Friday, October 7, 2011

Discernment

It took many months of study to finally come to a clear conviction about discerning the will of God. I'm sure many people would not agree with me but I feel solid about what I believe and why I believe it. For those of you who would like to follow my logic, here is the link to the presentations I gave at the ACU SUMMIT.

Presentation #1


Presentation #2
https://docs.google.com/a/acu.edu/present/edit?id=0AaC3dwyz3LXTZGRwOWs3M2RfMTM2ZGRoZndqY3A&hl=en_US

Though I read widely, I found the following to be the core references I kept coming back to:
Decision Making and the Will of God, Freisen
The Openness of God, Pinock et. al
God's Voice Within, Thibodeaux
Each of these books deals with a different area. The first two are quite in-depth while the third is more pragmatic. All are quite valuable.

May God bless your efforts to enhance your own discernment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?

What began as a simple question back in April became an ongoing study shortly after. This past weekend I presented my thoughts on "Discernment and the Will of God" at our university retreat. Next I will present those thoughts (and some more) during ACU's Summit on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. After that, I'll try to put them down on this blog. Feel free to join me at Summit.

Can You Hear Me Now?

What began as a simple question back in April became a ongoing study shortly after. This past weekend I presented my thoughts on "Discernment and the Will of God" at our university retreat. Next I will present those thoughts (and some more) during ACU's Summit on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. After that, I'll try to put them down on this blog. Feel free to join me at Summit.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Free Will

The past few weeks have been filled with travel but also with reading and study. I'm taking a break from my reading in John to focus on another question. For quite some time I have been bothered by Christians missing opportunities because they are waiting on God to show them the right answer. I've witnessed virtual paralysis in decision making in many cases. I've also watched many people be hurt as well intentioned Christians played the trump card of God-told-me. They have used it for everything from divorce to leaving church to moving to another city.

And so I'm spending time with the question of "How do I discern God's will for my life?" This has led to another question of "Does God even have a specific will for each person?" This had led to the question of "Is the future predetermined or do we have total free will?" This has led to questions about the nature of God.

It all started out as a simple question that has now grown into a huge cloud that shadows all of life. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 11, 2011

John 7:25-53; Martyr Syndrome?

Did Jesus have a martyr syndrome? We often portray him as fixed on death. In many of our churches (and our lives) we leave him hanging on a cross. I've been in Catholic churches in Latin America where he is "lying in state" in a glass coffin. He bluntly stated in other places that he came to give his life as a ransom. Yet, the way this passage reads, I don't think he was fixed on death at all.

Twice the crowd tried to seize him and could not. The temple guards came for him but did not take him. Anyone that was looking for martyrdom would probably have taken advantage of one of those three moments. Yet, Jesus was not looking for death at that time; he was looking for how to give life.

And what's the big deal about whether he had a martyr syndrome or not? For me personally the issue is that I honestly don't know how to follow a person that has a death fixation. Am I to go through life being morbid or acting like this world does not count? But Jesus did not live that way. This is a man fixed not on death but on sharing life. All his teaching in this section is about knowing God and having his Spirit. His focus was not death but life.

When I think of Jesus I think he was a joyful person. I don't think he was silly happy nor do I think he was somber. He was driven by the purpose of giving life to others and that life was full of joy. He didn't call people to become zombies walking around exhausted from worry or work. He didn't call people to frivolity either. He called us all to wake up and really live. I think Jesus would have been refreshing to be around.

There is a line from an old church song that says "Look away from the cross to the glittering crown." I think Jesus would have liked that line.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

John 7:1-24; Superficial Judgments

"Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” How hard this is in so many areas of life. Often, I fear we don't even realize how superficial are our judgments.

On our campus many students struggle with faith and community. What I most commonly hear is a rejection of what is deemed conservativism; actually I think it is a rejection of whatever one grew up with. Among the middle-age crowd I hear the search for "the best" taking over when in reality "the best" is often another word for "what I enjoy the most".

Is it proper judgment to condemn a group for expressing themselves in a way that is respectful of their heritage and consistent with their understanding of scripture? Is it correct judgment to ignore history in order to find a more exciting experience? Conversely, is it correct judgment to turn a deaf ear to social trends and generational differences in order to simply avoid making a hard decision?

Probably most of us are like the average Jew in this reading, i.e., we do nothing because of our fear. Sometimes it is fear of offending someone or fear of a loss of being accepted, but in many cases we let fear rather than good judgment direct our lives. Ironically we think that not making waves is "the Christian thing to do". So why is it that Jesus was labeled a trouble-maker rather than a peace-maker? And why did he call all of us to make proper judgments if his highest value was simply keeping the status quo?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

John 6:41-71; Could Jesus teach in today's church?

As I read this section I am amazed at how differently Jesus handled this situation compared to how most churches would handle it today. If someone in North American church is disgruntled today, our common reaction is to drop everything and put out the fire. Maybe it would have gone like this . . .

“At this the Jews began to grumble because of his teaching. This was troubling to everyone in church since our driving value is to make everyone happy. Obviously if someone is offended then this can’t be love and if its not love then its ungodly. So a meeting was called where the elders asked Jesus and the Jews to sit down. Both sides explained their understanding of what happened. At the end of the explanation time, the Jews were told they could leave and that they would be called after the elders had worked more on solving the problem. Then Jesus and the leaders would go over his statements carefully. He might be told, “Look Jesus, even if this is your deep belief, can’t you see its causing problems for your brothers? If you disturb them with some teaching like this, then it hurts their spiritual life. So, back off a little. Instead of saying that people must eat your flesh and drink your blood, say something like ‘work hard in your spiritual life’. If you talk like that then you are not challenging their foundations and being offensive. It lets everyone get along and be at peace together. Getting along and being happy are critical to our church life. You yourself said love is the greatest commandment. So love your neighbor and tone down your teaching.”

The reality is that Jesus just amped up his words even more and then asked the disciples if they wanted to leave also. Seems like “get along and be happy” is not what Jesus meant when he talked about “love your neighbor” or “follow me.” Sometimes I think we need to decide if we are going to be more Christian or more North American; I don't think we can always be both.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John 6:16-40; No More Signs

Jesus was reluctant to turn water to wine at Cana. Then he would not heal the official's son the way the crowd wanted. Now he does not want to give a new crowd a new sign. They crossed the sea (lake) for him and are seeking after him. Yet in response to "what sign will you give us", he basically talks about entering into a faith relationship with him.

I continue to be amazed at how much we probably look like the crowd. Just think of our prayers. "Jesus, I don't know which one of these options to choose; give me a sign." "Lord, show me what to do now." "I'll stay here and not move until you indicate the best choice." It sounds spiritual but I just don't see Jesus jumping onboard.

The story within the story makes me scratch my head also. Jesus disappeared into the mountains and the disciples headed to Capernaum without him. They had all types of problems until Jesus finally joined them; then everything worked out fine. One could conclude that their error was proceeding without Jesus. The problem is that in Matthew, Jesus told them to go ahead. So concluding that they should have waited for Jesus would be to conclude that they should have been disobedient. That doesn't make any sense at all.

So putting it all together it seems that Jesus wanted to communicate to seekers and followers alike that faith in him is key. When we are just starting a conscientous spiritual walk, the first step is identifying the focus of our faith -- signs or the man Jesus? When we have been following for some time, it is just as critical to remember that obedience must always be accompanied by faith in this man.

Honestly I hate how simple that all sounds. Since I fail so miserably at the task, I want the task to sound really complicated. And of course Jesus won't let me get away with that excuse either.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

John 6:1-15; Mine or His?

Not many people every have 5000 followers, not even today in the world of "insta-publish" yourself. Yet, the number didn't seem to affect Jesus either way. The story gives no sense of urgency ("oh my, so few") or sense of success ("wow, look at how many"). Rather Jesus simply moves on with his teaching.

The crowd pursued Jesus because they had seen the signs he performed; so this is a group with good hearts. They are working hard seeking after Jesus in remote places; these are not nominal believers that are busy with other things until Sunday morning rolls around. When Jesus fed them miraculously, they were even more convinced that he was the Prophet (not "a" but "the"); their faith was solid and they were ready to commit to him. Then Jesus does the politically incorrect thing -- he leaves. He disappears into the mountains. (Note: This story has both green grass and mountains making it hard to identify with while living in west Texas!)

He knew they wanted Jesus to be their king. They could envision how he would fit into their lives and how he would lead. They had a place carved out for him and knew just how it would look with Jesus at the helm. But Jesus doesn't seem to take kindly to being placed in a box and so he left.

I wonder if this scene doesn't play out in our lives over and over. We seek Jesus, feel closer to him, grow in our faith and then seem to lose track of him. Maybe we are committing the same error as the crowd; maybe Jesus purposefully pulls back when we are ready to box him in to being "my personal savior", "my best friend", "my CEO", "my Sunday god", "my political adviser", etc. Any title we try to place on him that starts with the word "my" probably sends him retreating into the mountains again. "My" implies possession and who owns whom has always been a big deal to Jesus.

I've always thought that feeling distant from Jesus in my spiritual walk was due to sin on my part (Isaiah 59:1-2). Maybe there is more to the story though; maybe distance also comes into the relationhsip when I try to make Jesus "mine" and control him with stereotypes. Now the issue becomes figuring out which boxes I am trying to force him into and how to shift my thinking from "he is mine" to "I am his."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

John 5:16-47; Like Father, Like Son

Jesus' argument is not that complicated here. He basically said "I am God because I do God things." Wouldn't it be great if we were able to say the same thing regarding our Christian life, i.e., "You can tell that I am a follower of Christ because I do Christ things." Here is how we might say 5:16-47 about ourselves (bascially picking and choosing verses since all would not apply to us).

"My Jesus is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. . . I can do nothing by myself; I can do only what I see Jesus doing, because whatever he does, I do also. For Jesus loves me and shows me all he does. . . By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear and my judgement is just for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me."

Ironically, this is not the way I was raised to think. I was reared to defend my faith and increase my confidence by being able to point to scripture for all my actions. The disturbing thing is that pointing to scripture for justification is what the other guys in the story were doing. I have no interest in ignoring scripture; I do, however, desire a life that is upright not because I have scriptural backing but rather because my life looks like Jesus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

John 5:1-15; Jesus and Bob Newhart?

Bob Newhart has a great skit that you can find online called "Stop It" where a psychologist counsels a young lady to end her paranoia with the words, "Stop it!" When I read Jesus saying, "Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you", I wondered if Jesus wasn't a proto-Newhart? Was he really just fussing at this guy to get him to be more spiritual? Was he saying that sin leads to physcial consequences like sickness?

The John 9 scene where Jesus bluntly states that the blind man did not get that way due to sin seems to shed some light; there Jesus was clear that sin and earthly suffering are not always directly related. Job can attest to the same.

I think in this case, the entire phrase Jesus speaks needs to be looked at. He actually said, " “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." Well again? Maybe this guy was not born a paralytic but had become such due to illegal or unethical activity. After all, it is odd that it does not say "he was born a paralytic" but gives the number of years. If so, then "stop it or else" might refer to his physical life. At the same time, Jesus knew there are things in life (this or the next) much worse than paralysis. Maybe Jesus was speaking to his spiritual health. He had just used physical situations to teach spiritual truths (John 2 temple clearing, John 3 birth and baptism, John 4 water and eternal life).

So I'm not superclear on whether Jesus was telling this particular guy to avoid a particular sin due to physcial or spiritual consequences. What I feel confident about is that in John 4 Jesus basically told the Samaritan woman to not miss her chance at getting to know the Messiah. Now in John 5 he gives one Jerusalem invalid a second chance and follows it up with "don't blow it." Jesus is the God of second chances; the question to me is will I be wise enough to take advantage of second chances or will I totally miss Jesus-given opportunities?

Maybe Jesus would not have made a "Stop It" video; maybe his would have been "Wake Up!"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

John 4:43-54; Mean Jesus

I've often read this passage and felt like Jesus was being mean, or at least really grumpy. I get the same feeling reading a few other miracles like the woman begging for her daughter and Jesus saying I was sent to the Jews or the time that the big crowd follows him around to the other side of the big lake. Even the first miracle in Cana gives that feeling but I think that much of that "grumpy look" in John 2 is due to awkward translation of "Woman, why do you involve me?" which apparently carries no negative conotation in its original language. This one, however, seems grumpy.

As I continue to look at it and study, I have come to this conclusion, I think Jesus comes across as negative because he was. This Jewish official is doing all he can to save his son's life; I think Jesus has only sympathy for him. But when he responds saying, "“Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe," he uses a plural "you". He is not talking to the man as the father of a sick child; he is talking to a group. Apparently a crowd has gathered (maybe helping the dad find Jesus) or Jesus is referring to part or all of the Jewish nation or both. So the response is meant to be negative but it is not a response against the father but against a group. Jesus wants nothing to do with those who follow him due to his giving of "signs". The father is not of this group; he distinguishes himself byt persisting in his faith that Jesus can heal his son. By healing him from a distance, Jesus honored the father's petition but totally put off the crowd that would have followed Jesus to the boy's side to watch a miracle.

And so I conclude that Jesus can be negative with people (not a popular concept among those of us who always want a touchy-feely Jesus on demand) and that he really doesn't want followers who want "on-demand" miracles and signs. It seems to be the rage these days to pray, "God if you want me to do X, then give me a sign." This story makes me wonder how God feels getting all those petitions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John 4:1-42; No Vacations

I cannot read this without thinking of Tom. He was another veterinary student and we decided to read through the book of John together. Soon were in chapter four. After reading it outloud together, I asked Tom what he understood from the passage. He replied, "Its obvious; Christians don't take a vacation from evangelism." I was prepared for a response about Jesus crossing racial or sexual barriers, about Jesus' physical tiredness, about worship and a few other things. I was not prepared for "Christians don't take vacations from evangelism."

Tom went on to explain the "obvious" to me. Even though Jesus was tired he shared with the woman. The apostles obviously passed her on the way into town and then bumped into her again on the way back. That makes 24 missed opportunities. Jesus had one opportunity and, though he was exhausted, he made it count. So, Tom concluded that the story is to show us that "Christians don't take vacations from evangelism."

That was over 20 years ago and when I read John 4 I still have to say, "You're right, Tom. Thanks for pointing out the obvious."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

John 3:22-36; Rhythm Guitar

John knew what his purpose was and he played his role well. When his disciples were jealous for him, John could still point them to Jesus. He didn't have to but he did. He could have been irritated, started his own following or just walked away. Despite the shift in the limelight, he stayed true to his call.

I think there is a lot we can learn from John. So many of us go through life without any sense of purpose. We eventually land on work or family or something else. But John understood his call early and he stayed faithful to it.

John also is a great example of not letting his ego keep him from pointing people to Jesus. He could rejoice in the success of others and even be content with becoming less.

Surely it was not easy to be John. Today so many of us are tying to be number one that very few are content with letting Jesus become number one. An old country song said, "Nobody wants to play rhythm guitar behind Jesus; it seems like everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band." I respect John for letting go of the spotlight and hope that when I'm gone I'll remind people more of John than the old song. Yet I know that a reputation is built little by little over a lifetime. So, with that in mind, hopefully by the end of today someone will be able to compare me more with John than the song.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

John 3:1-21; Followership

It is ironic that most of the messages I have heard from this passage deal with the "born of water" portion. Was Jesus talking about baptism or physical birth? I've heard both argued and have my opinion; however, I don't think that was the point of the conversation.

The conversation was about following the Christ through spiritual rebirth. How hard that must have been for a Pharisee. How hard it still is for us. When this entire Christian thing gets boiled down to its basic ingredients, it is still simply submitting my human experience to the leadership of Jesus. It is a spiritual decision to follow the God-man Jesus.

I don't know what Nicodemus anticipated hearing from the lips of Jesus that night, but I doubt he anticipated a statement of faith ("we know you are from God") to be met with a challenge ("You must be born again"). Apparently Jesus makes a clear distinction between verbal assent and followership. Unfortunately many Christians don't seem to make the distinction while much of society does. While most Christians seem content with hearing another say, "I am a Christian", most of society wants to see followership in action. Verbal assent and kingdom living are not the same; in fact, Jesus says that if all you have is verbal assent, you have not even seen the kingdom yet.

Jesus concludes with the statement, "But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." To rephrase it, "It will be obvious when someone is a true follower."

May today be spent in obvious followership and not simple verbal assent.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

John 2:13-25; AntiChurch?

Jesus went to the temple to find a house of prayer; instead he found greed and corruption. His reaction was swift and clear. Animals were driven out, people rebuked and tables overturned. I have serious doubts that it all came to an end. I doubt that they left and never came back or took their business elsewhere. Instead of repenting they questioned his authority, the age old reaction of shooting the messenger.

I wonder how Jesus would feel walking into a US institutional church today? Would he find a house of prayer or house of greed? Would he be able to walk through the parking lot with the new cars and feel OK when he got inside to a building devoid of the poor? Would he rebuke us for our budgets that spend vast sums on self rather than the community? Would he be upset? How would we react to him? How do we react to any messenger that points this out?

Recently I talked with two missionaries that simply said, "I hate church." They clarified that they love the church that Jesus established but are incredibly frustrated with the US expression of that. Their church meets in a rented area of the mall; it is accessible by bus from anywhere in town so that the poor can participate. They have found a way to pursue Jesus' kingdom here on earth and stay faithful to church without letting their frustrations with human adulteration drive them away. And I think that is exactly what Jesus did. His frustration with human error did not cause him to stop going to the temple, quit being a Jew or give up on the people around him.

May we follow his example even in handling frustrations.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

John 2:1-12; Prayer

This story challenges my prayer life. Jesus clearly told Mary, "No." But she was undaunted. Her faith remained strong that he would respond to her petition.

So what do I do with this? I don't want to be Abraham who pushed for his dream so much that he gave birth to Ishmael and many have regretted the decision ever since. He acted apart from God. I don't want to be Israel who asked for a king even though God said it was not a good idea. They persisted and he gave it to them; later it caused division and their downfall. Their hearts were not in harmony with God even though they called out to him. Here Mary knew her son but was not in sync with his wishes nor his dream. Yet he still responded and it was a good thing (apparently).

And so I struggle. There are ways I would like God to respond but I don't know if it is in his or my best interest. Can I appeal to the presidence set by Mary while avoiding the mistakes of Abraham and Israel? I hope so but I don't know so. It times like this where I just count on God knowing my heart while I try to know his.

Friday, May 27, 2011

John 1:42-51; Me or Thee?

Nathaniel almost missed him. He was hung up on a detail and almost missed God on earth. I think we do the same thing at times. Instead of seeing God touch a group of people, we take offense at how the worship service was conducted. Instead of appreciating the breadth of Jesus’ love, we take offense at his condemnation of some. Instead of diving into his teachings, we dislike that they were in a style we don’t like. Like Nathaniel, we get hung up on little personal details and miss Jesus.

Also like Nathaniel, we just love it when Jesus does something neat and personal for us. Jesus, on the other hand, was more concerned for his worldwide influence, hence the reference to Jacob’s dream where heaven and earth are connected and God makes a promise to influence the world through Jacob. We have been trained to shop around for the best product that fits me personally, e.g., car, house, job, clothes. Our mission trips are planned around our schedule more than the world’s needs. Our selection of a home church is more about ease of traffic getting there than discerning where God is at work. We come to Jesus with the same mentality, i.e., we don’t really want to influence the world; we just want Jesus to show up and make me feel good. Nathaniel was impressed by Jesus knowing where he was sitting. “He saw me! He knows me! I had God come to me!” Jesus’ response? “There are greater things than that.”
The question is “can I see them?”

Am I so hung up on me that I can’t see God going and coming around me? Maybe worse yet, am I so hung up on me that I don’t really care about God working around me? After all which would I rather experience: an insignificant revelation about me or the transformation of the dysfunctional family down the street? Do I prefer a great personal devotional over seeing God change a neighborhood? Would my faith grow more from hearing God speak to me about me or from hearing how Jesus changed the leadership of a country? Is my Christianity about me or him?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

John 1:19-42; The Question

Andrew and his friend had obviously spent time with John. Their minds were already thinking about the Messiah, sin and forgiveness. They were focused on some pretty substantial issues. Then came their opportunity and they seized it.

I can imagine a giddy feeling in their hearts as they walked a short distance behind Jesus. Then Jesus spun around and asked, "What do you want?" I think it caught them off guard. All they could come up with was "Where are you staying?" Really? That's all they could ask? You get a chance to ask God anything and all you come up with is "Where are you staying?" I can only imagine Jesus got a chuckle out of it.

But what if Jesus walked in my door and asked me the same question right now? What would I say? No time to think; just answer now. Perhaps the shallowness of my answer would make Andrew look like a scholar. I think it is an awkward question because we expect God to do all the spiritual work. I think we come to him and expect him to zap us with his spiritual wand so that we automatically are different. Where does he come up with asking our opinion? That implies that I have to think, to work, to do something. No, I'm fully North American and I want God to do everything for me including tell me what it is that I'm supposed to want him to do for me.

Yet God always shows up asking questions. To Adam, where are you? To Cain, where is your brother? To the teacher, what is written in the law? To the Apostles, who is the son of man? It seems that being made in his image means he wants our intelligence and our intent involved in our spirituality.

So back to the scene, Jesus walks in the door and asks "What do you want?" The answer . . ?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

John 1:1-18; Unrecognizable Jesus

John says that Jesus came to that which was his own but was unrecognized by some and unreceived by others. Ending Acts a couple of days ago, I was thinking about this exact idea. What would it look like if Jesus / God intervened in my world today? Would I recognize him? Would I accept him? Would I like him?

Culture packages our spirituality. I think that is why it is often hard to recognize the hand of God in others. God came as a Jewish laborer. No trumpets, no CNN reporters, no Academy Awards; just a simple man in a Semitic culture sweating in his robe and sandals. Since that didn't fit a lot of people's expectations, he was mostly unrecognized and unreceived.

What if God came in flesh to Abilene today? Maybe he would be the homeless guy with a "will work for food sign" at the intersection. Maybe he would be the WalMart greeter (somehow I think Jesus would like that job). May he would be a sophomore business student. More than pondering options, I think I'm challenging my own bias. Do I take the time and make the effort to look past a person's job and social status to really see the spiritual being inside? Do I think more highly of the mayor than the janitor because of their positions or do I see them both as made in the image of God? Surely it was respecting position and foregone conclusions about what the Messiah would look like that messed everything up in the first century. I wonder how much it is still messing up my life?

I was once with a friend that introduced me to the mayor of the capital city, then turned and introduced me to the top news anchor and then turned and called the waiter by his first name. On the way out of the building, he asked the parking lot attendant how her mother was doing since her recent illness. I was amazed. He treated everyone the same, perhaps giving more time to the parking lot attendant than either the mayor or newsman. He saw beyond culture and jobs to the soul of the person. I want to be that guy, the one who can see the creation of God in everyone. Maybe then Jesus won't sneak by me unrecognized or unappreciated.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Acts 28; Spiritual Hunting

What a shame to have been a Jew keeping the law rigorously and waiting for the Messiah, only to miss him when he came. Yet without good heart maintenance, I can understand the same thing happening over and over again to me. I wonder how many times God actively moved in my life recently and I never recognized him. How often did he intervene in the events of my life, but I was too dull to pick up on it? Did he come and go unseen and unappreciated in my life?

For me, its when life gets too busy that I think I fail to have spiritual vision. God moves and works but I don't see him amid all the activity; and it doesn't really matter if its good activity or otherwise. Simply too much activity makes it hard to have spiritual insight. Last night our house church started at 5:30 but even though we finished our more formal conversation at 7:30, people didn't leave till 9:00. In the quiet of the living room and seated at the table in conversation, I saw God at work. I watched as barriers to help came down, as advise was shared and as fears melted. Without the quiet of our home, I would have never witnessed those moments.

When I was a kid, my dad taught me to hunt deer. I would sit for hours in total stillness on a stand in order to let nature unfold and a deer come close. Honestly I never shot any of the deer but remained spellbound listening to the sounds of the world waking up, i.e., the drip of dew from a leaf, the flight of small birds, the work of a squirrel. Sights and sounds that I never knew existed till those moments of silence. It seems to me that the spiritual hunt for God requires the same thing, i.e., the effort to be still and stay alert.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Acts 27; Drama

Just because you are a person on a mission for God does not mean that everything will be perfect. Paul was definitely on God’s mission but his journey sounds horrible. What I don’t hear from Paul (or the author Luke) is self-pity. There is not tone of “why me” in the story. I don’t hear Paul questioning where is God, what is his purpose in this, where is the justice for having lived a good life, etc. On the contrary, Paul is bold and steady through it all. He advises the ship’s captain and the centurion, encourages the crew regarding their lives and admonishes them to eat.

Paul’s attitude was determined by a relationship with his God. No one could touch it. Circumstances could not change it. It really did not matter what was going on around him as long as he was connected to his God.

I hate drama; with the events of the past few years, I’ve had enough of it to last a lifetime. It seems to be an incredibly self-centered way to live. Maybe that is why I see what I do in this story. Paul could have become a drama-queen and no one would have blamed him. But it never crossed his mind. His mind and his heart were in the hands of God so he did not worry. It seems to me that self-centered living produces drama while God-centered living produces calm, even during the storms of life. Now that I put it that way, I hate drama even more.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Acts 26; Anti-Messiah Living

"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." I wonder what went through Paul's mind as he contemplated those words over and over. "Whom you are persecuting." Paul never thought he was persecuting the Messiah. On the contrary, as a Pharisee, he had vowed to defend Judaism in order to facilitate coming of the Messiah. He wanted to usher in the days of the new kingdom and facilitate the work of God on earth. Yet here he lay on a road surrounded by divine light and the voice of God asking "why are you persecuting me? Why are you working against me?"

I wonder what life would be like if God routinely did the same thing to us today. What if every time we had good intentions that were poorly applied a bright light would shine around us and God would ask out loud "why are you persecuting me right now?" It would happen when we put up signs on the highways that push people away from God with their religious phrases. Maybe a light would blast us when we protest with good-intentioned but hurtful placards in front of abortion clinics. Probably it would happen when I respond with a quick scripture quote to someone who really needs a listening ear.

Just like in Paul's day, I think the world is filled with people looking for the Messiah. They don't know him by that name, they don't know what he looks like and they don't know where to find him. He, however, is active in their lives and is trying to build a relationship with them. How hurt and frustrated he must feel when we knock him out of someone's life via our well-intentioned but very misguided attempt to serve him.

I doubt any lights will come on around me today but regardless of their absence I want to live in such a way that the gap between the Messiah and those seeking him is narrowed and not broadened. Simple concept; difficult application. Just ask Paul.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Acts 25; Investigation

Festus made an interesting statement in verse 20. He said, "I was at a loss how to investigate such matters." That rings true to me. How would a politician working to ascend the power ladder know how to investigate Jewish law or the new idea of Christianity? This made me think about the average person I meet in the stands at a football game, pass on the highway or see in the store. How would anyone know to investigate something totally out of their field of study and experience?

The most logical answer would be to talk with a follower of Jesus. Yet as Barna and Kinnaman point out in their research there is no statistical difference between North American Christian behavior and that of UnChristians. An investigator might be shocked to find out who claims the name of Christian. If no viable evidence exists to demonstrate that a person believes, then would any investigator be inclined to ask for the person for help? I think not.

What Festus and most UnChristians need for their investigation is simply a person who truly lives out the Christian life, someone dedicated to putting into practice the Sermon on the Mount. In some cases it might take the form of selling all you have to live among the poor but in most it probably is much simpler than that. Jesus used the Sermon on the Mount to talk about the little things of daily life. Instead of focusing on the big stuff of avoiding murder, be known as a person that radically loves and forgives. Instead of keeping major oaths, simply be totally honest and keep your word at all times. I don't think the Sermon on the Mount is a call to poverty but I do think it is a call to integrity. At any level of society, education or life-stage, a person of high integrity who reincarnates the life of Jesus will be distinctive.

Perhaps more sad than being an investigator who cannot find someone to explain Christianity is that most people know Christians but none of them live in such a way as to be worthy of investigation. Our incompetence of living out the new incarnation is actually more than sad, it is shameful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Acts 24; Value

Paul said twice that his driving force was the resurrection. Verse 15, "and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." Verse 21, "It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.” I don't think we really grasp that. We admire Paul's life but rarely embrace his motivation.

I think that today we treat the resurrection more like an insurance policy, i.e., it is something I want to have a guarantee for but really don't want to use because using it means tragedy has struck. We tend to live focused on the here and now so much that we come to believe this is real life. However, if I truly believe in the resurrection, consumerism becomes a stupid way to live. If I think the next life is the best life, am I really going to be so concerned with external looks, popularity and fame now? Maybe the litmus test is this: do I think about the resurrection when I purchase something? If a thing, any "thing", is only a decaying object for brief use in a temporary life, how much value can it really have? How much time, care and work does it deserve?

If the resurrection is birth into the real life and not just insurance in case there might be more, then people -- and only people -- become valuable because only people are resurrected into the life that goes on and on. It would seem the key to living Christ-like and Paul-like is to remember that fact. Every thing becomes a tool to build relationships; every wrong committed against a person becomes more significant. Treating people like objects of the temporary world -- judging people by what they do rather than who they are, treating people as sexual items for my pleasure, being too busy to notice people -- becomes absurd.

So now, how absurd is our North American consumeristic culture? And how utterly absurd to claim to follow the resurrected One and sill cling to the objects of this world? Shame on us -- shame on me -- for when we live like everyone else who confuse the value of people with the value of the temporary.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Acts 23; Powerless for God

The Romans were famous for polytheism. Their soldiers carried the typical reputation of tough guys with little regard for local people. Yet, in this account the Romans actions were more noble than those of the Jewish leaders. The elders and chief priests engaged in a murder plot while the Roman commander and centurions worked to save Paul. If I were a simple bystander, I would never have been influenced to seek to know God via the priests. Actually, I might have asked the commander what guided his steps?

A couple of days ago I watched a popular athlete thank his Lord for an award he received. Often this happens in sports -- crossing the end zone, after a win or receiving a trophy is followed by some recognition of God. The same guy may also be in tabloids for his sexual escapades, may live with someone other than his wife, may make millions of dollars that he spends on himself but at the right moment he knows when to sound noble. At the same time that I watched the athlete on TV, I counseled a person who had been sexually and financially abused by a Christian. Actually not just a Christian but a Christian leader. It struck me that things don't really change a lot. If I were a bystander, I would not be inclined to ask the Christians about their God but I might be drawn to ask the athlete.

It is a dangerous thing to be a representative of God. We influence lives without thinking. Our mistakes often speak louder than the sum of our victories. Due to our errors, people seek God in all the wrong places. I don't think I want to be like the soldiers or athletes that seem to flip a switch of goodness at certain times. Nor do I want to be the priests and elders who totally lost sight of how to represent God. I guess the other option is to be Paul, the guy in chains for his convictions. Most of us don't want to be there but he seemed to be the only one in the story that really lived out his professed beliefs. He was probably the only one that could sleep well at night. He is certainly the only one whose name has endured in a positive light throughout the centuries . . . and the only one whose name is still connected with representing God.

So here's to the powerless people in the story of life; those who live their convictions and let the consequences fall where they will. May I be blessed to be counted in that number.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Acts 22; Race

The crowd was fine as long as Paul was a good Jew. He talked about his education and heart with no problem. He described himself as a mystic hearing voices and seeing lights others could not and still there was no problem. He described himself as a mercenary (a.k.a. terrorist if you are on the receiving end) and still everyone was on board. They could accept anything as long as it did not involve reaching out to gentiles.

Fast forward 2000 years and hit play. Most Christians are pretty good at accepting just about any education level -- from self taught to Ph.D. We might wince but I think most people do pretty good with mystics; at least the general view is that they are somewhere within the kingdom though most are not sure where and certainly don't want to sit too close to them. Most Christians in the USA have no problem supporting those who take the name of God as coverage for when they act preemptively in battle. So what draws a reaction today?

It probably varies depending upon which area of the country you live in. In my life, I grew up in a very racist area and never attended a congregation where there was an African-American member until I was at least 20. As a youth I watched a congregation fight over whether or not to evangelize a certain side of town. I was given all sorts of strange arguments that were just ethnocentrism cloaked in Bible. I thought those days were gone in our country until a few weeks ago when I overheard two men going off on Hispanics. Same arguments, same feelings, just different people group. In fact, same feelings as the people had around Paul, just different people group then also.

It is amazingly difficult for us to see past a layer of epithelium (skin) and cultural behavior to realize that the soul of each of us was created in the image of God. To see people in the image of the Creator and then choose to reject them is to reject the image of God. No one wants to be guilty of rejecting God and so we fabricate all sorts of reasons for why some people are really not people. Amazing. If we could just accept the little lesson from Genesis 1-2 (God created us all in his image), what a different world and church this would be.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Acts 21:17-40; Not Ideals

I hear what the Jerusalem Christian leaders said and then look at what Paul was teaching. In ways, there seems to be a disconnect. The leaders in Jerusalem were very concerned not to break too much with Judaism. Paul and his work seemed to have already made the break. Yet, Paul obeyed the advice of the leaders in order to maintain peace. (Obviously it didn't work but I think that no matter what Paul tried at this point it would not have worked; he was too volatile a figure for the Jews.)

The fact that Paul listened and complied impresses me. His heart was not proud nor was he stubborn in his ways. Many of us would have argued with the leaders and stood on our ideals. Many of us would have followed the American Way instead of the Jesus Way by breaking away to start our own movement. Paul, on the other hand, surely could have argued about multiple points with the advice and beliefs of the leadership but he chose not to. He chose to stay in a relationship with the people of his heritage. His goal was to connect people with Jesus; not to be right on every point. I admire that quality. It is not an easy one to acquire and speaks highly of the values of Paul.

The older I get the more relationships, heritage and community seem to grow in value and the more being right - especially being recognized as right - seems to diminish. It also seems that the older I get the more I try to undo the idealistic stances I developed in my younger days. What once seemed like "fight'en-words" doesn't seem to matter that much anymore. Sometimes life needs a reset button.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Acts 21:1-16; Will of God

Lately my personal study has been on discerning the will of God. Does God have a specific will for each person and joy comes by figuring it out and living as exactly as we can? Or does God have a general moral will for all of us and we are free to exercise judgment and free will? Or does God have a specific will in some circumstances but not others? And the questions go on while the answers are slow to come. Paul, however, seems to get an "F" by most everyone's current standards of figuring out God's will.

The Holy Spirit gave him clear teaching twice (in this section, not counting previously) to not go to Jerusalem. His community begged him not go and he would not listen. So personal revelation and the community were totally ignored; that deserves an "F". However, this is God's apostle and God goes on to use him in great ways. The irritating thing about all this is the response of the community when Paul does not listen to anything or anyone. They back off and say, "The Lord's will be done." But it obviously wasn't since Paul ignored revelation and community!

So did Paul sin? Did he disappoint God? Did God just look at him the way I do my son when he makes a bad decision but then let him go in order to allow him to learn? Did God know that was a poor choice but really was OK with it?

No good answers; just questions. My leaning presently is that God lets us grow up and make poor choices along the way. He probably was not thrilled with Paul's choice but allowed it. The fascinating thing to me is to think of how Paul's story might have ended had he listened to the Spirit and to the community. I wonder what did not get accomplished that might have been? Grrr. More questions; no answers. I fear I am becoming postmodern.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Acts 20:13-38; Task Driven

Paul openly declared that he was task driven. We admire business people who are task driven; we even think that only task driven people can make it in business. We associate task driven people with politics and change. Yet when it comes to ministry, it often is looked down upon. That has always bothered me.

As Paul explained his ministry to the elders, it all sounded very personal. He talked of relationships, working, teaching and even crying with people. Paul's task was to proclaim the news of Jesus but he knew that meant personal communication and relationships. We often focus upon Paul as the synagogue speaker and guy who caused riots. But this recounting of personal history includes three years of less glamorous discipling.

I think we all tire of people that try to make the church of Jesus into a business of Jesus. I tire of new models, trends and programs. I tire of the constant analysis. No one ever complains about too many caring relationships though. I have yet to here anyone frustrated because their congregation is way too much like a family. Love doesn't seem to have a max. So when the task is people not programs, no one complains. Maybe then there is a place for task oriented people, as long as task oriented people (like me) remember their place -- which is in relationships.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Acts 20:1-12; All Night Long

Paul must have preached a total of about 8 hours, maybe even up to 12. I find that amazing. I wonder if it was a recounting of the life of Christ or if he pieced together different themes or if he was answering specific questions that had been raised? At any rate, it is impressive that he could have spoken so much.

Yet even more impressive is that his audience stayed with him! Eutychus left early but that didn't turn out so well for him initially. When he woke up he was back in the room with Paul shifting into the second half of his message. Everyone else just sat and absorbed the words of this man of God.

Would I have sat there? I'm sure I would have shifted in my seat to keep different body parts awake but would I have stayed? In the US culture we are programed that everything lasts one hour. A business meeting, a church service, a doctors visit; all are given one hour. When I lived in Venezuela and Costa Rica, time was allocated based upon the importance of the moment. A birthday party might take six hours. A quinceƱera lasted all night. We prioritized people and adjusted time rather than prioritizing time and adjusting people. The people in Troas made a huge statement about the priority of their faith by sitting at the feet of Paul all night long. I wonder what I say about my faith by my schedule?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Acts 19; Submission

A few days ago I played in a soccer game where a young man kept covering his mistakes by shouting jokingly to the others, "I can do what I want!" Soon others took up his chant and shouted it back to him; it was all in fun. In a team sport, doing what we want as individuals is usually not beneficial to the team. The same can probably be said for life in general.

Paul wanted to enter the theater to speak to the crowd. He was great with crowds, no doubt. This was a chance to speak to a multitude (the theater held 25000 people). It was a chance to enter into a major city-wide discussion that could have huge implications for the future of the city. Yet, he never even entered. He submitted to the wisdom of the disciples around him and the provincial officials who knew him. Even the great Paul did not live by the phrase, "I can do what I want!"

Submission is a very difficult concept. In fact, it is one of the most irritating and non-North American concepts ever developed. Its like giving a sixteen year old a revved up red Ferrari convertible and then telling him to never drive over 30 mph. We spend all of life trying to grow and develop only to hit a point where we are told to do the opposite of what we think is best. Seriously annoying. When I submit myself to comply with what I think is a stupid decision by my elders, it is annoying. When I give up my individual rights in order to comply with a group decision at work, it is irritating.

It does, however, have a second effect in addition to just rubbing me wrong; it causes me to remember that life is a team sport. I am part of a community; my actions greatly affect others. To submit is to hold up a mirror in which I see that I am not alone. He who is not part of community can do as he wishes while those who are engaged in relationships must learn to submit for the good of others. Put that way, submission sounds a little more like love. Maybe its not so bad after all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Acts 18; Spirit Orchestration

Aquila grew up in Pontus and moved to Rome. He and his wife Priscilla were forced from Rome to Corinth. Paul was journeying from Thessalonica through Berea and Athens and stopped in Corinth. Together all three then moved on to Ephesus where they split up for some reason. Paul continued his journey and the couple stayed. Meanwhile, a young scholar from the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt moved to Ephesus as well. Who had gone down to Alexandria to teach him? We don't know. Acts 2 mentions Jews from Egypt who were present at the Pentecost event; maybe one of them took the gospel to Alexandria. And so a traveler from Jerusalem touched an Alexandrian who bumped into a Pontus couple that just left Rome and Corinth to reside in Ephesus after having lived with Paul in the middle of his long journey. Either it is fascinating circumstance or amazing orchestration by the Spirit.

Did they know that the Spirit was guiding them to these meetings in order to evangelize the known world? Did they have inner leadings, signs or dreams to guide them? Only Paul is recorded as having any vision and that did not regard any of the locations mentioned above. It seems far less glamorous and far more subtle in the text. The Spirit accomplished his will through dedicated people but in a "low key", almost imperceptible way.

Occasionally we are blessed to recognize God at work in the moment. Even more rarely we get the chance to know what he will do in the future. Yet it seems we most commonly are able to see his handiwork in retrospect. Occasionally I lose a golf ball after a long shot on the course -- thankfully this is a less frequent occurrence than it used to be. The way to find the ball is to go where I thought is was and then align myself with the tee box and the objects (hills, bushes, cart path, etc.) that the ball flew over. When I turn back to the course, I am able to better understand where to look for the ball next. Often, anticipating where God will be next or where he would most probably use me is much the same. By looking back I see where I used to be, recognize the way he has led me up to this point and then can turn back to the future following the trajectory of the past to better align myself with his desires -- whether that be in Ephesus, Egypt or elsewhere. To see his work in retrospect is to anticipate his work in the future.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Acts 17:16-34; God's Address

As I read this sermon, two points jump out at me for us practicing evangelical Christianity. Paul starts out with an admonition that God does not live in temples nor need anything from humans. The way that many of us live, you would think we have not yet learned this simple lesson. We often treat church like it was going to God's house, similar to going to Grandma's house. God lives in the building and we come and go from our visits with him. Sometimes it is a good experience and we are excited at the thought of coming back for another visit. Sometimes it is more like having to eat the beets or lima beans on your plate -- you choke it down and hope that is not your last memory. Then we leave Grandma and God at their house and go on about our life. Its really about the same as the Greeks visiting the temple of Athena when you think about it.

Then Paul asserts that God manipulates human events so that he is accessible to everyone. I don't think most of us believe that -- though I think we are getting better. For years as I listened to people returning from short term mission trips or well meaning deacons I would hear the language of battle. Phrases like "when we go in" or "efficient machine" were thrown around. There seemed to be zero recognition that God was already there and at work. Yet Paul asserts that God is working in the world to make sure that he is within reach of everyone. I think believing that would change not only our language but our missions.

So the message is basically that God does not live in the church building but lives very close to everyone. Its a simple message but if we really believe it, it changes everything.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Acts 17:1-15; The UnMartyr

Often reading a text helps me see where my bias has given me wrong impressions. I have always viewed Paul as being the guy willing to stick it out, engage any mob and lay down his life anyplace, anytime and anywhere. But that is not what happens in his story.

In Acts 9 the new convert Paul was lowered by a basket out the window of the city wall in order to escape. In chapter 14 he and Barnabas fled Iconium. Now in chapter 17 he is sent away from Thessalonica by the church and then escorted out of Berea by caring brothers. Four out of four times Paul chose to leave so that he might preach in other places. Apparently he felt called to missions more than to martyrdom.

Interestingly enough, I don't see Jesus praying in the garden saying, "Thank you so much for this time to finally die. I've been looking forward to it."

I wonder if our glorification of martyrdom in the life of Paul and Jesus has served to make them less accessible to us. We think that they were made of different stuff than us; that they had another level of spirituality because they were martyrs. The truth seems to be that they were more like us than we care to admit. Maybe that makes living like Jesus a little too realistic for us. Maybe it is safer to leave them as inaccessible in order to not be threatened by their examples. After all, if I can't identify with them or understand them, then I can't be expected to live like them. Then I can go to Walmart, spend money on myself, ignore the needs of others and lead a much more comfortable -- and much less meaningful -- life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Acts 16:11-40; Polarizing

There is something intriguing about the juxtapositioning of Lydia and the slave girl. They were two women in the same city that Paul encountered on the way to a place of prayer. Our impression of Lydia comes from her seeking after God (even before she meets Paul), being at the place of prayer already, having a respectable business and practicing hospitality. I think I would have been drawn to Lydia; she gives me the impression of being calm and personable.

Then there is the slave girl. She encounters Paul on the way to the place of prayer (she is not at the location), she follows him around making proclamations until Paul is totally annoyed. Her story is closely linked to the mob that later has Paul flogged without trial; they seem annoyed but more at Paul than at the girl.

Funny how speaking up for God polarizes people. Lydia is drawn to the preaching but the mob apparently had had enough. The quiet heart was responsive but the enslaved heart was not. Jesus also seemed to polarize people during his life.

It makes me remember the verse in Luke 6 that says, "Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets." Getting along with everyone is much more inline with the American way. Who wants to be the "annoying religious guy"? Yet, truth be told, the non-polarizing guys never have the blessing of watching the Lydias come to faith; in fact, only those who truly and intentionally seek God get to see him at work during this life. I think the key is that Paul and Jesus did not go out of their way to be social porcupines; their message called for people to change and it was that message that made them polarizing. We now live in a time when calling someone to change is called "intolerance" and intolerance is the only thing society cannot tolerate today. So the challenge seems to be am I willing to risk letting the truth of the gospel (not some distorted way of presenting it but the core message itself) make me a polarizing agent or am I content with being a non-stand-out tolerant North American?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Acts 16:1-10; Keep Walking

I used to watch an old cartoon (An American Tale) with my kids. There is a great scene where the daddy mouse keeps having to tell the son, "Keep walking, keep walking." It seems that Paul had the same idea in mind.

Paul replaced Mark with Timothy and circumcised him in order that they could be accepted by the Jews where they visited (Paul usually taught in synagogues). Then they kept walking. The text says that the Spirit impeded Paul twice and gave him a specific call once. The positive call was a vision but the others are not clarified for us. What impresses me and what I think Paul did different than many of us when we are waiting on God is that he kept walking. After having doors closed to him, he simply redirected the journey but never lost his zeal nor his purpose. He certainly did not sit and wait.

As a culture we tend to be so busy and anxious that we often don't listen for God. In those moments, "be still" is the hardest and most helpful thing. Yet there is another extreme that we can engage in and that is sitting and waiting until God makes everything clear. It seems he rarely does that. Most of Abraham's, Moses', Jesus' and Paul's lives were spent walking. They were given direction after they obeyed and acted on their convictions. As an old preacher that I respected used to say, "God doesn't give direction to a stone." It seems that our convictions are to be lived out and along the way the direction will come at the appropriate time. So, keep walking.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Acts 15; Discernment

Figuring out God's will has always been a major concern for humanity. Did God want the Gentiles to become Jews first (keep the OT law) or could they skip Judaism to become followers of Jesus? Great question. I was a tough enough question that it required special attention.

What I see in this chapter is that interpreting what God's will is for my life is not always easy. It is not as simple as a leading in my heart or what I think is a sign. When the people that walked with Jesus tried to discern God's will they included community, referred to scripture and listened to the Spirit. It is easy to think that Peter and Paul did not need all that and that they simply moved forward all of their lives via the guiding of the Spirit. Yet, here they sit in a large council trying to discern the will of God.

So why should I expect less? Why should I think that a commitment to Christ means that deciding the next step will be easy? Somehow we think that; we expect that. In our heads we believe that we have made the tough choice and now God is supposed to make the rest be a matter of "follow the leader." Yet, he did not set up life that way. Figuring out the next step was never easy, not even for the apostles at times.

Referring to scripture and listening to the Spirit are not that tough a challenge for me. Letting others in on the process and risking outcomes by including the opinions of others, that is hard. Probably each person rates those components differently in regards to difficulty. Yet each of us will agree that difficulty is involved.

In a way, I'm really grateful that this chapter was written. I would hate to think that it used to be easy but now its not. Its nice to know that discernment has never been easy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Acts 14; Only Human

We tend to idolize or at least idealize Biblical people. We build Paul up to be the perfect missionary and attribute him with special gifts and blessings that we could only imagine. Yet, this chapter reads very much like a normal human caught in some tough situations.

To begin with, Paul could not convince everyone in Iconium anymore than the next missionary. When he was informed that a plot was afoot to kill him, he fled. Idolized leaders don't do that; real people do.

In the next city Paul and Barnabas were afflicted by the Achilles heal of many missionaries -- language. The people responded to their message by shouting out in the local language; Paul and Barnabas had no idea what was going on. It went on long enough that he priest outside of town had enough time to gather sacrifices and come into town. Finally they understood what was happening but even then had trouble stopping the progression of worship to them.

Scholars often mention that Paul might have been blind or became blind. He mentions problems with his eyes and writing in big letters. So added together we come up with a man who fled from danger just like us, struggled with intercultural communication just like us and had personal physical problems just like us. So much for the ideal. Yet knowing this should only lead us back to admire his conviction and effort. Instead of praising all of his methods and blindly idolizing the man, let us recognize his shortcomings and appreciate his heart. Yet perhaps most importantly, let us recognize once again that just like with Noah whose first act after the flood was to get drunk, Abraham whose first act after the call was to lie about his wife or David the man after God's own heart who committed adultery, we have this story recorded for us not to teach us about a great man but rather to lead us to the great God who was working through and in spite of the man.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Acts 13; My Enemy?

I grew up in a time when debating was popular. I did not participate in it but was instructed to look up to those who were great at debating. What I never liked about the whole thing was that it always seemed like an excuse for good people to argue. As I grew I also was frustrated with the message it sent to those who were "outsiders looking in". It seemed to give us a reputation of bickering; in the process it spawned the understanding that anyone that does not agree with me is my opponent or enemy.

This text has two distinct encounters, i.e., Paul with the Jewish sorcerer (obviously not a really good Jew morally but only ethnically) and the synagogue. Only the sorcerer was viewed as an enemy. He opposed Paul and tried to keep others from believing. The Jews in the synagogue were seeking to follow God; they needed more information and direction. They were not enemies to Paul.

Very few in our society sit in the seat of the Jewish sorcerer; most are like the synagogue attendees -- good people at heart that need a little direction. It might not sound like a big deal to some but I think our world has seen enough of the debaters. So my hope today is not for boldness in proclaiming Christ but rather wisdom in discerning who I am talking to -- a sorcerer or a seeker. There was only one sorcerer; there was a crowd of seekers. My hunch is that the distribution is still the same in our society but that our society sees Christians mostly as people stuck in debate mode ready to attack enemy sorcerers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Acts 12; Fair?

So why did James die and Peter receive deliverance? From my point of view, it makes no sense. I wish I could move on to something more profound and demonstrate the answer. Honestly, I have no clue. I accept that God knew what he was doing. I accept that somehow James' martyrdom was better for the kingdom than his deliverance. I accept that Peter went on to great works and was saved for that. But if I am James or James' wife or James' children, the whole thing looks unfair.

I know that fair and equal are not the same. At least I know that on a good day. Yet my heart often doesn't listen to my head and in my heart the word "unfair" screams out at me. It does the same thing when I see privilege and blessings go to some people that have not worked as hard as I have or when a plan does not work out for me while it does for someone else. Usually what is at stake is my pride and personal desires, not the kingdom. I've learned that when my pride gets injured I can put together really good sounding arguments but I know inside that they are just a smokescreen for the pain.

The truth is that I don't have the right to scream unfair about life. I was born into middle class educated America. I sit this morning in my home and will soon depart for a good job. I have four healthy, wonderful children and an amazing wife. I do not have any major illnesses. It is only a small percentage of the world that can claim any of those blessings. They all look at me, at my blessings, at my privileges and scream "unfair". And they are right.

An old professor used to tease our class and wrap up different discussions with the remark of "Well, that is part of the job description of being God; you get to make up the rules as you go and are not limited." So I'll sit here this morning in my blessings and try to shape my heart to where it is grateful under any circumstance. I'll use the words of Job as my own and try to see my life the way others do. Job 2:10, "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Acts 11:19-30; Barnabas Effect

Barnabas had helped Paul in Jerusalem by personally bringing him to the leaders. He put his reputation on the line for a young convert who had previously pledged to persecute the church. Once in Antioch, Barnabas sought out Paul in Tarsus in order to once again bring him into the community.

Without Barnabas there would never have been a Paul as we know him. Barnabas believed in the young man when others rejected him. Barnabas placed his reputation on the line for him when it would have been much easier to look the other way. Barnabas went out of his way to seek out Paul for ministry. He brought him into a young community where Paul could grow in the use of his gifts. Without Barnabas, no Paul.

One of the falacies of US culture is our staunch appeal to individualism. We insist on "do-it-myself" attitudes. The cars we purchase, the sports we choose, the products we buy all reflect a culture focused on "me" over "us". In the process, we begin to think that each of us arrived at our present state of maturity and development through our own efforts when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Personally my inventory must include people like my grandfathers, one that I recognize now as a kind and gentle leader of our church and the other that shaped me on a daily basis. I recognize an old professor that asked me to be his assistant when I was a freshman so that he could mentor me; without him I would never have made it graduate school. I recognize another professor that called me to her office after class and asked me how I was going to use my gifts; she then coached me through the application to vet school (I was admitted on the first try and ranked 10th in the class . . . she did a great job!). My father-in-law taught me to raise sons, Wilfredo taught me to walk humbly, my wife taught me devotion and the list goes on. Like everyone else, I am a product of the people that God has placed in my life.

Years to come, someone will sit down to reflect on who has shaped them. It seems to me that being on that list is the only way we really live on in the world. As Christians we believe that death is not the end and we will live on with the Lord. Yet to live on here means leaving a piece of ourself in the hearts of those around us. It means taking risks and investing a part of us in the lives of others. It means leaving Antioch to seek out the Pauls that others might not believe in. It means having the Barnabas effect on others.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Acts 11:1-18; Following

The Jewish believers were upset that Peter had associated with Gentiles. Their particular hangup was that he went into the home of non-Jews -- not that he had baptized them. There was a direct command against the former; the latter was still new to everyone. In his defense, Peter explained that God had communicated through visions, direct words of the Spirit and signs. His conclusion statement was basically "If God is doing this, who am I to stand in his way?" It came down to who was in control; who was running the church?

I admire Peter for his openness. He allowed God to be God and stayed in the role of follower. Through dreams, direct revelation and signs on top of his years of walking with Jesus, Peter was leadable. He was truly a follower.

We don't talk much about followership. We all want to change the world rather than let God change it using us. We see needs and respond; that's easy. Seeing God meet the needs and falling in line with what he is doing is a little more challenging. It might not make sense to everyone around us; it might not make sense to us. Yet Peter followed with total commitment because he could point to specific interventions by God and the overall outcome looked a lot like what Jesus had often done. I think that radical ideas proposed by those who have a "leading" void of specific interventions (direct voice, vision, signs) and the outcome of which does not necessarily look like one of Jesus' priorities, should be suspect. Yet radical ideas backed by specific interventions of the Spirit that lead to outcomes like those in the life of Jesus, need to be embraced.

I anticipate that the Spirit is much more active in guiding us today than we recognize. I also anticipate that the attribution of personal desires to the Spirit's leading is becoming more and more common, even when the Spirit probably has not done a thing. Hence the two ends of the pendulum swing, i.e., ignorance of Jesus with attribution to the Spirit for a license to do what I want versus an amazing depth of Biblical understanding resulting in an orthopraxy so strong that not even the Spirit could break us out of it. It seems that Peter found the middle ground where a rich understanding of the nature and goals of Jesus were married to a clear vision of the work of God in the world today.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Acts 10:9-48; Next Level

Peter had a very strange vision for a Jew. God was telling him that one of the most important things he had believed all his life was wrong. He was saying that one of the key distinguishing features for which he and his people were known should not exist. It would be like having a vision that God did not want us to participate in communion anymore. Is it any wonder that Peter was perplexed? (I find it comical that he was so lost in thought that the Spirit had to speak to him again just to get him to go downstairs and open the door.)

Two days later Peter entered the house of a non-Jew and explained his vision. Basically he said, "Its ok for me to enter your house; God gave me a vision that permits it." Only later did he really understand the significance of the vision and confessed, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right."

It seems like God has this pattern of pointing out something in our lives, letting us think we have developed it and then taking it to a new level we did not anticipate. Joseph became a good household manager, then prison manager and then prime minister. David was a good shepherd, then military leader and then king. John was dedicated to his brother, then to Jesus (even during his trial and crucifixion) and then to the church (becoming known as the apostle of love). I became aware of my prejudices, then was given a roommate of a different race and then became a missionary. I learned to be evangelistic in the dorms, then became a missionary and now train mission teams.

Here is what excites me, i.e., you never know what characteristic God is going to take to the next level. Just when it seems we have life figured out, God shows up with new opportunities. It is humbling to take a new step and realize how little I was doing before. It is faith-building to take a new step and see God show up to secure my footing. It is exciting to take a new step and realize that I can still grow. I wonder what the next step will be?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Acts 10:1-8; Good People

I used to see people as in or out. They were part of the kingdom or not. They were Christians or not. Basically in my mind that meant good or bad. This is one of those stories that calls into question simplistic dichotomy.

Does God hear the prayers of "unchristians"? Obviously Cornelius was not a Christian (that comes later in the story) but he was clearly heard by God. He was a good man, good enough that an angel was sent to him and told him that the Father Creator was very aware of him. I have never had that experience nor know anyone who has. So much for "good" being equated with "Christian". And so much for "good" being equated with "saved".

My understanding from this part of the story is that God loves his creation -- each and every one of us. When one of us wants to get closer to him, he finds ways to make that happen. Jesus was not God's only intervention in this world; over and over throughout history he has maneuvered and manipulated people and events so that those who seek him can find him. Jonah knew this when he went to Nineveh. He wanted bad people to be destroyed but God wanted good people to have a chance at a relationship with him.

When we paint the world simplistically as good and bad, where good is defined as "you believe like me" and bad people who don't look like me are "out", then we quit looking at the world like God does and we stop treating it like Jesus did. We can't see him maneuvering for the benefit of those who seek him. We become Jonah-like wanting to condemn people who are bad, thus proving ourselves right and others wrong, rather than serve others because they are beloved children of the Creator. It is easy for us to accept God's love but so hard to remember that we are loved not because of what we do, think or believe but rather because of who he is. We, just like everyone else that has ever lived, are loved because a loving God made us. Thus my role in this drama is to be willing to leave Jerusalem in order to be used by the Creator as he maneuvers and manipulates the lives of those who seek him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Acts 9:31-43; More Greatness

Now that I have read through the rest of the chapter I lament that I did not include this section in yesterday's thoughts. As I thought more about greatness and the "little people of insignificance" that lie behind those we know well, I began to realize just how common it was. Recognition truly falls to only a few; this section is another great example.

Peter had traveled out of Jerusalem (but not out of Judah) to visit other Jewish Christians. When we read the story of his time in Joppa, we walk away remembering the name of Peter and the name of the lady Tabitha that he healed. But I think more lies behind the scenes.

In Venezuela we lived in a hot city; a cold winter night was 70 and a hot summer day was 115. In our city, embalming was very expensive. There were not many funeral homes and the process was so costly and inefficient that it was rare that a complete embalming would be performed. So when a person passed away, a "partial" embalming was performed that would at least slow down the decay process a little. Most bodies were then taken home to lie in state in people's living rooms. If the family was lower middle or poor class, there would be no AC in the house and ice would be placed under the table holding the body to again delay decay. Even with all that work, the body would start to deform, ooze or do other ugly things in 24 hours.

Now flashback to Tabitha who lived in a port city (modern day Tel Aviv) and who would not have had any embalming at all. Her body would have decayed very fast, producing an intolerable situation for those who loved her. Yet, they delayed. They heard Peter was in a nearby town and they sent for him. Would the messengers find him? Would he come? Would he delay? Would he be willing to do anything once he arrived? Yet, they sent for him and waited with the body.

We don't know the names of a single person involved in that decision. A decision that defied logic and culture. A decision that put the family name at risk. A decision of faith. Yet we know the name of Tabitha and the work of Peter. They achieved greatness in our memories. Without the acts of faith of the family, however, no healing would have occurred. But they did act. Tabitha would remember that all her life. The friends, family and neighbors would never forget. And God surely remembered each one by name . . . the names of people of great faith.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Acts 9:1-31; Greatness

Paul was sincere; no one could question that. He was sincerely wrong for a while and it cost the lives of many people. But he was always sincere. Likewise, he was transparent. What he believed, he proclaimed -- whether it was the message that the Messiah had not come or the message that he had. Perhaps it was for these characteristics that people were drawn to him and that God used him in great ways.

But was the work of Ananias and Barnabas any less impressive? Ananias knew why Paul was coming to Damascus and responded to God's call anyway. Probably he and his family anticipated that this was a call to martyrdom or at least imprisonment, which would mean pain and poverty for his family. Barnabas had no vision from God to prompt him when he reached out to Paul. While others ran away, he ran towards. Taking Paul in as a new believer meant risking his reputation and perhaps his life as well.

I know a few Pauls that are well recognized public figures; I am also blessed to know a few Ananias & Barnabas people that launched the Pauls. Without them, the well known figures would never have existed. Several of them have passed on now, dieing like they lived, in humble obscurity. Yet they died knowing they had responded to the visions and calls in their own lives. They stepped into the gap when others would not and God used them to accomplish one major work that led to thousands of works in someone else.

We spend a lot of time honoring the Pauls and ignoring the Ananias and Barnabas people. Seems to me that we don't have a lot of control over which type of person we will be -- that is up to our gift mix and how God decides to use us. What does lie within our control is whether or not we will respond when God calls. Paul, Ananias and Barnabas each had a choice to be obedient or not. Each stepped out on faith. Each was blessed to be used by God.

As humans we can't see far enough down the road to know how we will be used but we can see windows of opportunity -- a chance to help someone, a moment to do a good deed, an opportunity for kindness or mercy. These we can see. These we can respond to. Greatness is not ours to choose; obedience is.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Acts 8; The Socercer

All of us come to scripture with some form of cultural glasses on. As a kid I grew up in a full-blown modernist world and this greatly influenced our interpretation of scripture. Since witchcraft and sorcery did not exist in a modern world, then Simon was renamed. Of course, he was not literally renamed since that would have been tampering with scripture; yet, he was taught not as Simon the sorcerer but as Simon the con-artist. We are not sure how he did it, but he could trick people just like David Copperfield. This produced a little confusion for me since the modernist explanation of a miracle is not the breaking of natural law but rather such a complete understanding of natural law that one can manipulate and control outcomes. So, if that was a miracle and that was also pretty much the definition of being a con artist, Simon always gave me problems.

It wasn't until much later in life that I had to deal with the occult. While in Venezuela, I learned that there was much more going on at times than simple tricks. If the good side of the spiritual realm exists with miracles, prayer and God, then surely the evil side of the spiritual realm exists with its power, dedication and Satan.

In the text, Simon apparently laid aside his evil ways of sorcery but his heart lagged behind in changing. The ego boost he received from being called the Great Power of God was intoxicating. When he saw the apostles performing miracles for the good-guys, he wanted in on the action. Peter saw through the situation and called him out. Peter spoke to his heart where pride was as big an evil as sorcery.

The last line of the movie "Devil's Advocate" is spoken by Satan and is, "Pride. Definitely my favorite sin." We are so quick to condemn sorcery but are fine to let pride slide. We would never overlook a witch in our fellowship, but we turn a blind eye to egocentrism. We could not fathom a cordial relationship with the leader of a cult, but we could actively pursue a relationship with prideful stars and leaders. We contemptuously condemn Simon for his former ways of life in sorcery but would we have called him out on pride? In our fellowship we hold tightly to the idea of restoring New Testament Christianity. Perhaps we need to do a better job of restoring the heart of it as well . . . and calling out each other on issue of the heart . . . which are just as diabolically dangerous as sorcery ever was.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Acts 6:8-7:60; God-with-us

Stephen's story and words catch my attention in several ways. It is amazing how his story parallels that of Jesus; surely the way the story was told by Luke emphasized certain aspects that made that possible, i.e., false witnesses, speaking out against the Jewish leaders using Jewish history, forgiveness just before death, etc. I am also impressed by the frequency of mention of wisdom in the account; Biblically there is more interplay between wisdom and the Spirit than I used to think. I am also impressed by the side thought of Moses as the adopted child looking for his identity and then being forced into the desert with even more questions than he had before.

The conclusion of the sermon, however, is what has has always grabbed me. I would have preached on through the exile and return; Stephen cut off the story of the Jews at the building of the temple (900 years before Jesus). He jumped straight from the temple to resisting the Holy Spirit. I never understood that until I spent years in the Torah; now it makes more sense.

The message of the rescue from Egypt was that God wants to live with his people. That was provided for by the tabernacle and then the temple and then Jesus. It is a logical sequence once the primary point is understood. Stephen was focusing upon how God lives among us. The Jews totally understood step one and two but utterly rejected step three, i.e., the Incarnation of Jesus. Recounting history was not his point; recounting God-with-us was the point.

Very often we preach about living well, how to have a good family, ethics, etc. I think what we really need to be hearing is the same message that reaches back to the garden. God still wants to walk with us in the garden in the cool of the day. That message is powerful in any culture at any time. It is as valuable to the homeless as it is the rich; it is as significant to the Caucasian as it is the Asian. God still wants a relationship with his creation. Everything else falls out from that; it is the central point. If we lose it, we become a self-help association or country club. If we lose it, we lose the power of the gospel. If we lose it, we lose our identity -- just like Stephen's Jewish audience lost theirs and therefore became content to be the maintainers of the buildings where God used to live rather than the community where God now lives.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Acts 6:1-7; The Complaint

Here is the 2011 updated version: In the Church on Elm Street, the moms from school district A complained that their families were not as well taken care of by the church as the families of school district B. For example, they claimed that they received fewer family visits and calls, that their football schedule was not considered when plans were made, their kids events were not visited by ministers, etc. It generated hard feelings in the church as moms on both sides of the issue felt offended. The church leaders responded, we refuse to be sidetracked by this fussing; our effort to evangelize those who do not know Jesus in this town is far more important than your complaint. At the next church assembly we will have the church elect a small group of members who will find a way to resolve the issue so that we don't have to give time to it. The church responded very well and elected a small committee. In the meantime, the leaders were able to connect with key leaders in the marginalized community downtown resulting in many converts to Jesus.

If that played out in most churches today, the script would be followed up to the moment of the leaders response. The response would be more like, "We will drop everything and tend to your every need because we can't stand for anyone to be unhappy."

Seems to me that the apostles had different priorities than most US church leaders and the vast majority of church members.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Acts 5; Fear

Fear seems to tie these stories together. Ananias and Sapphira did not fear God and paid dearly for it. The end result of their lives demonstrated that a healthy fear of God is a good thing. In fact, it is what all the people had after they heard the news about the couple. A healthy fear (respect, awe) seized everyone. It permitted the church to meet unmolested and elevated the respect given the apostles by the people.

The Jewish leaders, however, did not fear the uneducated apostles. They only feared the crowds and the loss of their prestige. It took an old sage among them to introduce the idea that perhaps the apostles were working for God. Even after that, the Sanhedrin still did not fear God in their hearts or they would not have beaten the apostles. Yet it was enough to convince their heads and win the freedom of the apostles.

So summing it all up, I think this means that without a healthy fear of God we tend to be selfish and fear people. With a healthy fear of God, we tend to be courageous and respected. Surely all of us want the latter more than the former but are we willing to change our view of God to get there? Are we willing to let God be the God of the Old Testament who punished people, wiped out nations and released death at times? Are we willing to let him be the God of Revelation from whom the four horsemen ride out? Honestly are we even willing to let Jesus be the guy who kicked over tables, drove people out of the temple, refused to heal a woman till she begged and condemned leaders? Are we willing to follow a Holy Spirit that killed Ananias and Sapphira? If not, I guess that means we end up on the side of the Sanhedrin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Acts 4; Dilemma

"They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened." That would be a comical line if it were not so true. . . and I don't mean for them. I can recall many times in life that I have sat in on meetings where church leaders were concerned about something good that was breaking out but that was not being done in a way that seemed orthodox. A new work in a part of the city that the church had not specifically planned, outreach that several youth started that had grown amazingly quickly or social justice work that the church never planned.

In this story, the Jewish leaders were trying to figure out how to stop a new act of God. In my story, church leaders have often been faced with the same dilemma. When we define church too narrowly, God seems to break out in other places. When we limit his activity to that which we have figured out and anticipate, he always comes up with surprises.

As I get older, I think I like surprises less and less. Yet, I really don't want to be that guy who is left behind when God does something new. I don't want to be part of the crowd that speaks out against something good. These poor Jewish leaders looked bad as they tried to figure out how to stop miracles occurring. I don't want to be that kind of leader. I think that means saying goodbye to the false security of having God figured out.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Acts 3; Listen

I am struck by two different things in this chapter. First, there is Peter's statement to the blind man. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you." How often do we think that change can only be made by those with big budgets? How often do we think in terms of "The silver and gold that I do have, I give you." The sad thing is that we then go on our merry way feeling as if we had done something outstanding. We miss transformation moments because we give people financial assistance rather than Jesus.

Second, Peter preached the words of Moses which basically said "listen to the Messiah or be cut off." Those words made me think of the many people who have never heard of the Messiah. They made me think about people I knew that have died without hearing them. They also made me consider the time we spend bickering over how to interpret some of those words. When its all said and done, perhaps the most important thing it made me think of was "am I still listening?"

I was raised with the mindset that God spoke and it was recorded. The revelation was concluded and now we refer back to those words. Yet I believe there is more. The timely words of a friend, the advice of a coworker, the recorded words of a wise author -- surely the words of God take shape in human voice. I imagine he speaks much more than I listen. In addition to the recorded word, he has a history of speaking through prophets, dreams, burning bushes, and even donkeys. Scripture rarely refers to a deficit in his communication; rather, it is the phrase "he who has ears to hear, let him hear" that seem to show up with frequency. So if he still speaks and Peter calls us to listen or be cut off, the question of the day is "Am I listening?" Are my ears attuned to his voice? Do I hear a phrase or receive a message and perceive who the real author is? Do I allow him outside of the book? Am I listening?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Acts 2:14-47; The Message

I've heard many messages throughout the years directed at evangelism. The sermons and classes range from "come be a part of our great community" to "get out of hell" to "this is the best life you can have now" to "health and wealth". It makes us sound so Walmart. "If you want it, we got it. We can meet every need and make this fun at the same time. You are a consumer and we have what you want."

Peter wasn't preaching any of those messages. His singular point was Jesus. This was the son of God that we crucified but that God exalted by resurrection. Respond to this man. Then God will forgive you of your mistakes and empower you to be different by placing his Spirit in you.

We can claim that we have adjusted the message to be a better cultural fit, but I think that is an excuse. Paul preached to both Jew and Gentile. His approach would vary but his core message never did.

Perhaps the real issue here is not so much what our ministers and our churches preach in order to gain members but rather what do I preach by my life? Does my life show that my primary concern is being just good enough to not be condemned to hell? Is the message I exude simply "I love my community"? (which sounds a lot like "I love my bank"). Or maybe "this is a really good life?" All of those are open to subjectivity; each can be debated. The life that states "I follow Jesus", however, is a life that preaches a relationship. It might include all the other messages but they are quite secondary to the message of life with God.

This Christianity thing is about a man, a person named Jesus. Everything else flows from that one point. Anything else as our primary message means that we are unfaithful to that man and it is no longer Christianity.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Acts 2:1-13; Good Question

People in the crowd asked "What does this mean?" Great question. Some did not ask a question at all; they simply drew a conclusion. It seemed obvious to them that the apostles were all drunk; the explanation came easily. But it came too easily. They could only see what they looked for. The truth came to those who asked questions.

It was an open question that allowed for answers outside of what they expected. It was a question that a child would raise as his eyes spread wide with the wonder of a new site. Most importantly, it was a question that would allow room for God to reveal something.

I believe that God is still very much at work in this world. I don't believe that he always works in the ways or people that I anticipate. My fear is that I often see new things and respond with old explanations. Instead of questions that invite God into my worldview, I give answers that lock him out. Answers are always much more comfortable and secure. Asking a question invites change, which can often be difficult. Yet, it was only those who asked questions that eventually saw the truth. So perhaps instead of focusing upon an answer to every problem in life, the real key is to have a question for every event in life.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Acts 1:12-26; Wait

Acts 1:3 says that Jesus appeared to the apostles over a period of forty days. Chapter 2 starts with the day of Pentecost. That leaves a gap of ten days in which 1:12-26 occurs. Ten days of prayer and discernment. Ten days of waiting -- just like Jesus told them to do in verse 4 ("wait for the gift").

We love life when things are happening; we hate waiting. As North Americans we are particulary bad about it. In this society, to wait is to lose time and opportunity. To wait is to be unproductive. Yet, if truth be told, perhaps the real reason that waiting is so hard is that to wait means to listen to my own thoughts. It is to hear what is really inside. In the busy times, there is no opportunity for reflection and change. We simply react with little thinking. In waiting there is no external activity, no crowds, no accolades; there is only the silent company of memories.

Before launching his church, Jesus had the apostles wait. He did not speak to them for ten days. They waited. Sat. Contemplated. Lingered. Questioned. Remembered. Surely their understanding of Jesus was crystalized in those quiet moments. Surely their understanding of who he was, who they were and what they were to do became starkly clear. Only after this would God use them.

Today we want to skip the waiting and the quiet. We believe that we are lazy people if we sit, contemplate and linger. Perhaps that is why our busyness never leads to the productivity we truly crave. Perhaps God is still hoping to launch some of his greatest works on earth but he needs his people to wait first. After all, a night alone on the mountain led to choosing the twelve, solitude in the garden led to the cross and waiting in the upper room led to Pentecost.

I wonder what waiting in my life might lead to?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Acts 1:1-11; Began

Luke starts out this book with a definite transition section. He says that his first volume was about what Jesus "began" to do and teach; then he quickly moves into the promise of the Holy Spirit. From word go this is going to be a continuation story in which the baton has been passed from Jesus to the Holy Spirit.

It is that little word "began" that amazes me. More often than not I think of the life of Jesus as a complete entity, something that was not just a beginning but was a beginning and end like all of our lives. Yet that is not the impression I get here. Luke did not write saying Jesus came and went; now we all look back to him. Rather he writes that Jesus only began. There is more to the story. He launched something that is greater than just his life. He seems to say, "don't look back; that was only the first act in the play."

Jesus' story was intimately tied with the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church. One was the ongoing story of the other. Yet, the same spirit continues working in us today. What a message, that we are now the ongoing story of Jesus. We are now the next act in the play. I am more than just one person in a billion who will soon pass away. No, my life is the ongoing story of the Messiah who broke into this world in a powerful way to advance the kingdom of God. Jesus only began the play but I get to advance the same play. He began; we continue.

(Walt Whitman: O ME! OF LIFE!)
O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more
faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever
renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.