace with the arrangement and plans to use it for the benefit of the Lord, to begin his ministry in Rome. He is only there three days when he calls in the Jewish leaders to have a meeting with them. They have heard about the "sect" of Jesus Christ and interestingly they comment that "everywhere it is spoken against." I find that comment interesting because it makes us realize how quickly the news of Jesus had spread throughout the known world. And yet what was it that they had heard? I'm guessing it was rumor and innuendo. Judgement had been made regarding the Jesus as the Messiah based on faulty information.
Enter Paul. Paul had been highly respected by the Jewish community because of his upbringing and his education. He knew how to articulate the faith and he spent hours, from morning until night, explaining it to them. He was able to teach them about the kingdom of God. This was a different way to look at a Jewish population that was awaiting a political savior. Jesus came to be their savior but within a different kingdom, one that was ushering in an entirely new era here on this earth. Paul was able to go back to the law of Moses and explain Jesus' relationship to that law. What had Jesus said? He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law. Again this was new understanding to be laid upon the foundation of faith which these Jewish leaders had received from the early years. Finally Paul began to appeal to them from the prophets. What had they prophesied about so long ago? Jesus was able to fit into prophecy after prophecy. He was the one who had come to fulfill the prophecies!
And for some these hours of instruction and explanation made sense and they were able to put aside the rumors and innuendos and they received the good news of Jesus as their Messiah. For others, they were simply too skeptical. It wasn't going to work for them. They simply refused to believe.
How important is it these days to be able to articulate our faith? There has been much emphasis placed upon the "experiential" portion of our faith -- that is, can we testify to particular experiences which have occurred? Coming from a Wesleyan/Arminian perspective this is not a bad thing because it fits well into our paradigm of understanding our faith as founded in Scripture, but also takes into account experience, reason and tradition. However, if experience begins to take the place of the other three areas, we become out of balance. Paul represents a great balance for us. Yes, he had incredible experiences with Jesus Christ, but when arguing with the Jews he had to know how to convince them from their perspective. They were not going to be convinced from experience, instead they had to see the connection of Jesus to the promised Messiah. This had to tie into their understanding of a kingdom and now the shift from an earthly kingdom to the kingdom of God.
I have had discussions with people in the pew who tell me that they don't want people to preach about what someone else thinks (for some this means a particular theological perspective) but instead just want to know what's in the Bible. The problem is that every time someone preaches or teaches from the Bible they bring with them their particular theological perspective. There is subjectivity involved and the more that subjectivity is based in experience alone, the more that we may run into some difficulties. When the Jewish leaders in Rome were basing their understanding of Christianity on rumors, innuendos and experience alone, they weren't sure what to make of it. God purposely sends Paul to Rome and places him in a position where he is available to teach from morning to night. Do you think that there is any correlation to this and the fact that Rome becomes the center of the Western Church? The church wasn't going to grow and/or thrive on experience and rumors alone -- it needed some good, solid and foundational theological teaching.
Paul remained there in that house for two years, teaching day in and day out. It did matter what was being taught. For the foundation to be laid there had to be sound teaching from one who was able to articulate the faith. This is what left a lasting impact on Rome. If we are to leave a lasting impact on the world today we need spirit-filled teachers and preachers who have the ability to articulate the faith from morning until night! We cannot have a separation between the academy and the church -- they must be knit together into one, creating a strong foundation on which the church can be built -- teaching from morning until night.
Lord, may we all be fervent listeners and learners of you and be willing to share the news about you with all whom we meet. Amen.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
A Centurion Named Julius
Paul Sails for Rome
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.
Paul is being sent off to Rome and a centurion by the name of Julius is to accompany him. Throughout this journey we learn a little about the character of this man. Paul obviously makes an impression on him for throughout the journey Julius works to ensure the safety of Paul. At times Julius intervenes with all of the soldiers on board and gives them orders to respond to Paul. This man, a great Roman soldier, is remembered by name in the word of God because of his compassion toward a man in whom he saw a genuine relationship with Christ.
I'm writing these thoughts today from 30,000 feet in the air. I'm wondering what it would be like to be traveling as a prisoner, with someone along to watch my every move. What would my attitude be like? Would I have been a grouch all the way along? I can imagine going through security and all of the extra hassles, and people staring at you and wondering what you've done! No, I can't imagine that I'd be extremely cheerful and yet, there as someone about the way in which Paul behaved that had a direct influence on Julius. So much so that Julius began to have great faith and trust in the man.
What a lesson for us today. When faced with life's difficult moments, how do we respond? Does Jesus shine through us and would the unbelievers around us be moved to belief by the genuineness of our response? Paul had allowed Jesus to so fill him that he was genuinely Jesus, through and through in the way he reacted to the world around him. So much so that it couldn't help but have an impression on those with him. This was in the midst of dire circumstances. So what does this say to me? Even when life becomes extremely difficult it is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit to reflect Jesus to the world around us. It is this reflection of Jesus that draws people to a the transformational relationship with the Savior. The result is that evangelism is possible even in the most hostile of environments for it is Jesus that attracts. Therefore we are called to grow in grace becoming more and more like Jesus, reflecting him to our world and helping to bring people like Julius into an eternal relationship with him.
But what of Julius? Here is a Roman Centurion; a man of high standing who is immortalized in the word of God. Julius was willing to see Paul as he was; a servant of Jesus Christ. Not only did Julius see what Paul was like but we know that he came to trust Paul. He could trust that Paul was not going to run away. While not all the time, much of the time he followed Paul's advice...and he personally witnessed Paul's ability to perform miracles. And all of this seemed to have a profound effect on him. Julius was a changed man.
Was it a chance encounter or had God orchestrated the events that would bring two men, Paul and Julius together. The journey would be significant for both of them, but probably more so for Julius. Paul was now accustomed to living his life daily in obedience to God and recognizing that his life was simply a tool in the hands of God. But for Julius the encounter with Paul was an encounter with God and he would never be the same. He was simply a centurion named Julius. Who am I?
Lord, I want to be like you through and through so that you are reflected in me in all things. Amen.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Num. 6:22 ¶ The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Num. 6:23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
Num. 6:24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
Num. 6:25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
Num. 6:26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
The Lord had given all kinds of instructions for worship and sacrifice to Moses but now we come to this moment where Aaron and his sons are told how to bless the people. These are God's people and he loves them dearly. He wants his people to understand that walking with him is not just about sacrifice and right living, but about his blessing upon them. This blessing follows in the same line as the patriarchal blessings. Remember when Isaac and Jacob placed their hands on the eldest children and blessed them? There was great significance in the blessing for it foreshadowed the life of the child who received that blessing. The same is true here for the Israelites. They are to receive this blessing of God which will signify the kind of life they may enjoy in him.
Three times they are blessed by the Lord, and there are those who say this is a foreshadowing of an understanding of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are blessing the Israelites. The LORD will bless them and keep them. As long as they keep God's commands, God will bless them and he will keep them safe. This was his promise. The LORD will make his face shine on them, and in this he will be gracious. This is a promise of redemption for God never turns his back on his people. We may turn our backs on him and lave him but he doesn't leave us. His prevenient grace is constantly reaching out to us. God is always facing in our direction, reaching out to his people. Finally, we are told that the LORD will lift up his countenance upon his people and will give them peace. In essence we discover that God smiles at us. He looks with joy upon his children and literally smiles. The result is his peace which flows out over the life of his child.
This blessing is a relational blessing. This is a blessing from a God who is calling his people back into a relationship with him and telling them that it can work! The Israelites constantly struggled with fidelity to their relationship with God. He knew that this would be their struggle and yet his blessing is one in which he says that this relationship is possible.
Sometimes we fail to understand the very depths of the love of God. I believe sometimes he is standing before us and saying, "Here I am -- I have everything you need" -- and yet we go off in a different direction looking for things that have a temporary understanding. We seem to value things that we can have in the here and now and forget about the depths of the love that God has for us.
Think about the temporary nature of things! Just a few years ago a plasma or flat-screen TV cost $10,000. Today you can get the same television for under $1000. The things of this world come and go so quickly that the things we value today may be worthless tomorrow. Why do we put our trust in a world like that? God stands the test of time and he is always there and is always available for us.
The Lord wants to bless us today and keep us within his love. He provides for us the "keeping power" of the relationship which we have with him -- as long as we stay in that relationship with him. He makes his face shine on us -- when we seek his face. We are the ones who so often turn aside and look the other direction. He doesn't! Our faithful God remains faithful, ever looking in our direction, ever reaching out to us with love and grace. Can you imagine how he feels when we ignore him? What must it be like for God to stand facing in our direction and for us to go about our lives without even glancing in his direction? And yet, he loves us enough that he will not be moved. He remains rooted, facing in the direction of those whom he loves, drawing us back into a relationship with him. And when we do respond it literally fills God's heart with joy. God delights in his children. We bring a smile to his face. That's not normally the picture that we have of God, and yet that is the pure joy that exists in him. His joy is to be in a relationship with his children -- loving them in ways we can't even imagine. His promise of love includes a deep and abiding peace.
Where do we want to live these days? Do we want to be out on our own, or under the blessing of God? I want to stand in his holy presence, facing him and allowing his blessing to pour over me and my life. The promise wasn't just for the children of Israel but for all who would join into a personal relationship with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- and he invites us into this incredible relationship of holy love. The blessing is an invitation. Will we respond?
Lord, thank you for the promises which come to us from this blessing. Amen.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Acts 25:23 ¶ So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then Festus gave the order and Paul was brought in.
Acts 25:24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.
Acts 25:25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and when he appealed to his Imperial Majesty, I decided to send him.
Acts 25:26 But I have nothing definite to write to our sovereign about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write—
Acts 25:27 for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”
Paul has been a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and has traveled throughout much of the world of his day as a missionary, planting churches and bringing many to a knowledge of Christ. He has gone back to visit Jerusalem and there the religious leaders are simply furious with this man who had been a zealous Jew and now was even more zealous for Jesus. They wanted to be rid of him and did everything in their power to kill him. Finally they had him arrested but the government officials, just as with Jesus, could find no legal reason to try him. They were trying to make sense of it all. Why would these Jews want this man, Paul, to be arrested? The whole Jewish community had petitioned Festus to put Paul to death, but nothing made sense. The emotions of the Jewish elders had gotten the best of them and now, trying to make everything fit neatly within the Roman government system, Festus had to figure out what to do with Paul. This came about because Paul refused to allow Festus to send him back to Jerusalem. He knew that in Jerusalem he would simply be facing a crazy and angry mob that couldn't articulate their frustration with him. Instead, Paul decided to trust the government system of the land, and he appealed to Caesar. Once this happened there was no turning back. Paul would have to go and stand before Caesar, but Festus would have to send a letter along with him, explaining the charges. Here was the problem. He couldn't make sense of it all and did not know what to write.
It seems that these days the "world" is looking in on Christianity and simply can't make sense of it! The other day I saw a Public Service Announcement on television and it was all about "I won't be intolerant." The message was not necessarily about intolerance but about tacit approval of all things in the world. The world is saying that we must be willing to put our stamp of approval on any and all behavior that anyone chooses and in doing this we show them love. If we do not -- the language gets really strong -- we are "hateful."
As a follower of Jesus Christ I have really been mulling this over in my mind. The very language of Christianity -- the language of love is being co-opted by the world around us and is being used against us. Love is now being defined as acceptance of all things and there no longer seems to be any right or wrong. Therefore for a Christian to stand up for something -- to stand up for a belief which has been a part of the Christian faith, we are considered intolerant and non-loving. Jesus loved everyone and reached out to them, but he didn't say "I love you so much that I will just let you continue to live in your sin." If anything, Jesus brought people to "aha" moments where they recognized the way in which they were living was wrong. How many times did Jesus heal people and then say, "go and sin no more!"
The love of God compels us to change our lifestyles. God knows what is healthy for us and what is not healthy for us and therefore, in his love, he encourages us to step out of our sin. The good news of Jesus has always been transformational and therein lies part of our problem today. The world can't make sense of it because there is a belief that "I don't need to be transformed."
How does the church respond to a world that can't make sense of the church's message of transformation, and actually believes that the good news about Jesus Christ is a message of hate? Wow -- now that is a challenge! I'm not sure that I can make sense of it all but I believe that God in his wisdom can. It just means that God's people need to earnestly seek him and his wisdom to know how to interact with the world. I don't want to give up on bringing the good news of Jesus to the world around me just because it's all getting a bit complicated. Isn't that what the enemy would want us to do? At the same time the very nature of Jesus Christ must be revealed in us so that the world can see the love of Christ. Somehow in the midst of all the chaos of the early church the love of Jesus was able to shine through to the people of the world. They saw something completely different from what the world had to offer. Jesus himself and then his followers, filled with the Holy Spirit, walked the streets and touched people for Jesus.
Really, the only answer for today is for God's children to seek his face and to seek his wisdom. We need his power to lead us through and to help us to make a difference when neither we, nor anyone around us can make sense of it all.
Lord, I need you so desperately. Amen.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Lev. 26:23 ¶ If in spite of these punishments you have not turned back to me, but continue hostile to me,
Lev. 26:24 then I too will continue hostile to you: I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.
Lev. 26:25 I will bring the sword against you, executing vengeance for the covenant; and if you withdraw within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into enemy hands.
Lev. 26:26 When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven, and they shall dole out your bread by weight; and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied.
God wants his people to be in a right relationship with him. All that he desires is for their good and yet he knows their hearts and that they are constantly tempted to drift away and not to serve him. He begins discussing the consequences of their unfaithfulness. A number of items are listed but the final one comes down to bread. There is great significance in this for God is their provider of bread. Every morning all they have to do is look on the ground and collect what they need for that day. When these people are obedient to God they will have absolutely everything that they need provided for them on a daily basis! The punishment for disobedience is not so much a punishment as it is a consequence. On a normal day among the Israelites the women would gather the manna and then they could cook it and prepare it in a number of different ways, including baking it. When there is plenty of food one needs many ovens for a community. A single oven would never work for there would be an incredible backlog of people trying to get their bread baked. Instead many homes would have their own oven and the woman of the house would be able to bake as much as they needed.
The consequence of disobedience would be a lack of daily sustenance. No longer would there be bread to be gathered freely from the ground but instead they would have to work for their grain. The grain would not be easy to gather in because of the difficulties in growing the crop. What little they were able to harvest would barely sustain them on a daily basis. No longer would every home need their own oven but one would suffice for ten households. So little bread would be produced that they would have to weigh it out on scales, not even an entire loaf per family. A small amount could be eaten, but their stomachs would soon growl from hunger.
This would simply be a daily reminder of disobedience. God who wants to provide us with everything that we need is heart broken when we go hungry. We are the ones who become stingy in our spiritual lives and want to carefully measure out everything. We want to make sure we only give our tenth (or less) to God -- so we measure it out to the exact penny! We wouldn't want to be too generous. We become concerned when church begins to take up too much of our lives -- we measure out that time, making sure we still have enough for ourselves and the things that we want to do! And little by little as we begin scrutinizing the things of God we fail to realize that we re the ones cutting ourselves off from the daily supply of nourishment.
During the Great Patriotic War against the Fascists (WWII) the city of Leningrad (currently St. Petersburg) was under siege, or blockade by the German forces for 872 days. For two and a half years the city was pounded day in and day out by German artillery and the people had to figure out how to survive. Soon the food began to run out and the entire city was placed under rations. Eventually it got to the point where every person was allowed 150gm of black bread a day. If you were a factory worker you were allowed 250gm. That's it. This became known as a "Leningrad portion."
There was no more to be had and if you were going to survive, you had to figure out how to ration this small portion of food so that you could survive. For this small portion of food there was no need for an oven or a stove at home. There really was nothing to cook. No one would receive an entire loaf of bread -- instead, the piece was weighed on the scales -- in accordance with your daily allowance. And their stomachs were empty and growling from hunger.
No one in their right mind would want to try to survive on a Leningrad portion. Today the phrase "a Leningrad Portion" is used when you are given something extremely small and it seems a bit ridiculous. But how many of us are trying to survive spiritually on a "Leningrad Portion?" God is trying to provide us with everything that we need on a daily basis to survive -- and not just to survive, but to thrive spiritually. He wants our houses to be full -- he wants us to have to have our own oven in which to bake the bread of his goodness. Yet, we could just as easily be like the Israelites who did turn their backs on the Lord. The manna no longer fell and the fields did not always produce the necessary crops. Why? Because they couldn't follow the very first law of God -- "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one!" They gave the living God a "Leningrad Portion" of their faith, sharing their faith and devotion with other gods. In return they lost the daily sustenance and protection that they so desperately needed and they purposely existed on a "Leningrad portion" when they could have had so much more.
Sadly, many of us are trying to get by on that "Leningrad Portion" spiritually and then we wonder why there are times that we stumble and fall. God says to give him our all -- and he gives us everything we need in return. He loves us -- he wants to care for us -- he wants to give us more than we could ever ask or imagine -- but we must live in obedience to him. Let's give up that measly "Leningrad Portion" and sit down at the banquet table he has set before us.
Lord, thank you for all you have provided for us. Please, help me to never be satisfied with so little when you have provided so much. Amen.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Lev. 25:54 And if they have not been redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year.
Lev. 25:55 For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Here in Leviticus we discover an entire list of instructions regarding the year of Jubilee. Every 50th year the children of Israel were to celebrate a special year in which all property went back to its rightful owners. In the midst of these guidelines comes instruction on servanthood or slavery. Interestingly if someone found themselves in extremely difficult circumstances they were permitted to sell their labors to another individual. The amount was determined by the number of years before the year of Jubilee for this determined the length of service. No one was every to be in permanent service to another person! Why? Because everyone and everything belonged to God. In the year of Jubilee everything returned to its rightful master or owner and all people were set free because they belonged to no one but the Lord. The Israelites were God's servants -- he was to be their Lord.
So often I believe we take for granted that the freedom that we enjoy and experience comes to us only through our relationship with God. We are not independently free! Paul reminded us over and over again that we would be a slave to one type of master or another. Our true Master -- the one who loves us is God who sent Jesus to bring us salvation. If we are not serving God, then we have purposely chosen to serve another master.
What a beautiful reality it is to discover that we truly belong to God. We are his children, and we bear the family name. We are Christians who are blessed by a personal relationship with Jesus. We are set free, not just in the year of Jubilee, but because of the blood of Jesus we are set free each and every single moment of our days. Because we belong to him we have the joy of living within his protective arms day in and day out. We also have the joy of being in his service and doing his will daily. Why? Because his will has become my will and there is nothing more that I desire than to serve him and be his hands and feet to the world around me.
Paul continues this theme into the New Testament where he reminds us that he is a servant or a slave to the Lord. It's not a negative thing - it's a wonderful thing! We are privileged to be servants of God on high. Servants to the one who loves us more than we could ever comprehend. Servants to the one who will do the very best for us day in and day out. Servants to the one who owns everything! Why in the world would we ever want to leave that servanthood and choose to serve another master? "Choose you this day whom you will serve." The reality is that we will serve one master or another -- we are not without a master. Why wouldn't we choose the one who loves us so deeply that he is willing to die for us to protect us?! I want to be a good and faithful servant of the Lord.
Lord, thank you for your incredible love for us. Please help me to be a faithful servant. Amen.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Lev. 24:10 ¶ A man whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was an Egyptian came out among the people of Israel; and the Israelite woman’s son and a certain Israelite began fighting in the camp.
Lev. 24:11 The Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name in a curse. And they brought him to Moses—now his mother’s name was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan—
Lev. 24:12 and they put him in custody, until the decision of the LORD should be made clear to them.
Lev. 24:13 ¶ The LORD said to Moses, saying:
Lev. 24:14 Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him.
Lev. 24:15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying: Anyone who curses God shall bear the sin.
Lev. 24:16 One who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death.
Taking the name of the Lord in vain was an incredibly serious offense. God's name was sacred and was to be respected in that way. Now a young man was part of the company of the Israelites whose father was Egyptian and mother Israelite. Everywhere we read that there were those who were free to join with the Israelites as long as they lived by the laws of God. There was no discrimination. Therefore we must be careful not to think that this punishment was for this young man because he was half Israelite and half Egyptian. The company of God's people made no distinction and that was an important point in this story. However, the young man got into a fight with another person in the camp. In the midst of this fight the young man had blasphemed the Name by cursing, and everyone knew that this was wrong.
The punishment is rather astonishing. Not only was it wrong to curse the name of God, but it was punishable by stoning. Obviously this was never to happen again. Blaspheming against the Name made the whole assembly of the people unclean. The only way they could be the holy and pure people of God was to stop an infection like this from contaminating the entire assembly. It seems like a ruthless way to deal with the sin of the young man, but the offense was great. The one law was to "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." The one thing they were to do was to honor and worship God alone! When society began to chip away at the foundational truth for all of their society, then nothing would stand. Yes, the potential viral spread of cursing the Name had to be dealt with -- and whether the person was a citizen or an alien -- they would be put to death for blaspheming the Name.
How many times a day do we hear people use the name of the Lord in vain? Whether it's done verbally or texted with a few little initials -- today it happens innumerable times a day. Why is it that we have become so relaxed and unafraid of taking the Lord's name in vain? This relaxed attitude toward the Lord's name is simply an indicator of the change in attitude which we find these days -- a change that really reflects a lack of respect toward most things.
When I was a child I was taught never to use the name of the Lord in vain. I do remember using the word "gosh" in front of my mother on one occasion. It was the last time I ever used that word. My mother had certainly taught me not to use the name of the Lord in vain but there were other words that people used on a regular basis. She took me aside and said that there were many words like "gosh" "gee" etc. that were simply derivations on the words God and Jesus, etc. that people used to try and get away with using the Lord's name in vain. She also told me that I would never be using those words again! Seriously -- that has had a lasting impact on me and my life. What just rather frivolously came out of my mouth -- my mother caught -- and told me that it wasn't supposed to be.
It's a serious thing to throw around the name of God in such a careless manner. However, I don't think that there are many that see this as being very important any longer. Even among those who are within the church the name of the Lord gets thrown around as if it were a hot potato! I do understand a change in culture but do we have to allow the change in culture to take over our respect for God as well? I believe that God's challenge to the children of Israel was to hold the line! They were to make sure that the culture did not rule them as God's people. There were certain rules which were to be rules for God's people. And shouldn't that be true for us today as well? Shouldn't God's people stand out as different from the world? Shouldn't there be some very purposeful lines between contemporary culture and God's people? I'm afraid that we have tried so hard to relate to contemporary culture that we have allowed the culture to define who we are. As followers of Jesus Christ -- we ARE God's children. We are to act like God's children! Maybe we need to take a little time and evaluate how much we have allowed the culture to define how we think, act and speak these days -- and then ask God to take authority over those areas in our lives and help us to draw a line between ourselves and culture.
Lord, please help me to be in the world, but not of the world. Please help me know how to minister to the world around me without giving in to the pressures of the world. Please, help me to be your faithful servant. Amen.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Acts 20:7 ¶ On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.
Acts 20:8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting.
Acts 20:9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.
Acts 20:10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”
Acts 20:11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left.
Acts 20:12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.
I love this story because we catch a glimpse of just how real and ordinary these people were -- including the Apostle Paul. They ordinarily met together on Sunday -- the first day of the week, because they wanted to honor and remember that it was on this day that Jesus rose from the dead. This was so central to the lives of the new believers that they met on the day of the resurrection and they celebrated communion together as a constant reminder of the central focus of their faith. It was Jesus! It was his resurrection!!
Paul was excited to be with these folks and knew that he had a limited about of time with them. He had to leave early the next morning so he was going to pack in everything that he could -- disciple them all night long if necessary. Someone was watching the time because they specifically noted that he had now kept talking until midnight! How often do we glance at our watches when someone is speaking for a long period of time? We love them and appreciate them but sometimes we're dying to stay awake! I think that the next verse is trying to help us understand what the people were feeling. Not only was Paul, according to one translation "talking on and on" but because it was night many lamps had been lit. The implication is that it had gotten hot and stuffy in the room and Paul is completely oblivious. He just wants to teach these people and now it's late, people are tired and the room is rather stifling. I'm guessing that Eutychus wasn't the only one falling asleep while Paul "talked still longer." However, he was the one in the most precarious position. By now all around people are struggling to keep up with Paul and Eutychus simply does what many would like to do -- he falls into a deep sleep, except there is one problem -- he falls out of the window where he is resting his head. He falls three floors to the ground -- and he is dead.
Probably that at this moment everyone pretty much woke up. Paul runs to the young man and grabs him in his arms and he suddenly comes back to life. It may have been at that moment that Paul realized he had gone on a little too long and needed to give the crowd a break. It sounds like they took some time to eat and refresh themselves but then, for those who stayed around, Paul talked with them until the sun rose in the morning. The people who had come with Eutychus were a little shaken and so they didn't stay until morning. They took him home and were GREATLY comforted by what had happened.
I have discovered that there are times when I read the Scriptures that the stories seem so far away and the reactions seem so unfamiliar. However, in this story somehow I can find myself right there in that room and it becomes a reminder that the word of God is real and was written for ordinary people like me. I find myself realizing that I would probably have been one of those watching the time and nodding off to sleep. I would have been trying all the usual tricks to keep awake -- biting my lower lip, counting the bricks in the wall, etc. These were real people reacting in very real ways.
As I absorb that truth, then I must ask myself how am I reacting in real ways to the word? These people were so hungry to learn everything they could that they stayed up all night with Paul to learn even more. These were real people willing to sacrifice their night so that they could be better servants of Jesus. These were real people who made it an effort to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ every single Sunday of their lives. They never wanted to forget what it was that Jesus had done for them and talking about it wasn't enough -- they had to go through the celebration of the Lord's Supper as a physical reminder of Jesus' death and resurrection. These were real people who wanted their children to understand and grasp the truths of their new-found faith. They were willing to drag their children out to all-night meetings and no, their children weren't always little angels and perfectly well behaved -- but they brought them anyway! These were real people who were hungry to know Jesus and made sacrifices in their personal lives so that they could know him and serve him.
When Paul wrote to the people in the cities where he had visited he referred to them as saints. I think sometimes that makes us think that they had become some type of inhuman creatures to whom we are unable to relate. On the contrary, they were real people who lived in a real world who were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into God's holy saints! They were now the holy ones because they had been willing to make sacrifices to allow God to work in and through them. Yes, just real folks living real lives but really dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus and he took real ordinary folks and transformed them into his holy citizens serving in his kingdom. We are invited to join in -- ordinary folks -- transformed into the extraordinary through the power of the Holy Spirit. What keeps us from joining?
Lord, thank you for opening up a scene from history and inviting us in to participate in your kingdom. Amen.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
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.
Acts 19:13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”
Acts 19:14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.
Acts 19:15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
Acts 19:16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.
Acts 19:17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.
Acts 19:18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.
Acts 19:19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.
Acts 19:20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
Paul often spoke of the power of the Holy Spirit that was being experienced in the lives of the new believers. It was the power that was able to raise Christ from the dead; that resurrection power that was able to transform lives and make all things new. Throughout the book of Acts we are privileged to catch a glimpse of what those early Christians were experiencing. Of course there were those who wanted to exploit what was happening and use it to their own benefit. What they failed to understand was that the power of God had to do with a relationship, one in which God and man were united through the blood of Jesus Christ. Outside of this healing relationship the power of God could not be used or abused. That is why the evil spirit responded, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?" Then they began to understand that the power of God was greater than anything they had ever experienced and all earthy powers came under the authority of God. The result was that the news about Jesus spread and the power of God transformed lives throughout the city where Paul was preaching. Paul didn't prevail, but the word of the Lord prevailed!
How often do I live my life spiritually weak? When I read about the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the ministry of the Apostle Paul I am simply amazed. However, it seems that Paul had a simple faith and trust in the power of God to do the work. I'm afraid that I can get caught up in the fact that I think that the work is up to me, but scriptures like today's are a strong reminder that the work of God is not up to me -- it's up to me being plugged into him! The only reason the evil spirit recognized Paul was because Paul had an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. Therefore he knew them both!
The only way I can be a faithful servant of the Lord is to be completely and totally plugged into him on a daily basis. The final verse of today's scripture reminds us that it was the word of the Lord that grew mightily and prevailed -- not the word of Paul! Paul was constantly pointing people to Jesus and through his relationship with Christ was simply revealing the power of God. The power of God was so great that the evil powers of the city spontaneously submitted to Jesus' authority.
There is great joy and freedom in these scriptures for we must learn to relax in the power and movement of God's Holy Spirit. The greatest responsibility of our Christian life is to get to know Christ! Nothing else should distract us -- and this is very difficult for those who are engaged in the work and ministry of the Lord. Somehow we believe that being busy for God is a good thing, and all the while we can miss out on what God really has in store for us. He wants us to slow down, relax in him and allow his power to be revealed through the word of the Lord.
Lord, I'm sorry for the times that I try to do things on my own. Please, help me to connect to you each and every single day in my walk with you and may your power be revealed to the world around us so that you will be glorified! Amen.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Acts 18:9 One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent;
Acts 18:10 for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”
Acts 18:11 He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Paul's ministry in Corinth was now extending to the Gentiles. He had begun his ministry by preaching in the synagogue but the Jews didn't want to hear what he had to say. He had to move on and he knew that there were those who were threatening his very life. In the midst of this difficulty the Lord came to Paul and spoke to him in a vision. The Lord encouraged Paul to continue with his ministry for there were many more believers in the city than Paul realized.
It is easy to become discouraged about speaking up and presenting the Good News. Society is making this increasingly more difficult as Christians have been cast in the light of being crazy people (at least in the US). A stereotype has developed on television and in the media and you rarely find the portrayal of a good Christian. So, what are God's followers supposed to do? Are we to be afraid and keep silent? I believe the message that Paul received that night in the vision is just as valid for us today. No matter how crazy our world may be, and no matter how messed up the stereotypes may be, we need to speak up as followers of Jesus Christ. We have the answer to the problems of our world -- Jesus is the healing balm for the walking wounded we meet on a daily basis. If we have the cure, why wouldn't we want to share it?!
The important part to this whole vision of Paul is the second portion. "For I am with you." Here we find the great reminder to all of us. We do not travel this journey alone. We do not speak on the Lord's behalf alone. We do nothing on our own, but he goes with us. If God is with us and beside us and in us -- then why are we afraid? We must not allow our own fears to stifle the move of God's Holy Spirit today.
Finally, there is a promise of God that there are more believers than we think! Sometimes we feel all alone in what we are doing and that there can't be that many left that believe the way we do. Yet, we may simply be unaware of all of God's children. Sprinkled throughout our communities there is a vast army of followers of Jesus Christ. As his children pray and seek his face and intercede for one another we will have opportunities to lift one another up. The body of Christ needs to be supported and not torn down. This includes our own particular body and across denominational lines as well. There are more of us out there than we think -- and that is good news!
Who will we meet today? Let's ask God to prepare the way and the may we be willing to speak up -- to not be silent -- and be outspoken witnesses to new life in Christ.
Lord, thank you for what you have done in my life. Please, help me share that news with someone today. Amen.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Acts 17:12 Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing.
Paul and Silas had gone off to Berea where they were now sharing the Gospel. They were all quite amazed at how responsive the people were and how quickly they accepted the good news. First of all they went to the Jewish synagogue and there the Jews were very receptive of what they were being taught. They spent time verifying the scriptures and many of them believed in Jesus. The news about Jesus spilled over into the Greek population. A number of the Greek women of high standing within the community first began to believe in Jesus and they carried the word home to their husbands, and they too believed.
Throughout history we find that women have had a place of influence in spreading the gospel. Whether it was Mary Magdalene at the Garden Tomb, the Samaritan woman at the well, or these Greek women of high standing within their community, women have been open to hearing and believing in Jesus and taking that message back to their homes. Over and over again we discover that the Apostle Paul recognized the importance of the influence of women in the spreading of the gospel. Lydia is the first convert to Christianity in Europe and she invites Paul to her home and there a church is born. Here, the Greek women of high standing hear the gospel and they are the ones who take it to their powerful husbands.
As humans we tend to discount the power of influence when compared to the power of position. However, God looks past all of our human structures and works in ways which best will serve the kingdom. Today's church in North America is at least 60% female. If women continue to be influential in the spiritual lives of family members -- husbands, children, etc. then shouldn't we be savvy enough to use them and empower them in their places of influence?
About twenty years ago the United Nations presented a study that concluded that women were the place to invest because they were the ones who could influence communities for good. It was recommended that the world invest in women -- give them loans, encourage them in micro-business plans, and educate them. Unfortunately the conflicts within the last 20 years have not resulted in the anticipated empowerment of women. Instead when the conflicts (wars) occurred the financial aid and assistance was not run through the influential women, but through the systems. At times the resources ended up in the hands of corrupt officials and now, twenty years later we are again reassessing the need to get the resources back into the hands of women. God knew this was the way to work long ago and yet in many ways the world is just learning it again today. The church also needs to embrace the power of women of influence for they are vital in bringing the news of Jesus to our world.
God's sons and daughters need to join together, shoulder to shoulder, structure and influence, as partners in the good news.
Lord, thank you for entrusting me with sharing the news about Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Lev. 12:1 ¶ The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Lev. 12:2 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: ¶ If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.
Lev. 12:3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
Lev. 12:4 Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.
Lev. 12:5 If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days.
Lev. 12:6 ¶ When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.
Lev. 12:7 He shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female.
Lev. 12:8 If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.
Oddly enough it was this scripture that caught my attention in today's readings. Here we find a very short chapter outlining the regulations on impurity of a woman following childbirth. If she has a son she is considered unclean for seven days until the child's circumcision and then an additional thirty-three days. If she has a daughter she is unclean for two weeks, and then an additional sixty-six days. At first glance it appears that giving birth to a daughter makes the mother more unclean than giving birth to the son, and from that one might want to conclude that the daughter is of less worth than the son. However, notice that the offering for both son and daughter is the same, therefore that argument can't really stand and maybe there is another reason.
We have discovered that God's rules and laws make sense! What could make sense in this type of a situation? A couple of things come to my mind. In the first year of life more male children will die than female. This was something that I had learned in nursing school. Here's a link to a study in 2008 that said the same thing:
Could it be that God knew that if a woman had a male child the odds were much higher that this baby would die, and therefore he allowed her period of cleansing to be shorter so that she could soon resume intimate relations with her husband? This is a God of compassion who knew the statistics and knew how a mother's heart would break. Therefore, if she had a baby boy and he just might not make it, he would allow her the hope of having another child.
So, while the boys might not make it, it meant that the population of females had the potential of being higher than the population of males. Today a healthy gender ratio balance in a country is about 102 females to 98 males. This is because girls tend to be healthier and live longer in societies where both are well cared for. So, what does this tell us about the people of God? It means that the boys and the girls were both loved equally and survived at healthy rates. It also meant that a loving God allowed a mother more time to rest after having given birth to a daughter because more than likely the girl would survive, and she didn't need to have another child quickly because statistically there would be more girls than boys. Therefore none of this had anything to do with God valuing a boy over a girl, but it had everything to do with God caring for his people in a wholistic manner and wanting them to be healthy.
Sadly, it seems that we have often wanted to jump to conclusions regarding God's view of one gender over another. Somehow we have wanted to defend the fact that God views the male gender of more value than the female. However, if we search the scriptures and take the time to discover what they are really saying, we will discover just the opposite. God loves all of his children, male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek…black or white, Anglo or Hispanic …. and the list goes on. The message of the Bible is one in which we discover the gentle and loving care of a Father for ALL of his children. He doesn't want any of his children to miss out on what he has prepared for them.
Now, as a Christian who understands what God's plan is in caring for all of humanity what are to do when we discover imbalances in God's plan? While reading and researching for this post today I came across some interesting facts. We have to ask what it means when the gender ratio in Afghanistan is 107 men to 93 women. Or, Bahrain has 135 men to 65 women. China has 108 men for 92 women. Germany has 96 men to 104 women. Russia has 86 men to 114 women. (Russia has a male alcoholism problem!) The United States has 97 men to 103 women. Whenever the numbers become out of balance -- whenever there are more men than women, we have to ask why. The normal ratio is somewhere around the 96-98 men to 102-104 women rate. Imbalances in either direction have to make us ask questions.
God was concerned about these things from the very beginning days of the Israelite nation. He cared about his people being loved and nourished and brought up in healthy ways. What does this mean for me as a follower of Jesus Christ? I think it means that there are times when God's people must speak up and become involved as a voice in issues that may be detrimental to society. Within our own communities of faith we must be willing to speak up and understand why there are some healthy rules and guidelines for living. God wanted his people to be a healthy people.
This is one of those days in which I am left thinking. Not quite sure what to do with this information -- but I am willing to listen to what God has to say and follow him in obedience.
Lord, I'm listening. Amen.