Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
This entire section in Romans is based on the demand of love for others. In the original the structure of the sentence above would be a little different — because of hope, we rejoice; because we suffer, we are patient; in prayer, we are persevering. Because of others we are willing to rejoice in the hope that we have been given. This is the hope of complete and total restoration in the image of God. This causes great joy in the life of the believer.
Also, there is an understanding of suffering that will become commonplace in the life of early believers. Soon they would face martyrdom on a regular basis and this, they would suffer for the community as a whole. When one stood up for their faith it strengthened them all. They would all know and experience suffering for following Christ. Business people would begin to lose money, children would be taunted, their everyday lives would become times of testing by the society surrounding them. They needed to remain strong for the sake of one another.
Prayer was a central practice of the early church community. Nothing was to stand in the way of their times of prayer. Prayer meetings were a reflection of their love for God, but also their love for one another. It was in prayer that they lifted up and supported one another. They were never to give up this practice.
With an overarching theme of love, the people of God were to be watching out for one another, lifting burdens and encouraging through difficult days.
We are meant to belong to a community of faith. This Christian journey is not one that is to be walked in isolation. So much strength is gained from fellow-believers who will help us make it through the tough times of life.
Our love is to be genuine and we know that genuine love comes out of the overflow of a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. The very nature of God found in the community of the Holy Trinity is love. We are invited to become partakers of the divine fellowship found in the Trinity and this is — to partake in holy love. The overflow of the love that we find in that relationship spills over onto those around us. This begins with the community of faith.
Because of others I rejoice in the hope that I have found in Christ. Every day becomes a hopeful venture as I am drawn ever deeper into a relationship with my Lord. The call is to holiness — to Christlikeness. I rejoice in every opportunity that I have that allows me to become more like Christ. That is why I can be patient in suffering. Jesus suffered greatly and showed us the way to holiness that can come through suffering. He suffered and died on the cross for us all. This is why we are to be patient, being willing to go through difficulties for the sake of others.
Finally we come to the importance of prayer. This is both individual and corporate prayer, but for the sake of others. We will naturally be strengthened because of prayer, but prayer is also sacrificial love given for the sake of others. We sacrifice our time to intercede for others. Perseverance means that we don’t give up on those who may be in need of our prayers. We continue to lift them up.
We do all of this because we are compelled by love. The transforming love of God compels us to live a new life in Christ. Christ, our example, who died for others, invites us to be ready to give our lives because of others.
Lord, thank you for your love and guidance every single day. Thank you for the challenges you place before us. Please, help us to walk faithfully in the ways in which you lead. Amen.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
In the faith community we are to show hospitality and serve one another. God gives gifts to each member of the community so that they may be shared among all. Talents and abilities are never to be used for the individual good, but are entrusted to be used for the sake of the whole.
We live in a society that doesn’t often think about the community as a whole. Lately I’ve been disturbed as I think about the ways in which we treat people and things as disposable. Driving down the highways of Kansas City I’m stunned when I realize how many landmarks from just thirty years ago, no longer exist. Shopping malls flattened, restaurants torn down, and houses removed by the desire for greater progress. But is it really greater progress? In the spaces where the malls used to be there are simply open fields of dirt and gravel. What used to be communities are now vacant lands and somehow we embrace the idea that things can come and go so rapidly that nothing really matters.
Maybe I’m feeling a bit nostalgic because I grew up in Europe. I used to go and play on castle ruins as a child. Buildings have been in existence for hundreds of years. The same gelato stand down the street from our house is still there, nearly fifty years later! But not so in America. It’s highly unlikely that we discover anything that remains from ten to twenty years ago, let alone forty to fifty.
Maybe I’m just getting older and I wish everything would quit changing so quickly, but I believe that there is something here that the church and Christians must pay attention to. All of this rapid change and disposability is detrimental to building community. Suddenly we find ourselves grasping onto our talents and using them for our own personal good. We are afraid to share because we’re not so sure what things are going to be like down the road and little by little, the community of faith begins to disintegrate and little, if nothing is left.
I use the word “intentional” quite a bit, but I do that because I think it’s necessary. The world has encroached upon Christianity in many ways and unless we are intentional about building protective barriers to the infection, we will be in trouble. This is not a removal of ourselves from the world, but instead a spiritual self-discipline of intentionality. That’s what we read about in I Peter. The individual who is growing spiritually must practice self-discipline and a part of that self-discipline is humbling oneself to a community of faith. It is bringing ones talents and abilities and using them for the sake of others. Growing beyond the mind-set of the world, intentionally going against the currents of society, we sacrificially give of ourselves for the sake of the whole. God did not endow certain people with particular gifts for them to be hoarded or used for their own personal gain. They are to be used for the blessing of community.
Learning to serve one-another in a disposable world will take intentional spiritual discipline. This is the call of discipleship and stewardship. Let us live intentionally, for the sake of the whole.
Lord, your grace overwhelms. We live in gratitude for all that you have done. Please help me to use what you have placed in my hands for the whole. Amen.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
The challenge for the follower of Jesus Christ is to learn to live a life that is humbly submitted to God. It is only the person who has humbled themselves before God who is able to become completely dependent upon God. The verb for cast is quite vivid — it actually means to “hurl.” With all the power that is within us we are to throw off all of the worries and struggles of life and place them on Jesus — because he loves and cares for us. The is the picture of humble dependence.
Many people struggle with anxiety, and it seems that as a society it continues to creep into our lives. Media has established unattainable expectations for humanity. Photoshopped pictures have led us to believe that people can look perfect and only remind us of our own inadequacies. The lives we portray on social media become a cover for the realities and struggles we may be facing. In the midst of it all God is reaching out to us, encouraging us to become dependent.
Some of us may have determined that we ought to be anxious because we have created our own problems. We don’t have the right to trust in God to help us. There is no disclaimer to this passage of scripture. No matter what we have done in life, we are invited to humble ourselves before the Lord and live in a state of complete and total reliance upon him.
We need to focus on the last part of this verse, “because he cares for you.” Even when we get ourselves in hot water, — God cares for us! God never gives up on us. God never says that we can only cast our anxiety on him when we get our act together.
Our loving Savior invites us to gather up everything that is causing anxiety in life, roll it up into a big ball, and hurl it toward him. It’s time to get rid of the stress and learn to live in humble and complete dependence upon the Lord who loves and cares for us.
Lord, thank you for the reminder that you care about it all. Amen.
Friday, May 26, 2017
2Kings 2:1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
We find here another moment in history where the baton is passed from one generation to the next. Just as Moses had passed on the mantle of leadership to Joshua, now Elijah is passing this on to Elisha. They make an interesting journey as Elisha refuses to leave the side of Elijah. It almost appears to be a test on the part of Elijah, whether with stubborn insistence Elisha will stick with him until the very end. The role of leadership which Elisha would be assuming would not be easy, often fraught with difficulties, and commitment to the task would be necessary.
The journey of Elijah and Elisha takes them through stops which are reminiscent of the Israelites’ entrance into the promised land. Every moment is significant and symbolic, including the crossing of the Jordan river on dry land. Elisha refused to stop or give up. He then asked for the impossible — a double share of Elijah’s power. Elisha pressed on and in the end, received the mantle of leadership and the power of God.
Time after time we see the mantle of leadership change within the Old Testament narrative. These stories become a foreshadowing of a time when the mantle of leadership will shift from Jesus to his disciples. Just as we have recently read of the ascension of Jesus Christ, we recognize in this story the ascension of Elijah. Elijah is taken up into heaven and the stubbornly insistent disciple follows him to the very end. The result is that he is empowered.
As Jesus’ disciples we are all called to become stubbornly insistent. We follow Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross, refusing to let him suffer and die alone. We stand in stunned amazement that our Messiah has been crucified, but three days later we are blessed when we experience his resurrection. But now he begins to speak of his departure and we just don’t know what that means and so we stubbornly follow him day after day, not wanting to miss out on anything. Finally we find ourselves gathered with the disciples on a mountain top and Jesus disappears into the heavens. Just as Elisha found himself alone, we find ourselves wondering and waiting. The promise for Elisha was double the power of the great Elijah. The promise for us is the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
The problem is that far too often we give up before we ever get to the moment of receiving what Jesus has for us. We refuse to stick with it and we find ourselves at a loss, wandering around in the desert of life. Being a follower of Jesus Christ isn’t easy but requires tenacity and spiritual discipline. Stubborn insistence, if you like! To reach the end of the journey means that we continually press on, following in faith the one who is leading the way.
Lord, we often need the reminders that help us continue to seek you, and stay near to you, every day. Amen.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Acts 1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Luke is setting the context for the book of Acts. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven he had given instructions to his disciples. He would be leaving them, but only in his going could they receive the promise of the Father. While for the disciples the ascension may have seemed disconcerting, it ushered in a period of waiting. They weren’t sure what they were waiting for, but they lived into the promises of Jesus. The promise was the comforter, the advocate, which would be the overwhelming sense of Jesus’ continual presence through the Holy Spirit. Looking up into heaven their hearts must have been heavy. Stepping into a period of waiting may have been difficult, but it would be worthwhile. They would experience the dynamic and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit who would empower them beyond their understanding.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for those followers of Jesus to watch him ascend into heaven. While Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit, I can only surmise that waiting wasn’t easy. How do you wait on something that you don’t fully understand? How do you have patience when the Messiah has left?
There are moments in life when we feel that we are living in the space of waiting. We are waiting for that diagnosis. Waiting for the wedding day. Waiting for the next school year. Waiting for our children to grow up. Waiting for our retirement.
My mother-in-law used to say quite regularly, “Don’t wish your life away.” Sometimes in the waiting we live too much in the wishing and we miss out on the present.
After watching Jesus ascend into heaven the followers went to Jerusalem where they waited for the Holy Spirit. They had no idea how long it would take or what the presence of the Holy Spirit would actually mean in their lives. However, they were obedient to the words of Jesus and they went and waited. Every day they went to the upper room and spent time in prayer. They fellowshipped together. They broke bread together. The men and the women were there united in faithfulness to Jesus. They simply remained faithful day in and day out as they waited for the promise.
When we are in a period of waiting, we are also called to faithfulness. We are to press on with our lives, remaining in a state of prayer. We are to have fellowship with fellow believers and break bread with one another. There is something beautiful in the ordinariness of life that helps us in our waiting.
Eventually the Holy Spirit came and everything was changed beyond their imagination. In hindsight, I’m guessing that those days of waiting were a period of peace and joy among the believers. The period of waiting refined the group and when the fire fell — it fell upon those who had been faithful in waiting. It was evident who had been there waiting on the promise.
We learn to lean on Jesus’ promises in the time of waiting. We continue in the ordinary adventures of life as we live in community. The community helps us with our wait for it becomes a collective journey. When the promise is fulfilled it becomes transformational for all and life is never again the same.
Lord, as we celebrate this day — your Ascension into heaven, may we live in the peace of your promises. Amen.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Deut. 31:9 Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Moses commanded them: “Every seventh year, in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, 13 and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”
As Joshua was preparing to take on the mantle of leadership, Moses was providing intentional teaching. For the law of God to be passed down to the generations to come there had to be a plan. Every seven years the people were to be gathered together. This included everyone within the community — whether they were Israelites or not. Whoever became a part of this community would need to listen to and apply the law of God.
Children would be born every year and there had to be a plan to bring them into the faith family. If the teaching occurred every seven years then children would also receive it on a regular basis. Repeated every seven years, it would become a part of who they were, their life and their culture. The community would not be able to forget to whom they belonged and how they were to act in this world. Moses was teaching Joshua, who was to teach all the people for years to come. It was a plan from God, and it was intentional in regard to passing along the faith.
Just as Moses gave Joshua an intentional plan for passing along the faith, so we must have a plan as well. The next generation won’t just “get” it, if we don’t make sure that they are receiving from the Lord. The sad truth is that the Israelites didn’t follow through on this plan. Eventually they stopped reading the word of the law, and the scrolls were literally lost. If it had been important to the Israelites, had they been intentional, they would have known exactly where the scrolls were and they would have been reading them on a regular basis.
How will our children and grandchildren know about Jesus? Only if we become intentional about passing along our faith. I wonder if life has simply gotten too busy to read the word and pray with our little ones? There must be intentionality. They need to see us pray. They need to see us reading the word. We are to become mentors by the way in which we live our lives. This is what it means to be intentional.
Nothing will just “happen” if we don’t plan for it to happen. We must be intentional about planning for the future and passing along our faith. What happens in the years ahead will be greatly dependent upon our faithfulness to those who will come after us. If they have not heard, nor been taught, how can they be to blame? Today we must begin to take responsibility for the future, and be intentional about planting and watering the seeds of faith.
Lord, I am so grateful for those who have invested in me. Please help me to be intentional to share what I have received. Amen.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
1Pet. 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For
“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The words from I Peter are powerful and profound. God’s people are called to unity and love. As a community of believers they are to find ways in which they can get along with one another. Evil will remain, but should not rule the day, nor become the barometer for our response. The follower of Christ does not repay evil with evil, nor abuse with abuse. Instead, the Christ-follower is to be a person of peace, repaying evil with a blessing. Evil must not win the day, but the community of faith is to “seek peace and pursue it.” The Lord sees them and hears their prayers.
Day after day it seems that we awaken to the news of war or terrorism in this world. Or, we awaken to another shooting of someone in our own city! It all seems to senseless and the hate and evil that seems to be espoused leaves us dazed.
We are living in a terribly divided world. It seems that discrimination and abuse of power have left gaping holes in the very fabric of society. We must ask ourselves how we will respond to what is happening in our world. The more we create barriers, the more we will not understand, nor have sympathy for one another. There is a reason that the followers of Christ were told not to repay evil with evil, nor abuse with abuse. What would it mean for God’s people to repay with blessing in the midst of great turmoil?
My son-in-law has told me this morning that the counter-narrative in Manchester, England following last-night’s terror attack is more moving than the blast! He says, “an outpouring of generosity and love has seemed to counter the attack.” Isn’t that what this scripture is telling us?
So, what if we applied this to domestic struggles as well, not just an act of terrorism? We have incidents which divide communities, cities and states. We have pitted people groups, one against the other. What if our counter-attack were an outpouring of blessing? We are called to “seek peace and pursue it.” We are also reminded that it is the “face of the Lord” that is “against those who do evil.” In other words, we have our responsibility, and the Lord will take care of evil.
The Lord’s eyes are upon the righteous and our prayers are heard. May we gather into prayer this day and pray for peace, on the larger scale, but also in our communities, and even in our homes. We seek the Lord’s peace today as the kingdom breaks into the chaos of our world.
Lord, with broken hearts we come before you, and seek your peace. Amen.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Psa. 93:5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.
Over and again the Lord promises to be faithful. Whether the rainbow in the sky following the terrible flood, or the promise that no lives would be lost to Paul in the midst of a storm, God fulfills the promises made. God’s decrees then, are sure, and not to be doubted. The very nature of God is revealed in holiness. The God who lives in the house also lives among the people. God’s holiness is revealed in promises and decrees which transform the people. Faithfulness leads to holiness.
If we simply took the title out of context we would think that our faithfulness to God will bring about personal holiness. The problem is that this is the way in which we have typically thought of holiness — a change in our personal behaviors. However, this is not what the Psalmist is saying. God’s faithfulness to humankind is what provides the opportunity for humanity to be made holy. It is God who is faithful and that ought to be a very sobering reality. We are unable to make ourselves holy on our own power. It is only when we participate in the holiness of God that we, too, are made holy. We are only holy because of God’s holiness in us.
Holiness befits the house of the Lord. In other words, God’s holiness permeates the house because God is in the house. The way that we become holy is by dwelling in the house with God, then God’s holiness becomes a part of who we are. The promise of God is that if we dwell in the house of holiness with God, then we, too, will be holy.
The great promises of God remind us that we don’t have to be doing this on our own. We can’t stop the rain from falling. We can’t stop the storms from pounding. We can’t stop the world from pressing in upon us, but we can be God’s holy people. The place of refuge is to be found in the shelter of the rock, in the dwelling place of God. God is faithful, and God is holy.
Lord, I am grateful for your eternal promises and your gentle love which we can experience today. Amen.
1Pet. 3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
The believers living in the period of the early church were facing new difficulties on a daily basis. The disciples were teaching these followers what it meant to live like Jesus, and this included ministering to the poor and the needy. They were to be engaged in doing good; doing the right things. Persecution was always a potential reality but they were not to allow that fear to inhibit their activities.
There was a direct connection to sanctification and the activity of believers in the world. God’s holy people; those who were deeply in love with Christ, would also love their neighbors and give of themselves for them. Engaging in this kind of a lifestyle would inevitably raise questions. The sanctified believer who follows Christ into a hurting world will be asked about their faith. The lifestyle of a sanctified believer becomes a witness to the presence of the kingdom of God in the world. Therefore when someone asks a question regarding our hope, we are to be prepared to respond. Never let the opportunity pass by to share about the sanctifying work of Christ in this world. Sanctification should always lead to witness, whether in word or deed.
If the focus of holiness is only on personal piety the believer will lose the opportunity to serve as a witness to the gospel. Personal piety alone, without showing expression in service to others is a real problem. This is not what Christ intended, and one must ask whether this is holiness at all. Can there be any holiness that is not expressed in both love for God and love for neighbor? If we try to do one without the other we will be lacking. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world and simply try to grow in the grace of Christ without engaging our world. Also, we cannot, as a Christian, just try to engage our world and do good deeds, without growing in the sanctifying power and grace of God. There are plenty of people engaged in doing good deeds, but they are unable to present the hope of the resurrected Lord.
A sanctified believer will be drawn to opportunities of witness. For those who argue that they have no chance to tell others about Jesus, I would ask how well you know Jesus, for Jesus saw opportunity everywhere that he went. Maybe it’s a person sitting at a table near you in a restaurant who is quietly listening in on your conversation. Did you notice? For some reason there may have been a spark of interest in your discussion. Our what about the Uber driver? You have time in a car to have a conversation with someone you may never normally meet. Maybe they’re someone from another faith. Today you have the opportunity to show them that a Christian is gentle and reverent — and gives them a good review! Speaking of reviews — there’s a professor (no one I know) who is in trouble for her Yelp reviews. She is supposed to be teaching cultural sensitivity at her university but when she goes to restaurants she often gives horrible reviews and uses offensive language. We cannot hide behind the internet and not be a witness. Everything that we do ought to be screaming about our love for Jesus and love for others. This is our witness and it is played out every single day in everything that we do!
There is a direct correlation between sanctification and witness. God’s holy people can’t help themselves — they will become witnesses in the world. If you find yourself thinking that you never have the opportunity to be a witness for Christ, I would suggest that you examine your personal relationship with Jesus. Greater intimacy with Jesus will always heighten your sensitivity to the lost. If there is no passion for the lost, there may be no real passion for Christ. Sanctification and witness — be prepared for the amazing journey of transformation, both personal and for the world.
Lord, I want to know you more and I want my heart filled with passion for you. Please open my eyes to those around me and give me the words to be your witness. Amen.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Often people will close a letter with a salutation such as “grace and peace” or just “peace.” This is a farewell greeting that expresses a desire for this person to experience peace. When Jesus gives this farewell salutation he does something altogether different. He doesn’t just wish his followers peace, he tells them that he is leaving his peace with them. This something radically different, for Jesus entered the world as the Prince of Peace, which describes something about Jesus’ very nature. It means that he is leaving this part of his nature here with his followers. This is what he will leave with them after his resurrection and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
This peace will transcend anything that the world has to offer. It becomes the peace that defines a Christian, who can experience a deep and settling peace, even in the midst of life’s biggest trials. It was the peace that Jesus exhibited when he was in the midst of the storm on the sea of Galilee, he remained calm when called before the religious leaders and Pilate. The peace was Christ’s peace, and this he was bestowing upon those who would follow after him. Much more than a simple salutation, but a blessed promise.
The promise of the peace of Christ is powerful, and yet it’s easy to stray from the shelter of that peace. It seems, at times, that we wander in and out of that place of peace with God. The daily demands of life draw us out from under the shadow of that peace and tempt us into fretting. Then again, we hear the voice of our Beloved calling us into the place of sweet, gentle and all-consuming peace, even in the midst of life’s storms.
When we begin to comprehend the immenseness of this promise, we should be overwhelmed. The peace of Christ is more than we can comprehend but it is being shaped and formed in those who are in communion with our holy God. The peace of Christ is being brought to perfection or completion by the one who is at work within us. The peace of Christ allows us the possibility of putting things into perspective, an eternal view that sees things differently. Jesus promised this to all of his followers.
We don’t have to be ruled by the circumstances of this life. The peace the world has to offer is temporary. We are invited to step into the eternal stream of the peace of Christ that transcends the temporal.
Yes, much more than a simple desire for God’s people, but another self-emptying of Christ. His peace, more than a salutation, is gifted to those who will partake.
Lord, I am grateful for the deep sense of your peace which reaches to the deep recesses of my life. Thank you for bringing peace to places that I didn’t know needed your peace. Amen.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Acts 27:33 Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37 (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) 38 After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.
Paul and his traveling companions were on a ship that was bound to sink. They had been weathering storms for days and were now weakened from the onslaught. What was to come of them? Paul had been communicating with the Lord and again, reveals what it means to be a Christian in the midst of ordinary circumstances. He went to the Lord and there gained wisdom and strength, as well as a promise that no one would lose their life. Just to make certain of this they would need to have a roll-call. This would have included all sailors, prisoners and soldiers. Every single person on the ship was accounted for and there were two hundred seventy-six persons. Every single one, precious in the eyes of God.
They all ate and then threw off everything that was weighing down the ship. They had probably been using the grain/food for weights and now that they were going to be released, they may as well eat and get some strength. Luke presents the breaking of bread as a vision of the last supper, but mixed with a hearty meal for all. Again, it is this mixing of the Christian life with the ordinary. For one, the meal becomes a dependence upon the sustenance found in Christ, for others it is the physical energy of food. In reality it becomes a mix of the two that leads to the salvation of them all. Believers and non-believers tied inextricably to one another in the crisis of this storm. It is not just the Christians who are to be saved, but all two hundred seventy-six.
The ship breaks up and all the people eventually find a way to shore, whether they knew how to swim or not. The promise of God is revealed the headcount is repeated and all two hundred seventy-six are present.
There is intentionality in knowing the number two hundred and seventy-six, for the number represents the lives of individuals who are important in the eyes of God. Every human being, whether a believer or not, is precious in the sight of God. In this circumstance, God used the presence of three believers (we don’t know if there were more) to save the lives of two hundred and seventy-three more. They had to suffer the consequences of the choices of secular leaders so that they could help to save others. Paul, Luke and Aristarchus are not heard to complain in their situation, but are there, bringing leadership and guidance in the midst of a crisis. They don’t ask for God to save them alone, but they are willing servants to bring everyone to salvation.
We find the believers practicing the Christian life in the midst of those who have no idea what they’re doing. The imagery of the last supper while others are feasting on anything they can find is almost unimaginable, and yet it is a vision of where the Christian should find themselves in this world. We are to become the broken bread and shed blood for the world, not practicing our spirituality in isolation, but in the middle of the mess. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for the world that is drowning around us. The three, for the two hundred and seventy-three. In helping to save others, Paul, Luke and Aristarchus are saved.
Living the Christian life in the center of the messes of this world will not be pleasant, but we are called to follow Christ. He gave his life for the many. For how many are we willing to suffer?
Lord, your word can challenge my heart and thinking. Help me to be willing to live for you sacrificially. Amen.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Acts 27:1 When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. 2 Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
Luke provides us with a narrative of Paul’s journey to Rome. It appears that Luke is traveling with Paul, as well as Aristarchus. This portrayal of the journey allows us to have a glimpse of what it means to be a Christian in the world. For Luke and Aristarchus to travel with Paul to Rome would have been out of the ordinary. Luke may have gotten permission as Paul’s physician, but Aristarchus, coming as a voluntary companion of a prisoner, may have had to submit himself as Paul’s slave to be allowed to come on the journey. He has been a faithful companion through many difficult circumstances. He was present during the riots in Ephesus and then travels with Paul to Macedonia. Later we find him present with Paul in Rome for he is mentioned in the letter to the Colossians and Philemon. This man was a humble supporter of Paul who appears to have done whatever was necessary to further the ministry of the great Apostle. He is an unsung hero who remains faithful.
Only a few people in this world will have their fifteen minutes of fame, while most will live their lives in anonymity. Paul may have become very well known, but he had a whole team of supporters who helped him in his ministry. Aristarchus is one of those names that we hardly ever hear mentioned and yet, I would suspect that he was extremely vital to the ministry of Paul. He humbled himself to be able to further Paul’s work. He offered himself as a slave and willingly set sail with prisoners. More than likely he lived with Paul in his imprisonment in Rome. One wonders whether the ministry of Paul could have been as effective without Aristarchus.
Kingdom work requires many humble supporters, those whose names may not become well-known. Aristarchus becomes an example of one who is reflecting the image of Jesus Christ by humbling himself to serve others. This is exactly what Jesus did for all of us, but humbling himself and giving up his status to provide a pathway for our salvation. When we follow our Lord, then we find ourselves being challenged to accept the role of humble supporter. Even going out of our way to make it possible for others to serve with their gifts and talents in the kingdom. Being willing to suffer so that others might be more effective. Giving up our seat at the table so that the work may continue into a new future which God has in store.
Sometimes the little known workers in the kingdom are the ones who will make an eternal difference. We are to live faithfully, emptying ourselves in service to one another for the sake of the kingdom.
Lord, open my eyes to the places and the ones whom I can serve. Amen.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”
The Jews were fond of their genealogies. They loved to prove who they were by the people to whom they were related. Obviously there was great pride in being children of Abraham, but Jesus was messing with they held dear. He was saying that physical descent does not equate to spiritual maturity. When Jesus declared that they had no room for his word, he was implying that these children of Abraham had closed their minds to the truth. The result was that they had become blinded to the realities of God which stood right before them.
The implication is that true descendants of Abraham would have, with open minds, received Jesus. While this group of individuals is concerned with their physical line of heredity, Jesus is revealing to them the true line of heredity back to the Father. It is the work of the Son which will provide the pathway to the Father and this will be by opening the opportunity for adoption. True children will be those who have been adopted into the family and this, by creating room for the word, and hence, they will have direct access to the Father. They, too, will know what is declared in the Father’s presence, for they will be united with God. The true descendants of Abraham will listen to and know the voice of the Father for they will have room for the word. If there is no room for the word, then you may be a physical descendant, but not a true child.
Many of us may be able to trace our spiritual genealogy through generations of family in the church. We can be just as prideful as the children of Abraham. Because of the relationship, we may also believe that we have ownership and can be the ones to determine everything that is to happen at church. What happens when a new generation of believers begins to fill the place? Do we insist on having things our way because our family has been invested in the place for so long? The religious officials were stuck in their stubborn ways and refused to see that God was doing a new thing.
God just may be at work doing something completely new and different and only those who are connected to the Father are going to see and understand what is happening.
There must be room for the word in our lives. The word is living, active, moving, breathing and ever leading. This life with the Father is not static and therefore we must be malleable in God’s hands. We become children who are willing to be shaped for use by the Father. The world around us is constantly in a state of change and for us to be faithful servants in the kingdom, we must be flexible. Those living in their spiritual genealogy are rigid with no room for the word. True children of the kingdom are flexible for they have made room for the word.
Lord, may I be a flexible and pliable instrument in your hands. Amen.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Stephen is bringing his speech to a close. Whether he meant this to be the end or not, we are uncertain, but the response of the crowd was so violent that there was no other option but to have been finished.
Stephen had spoken with such boldness that the people were shocked. Obviously the words that he spoke pricked their consciences and they were troubled, and now becoming quite defensive. As he spoke of their history of resistance he brought home the point that they had substituted external worship for spiritual obedience. They had made it a common practice to resist the nudging of the Holy Spirit and become rigid in their lives and practices.
Stephen, the one who had been accused of wrong-doing now turns the tables and accuses the Sanhedrin, and argues that they should be on trial for they have violated the spirit of Judaism. This speech is answered by the stoning of Stephen, and yet his words live on eternally ringing in our ears, reminding us that there are times when we must speak boldly.
As I have been journeying through Europe with the Reformers I am reminded time and again that there is a need for those who will speak boldly. Many, like Stephen, were not well received. Even reformers like Luther lived under constant stress and pressure. After speaking at the Diet of Worms his friends whisked him away and hid him for months. They knew far too well what had happened to Jan Hus when he had come to the meeting in Constance — he had been burned at the stake! And yet, these giants of the faith become for us heroes who were willing to speak boldly. They put their lives on the line because they were able to see the bigger picture.
We are not all called to be a Stephen, a Luther, or a Hus, but we are called to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ who do not oppose the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit there will be times when we are nudged to speak up, or to speak boldly. Our responsibility is to listen and respond to those gentle nudging of the Spirit so that we can help the community of faith to remain faithful. All of these reformers and leaders, including Stephen, were speaking to the religious folks. It’s the church that sometimes needs a prophetic voice to help her remain on track, and therefore needs those who will speak boldly. But one can only truly speak boldly when it comes through an outpouring and empowering of the Holy Spirit. All of the reformers mentioned spent much time in the word and in the presence of the Lord. It was often the Spirit enlightening their reading or studies that gave them their boldness.
As we become sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, may we respond and speak boldly when we are gently nudged.
Lord, may you raise up a new generation of those who will speak boldly for truth. Amen.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Psa. 102:12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
your name endures to all generations.
13 You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favor it;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold its stones dear,
and have pity on its dust.
The timing of this Psalm is unknown. Some would like to claim that it has to do with the return from exile, but others would argue that simply doesn’t quite fit the narrative. However, we do recognize that it is at a time when Jerusalem is struggling against her enemies. In the midst of that struggle the people of God remain strong in their reliance upon the LORD who is on the throne.
There is the hope of compassion and mercy which is bestowed upon God’s people who still love and revere Jerusalem. Even if the city lies in ruins, they will hold its stones dear and have pity on the dust. These phrases articulate the love and devotion which remains for Jerusalem, even when she lies in ruin.
Most commentators take this Psalm and relate it to the contemporary church. No longer is the Psalm about the physical city of Jerusalem but it becomes a prayer for the body of Christ; for those who will inhabit the new Jerusalem. It could also be a prayer about the contemporary state of the church. We are finding ourselves in interesting days which some may find troublesome. We are living on the shifting sands of time where change is coming quickly. The church may not look the same as it always has but there are eternal truths to which we must and should cling. The Lord does remain enthroned forever. The one who rules the kingdom has been and currently does continue to rule and in God we place our hope and trust.
God’s grace continues to reach out in times of distress. The grace and mercy of God envelopes the church with love, for this is God’s church, and not our church. Remember, Jesus told Peter that he, Jesus, would build the church. Far too often we think that it is our responsibility to build the church or the church’s enterprises on our own. We have the strategic plans and we think that we know how to do it all better. That’s not God’s intention. We are to relax and allow the Lord to open the doors for us to become the people of God in the way in which God intended.
We are to hold the stones dear and have pity on the very dust of the church. This is not about the physical structure nor the organization of the church, but about the living stones who make up the body of Christ. We are to love and have pity on the very poorest member of the church. We are to hold dear the one who has been gone from the church for years but just may, at some time, return. We are to love the newest convert who seems ignorant of the Scriptures and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Everyone should be precious in our sight because we are a part of the new Jerusalem and in the Jerusalem of old, even the rubbish was held dear. Now, even those who may seem unhelpful or unable within the kingdom should be loved and shown mercy.
When we have pity upon the dust of the new Jerusalem, we reflect the love of Jesus Christ to our world. We do not fret if the organized church seems to be struggling for we are called to be the living stones of the church. There is much to love and much to hold dear. We do not give up but continue to show love and have pity on its dust. In doing so we become partners in the kingdom work of Christ and in building up the new Jerusalem.
Lord, please help me to love the very dust in your kingdom . Amen.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Because of the work of Christ in this world we have been gathered together and united as a people of God. This beautiful patchwork of unity is found because of the great diversity in God’s family. We become one when we are gathered from all peoples and grow together as we become more like the Messiah as we commune with him. The transformation results in Christlikeness and the uniting of those together who are like Christ, becomes a powerful people. A people who are merciful for they have received much mercy. What we become are citizens of the new kingdom inaugurated in resurrection power by the Messiah.
As we continue in the season of Easter we reflect upon resurrection power. This power has the ability to create a new people, a people who find their identity in Christ.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to celebrate with the people of the Hugelstrasse Church of the Nazarene in Germany. The pastor is working in an ever-changing environment and the church will never look quite the same, but it is an amazing place. Frankfurt, Germany has become a crossroads of international migration. The result is a new multi-cultural diversity such has never been seen before. I was amazed at the event when there were so many people who had come from many different lands, but all united in the kingdom of God. The pastor told me that they have discovered a way in which to respond to identity. When asked, “Are you German?” the new citizens say, “no.” But if they are asked, “Are you a Frankfurter?” they say “yes.” There is something in the new identity of being a “Frankfurter” that is acceptable as it is synonymous with this new multicultural world.
If these new citizens are embracing their identity as a “Frankfurter” maybe it ought to say something about those who have become children of the kingdom of God. We are to fall in love with the new kingdom, being united from far and wide through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Jesus died and rose again so that he could usher in a new kingdom and we could exchange our citizenship from the earthly to the already of Christ’s rule. We don’t have to wait until Jesus comes again, but we are to become active participants in the new kingdom in the here and now. We are to be a people who have become like Christ and by being like Christ we desire nothing more than to follow him in counter-cultural ways. No longer are we partisans for we are far too busy being engaged in kingdom activity and the more we spend time with Christ the more our kingdom activity will be transformed to become more like Christ.
Once we were simply a disconnected people, wandering and searching for a way forward. But now, we are united in Christ and we have been made new. We have a new citizenship and we have become Christians. We embrace our new identity as we continue to be transformed into the image of the one with whom we have fallen in love.
Lord, I’m so sorry for the times that I fall short of my citizenship. Please help me to serve you faithfully. Amen.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Jer. 26:20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the Lord, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. 22 Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.
Jer. 26:24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.
The king was very frustrated at the prophetic words of Jeremiah. The crowds were stirred up and the mobs were smelling blood. Jeremiah was not alone in speaking prophetically and another prophet Uriah found himself at the end of the King’s anger. There was no one in a place of influence to speak up on Uriah’s behalf and ultimately, he lost his life. However, a gentleman by the name of Ahikam was willing to support Jeremiah and interceded for his safety. Because Jeremiah had someone (and probably a few more) in a place of influence, his life was spared.
More than likely we all have the possibility of being people of influence. In the case of Jeremiah there was need for someone to speak up and intercede when the mob wanted to rule the day. This was a very dangerous place in which to be for whenever crowds and mobs of people begin to win the day we have a problem. Something unseen seems to take over when crowds of people gather together around a particular cause. Most of the time, the result is not positive. Somehow common sense seems to be lost and a mob mindset can result in extremely destructive behavior, including violence against particular individuals. It took great courage for Shaphan to step up and use his influence to save Jeremiah’s life.
Studying the Reformation we discover that Martin Luther was not alone in his work. He was called to the Diet of Worms to answer charges regarding his activities. His life's work was prophetic and very disturbing to the religious leaders surrounding him. And the same time he found himself surrounded by a great number of supporters. He was whisked away from the Diet at Worms and hidden in the castle at Wartburg so that he would not be killed. While finding refuge in the castle he took the opportunity to translate the New Testament into German for the local people. Back home in Wittenberg the people rallied around Martin and the entire community used their influence for the changes necessary for Christianity. Eventually one of the Princes used his influence to back Luther and he was not punished for his activity.
Sometimes the person who supports the prophet of God is just as important as the one speaking the prophetic word. We may think that we are not gifted in the same way as another individual or that we don’t have a unique role in the kingdom. Our responsibility may be to use who we are to be a person of influence. Our support of another person may be just as meaningful as having the prophetic voice.
We are called to use our influence every day. Every person has power and influence in a particular sphere of this world. That energy is not to be wasted but to be used for the kingdom. When the moment comes to stand up for what is right, or the person in the right, use the power of influence to move the kingdom work forward.
Lord, help me to use influence wisely for your sake. Amen.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Acts 7:1 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen replied:
“Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’
Stephen’s response to the high priest’s question isn’t simply a “yes or no.” Instead he makes use of this opportunity to bring a rather lengthy address regarding the history of the Israelites. This entire passage begins right after we are told that Stephen’s countenance was like that of an angel. The glory of God was visible in the life of the one who had spent time in God’s holy presence. Now, he begins a discourse which would draw a connection between Christianity, the law, and the temple. With great wisdom Stephen is able to make the connection by way of Old Testament history. He takes them back to the core of Judaism, before the temple, the land of Israel and the law. He wants the people to understand that these are all expressions of the core of Judaism, but there is a cornerstone which had been rejected and now upon which Christianity is being built. He had great knowledge and knew how to use it for the benefit of the gospel.
Interestingly later in life Paul would use the some methodology in arguing for the sake of the gospel. Could that have been something that he learned when he stood by, ready to martyr Stephen? Could Stephen’s wise response have planted a seed in the heart of an unbeliever that would someday bear much fruit? The wise response became another reflection of the glory of God which he also showed was revealed in and through those who were faithful. It was the glory of God which we see in his faith and that was revealed through his message in God’s faithful people.
Preparation for Stephen’s wise response began long before he found himself before the Sanhedrin. For those desiring to serve God faithfully there will be times when we must be prepared with a wise response. A simple yes or no will not suffice, but preparation for that day begins long before the moment.
Stephen had spent years in being educated in the scriptures. He was a man who was willing to make knowing the word of God a part of his vocation. For us to be able to have a wise response from the word, we must know the word. Enough time must be spending in learning the scriptures, not just on a casual level, but digging deeper and gaining a greater understanding and revelation of God through the written word. Stephen’s ability to make connections between what he had learned and how it could be used for God’s glory was really quite stunning.
Not only was he immersed in the Scriptures, but Stephen was immersed in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The holy wisdom of God was at his disposal as he testified before the religious leaders. The influence of this testimony has lived out far beyond the day in which it was spoken. The wisdom of his words cut to the hearts of those listening that day, to the heart of the young man Paul, and to the author, Luke, who penned the words for all of eternity. God used the moment for Stephen to become influential throughout all of history. This happened because Stephen was a willing servant of God who laid down his life as an instrument in the hand of the Lord.
A wise response also comes from not just jumping in with the easy answer. Stephen could have said just a “yes” or a “no” but used the moment he had been given to touch all of history. The wise response makes the most of every opportunity for the sake of the kingdom.
Lord, may your wisdom lead and guide through the troubled moments of life, and may I be an instrument in your hands. Amen.