Sunday, October 31, 2010
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
6 The land yields its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still,
so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.
My thoughts -
I love reading and meditating on Psalms like this to prepare for worship. When we look at verses 3 and 5 what are we seeing in the prayer that "all the peoples" praise God? Sometimes I think we forget how connected all people are. Sometimes I think that we forget that we are all made in God's image. Sometimes I think we build up walls to separate those who we do not feel are sufficiently like us. Sometimes those walls are the walls of our sanctuaries. Is the answer for this to make all people sufficiently like us enough to enter our sanctuaries or is it to tear down those walls so that we can share the love of God and give praise and glory to God with all of God's children, and not just the ones we're "comfortable" with?
Friday, October 29, 2010
3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?
4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:
“So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?”
8 Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!
My thoughts -
If I sin and give God the opportunity to redeem it and in so doing to show Divine love and redemption that can be a compelling narrative that may bring God glory and cause others to want to believe and participate in that. Who doesn't like a good comeback story? But what just happened there? Does that get me off the hook for not living what I believe? Not according to Paul here. Or at least, if it does, that does not count to my credit, only God's.
I am afraid, more likely, that in our cynicism my failings, rather than providing a round about opportunity to give God glory as Paul describes here, would be cause for people to disbelieve. After all, if what I claim to believe in is true then surely I wouldn't act like that, right? Surely I'd be better. And if I claim to follow God and fail how powerful could that God be, any way? Could God be real and have followers who are as messed up as everyone else, if not more so?
But what I say about God does not have any influence on what God is. What I do in God's name doesn't have anything to do with what God is. However I falter, however I fail, that is no indication of a lack of strength on God's part, only my own. We do not influence our Creator. We do not dictate the terms of existence to Existence itself. I have no power over God. I may claim to speak for God, I may even believe that I do, but my failures are not God's; my weakness is not God's; my dishonesty is not God's; my pride is not God's; my sin is not God's.
I try to follow as best I can. I try not to be an obstacle for anyone's faith. But if I, in something I have said or done, have caused anyone to question whether there can be the loving Creator/Sustainer that I claim to believe in, know that God is not responsible for my failings. Whatever I say about God, God is what God is. Whatever I believe about God, God is what God is. What I say and do in the name of God reflects my understanding, limited as it is, of God and what I believe God wants from me. It does not, however, have any impact on what God actually is, or whether God actually is.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.3 So when you, a mere human, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
My thoughts -
Paul spends the second half of Romans 1 describing the worst kinds of sinners he has encountered among the gentiles. He says this of them in verses 29-31:
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
And then he turns right around at the beginning of chapter 2 and tells the church in Rome not to pass judgement. He tells them that, in doing so, they would condemn themselves because they do the same things. Wow. That's harsh. But are we Christians without sin?
Do we show "contempt for the riches of (God's) kindness, forbearance and patience" by not turning from our own sins? Do we go into our churches, worship on Sunday, and then leave unchanged? Are we doing what we're supposed to be doing or are we looking at all of the "sins" outside of the church and condemning "the world" while continuing in our own sins? Do we think that God's grace and mercy covers us but not anyone else? Are we immune from the wrath of God that we would have others experience?
Sometimes it seems like we, the church want to be a prophetic voice for God in a fallen world. But we need to get our own affairs in order before we start inviting God's wrath and judgement. We may only be asking to be condemned, ourselves.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
1 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.
6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days.8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.
My thoughts -
How primitive, how superstitious these islanders were. That's my first reaction to this story, on an emotional level. These poor savages from the past just don't have our knowledge and understanding. Paul gets bit by a snake and it must be divine justice. He doesn't die so he must be a god. These poor people couldn't help it, they just didn't know any better.
Paul, after the incident with the snake, gets taken in by Pubius, whose father was ailing. Paul heals the father through prayer and so the rest of the sick on the island go to him to be healed as well. These poor, primitive (by today's standards) people didn't know any better than that Paul could heal them and so he did.
I can remember back when I was a youth. We were at a retreat and a friend of mine got really sick. A bunch of us didn't realize that we couldn't heal him through prayer and so we laid hands on him, prayed for his illness to leave him. Afterward he stood up as though he'd never been sick. He was writhing on the floor in unbearable pain not two minutes before.
It's amazing what child-like faith can do. Somewhere along the way I seem to have lost mine. Everything is weighed against reason. Everything is impossible until proven otherwise. I need empirical data. I need reasoned, rational arguments. Stuff needs to, at the bare minimum, make sense. By and large that may be a better way to be. It's safer, at least. You're far less likely to get taken advantage of if you're skeptical of everything.
And yet I miss the mystery that has been replaced by common sense. I miss the wonder that has been replaced by knowledge. And I miss not knowing that we can't heal people by laying hands on them and praying for their needs.
Maybe there's room in me for both knowledge and wonder. I don't know right now.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains
19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—
23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable.26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
My thoughts -
Paul is on trial here, and he's giving his testimony. He has explained to King Agrippa who he was, how he persecuted Christians, how he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, how he converted and then came to preach about Jesus, and then told of the events that then led to his being tried here. I love the exchange between Festus and Paul starting in verse 24.
I wonder if Festus is being genuine or condescending. Paul was a very well educated man. I wonder if Festus truly believes that Paul's quest for knowledge really did drive him insane. Either way, as was discussed yesterday what we claim to believe in is a little crazy. Paul is preaching here on how God incarnate came and, instead of triumphing and ushering in a new world order and making all things right again, suffered and died. That's an outrage! That is crazy! How could God be defeated? And yet, the tables are turned and this seeming "defeat" works out far better for us than what would have looked like a victory, for in this defeat we receive God's mercy and grace.
It is crazy, there's no sense in denying that. But my favorite part, and this must have looked ridiculous, is that this man, Paul, this prisoner, chained and brought before powerful people, has the audacity to tell them that his wish is that they all became like him. And the crazy part is that this was a blessing and not a curse. Here is Paul, a man who by all rights should be pleading for his freedom, giving his testimony and praying those who hear it will repent and be saved.
Monday, October 25, 2010
1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense:2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews,
3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee.6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today.7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me.
8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
My thoughts -
Is the scandal of Christianity the incarnation, the crucifixion or the resurrection? Is it that we believe God loves us so much that God became human, that God in human form died for us, or that God raises the dead? These beliefs seem absurd, don't they?
Paul poses the question here: "Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?" He's on trial, and there are some among the Pharisees and Sadducees who want him dead. Earlier he escaped their wrath in part by stirring up debate about the resurrection of the dead. This is a topic of great importance to those of us who have discovered our own mortality. Is it just wishful thinking that God would raise the dead? Is it just wishful thinking to believe that there is nothing for us beyond the grave?
Honestly I don't know. I'd love to say that I *know* that there is more, but how can one know this? We don't have access to the other side, if it even makes sense to refer to an other side, from here. We are alive now. We are mortal. The idea of being eternal is a little abstract for here, especially as we see ourselves dying every day. But is it crazy to believe that that which creates and sustains us does so not just here and now but beyond this physical life and beyond time itself? We exist. No one can adequately explain why. Who is to say that this is it? Would it be too incredible for God to raise the dead?
We talk of heaven and hell. Heaven is being in God's love forever and hell is being separated. Can anything really exist apart from God. If God creates and sustains all life if you are separate from that which sustains life how can you exist? There are so many questions and so few answers.
But is it incredible to believe that God raises the dead? Is it incredible to believe that God became one of us and died as well? Pretty much all that we believe is incredible. In my darkest hours I don't even really believe it. It's too good to be true. It's a fairy tale. It's magic, and there's no such thing as magic in the *real* world. It's a fantasy.
And yet I hope. And yet I trust. And yet I experience the reality that is the awesomeness of God on a daily basis. I don't *know* there's an afterlife any more than I *know* there's a God. But I do believe there is, even when I don't, if that makes any sense. Like the father in Mark 9 I cry "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
What we believe is strange. What we believe is a scandal. What we believe is ridiculous. God became human in Jesus. Jesus who was also God died for us. God raised Jesus from the dead and raises us as well. On an objective level that's just crazy! But to experience that love is REALLY something.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
3 He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.
5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
8 God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.
My thoughts -
If you've heard me sing then you'll know why I love Psalms that describe (and prescribe?) "shouts of you" in worship. Let's sing LOUD this morning, shall we?
Saturday, October 23, 2010
1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.
My thoughts -
In my darkest hours this Psalm speaks to me. It's good to know that what I struggle with is not unique to me. Answers may not be found to my satisfaction here, but there is a strange peace and comfort in not being alone in my existential issues.
Friday, October 22, 2010
First, there's going to be a wedding in the Sanctuary this weekend. As such, the Sanctuary is set up a little differently than usual. For me this is only a slight aesthetic change that is easily ignored. But some of our ladies noticed something that was, to them, a far greater concern. There were a few places near the stage where they felt that a high heel might get caught. I, perhaps a little too dismissively, suggested that this might be a good week to wear flats, then. Every one of them shot me the same look that I get from my daughter when I say something inexplicably stupid. Clearly I do not understand their perspective on footwear.
I plan the music for the Contemporary service every week, usually by myself. Sometimes other people will make suggestions but predominantly it's a solitary endeavor. I'm not opposed to other people's feedback but I don't exactly solicit it, either. I try to plan the music to have a certain flow to it and to also tie in to other aspects of the service. I'll have the scripture for the week in front of me when I plan it as well as the sermon title and the hymns from the other services. The planning is fairly deliberate and if we're doing a song this week there's usually a reason we're doing it, even if that reason is only known to me.
This week during rehearsal we got to a particular song and Judy groaned. She didn't want to do that song. She wasn't mean about it. She just didn't think that song was a good one to do. When I planned the music I put that song in rather deliberately and I could have been pretty put out that someone didn't agree with me. There have been some weeks when I would have been put out. I could have just put my foot down, declared we were doing that song, explained why I picked it, and rested on my own authority.
I didn't do that. I listened to Judy. And a voice in the back of my head even started bugging me that Judy might be on to something. And then the entire group got involved, another song was selected, and it worked much, MUCH better. So well, in fact, that even though it was just rehearsal I got goose bumps.
So, what's the metaphor, genius? I thought you said there was a metaphor.
Maybe that was a bad word. Maybe there's just a lesson. Or maybe these events stand in as something a little larger than they really are. I just think that we get so tied up by our own perspective. I don't get women's shoes. I just don't. There's a lot of things I don't get and I just don't value. And yet every time I break out of my own perspective and try to see others' points of view I find that is rewarded.
Maybe we shouldn't bury our heads metaphorically in the sand of our own perspective. Maybe we should work harder to value that which we don't bring to the table and encourage greater participation from others in what we do.
32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.
35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
My thoughts -
Is the scandal of Eddie Long that he was accused of having sex with men or is it that he makes millions and drives a Bentley? The average salary for a pastor of a "mega church" (average weekly attendance of 2000 or more) is $147,000. That's a lot of money. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm not sure how I should. On a fundamental level I have a hard time accepting that someone would be called by God to minister to the needs of others and collect a large salary for himself for his troubles. That just seems wrong.
It's no secret that I'm a big Rich Mullins fan. While I dig his music what really drew me to him was his life, and his salary. He donated most of what he made in record sales and touring proceeds to charity and only drew a modest salary for himself.
Now I'm not sure that everyone who does ministry, be it from the pulpit or in music, is called to do that. But I am convinced that those who do are in ministry for the right reasons and are not "fleecing the flock". If you say you're in ministry but are the chief financial beneficiary of your own charity I'm pretty sure you're in it less for the glory of God and more for the money.
Maybe this concern is older than I realize. Maybe that's why Paul, in his "farewell" address to the Ephesians here, makes sure that they remember that he didn't TAKE from them, but instead provided for his own needs and for those of his companions, in order to be able to GIVE to them. I'm not saying that everyone HAS to do this, but it is a much more powerful witness than the alternative.
How that works on a practical level in today's churches I have no idea. As per usual I come away from Scripture determined that we need to do something different but filled with a lot more questions than answers.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.
12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
My thoughts -
There's something here I don't get. Okay, so Eutychus was tired and Paul talked him, quite literally, to death. I get that. Paul rushed down to him and raised him back up. So that's a little rarer than a preacher talking someone to death (ba-dum-ching) but I still get it. But that Eutychus, who had just been literally bored TO DEATH by Paul would, upon being raised back from the dead, continue to talk with Paul until daylight? Well that I don't get. I guess Paul got his attention, though.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
And yes, I was born straight. I don't recall ever deciding to be attracted to girls, it just happened. And yes, I was born a Christian. My parents took me to church when I was a child. Sure, I have made my own decisions about what to believe about God and the church, but I can't say that I would have had the privilege to question, challenge, and ultimately accept my beliefs if I didn't have the foundation that my family provided. Again, this is just by sheer happenstance of birth.
When I was born and to whom have dictated so much of my life. There was a time, shortly after my oldest son was born, that I was out of work. I had just changed jobs and that change didn't work out. It took a few months for me to find other employment. During that time my parents took care of us. Any bills we couldn't pay they did. They owned our house and so we just stopped paying rent. They took care of it. Anything we needed they provided. I shudder to think about what might have been if we didn't have them as our safety net. And that safety net,, again, was just by sheer happenstance of birth.
Any hunger I have felt has been voluntary. I've fasted before. It was my privilege to do so. I've been on diets. It was my privilege to do so. For me, to want for something is to have to save up to buy what I want for a little bit instead of just putting it on a credit card. We're "tightening our belts" with our budget a bit right now. That's our privilege, as well. I actually am a bit worried about how my children are going to react to us cutting cable television and possibly cutting back some on our bandwidth with our broadband internet. I'm worried if they'll be upset if they can't watch Johnny Test whenever it comes on (which, incidentally, seems like about every half hour) or if they'll be upset if the flash content of whatever website they're on takes a little longer to load. This is my privilege.
It was recently my privilege to decide to save money and get more exercise by biking to work every day. It has also been my privilege to drive when the weather hasn't been to my liking. I don't worry about where we'll sleep or what we'll eat or where we'll get our next fix of whatever I'm addicted to. I just worry that we'll be adequately entertained and comfortable enough.
If I take careful inventory of everything about me that I would consider virtuous, I am afraid that everything I find would be a direct result of sheer happenstance of birth.
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”
16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done.19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.
20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
My thoughts -
When we call on the name of Jesus, what's our motivation? Are we caring for others? Are we seeking to spread the Kingdom? Are we seeking fame and notoriety for ourselves?
This passage intrigues me. This is in part because one of my favorite bands from the 90s was Black Eyed Sceva and also in part because I have trouble with the idea that someone could call on Jesus and have that work out as poorly for them as it does here.
But then I look past what happened to the sons of Sceva and see how the Ephesians responded to this. My guess is, if these sons of Sceva were sincere followers of Christ the community would have responded to their suffering in some way other than to burn their sorcery scrolls. My understanding of this is that they were closer to traveling magicians than anything else. They were charlatans trying to cash in on the name of Jesus. This worked rather poorly for them.
Is that us? Are we trying to gain fame, notoriety, and wealth from Jesus? Are we trying to cash in? Do we, like the "hypocrites" Jesus mentions in Matthew 6 announce our acts of righteousness and giving "in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others". It shouldn't be. We need to check ourselves constantly to make sure our intentions are pure. I know I do.
Sure, the charlatans may prosper in this life, but this is their only reward. They may also end up bruised and battered like the sons of Sceva.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”33 At that, Paul left the Council.
My thoughts -
My children have these ideas about God that I, in my understanding of God, find to be quite nonsensical. They really do believe that God is like a man (not a woman, either - this is an indictment against us and our lack of inclusive language) who is really, really big. This really, really big man/God lives in a physical world separate from ours called heaven. When we die we get to go there.
Now I try to educate them but they're children, there's only so much they understand. And then I wonder just how nonsensical my ideas about God are, or anyone's. How do you conceive of the inconceivable? How do you comprehend the incomprehensible? What kind of a being is being itself?
I can sympathize with the Athenian idea of an "unknown god", in a way. Do we, can we, really know God? And, does Paul's message to the Athenians really not still have meaning to us? We go to our churches to encounter God, but do we understand that God doesn't live in these buildings that we've built; that God is life itself? There is no life outside of God. There is no death in God. It's hard to understand, impossible maybe. But God is not limited to the scope of our imaginations or our limited understanding of the universe.
We like to be comfortable. We like to feel secure. We have created idols for ourselves to make God something we can wrap our heads around. And yet God cannot be understood, only experienced. [Note: This is not meant to let us off the hook in learning more about God and God's will for our lives. That we can not know all does not mean that we should not seek to know all that we can.] Our worship is not really that different from that of the Athenians. I may spend my time and energy mocking their "primitive" beliefs about gods, and yet my own are no more refined, really. God is not, and can not be limited by what we believe about God.
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands."
We can not define God. We can not contain God. We can not fully understand God. But we can bow down and worship God in everything that we do. God is life. God is in all life. Our experience of God and worship of God is not limited to Sunday morning at church, but everything that we do, our entire lives, are an act of praise to our Creator.
[Note: This post has been updated to correct a typo in the title. Also, I'm an idiot. FYI]
Monday, October 18, 2010
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar
21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.
24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.
30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.
34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
My thoughts -
The first part of this story reminds me of the story told in Matthew 5 and in Luke 8 where Jesus casts demons out of a tormented man who calls himself Legion and into a herd of pigs. What may be one person's healing is the destruction of another's economy. Jesus was asked to leave that island. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail.
While Paul and Silas are in jail they have a worship service. During this worship service an earthquake hits and everyone's chains come off and the doors fly open. If you recall from Acts 12 this is a bad thing for the jailer. When Peter miraculously escaped the jailer was killed for it. This isn't one prisoner escaping, but the entire prison. The jailer knows what's up and he's going to kill himself over it.
Now, this must have been one heck of a worship service, because no one left it. Not even for an earthquake. Not even though it was in a prison and freedom was only a few steps away. When the jailer is informed of this I guess he has been moved from the entire experience, for he not only asks for salvation but celebrates his and his entire family's salvation by inviting everyone other to his home for a meal.
Now THAT'S a worship service!
Sunday, October 17, 2010
1 Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
My thoughts -
Are we prepared to go to our houses of worship this morning and to sing about how awesome our God is?
Friday, October 15, 2010
I got to thinking that may be a pretty good metaphor for a lot of us Christians, too. It's easy to decide to go to church. You may find one you especially like. The music may move you. The pastor may give an excellent sermon. You may even decide to become a member. But actually following the teachings and example of Christ in your life, now that's a lot of work. Setting aside daily time for prayer, devotion, and Bible study is hard work. Fasting is really hard work. Loving your neighbor as yourself, caring for the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the ostracized and the powerless is hard work. Loving your enemies really, really hard work.
Sometimes I wonder if we don't like the idea of being a Christian better than the practice of following Christ. Living the life that God wants you to takes a lot of real effort. But it provides real rewards, too.
Furthermore, a committed, monogamous same gender relation ship IS NOT comparable to a polygamous relationship, an pedophiliac relationship, a bestial relationship, or any other form of abuse. It isn't. A committed, monogamous same gender relationship is one entered into by two consenting adults. However you feel about homosexuality as a moral issue there's no abuse there. Polygamy is a misogynistic form of abuse. Yes, I'm sure women enter into those relationships voluntarily but the balance of power goes the other way. Pedophilia is abuse. A child can not, under any circumstances, consent to sex with an adult. Period. They're not old enough to get to make those decisions. Adults in those relationships are abusing them. Bestiality is animal cruelty. It's abusing animals.
You CAN NOT compare same gender relationships to these. It's a bad argument. Try something else. Sure, you could argue that it's not Biblical to have gay marriage. I have more sympathy for that position than the other. I think, by and large, it is held honestly by most of the people that hold it. But the day we start governing entirely from Levitical law is the day we make the Taliban look like a bunch of quite reasonable people. We'd end up stoning most of our citizens. There's a reason we don't do that.
There is a human cost to this prohibition. It's not an abstract argument. There are people who don't have the right to make end of life decisions of those they are most close to. There are people who don't have the right to even visit their most loved ones in the hospital or to say goodbye. There are those who have spent YEARS of their lives committed to their partners only to be left out in the cold in the end. Rights that we heterosexuals take for granted ever day are not protected by law for everyone. I think we fail to see that and the human cost of it sometimes. We too distracted trying to "win" the argument to see the cost of the fight.
1 Certain individuals came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.
4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question.7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
My thoughts -
Sometimes we get so bent about theology. My brother, a budding theologian, might argue that it is for good reason. Bad theology can be quite harmful. And I agree. But I'm also just the guitar player here, I like to keep things pretty simple. Verse 11 here boils this theological discussion down to something even the guitar player can understand.
It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus that we are saved.
It's not because I've been circumcised. It's not because I had water sprinkled on me. It wouldn't have been because the water was poured or I was immersed, either. It's not because I read the Bible. It's not because I pray. It's not because I go to church. It's nothing that I've done or can do. Where I was powerless to save myself Jesus saved me.
And Jesus saved you, too.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked.9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed
10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.
13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way.17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.
20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
My thoughts -
Paul and Barnabas did what God wanted them to do. They were doing their job. For that they were praised. Realizing that they were being sacrificed to they freaked out, tore their clothes, and begged the people to stop. They had the affection of the crowd, though, so even then the crowd wanted to offer them sacrifices like they were gods.
My how quickly things change. In verse 18 Paul can't seem to keep the people from sacrificing to him and in verse 19 they stone him. I'm not sure how much time passed between the two verses, but that's quite a turnaround!
We can not gauge how well we are doing the will of God solely by human reaction to it. Sure it's nice to get feedback, especially when it affirms us. I love hearing people say how much they enjoyed the service. I love hearing people tell me that they love a particular song I did. I love being praised. I do. I think we all do. But that's not really the best indicator for how I am doing in my ministry. One moment they could be praising me, like they were Paul and Barnabas here, and the next... well... I doubt anyone will stone me but they might complain or even ask me to leave.
Human feedback can be good, but people are fickle. And some don't like to hear God's prophetic word. And some get stirred up by people with nothing better to do than agitate. Paul and Barnabas did God's will and people praised them for it. They continued to do God's will and Paul got stoned by those same people.
If we really want to gauge how our ministries are doing we need to seek not just human feedback but also God's will. And we need to be prepared to do God's will in the face of potential negative human feedback.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I biked to the conference on my way to work. My wife took the minivan. Sure, I could have just ridden with her but then she'd have to take me to work and pick me up. It was just easier this way.
And then things got interesting. As I was getting on my bike to head off to the office my wife told me that she had work to do this morning on campus and was just planning to park at my office (near campus) and she'd just head on over to campus from there. I guess we were both in a pretty good mood after the conference. I'm not sure who suggested it first but as it occurred to us that we were going to the same place from the same place we decided to race.
Since I started commuting on bike I've come to the conclusion that, in town, traveling by bicycle is just as fast as by car. The closer you get to campus or downtown the faster the bike becomes by comparison. Our little "race" just confirmed the heck out of this. I won.
That's right. Bicycle vs. Minivan and the bicycle wins, baby!
It's been a good morning.
... my grandfather didn't mind his grandchildren shouting into microphones in the Sanctuary of the church he pastored.
... David Sparks liked to sing loudly in the morning on Youth retreats.
... Paul Shafer was willing to show God's love to teenagers by breaking their legs and crucifying them. (Trust me, it worked. Teenage boys are weird.)
... Jerry Ernst was willing to drum and wrestle with me and didn't bust me when I was skipping school.
... John Crissman was cool enough to take teenagers to see awesome bands like Mortal but caring enough to make sure we did our homework.
... Sandy Shafer was willing to take in strays and is still willing to feed anyone who shows up at her house.
These people and many more have all been powerful witnesses to me about the love of God. They inspire me to go and do likewise. The thing I come back to most about all of these witnesses is that the least important thing in each of their ministries was what they said about God. Their lives were the witness. Their lives were their testimony.
"Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." -Saint Francis of Assisi
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter.
19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people.22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a mere mortal.”
23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
My thoughts -
This was the sort of thing that fascinated me as a teenager first getting into reading the Bible. It was "awesome". Gore and blood and guts and death and worms and stuff. It's like the Bible was a movie. This was pretty cool stuff.
Maybe it's empathy, but I'm not into this. Peter was led away from prison. This was a miracle. He was rescued. His situation was redeemed. God is good. And yet, the flip side of this miracle is that the guards who, let's face it, are incapable of competing against the direct hand of God here, are executed. This isn't their fault. They were just on the wrong side of a miracle. I'm sure someone can tell me that they were really bad guys and had it coming or something but I just don't have the stomach for this.
Also, speaking of bad guys who have it coming, Herod gets what's coming to him at the end of this passage. Now that's one bad dude right there. Imprisoning and planning to execute Peter. Killing the guards who let (I don't like this - if it was a miracle they didn't "let" anything happen, God just made it happen) Peter escape. And now he's up in front of the people being praised like he's a god.
Boom! Struck him down! Ate by worms! Heck yeah!
No, sorry. I'm just not into that either. Sometimes I feel like being a prophetic witness for our obligation to the powerless has helped encourage me to dehumanize the powerful some. But if I can mourn for the loss of Herod here than I think I haven't completely dehumanized them yet.
Yes, 15 year old me LOVED passages like this one. And for the same reason 15 year old me loved violent movies and books. 15 year old me was an idiot.
31 year old me doesn't know what to make of this. 31 year old me doesn't know what to make of a lot of suffering, though. Stuff like this SHOULDN'T happen. And yet it does. The world isn't perfect. Will God fix this? Will God come in and make everything alright? Will God ask us to? Is God asking us to right now? I don't know.
All I know is there's a lot of suffering in this world and SOMETHING needs to be done about it.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.
7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.
10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door.
14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter.
My thoughts -
How often have we given people up for dead; not just physically, but spiritually? There have been people in my life who I've written off only to see unexpected changes and growth that have floored me. If you told me before hand what would happen I would have reacted like Rhoda's friends reacted to her news about Peter here.
You're crazy! That could never happen!
I have to tell myself over and over again that there is nothing that God can't redeem. Peter was as good as executed, and yet he was delivered. His friends had written him off for dead, to the point that they would have more likely believed the figure at the door was his ghost than him alive, and yet there at the door he stood.
People are delivered from the bondage of their sins and addictions every day and yet I have the audacity to wonder what good God can do in some situations. Some day I will have enough faith to, in observing suffering and heartache, see a miracle just waiting to happen rather than a broken life.
Monday, October 11, 2010
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.
21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
My thoughts -
Never assume someone or something is beyond hope. Never assume that God can't redeem a situation. Look at how this passage begins. The believers were scattered. Why?" Because of the persecution after the death of Stephen. Who help kill Stephen? Who was helping to lead this persecution? Saul.
So now believers are spread out, playing it safe, only witnessing to Jews. And then these people in Antioch get the crazy idea that maybe the good news about Jesus is for the Greeks, too. The church in Jerusalem gets wind of this and sends Barnabas. Barnabas has a successful ministry there leading a "great number" of people to Christ, and then sends for, of all people, Saul.
Saul joins with Barnabas to help lead the church at Antioch and this becomes, essentially, the birthplace of Christianity. Look at verse 26. Antioch is remembered here as the first place that the disciples were called Christians.
Who would ever have thought that Saul, who helped kick off the persecution and KILLINGS of early believers would have helped to lead the church that is remembered as the first place that believers were called Christians?
And I have the audacity to wonder if there are things in MY life God can't redeem.
The first is my grandfather, who was a Baptist minister. When I was a kid he gave me a microphone and let me use it (I'd like to say sing but if that accurately describes what I do now - and I'm not sure it does - it definitely didn't then) in his church. If there's a reason I do this every week he's it.
The second is my cousin Michael. When he attended UK I got him to come play with the praise band a few times. I always hoped he'd stick around here and eventually become a part of our church family. After he moved back to Georgia I was glad to find that he found a church and a praise band to play in. Since he passed away I have seen him in my mind standing where he used to stand at Trinity Hill playing his black Ovation guitar every week we worship. Even if he's not there in body it's nice to be able to worship with him in spirit.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.
6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.
8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
My thoughts -
Sometimes I wonder how we think of the most "Godly" among us. Are they the ones that are in church all the time? Are they the ones that are always cheerful and pleasant? Are they the ones that don't drink, smoke, or cuss? Are they the ones you could never imagine sleeping around? Are they the ones that always have something "religious" to say on Twitter, Facebook, or their blog?
There's nothing wrong with any of those things, but when I look at how the Godly are described in the Bible (and most particularly throughout Acts as I'm studying it now) what constantly comes up has nothing to do with individual piety. Maybe those things are understood. I don't know. But what I see most is what is said of Cornelius here. He is Godly, and you know this because of his gifts to the poor.
Cornelius being so good to the poor is seen by God as an offering to God and as such, helps to pave the way for gentiles to be included and accepted in the early church (see the rest of Acts 10 and most of Acts 11 for that part of the story). It's such a big deal that 2000 years after the fact I'm reading about it today. If I know nothing else about Cornelius I know that he was Godly and I know this because of his generosity to the poor. That's a powerful thing.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Yes, eating local is better. Yes, eating organic is better. No, I can't really defend anything in Doritos. But I don't eat them often, and if they kill me at least I'll die happy.
Friday, October 8, 2010
35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.
38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
My thoughts -
Which is the miracle here: That Peter came and Dorcas received new life or that Dorcas so cared for the poor that her passing became an emergency and that Peter had to come RIGHT NOW ("Please come at once!") to see the body and be shown all the work that Dorcas had done? That is the sign of a life well lived.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Now language itself is a big problem. It's really inadequate to describe God. Language itself is quite limited. Also, how do you describe that which must be experienced to be understood? There are moments of sheer elation in my life that I find difficult to share with others as I don't have the linguistic resources to adequately communicate my experience and how it felt. Describing the Divine is a far greater challenge than describing my own experiences.
We also limit ourselves with the language we choose to use. Language itself is far too limited and yet we intentionally further limit it by choosing predominantly (or exclusively) masculine descriptions of God. How is one to shake the image of God as "the man upstairs" if we only describe God as being male, even if that's not exactly what we mean? Of course God as some kind of giant of a man who lives in the clouds and rewards or punishes us based on our actions and his whims is a nonsensical image. Of course that image of God is difficult to believe in past childhood. Our experiences in this life do a pretty good job of disproving that God.
How can we blame people for not believing in God if that, through our own limited language, is the dominant image of God in our culture. We do them, ourselves and our Creator/Sustainer a disservice when we limit God to masculine imagery.
So here's my challenge:
Try to go an entire day without referring to the Divine as anything male. No masculine language at all. See what happens. I'm not saying to never use masculine language again, just try avoiding it for a day. Your own view of God may change as well.
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your people in Jerusalem.
14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.
16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,
19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
My thoughts -
I love Amazing Grace. I love the line that "I once was blind but now I see". It's a wonderful metaphor for a conversion experience. I WAS once Spiritually blind. I can now see, or at least see a little better. I'm sure I still need corrective lenses here in this metaphor. For me at least the restoration of sight is a process, not an immediate healing as it were.
It just so happens that Saul was also metaphorically blind. To help him see that Saul received a physical blinding. Personally I have always lamented that I never had any kind of compelling conversion story to tell. Mine's pretty boring. I grew up in the church. I've always believed as best I can recall. At various points in my life I have decided to make a deeper personal commitment to discovering and doing God's will in my life.
Sure, I've been blind to the call of God and to the suffering of others due to my own narcissism, but correcting that hasn't really yielded any cool stories, you know? Nothing like "Jesus physically blinded my while I was traveling to arrest and execute his followers and then I was healed and went on to become one of the most important figures in all of Christianity". Now THAT'S a conversion! Mine? Meh.
Anyway, if given the choice, if I am honest with myself, I think I prefer the boring story. I don't think I'd like to be blinded and I am absolutely convinced I wouldn't like to have the kind of pride that leads to killing those who do not share your faith. That's no way to live.
Also, if I am honest with myself, I still DO have a long way left to go in my faith. I could never do what Ananias did here. This man KILLED Stephen. He's on his way to round up believers. Believers like Ananias. And now Ananias is asked to GO TO HIM. And heal him. And help him. I'm sorry. There's no way I'm doing that. Not in a million years.
Sure Ananias questioned God's judgement a bit here. But he did it. And look what happened! We got the Apostle Paul out of the deal!
Maybe I should spend less time questioning i my own life and more time doing what I know I ought to. I'm sure there will be some interesting stories come out of that.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Let me explain what I mean by that. We have a lot of walls in our lives. Generally we travel in our little mobile fortresses with our windows up and our stereos blaring our music. We are isolated and insulated. We are in our world, our comfort zone. We travel in these to and from our home fortresses, with our gated communities, locked doors, privacy fences and the like. We are safe and secure from what's out there. We are isolated and insulated. We are walled in.
We are physically but also emotionally walled in. We are safe. We are impenetrable. We are invulnerable. We are disconnected. This is no way to be.
As I have been traveling primarily by bike or foot I have removed some of these physical walls from my life. I am often quite exposed, almost uncomfortably so when cars decide the bike lane would be better used as a turn lane for them whether I'm currently occupying it or not. But I also see a lot more people. Not people in their cars going from one fortress to another, but people at bus stops, people walking their dogs, people biking, people panhandling, people just hanging out. I see God's children, just like me. I connect with them, if only for a moment. We are not objects, but people. It's hard to describe but a rather amazing thing to experience.
I am a lot more open than I was when I started this. I am a lot more connected. I am a much happier person.
While I was walking today I noticed that I had Let the Walls Fall Down stuck in my head. This song is one of Caleb's two favorite songs that the Praise Band plays. (David Danced is the other. If you're sick of either being played at the church be thankful Caleb hasn't gotten his way on us doing both every week yet.) Let the Walls Fall Down just felt like a perfectly natural song to get stuck in my head at the time because that's what was happening. The walls were coming down. I have met so many interesting people in the neighborhood by my office. I have encountered so many interesting people on my morning and afternoon commutes. I have connected with people that, if I were in my car, I would never have noticed were there. But I'm out in the open. There are no walls. There are just wonderful, beautiful children of God all around me.
Like I said, it's hard to explain how it feels. But I hope that all of you can share in this experience. Let's knock down some walls in our lives.
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
3637 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
My thoughts -
I don't know much about this eunuch. Apparently he was a pretty important person. And for some reason we went to Jerusalem to worship. I don't know how much of an impression that left on him, but it must have left some kind of an impression because we find him here, in this passage, reading scripture in the desert.
Philip is lead by the Spirit to this man and finds him unable to understand what he's reading. So Philip talks with him about the passage and he tells him about Jesus. And clearly this leaves one heck of an impression because the eunuch has an immediate response. “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?"
As a firm believer in relational ministry this passage challenges me. I don't like think it's possible to really minister to those whom you don't have a relationship with. When we lead hard and heavy with the witness it's rude, off putting, and generally ineffective. Except when it isn't.
Philip had never seen this man before that we know about. He would never see him again that I'm aware of. That's what verse 39 seems to indicate. He shows up for a brief moment in his life, shares the Gospel, and vanishes. There's no relationship there. It's just a brief witness and then moving right along. But Philip doesn't need my approval. He was led to this place by God. If I don't care for his method what's that to Philip?
So what's my take home, here? There are many ways to reach people. I don't like to do what some people have been taught and lead with some kind of heavy hitting message convicting strangers of perceived sin and telling them the only way out of hell is to start being more like me. That's what I think of when I think of witnessing without relationships. But that's not the only way it's done, clearly. That's not what Philip did here. I need to get that bad model out of my head.
I think it's best to build relationships. I don't think people can trust that you have their best interest at heart until you show them that you do. But sometimes the best way to reach people can be to do what God is telling you to do when God tells you to do it. After all, ultimately conversion happens between that person and God. It's not about us. We just try to help make the introduction.
And sometimes when we do that we find water in the desert and someone who wants to stop their chariot and be baptized RIGHT NOW, whether they have a relationship with us or not.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—
53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
1 And Saul approved of their killing him.
My thoughts -
Verse 60 just kills me. How do you react to your own stoning like this? How do you pray for those who are literally KILLING you. Stephen is being tried here for things he did not say. When asked if the accusations are true he rips off one of the most inspired sermons of all time (see Acts 6:8-7:50 for the whole back story) instead of defending himself. He's filled with the Spirit and speaking truth to power. And then that power has had enough and bum rushes him and stones him.
There's nothing about this that's fair to Stephen. There's nothing about this that's right. But rather than fight back or lash out he accepts his fate and prays to God both for himself and for his attackers. I don't think I could do that. Fortunately I am not likely to find out.
The other thing that jumps out to me is the mentioning of Saul's participation and approval. We all know that Saul became Paul and yet it always strikes me to read about his persecution of the early church. It's one thing to be against something and then later change your mind. Heck, I change mine all the time. But this man killed people for his early convictions. That's a big change. Paul may be the second most important person in our faith's history so we allow for this change in him, but do we allow it for others?
I don't really. I know I need to. Maybe if I were the type of person who could pray for his enemies like Stephen (that's really an understatement - Stephen is praying for his MURDERERS) I would also be the kind of person who would allow Grace to mold others and I could extend it to them more.
I carry resentments. I hold on to wrongs done to me by others. Yet I notice that the pillars of our faith, these early saints don't seem to do that.
And I wonder why I'm not more like them.
Monday, October 4, 2010
1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them
4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
6 They presented them to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
My thoughts -
This could have ended badly after verse 2. I think that's an issue we have with us today. We can't do everything so we have to triage. "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables." So we're just not going to deal with that stuff any more.
But this didn't end at verse 2. There's a verse 3. The responsibility has been handed over. And not just to anyone, but to people specifically chosen because they are "known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom". They are qualified to do this ministry. They will adequately care for the needs of the widows. This ministry will not be neglected, either.
We have a responsibility to minister in word. We also have a responsibility to minister in deed. We are to care for the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the widows and the orphans. We are to feed the poor and clothe the naked. The early church here recognized the need to not neglect either for the other.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.
28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.
39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
My thoughts -
It takes a lot of faith to say what Gamaliel says here in verses 38 and 39. How else could you explain this? Human efforts ultimately fail. We believe that God is in control and God's will will ultimately prevail. We are allowed to participate in this and should be thankful for that, but we're really not all that important to it. If some yahoos want to preach some nonsense that's their business. No sense killing anyone over it. If it's not of God it will fail. If it is and you're against it you just picked a fight you can't possibly win.
I don't really have that kind of faith. I'd like to, but when people preach that which I disagree with I get pretty bent. When people do things I think are wrong I get pretty bent. Not bent enough that I'm looking for reasons to stone them, but pretty bent nonetheless. And didn't Jesus teach that hating someone is killing them in your heart, which is just as bad?
Also, verse 41 here just slays me. I can never imagine reaching the place in my Spiritual journey where I think of suffering as anything other than a really bad thing to be avoided. And yet the disciples left this situation "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name". This is my jaw on the floor. Rejoicing? About suffering? For real? Wow.
I am always humbled when I read scripture. I like to think of myself as a "good guy". In the "Bible stories" in my own mind I'm always a protagonist, you know? Maybe not the central character (OK, usually the central character, they're MY stories, after all) but always on the right side. And then I read these things. And I think about them. And I reflect on them. And I know myself, I can't fool me. And I always have to admit that I have more in common with the "bad guys" than I'd like. And far less in common with the "good guys" than I'd like.
There is still so much work left to do.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of those who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
My thoughts -
Verse 11 seems unnecessary to me. Two people lie about their giving and fall down dead. Of course they were afraid! If this happened today pastors would not have much trouble gaining the attention of their congregations during stewardship campaigns!
But was the problem here the money? Ananias and Sapphira presented themselves one way in front of the church but lived another way. They wanted to gain approval and respect. They wanted attention. They sold their property and made a big show about giving ALL of the proceeds to the church. They didn't have to sell the property. They didn't have to, after doing so, give ANY of the proceeds to the church, let alone all of them. But that's what they decided to present themselves as doing. They misrepresented themselves. They lied.
We may not do this on as large a scale as Ananias and Sapphira, but the idea of presenting oneself as being one way and doing one thing to gain approval in the church while living another way is not a foreign concept to a lot of us. Our lies may be smaller, but does that make us better. Yes, the punishment Ananias and Sapphira received seems a little (OK, an awful lot) harsh, but aren't the wages of sin death? Maybe not instantly like here, but still...
There's no way to spin this story to make it more pleasant. At least there's none that I can think of. Did Ananias and Sapphira have to die? Did they have to lie to the church? It's a harsh message and my initial response to it is to be judgmental. Seriously, how depraved do you have to be to seek approval by PRETENDING to give all you have to the church? And yet, the more I think about it, I've got more in common with them than I'm comfortable with. I do, while not as premeditatedly, present myself differently in church than I do some other places. I do seek approval pretty much wherever I am and act in a certain manner to receive it.
I'm no better than Ananias and Sapphira. Different, maybe. But not better.