Thursday, June 30, 2005

Acts 8:26-40

There are several things that strike me in today’s passage.

First, the meeting described here on first glance seems to be the result of chance. Philip follows a prompting to travel in a certain direction on a given road and just happens to meet an Ethiopian. But for Philip it is not a chance occurrence; it is God’s guiding, an opportunity to share the God’s love with another.

Could it be that the people who will cross your path today will not do so by accident? Might it be that even in encounters with people you may not know God is opening an opportunity for you to share His love? Are you looking for that?

Second, the man Philip meets is black. It is one more instance that makes clear that God’s love is for everybody; black or white, young or old, male of female. There are not meant to be any social barriers, no “hindrances” that the Gospel cannot bridge. Nothing places a person beyond the saving call of God in Christ.

Third, I love the way the Ethiopian immediately goes public with his faith. Seeing water, he asks to be baptized right away. It’s a bold profession of his new belief in Christ made right out in the open, right along a public road, no matter who might be watching.

He is not concerned with being embarrassed. He is not concerned with persecution. He is not concerned with being mocked. He has come to embrace Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and frankly he apparently wants the whole world to know.

Which raises the question of how we feel about Jesus. Are we embarrassed by him? Ashamed of him? Afraid of him and what he might ask of us? Or are we those who like the Ethiopian Eunuch, are willing to live out our faith in public right out in front of everybody?

Finally, I can’t help but notice the Ethiopian goes away rejoicing. If our Christianity is no longer a source of deep and abiding joy for us, then something has gone wrong. We need to go back and ponder anew the Good News of all that God has done for us in Christ.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Acts 8:14-25

In our reading for today we have an interesting story involving a man named Simon. Simon witnessed people receiving the Holy Spirit with what seemed to be the touch (laying of hands) of Peter and John.

Simon, wanting power and prestige, offered Peter and John money to show him how he could give the Holy Spirit to others by laying his hands on them. Simon thought he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to see how misguided people could feel that way in today's materialistic world just as Simon did almost 2,000 years ago.

Of course Peter harshly rebukes Simon and tells him his heart is not right with God. The only way to receive the Holy Spirit is to do what Peter tells Simon to do - turn from sin, ask God for forgiveness, and ask God to fill you with His Spirit. No amount of money can buy salvation or forgiveness of sin. These are only gained by repentance and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior.

Now you might be saying to yourself that I am stating the fairly obvious, and I would agree with you. But the next part of the story makes a very strong point that can easily be overlooked. After Peter harshly rebukes Simon, Simon does not get angry or defensive, he asks Peter to pray for him. The last time someone rebuked you, a friend, your boss, a teacher, your parent, were you angry or defensive? I know I can get that way in a hurry. If someone rebukes us for a serious mistake and does it for our own good, we should follow Simon’s example, admit our error, repent, and pray for God's forgiveness.

Some would say that Simon shows us how not to act. When we first meet Simon I would have to agree. But I would submit that Simon's true teaching is showing us the proper way to receive criticism and to change our ways.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Acts 8:1-13

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem…. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

There are certain plants whose seeds are released only after they have been exposed to fire. For example, the jack pine, unlike many other tree species, does not drop all of its seeds as they ripen. The majority of the seeds remain protected in closed cones with a waxy outer coating.

When a fire occurs, the thick cone protects the jack pine seed from the intense heat. Jack pine seeds have been known to still be viable after exposure to heat at 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s that heat, however, that opens the scales of the cone and releases the seed onto the ground where the fire has removed much of the existing vegetation and litter.

And, since jack pine seeds also require contact with mineral soil to germinate, a fire that, at first glance, may seem destructive ends up serving to prepare the seedbed, reducing competition from other plants, and releasing the jack pine seed. It is only through fire that these seeds can fulfill the purpose for which they were created.

This in many ways demonstrates how God can use the "fire" of hard times in our lives. By exposing us to difficult times, the seedbed of our heart can be better prepared to hear the Word of God. Often, too, hard times serve to eliminate the clutter of our lives, clutter that often competes for attention that could otherwise be focused on God. As our hearts soften and clutter is eliminated, we find God has planted a seed of the plan He has in mind for us, a seed that draws us nearer to Him and makes us more fruitful in His service.

In the same way that the fire of persecution of the church at Jerusalem resulted in the fruitful spreading of the Word two thousand years ago, the difficult times of our lives today can also result in glorious kingdom gains not only for each one of us but also for those around us.

Mark Vereb

Monday, June 27, 2005

Acts 7:44 - 8:1

Today’s reading starts amid a lengthy response to a question. It ends with death and persecution. The response was by Stephen, a follower of Jesus, to a question from a religious court in Jerusalem. The hearing was convened to investigate charges against him. Followers of Jesus esteemed Stephen for living faithfully in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Opponents despised Stephen for his testimony to Jesus. To stop him, they brought him to trial. (To understand more fully, read Acts 6:1 through 8:3.)

The authorities’ asked, “Are these charges true?” That is, “Are you proclaiming Jesus against the law of Moses and the temple worship?” Stephen’s response was long and detailed. In sum, Stephen explained that Jesus, God’s unique representative, did not contradict the law and the temple but fulfilled them. Now – declared Stephen, calmly but boldly – the Jesus you killed is alive, reigning with God. Outraged, members of the court dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death, a terrible punishment. Thus Stephen entered fully into that loving embrace by Jesus which is life after death.

It is easy to fear. If we speak about our faith in Jesus, what will others say? If we show by our life that we follow him rather than the ways of the group, society, or culture in which we live, what will people do? We may experience scorn and derision. In some places, standing up for Jesus may result in serious, even mortal, harm. If we fear others’ opinions, how much more might we fear the possibility of actual harm and death?

Yet Stephen stood up for Jesus despite accusation, arrest, and death. Others have done the same throughout history. Believers continue to stand up for Jesus despite scorn, hostility, and harm. How can this be done? The answer is in the phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55). Jesus promised his followers that they need not fear – the Holy Spirit would infuse, strengthen, and guide them. If the Spirit did this for Stephen and others throughout history, and if the Spirit continues to do this for believers around the world, will he not do so for you and me if, trusting in him, we stand up for Jesus by word and life, filled with grace and power?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Romans 4:13-25

Belief is a powerful thing. Here in this passage we are shown just how powerful.

Abraham and Sarah are old. I don't mean Tom Leary old (30) or even umm, never mind, (I don't want to get myself in trouble by mentioning how old other people are). Regardless, they are far beyond child rearing age or even being able to get around with energy, yet God’s plan was for them to bear and raise a child. Personally I have a hard time keeping up with Rachel at times with my minor aches. They not only had a child but also had the energy to successfully raise that child.

They believed even when it seemed impossible for God's promise to be fulfilled. They did stumble in that belief, but who doesn't? They were only human, just like us. In the end God makes the impossible happen.

I have had an amazing life. It's been terrible at times for sure, but every moment has led to who I am and the incredible gift God has made this life. Even though I have hard times, I do continue to believe that God has His plan and I just need to follow it. While I do believe, does my belief equal Abraham's? I will continue to pray and model my faith with his.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

Acts 7:30-43

Stephen's bold, impassioned speech continues, echoing the assertion previously made by Peter in Acts 3:23, that Jesus is indeed the Messianic fulfillment of the promise that God made to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18 to "raise up for them a prophet like you." Point upon point Stephen makes his argument that Moses was ruler and deliverer, and was used powerfully by God to set his chosen people free, and yet...

"This was the man who received words, living words, which were to be given to you; and this was the man to whom our forefathers turned a deaf ear!" (7:38-39, Phillips trans.)

They then took it far beyond that, those in the wilderness of Sinai as well as the contemporaries of the prophet Amos whom Stephen quotes here, manufacturing and worshipping idols, with the consequence of separating themselves utterly and eternally from God.

These words come to us today, and they are still living words, and still carry the power of life and the power to deliver us from slavery. Are we listening?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Acts 7:17-29

“The Puffballs”

Last week in our garden I was treated to the sight and sound of a very noisy creature. It did look like a little puffball and was actually a very young bird; ping-pong ball sized with fuzz and a stump of a tail. Its size to volume ratio was very high (it was hungry and requesting food from the parent it was following around the garden).

Jesus uses small birds as an example of how God cares for us (Matt. 10:29). Don’t be afraid, Jesus says, God sees the sparrows and so He surely sees you. When I first reread this discourse by Stephen in Acts 7 I was struck by God’s care for the Jews. A lot of time went by between the time when God made His promises to Abraham, and the time when He sent Moses the deliverer, but still God saw and cared for the Jews, and God has His plan. First Moses was born, then when he was forty years old he thought he’d be recognized by the Jews (v. 25), but Moses had to flee to the desert for another forty years. So at least eighty years went by, but God still had His plan for Moses and for the Jews. Likewise, God has His plan for us and for our children whom He loves.

I admire Stephen so much for his bravery also. He pointed out here that the Jews had at first rejected Joseph, then Moses, and now Jesus. Stephen gave his life for telling the truth about God’s plan and now is with the Lord. I thank God for these brave people who sacrificed so that we would know the Lord.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Acts 6:15-7:16

As today’s reading opens, Stephen has been arrested for his open association with Jesus Christ. In the eyes of many of his contemporaries, this made him seem like an enemy of the temple, the tradition of Moses, and indeed of God himself. Just like Jesus before him, he too is being tried for blasphemy.

It is perhaps worth noting right off the bat how Stephen addresses his accusers. “Brothers and fathers,” he says. In other words, he is not defiant or disrespectful. He understands his connection to them even if they do not recognize their connection to him.

I don’t think these are empty words or political maneuvering. Believing the best in love, “Brothers and fathers” is genuinely how Stephen chooses to see his opponents.
Interestingly, it doesn’t cause him to hold back or “dumb down” the truth. The Old Testament stories Stephen chooses in these verses tell that God is not tied down to a specific location such as a land or building, and shows how He has worked to save His people through the unexpected means of a misunderstood and persecuted person.

The parallels to Jesus and his message are obvious, and they will not be missed.

We often see Stephen as a bold witness for Jesus, and he was. But I think it is important that we also see him as a loving witness as well. His love was expressed both in his attitude and in his willingness to tell the truth, each complementing the other.

May we do no less.

Even when we disagree—particularly when we disagree!—may we treat one another with love, as sisters and mothers, brothers and fathers. And then, graciously and respectfully as we would with our mother or father, sister or brother, may we not shrink back from speaking the truth—even when the truth may be hard to hear and when doing so may come at great personal cost.

Both love and truth go hand in hand, and I’d suggest that either one without the other is not a truly Christian witness.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Acts 6:1-15

Once again our reading today from the book of Acts has a lot to say. I find the first part of the reading to be especially helpful to me and thus I will concentrate my writing on that part as I hope it is helpful to you too.

In the first part of the reading the disciples faced a problem. To solve this problem themselves, the distribution of food to the needy, they would have to reduce the amount of time they spent on spreading the Word of Jesus. The first lesson we receive from this account is that the disciples had their priorities in the correct order. The ministry of the Word should never be neglected because of administrative burdens. Pastors, priests, and leaders of churches cannot do everything themselves. They must focus a great deal of their attention on sharing the Word of Christ with others. Thus, they must find others to help run the church and its ministries.

The people the disciples chose to manage the food distribution process had to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Obviously from these requirements, the Bible is telling us that the administrative tasks of a church are not to be taken lightly. The administrative tasks of a church are heavy responsibilities. People who carry them out must be spiritually mature and wise.

The final lesson this part of the reading teaches us is that every person has a vital part to play in the life of the church. If you are a leader, as the disciples clearly were, and find yourself overwhelmed by responsibilities, determine your God-given talents, concentrate your efforts where those talents can best be used, and then find others to help take on the remaining responsibilities. If you are not in leadership, you have other gifts that God has given you to help run His church. Cheerfully offer these gifts in service to Him. Do not ever feel that your gift, or part in running the church, is insignificant or unimportant. It takes the application of all the gifts God has created to make the church operate correctly - yours and mine.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Acts 5:27-42

As I read today’s passage, I can’t help but be struck by the pure and simple logic expressed by Gamaliel: "Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

Today’s passage is a continuation of the narrative begun yesterday. Jesus’ followers are before the Sanhedrin after their (unintended) release. The Sanhedrin are very unhappy with the apostles. In fact, they are furious and plot to kill this small band of men just as they had killed their leader, Jesus. It is at this point that Gamaliel speaks up.

We’re not told whether Gamaliel is a secret admirer or follower of Jesus; he probably is not. We can deduce that he is a wise man. We know he is a Pharisee, a teacher of the law (Paul was one of his students) and that he was held in respect by all the people. He describes parallel situations (or so it seems) with two other men who had a sizable number of followers. In each case, the group dispersed upon the death of the leader. Gamaliel recommends leaving the apostles alone by suggesting they will amount to nothing without their leader.

What Gamaliel and the Sanhedrin don’t know, however, is that these men are not without their leader. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they have become emboldened to carry on the work given to them by God. Since it is from God, these men were, as Gamaliel suggested, not able to be stopped.

…if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men….

There are two ways to look at this simple statement.

The first is to help us question our motives: are they of human origin or from God?

The second is to challenge our faith: what will we attempt knowing that, being from God, it cannot fail?

Mark Vereb

Monday, June 20, 2005

Acts 5:12-26

The first followers of Jesus knew well that he had been arrested and executed by religious and political authorities in Jerusalem for living the good news of God’s kingdom. They also knew that Jesus had been raised by God to new life and new rule. They knew that Jesus had overcome evil and death through trusting and obeying God.

After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the lives of the apostles were transformed through the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. In the power of the Spirit, they could not help but carry on Jesus’ life of living the good news of the kingdom. Hence, they met regularly in a public area of the temple grounds in Jerusalem to grow in faith and to tell others about Jesus. In response, many became followers of Jesus.

The religious authorities countered by forbidding the apostles from speaking publicly about Jesus. They even arrested and jailed them. The apostles were keenly aware of what had happened to Jesus. What would happen to them?

God answered the question. God sent an angel to release the apostles in the night. A welcome turn of events! And yet … God instructed the released apostles to return to the temple and continue to proclaim the message of new life in Jesus! They had been threatened and arrested for doing just this. Now God had freed them, not for safety from controversy and danger, but for the very activity forbidden by the authorities. God sent them back to the temple to stand up for Jesus in front of all – religious and political authorities and any others they could tell.

Jesus is not one more asset or comfort added to “the good life” we desire – like new clothes, a better job, a fancier car, the latest electronics, a bigger home, or any other “add-on.” Jesus is life itself. The apostles knew this. We must know it, too, and follow Jesus accordingly. Following Jesus will threaten, arrest, and even end life as we once lived it. Yet, in God’s good news of release, it will free us for true life, for transformed life in the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 19, 2005

James 1:1-18

As volunteers we could walk away from anything we are tasked with and leave it behind. Have any of you just walked away from something, wiping a clean slate regardless of the loose ends left behind? I know I've done this more than I care to admit (or more than I can even count).

I recently had a discussion with a youth group member and they told me they never look forward to going to their dance class each week. She knew that once she got there she'd enjoy it and feel much better having done it. She just didn’t look forward to attending dance again. Sure enough, that night she had a great time at class and couldn’t figure out why she considered skipping. I’ve done the same thing myself (not with dance, I’d turn myself into a pretzel… and never get untangled).

This question is raised for me though, what am I doing with my entire life? When I get bored of some part of it, will I just hand that part I don’t like off (or give up on life all together)? When I get tired of my wife, will I hand her off to some other guy? When our daughter Rachel becomes too much to handle will I just hand her off to someone else? Okay, I'll gladly give her to a babysitter... But not forever! When I volunteer to help out will I skip out assuming someone else will fill in the gap?

We need to persevere in our lives. It's only through committing to our own life that we will not lack for anything at the end. Look around your own life, what's worth committing to. We often don't spend enough time focusing on ourselves.

I need to make a promise to myself that I will commit to this life I’m living, persevering through the good and the bad times. Will you make that same commitment to yourself?

Tom Leary

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Acts 4:32-5:11

In the first part of today's reading, Luke speaks of a church united in heart and soul, where possessions are voluntarily sold to meet the needs of all, and "there was not a needy person among them." Luke embodies this ideal in Barnabas, who sells everything he has and gives all the proceeds to the apostles for those in need.

It is difficult to imagine a Barnabas in today's society. Grace remains ours for the asking. Faith is part of the foundation of Christianity. Yet, we struggle with disentangling ourselves from our possessions. No matter how generous we may be in our charitable donations or in our tithing to the church, we can't seem to help acquiring, collecting, accumulating.

When I lived in Miami, I had a friend whose father grew frail with age. No longer able to care for himself, Norma's dad had to sell his home and furnishings and move in with her. She lived in a small house, one already filled with her possessions. There, her dad had his own room. In his room, he had a chest of drawers, and a closet. He quickly filled these with his possessions. But he had more, in boxes. He stacked those boxes against the walls of his bedroom and around his bed. When he had finished stacking the boxes in his room, all that remained was a narrow passageway from the door to his bed, his chest of drawers, and the closet. Even the window was blocked. And so he lived the last year of his life surrounded by his boxes of stuff. And so he died. Within a week of his funeral, his room in Norma's house was once again empty, except for the bed and the empty chest of drawers. And the window once again welcomed the light and the warm rays of the sun.

Lord, please fill us with the grace to sever the ties that bind us to our possessions, so that, rather than weeding through and trying to organize our "stuff," we may spend more time reading Your Word, tending to each other's needs, and touching each other's lives. Help us become a church united in heart and soul so that "there is no needy person" among us. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, June 17, 2005

Acts 2:37-47

"A Glimpse of Heaven" is seen in this description of the very early church. "Save yourselves, get out now!" from this world and our culture, is what Peter advises the people who heard about Jesus and asked, "now what do we do?" The "now what" becomes the church, and this familiar passage describes their life together, listening to the apostles' teaching, praying, sharing meals and miracles, having glad and sincere hearts (v. 46; that's the line I love).
I can look back on many glimpses of heaven which I have seen, in the form of the church. I see Richard , a busy man who sat at his computer one day last year and found a mission trip for our youth, growing us all stronger. I see people who care enough to give their time and sit on church committees,. I look back and see people in my church as I was a teenager, offering kind words. I look around at people who are an example to me with their gentleness and kindness (I am sometimes awestruck by how far I have to go to be Christlike, even though I have followed Him for so long!). I see teenagers, spending time with their little siblings.

Please pray for the church in Southern Sudan. I had dinner this evening with a women for whom the "what now" has resulted in her having a burden for this persecuted church. She devotes a majority of her time to raising awareness, funds, prayer and people to work for the church in Sudan. She travels to the Sudan, bringing practical resources and I ask you today to spend a few minutes in prayer for these people or other peoples who struggle so, including helpless children. I think people who are "rememberers" have a special gift, the abilty to remember and prayer for those who need God's mercy.

I really admire many of you who say, "what now?" and do God's work.

Linda Merola

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Acts 2:22-36

Today’s reading continues Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost. “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah,” Peter says.

On one level, that is such a simple statement—a historical declaration about what happened at a certain place and time. But on another level, it is such a powerful reminder of the basic template of life meant for all people at all times:

In the midst of our inclination to the sinfulness which marks the lives of even the most holy amongst us—know this, that Jesus is Lord and Savior.

Because you see, when we indulge that inclination to sinfulness we are not living like Jesus is Lord and Savior. We are living like there is a different law operating in the universe—that we can somehow escape the consequences of sin, and perhaps even benefit from it.
Be assured, Peter says, no matter how it seems in the moment, that is not the case. Jesus is Lord and Savior. I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded of that.

As I write this, I am at a conference with thousands of other Christians. We come for a lot of different reasons, but most of all I think we come to proclaim with Peter to all who will listen, “Jesus is Lord and Savior.”

And the thing is, because we want to do this with all our might; with all that is within us; with “empty pockets” (nothing held back) it makes me realize how often I fail to do this. How very often I don’t really live like Jesus is Lord and Savior. It breaks my heart.

Be assured, Jesus says, that I am Lord and Savior. Have that assurance—read “firm, unwavering conviction”—and it can’t help but change your life.

Lord, change my life. As you have so many times before, do so again today. Right here. Right now. Help me love you more, serve you more faithfully, and worship you more wholeheartedly.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Acts 2:1-21

Our Bible reading for today has two main parts. Part one is a description of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples at Pentecost and part two is Peter beginning his speech to the crowd in Jerusalem. Both of these parts have a special meaning for me. They both provide me a message.

Have you ever wanted God to make His presence known to you in as spectacular a way as He did on the day of Pentecost for the disciples? After all, wouldn't it be nice for God to let us know He has something to tell us, to get our attention, by sending violent wind, fire, and the Holy Spirit to announce His message? Most of the time God does not use this technique to get our attention. God often speaks in a gentle whisper. It is true that God sometimes uses dramatic methods in our lives to get our attention, but more often He does not. Thus, we must always listen for God's word. This first part continues to remind me that in our busy lives we must find the time to clear our minds and listen for God's whisper.

The second part of today's reading is about one of my Bible heroes, Peter. Have you ever felt as if you have made such bad mistakes that God could never forgive you? I know I have. This is why Peter is one of my heroes. While following Jesus, Peter had a short temper, was an unstable leader, and denied Christ three times on the night before His execution. It would seem to me that these characteristics would disqualify Peter from being useful to fulfill Christ's work on earth. But Christ forgave Peter and restored him. No matter what sins you or I have committed, God promises to forgive us if we truly repent. Once we have repented God can then use us to further His kingdom. Peter allowed God to forgive him and then to use him. If God can use someone like Peter, with all of his human faults, then He can certainly use us to advance His kingdom. The story of Peter provides me with inspiration as we, and especially me, all have our human faults.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Acts 1:15-26

Today’s passage describes the process the disciples used for finding a replacement for Judas. The steps they took are a model for us when we find ourselves at various decision points in life.

The first thing the disciples did was look to the Word of God. In this instance, they knew that another leader was to be selected because it was specifically written. Many times we will not find an explicit directive in the Bible to guide our decision-making process. However, being familiar with God’s Word lays such a foundation that we can know what we are to do even if it’s not directly stated. Note, however, that the only way to become familiar with God’s Word is to read it on a regular basis. Using the lectionary is a great way of methodically working through the Bible but there are also other methods available also (see here or here).

The disciples then consulted with other believers. Whether we find an explicit directive in the Bible or not (but especially if we do not), it is wise to consult other believers. This is a way of validating your thought processes as well as making yourself accountable to others. If you don’t already have one, I would suggest you find a small group of people you can call upon to discuss decisions you need to make. You need to be completely honest with the group so it must consist of people you trust but you will find it of great benefit once you have one.

The last thing the disciples do is pray for God’s wisdom and discernment. I’m not suggesting you necessarily rely on casting lots, but discussing it with the God who knows everyone’s heart, including yours, should be a crucial step in any decision you make. You are sure to gain a sense of peace and tranquility as you find your will aligning with God’s during your decision making process.

May God draw us nearer to Him as we avail ourselves of His Holy Word, the company of other believers and especially of His guidance and wisdom. Amen.

Mark Vereb

Monday, June 13, 2005

Acts 1:1-14

The book of Acts, written by Luke, a first-century physician and follower of Jesus, is a sequel to the Gospel that Luke wrote. Luke’s Gospel conveys the story of the life and teaching of Jesus. Acts conveys the story of the first followers of Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Actually, it is more accurate to say, “after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.” Acts does open with an affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is critical. Just as importantly, Acts opens with an account of the ascension of Jesus to God’s right hand in heaven. The telling of the ascension in these verses is so succinct it is easy to miss the significance! Yet the ascension is critical.

Why is the ascension critical for those first followers? The ascension sets up all the acts in Acts. In two respects, it is the critical prelude to the character and behavior of the burgeoning community of Jesus-followers. (1) The ascension demonstrates that Jesus is savior and lord. Thus, Jesus takes his divine place as ruler of all creation. (2) The ascension opens the way for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to shape those followers of Jesus after the mind and heart of Jesus. The Spirit makes them the Church – the body of Christ in the world!

What is the significance of the ascension for us? (1) It means Jesus is lord – lord of the cosmos, lord of you and me. Nothing is outside his love and rule. We need not fear. We can trust him. For through the Spirit, Jesus is present in all places and times. (2) If no area of life is outside of Jesus, we ought to give our whole life over to his love and rule. We can trust Jesus with all we are and all we can be. For through the Spirit, Jesus enables us to live faithfully in his love and rule. Through the Spirit, Jesus enables us to tell others the good news of his love and rule.

As told in Acts, this is the story of the first followers of Jesus after his death, resurrection, and ascension. It is our story, too!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Revelation 15:1-8

I give a lot of thought to my life and how I live each day. As I run around at work I often wonder if what I'm doing really does make a difference in the world. Are the products I design and implement really changing someone's life for the better? Most importantly I wonder if I am living God's plan for my life.

We're shown the beginning of the End of Days. This dream of our future explains the seven plagues which will infest the earth. Those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior have been rescued from earth and are at home with Christ.

There are some days that I really feel like I am not making a difference. Especially those days after we deliver a product, I just come into work fried and tend to veg out a bit. I don't mean I slack off and do nothing, but I sure do things a lot slower just to get back into the swing of normal life.

While I feel like I need these relaxing days, they are also troubling to me. I generally sit at work wasting some time. Then head home and just sit watching television. Where in all of this is God? He's obviously with me and encouraging my actions, but I'm just focusing on myself and what will make me feel better.

God does want us to feel good about ourselves and have great lives. Unfortunately that doesn't mean we'll do what we want and always be happy. There have been times in life where I have been given responsibilities from God which are so troubling I just have to cry. Other responsibilities where I have no idea what to do and really need a few hours to focus on Him and His desires. If you know me, taking a few hours to think on something is generally a commodity I don't give myself, and yet here God is forcing me to take this time.

My challenge for myself is to live each day where I make at least one action which is for God alone. I think I'll start that today with a phone call I should have made two weeks ago.

Will you live God's plan for your life each day? What will you be doing when the end comes? Will you be ready when it's time to meet Jesus face to face?

Tom Leary

Saturday, June 11, 2005

2 Corinthians 13:1-14

Paul is making his 3rd visit to Corinth—forewarned is forearmed, better be ready all of ye
Out-of-control Corinthians. Paul’s coming, with his own brand of tough love.
There’s going to be a trial, the truth will be tested and truth will prevail. Two or three
Say so (the Law says that’s enough), and Paul will speak for all three if need be.

And more than Paul, there is the ever-present witness of Christ himself.
As J.B. Phillips has it in 13:3,
“The Christ you have to deal with is not a weak person outside you,
but a tremendous power inside you.” IF, indeed “you are really Christ’s” (13:5).
No one gets a free pass on the test.
The answer to the test is wonderful news, unless it is the worst possible news.
(And even that is not final until it is the Final Test).
Ultimately Paul wants only what is best and true for them,
Not to break them down, but to build them up.

The wonder of this letter (as with so much of Paul’s writing) is that it
Spoke so directly and powerfully to a distant people in a distant time, yet
Speaks with such force to us. Truth matters in the Church, then and now.
Authority matters. Pastoral discipline for the purpose of building up
Is a duty for those who are so called and in whom the Spirit of Christ
Lives, and yes, still speaks.

For all of us, there is the charge: Examine Yourselves.
Be ready. Remember that even in and especially in our
Weakness, the Strength of Christ is ready to move out,
To be the hands and feet of Jesus.

One commentator summarizes I and II Corinthians (from which we now move on)
“It is difficult to know whether to be more astonished at the dauntless faith and magnificent courage of the apostle, who might have given up in despair, or whether to be more heartened that it was upon such unpromising foundations that God built a world church. (William Neil)”

There must be hope for us too!

Friday, June 10, 2005

II Cor. 12:11-21

As I read this passage I am struck by Paul’s faith in God. Paul is in difficulty here; He has worked so hard so that the people of Corinth would grow in Christ, and he has been met with rumors and mistrust. The seed of the gospel which Paul tried to sow apparently did not take root with many, who continued to sin (v. 21). He loved God so much and it must have been discouraging at times. But in this passage Paul’s love comes through, not impatience.

“What I want is not your possessions but you.” (v 14).

Paul says he would spend all he has for them, even his life (v.16)

“Everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening” (v.19)

Elsewhere, Paul calls the Corinthians “my dear children” (I Cor. 5:14). He just keeps encouraging them and reminding them that they are loved by God and by Him.

I guess sometimes that’s all we can be, is a reminder. I love you. God loves you. Keep going. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be distracted by the shiny things of the world or by dreams of glory. Be a servant. Care.

Paul never stopped being a reminder, a living memo; like one of those yellow post-it notes stuck on the world. It reads, “God’s.”

Thursday, June 09, 2005

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Though once again the passage for the day is a gold mine of material, what really impresses me is Paul’s reticence to make himself look better than he really is. He is unwilling to create an exaggerated image of himself—even if (unlike the people giving him grief) he has solid grounds to create such an image.

The line that really jumps out at me is the first half of verse 6: But I refrain from it [boasting], so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me… In other words, Paul doesn’t want people thinking highly of him (and therefore granting him special rights and privileges) based on his reputation, qualifications, or even past experiences.

Paul simply wants the Corinthians to judge him on how faithfully he represents Jesus in the here and now, day in and day out. His credibility rests on the fidelity of his witness to Christ, not on the strength of the claims he or anybody else might make about him.

And interestingly, Paul has found that this witness is so much more powerful in weakness than in strength; in insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities rather than success. For whenever I am weak, Paul writes, then Christ is strong.

That runs so counter to our culture, even in the church, of celebrity and spin. It runs so counter to the way I often try to present myself; to the privileges to which I sometimes feel I am entitled; and to both the things I seek in life and the reasons I seek them.

What would it look like for churches to get off this bigger is better kick; this “successful entrepreneurial pastor kick” where the person leading the church really isn’t a pastor at all but a thinly disguised business person; this glitz and glamour kick; this power kick where culture is shaped not through love or sharing Christ but in attempting to force others to see things our way?

So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, Paul writes, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. That, friends, is a message the church needs to hear today. It’s a message I need to hear. Could it be that you do too?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

2 Corinthians 11:21-33

If I truly believe in heaven, a place where I will live for all eternity, a place where there is a peace and a joy beyond my limited human capacity to comprehend, what wouldn't I do to get there? One way to get to heaven is to surrender our own will and to live in the will of God; to live per God's calling and guidance. If I am living in accordance with God's calling for me, is there a trial or suffering that is too great for me to bear in this life?

When I read this section of this letter to the Corinthians, it is amazing to me to reflect on Paul's account of the dangers, hardships, and sufferings he endured and at the same time to see his patience, perseverance, diligence, and cheerfulness in the midst of these trials. Paul says he has been imprisoned, received 39 lashes five different times, been beaten with rods three different times, been stoned, been shipwrecked three times, often gone without sleep, known hunger and thirst, and been cold and naked. When I compare my trials and sufferings in my service for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they seem unworthy of notice when compared to his. Sometimes the comparative puny trials I am called to face can almost break my spirit to continue. It is extremely humbling to realize what Paul suffered in his walk with God. When I feel like giving up the things I hear God calling me to do, I like to reread this passage. It puts it all back in perspective for me.

Dear friends, please remember that our faith grows, is strengthened, in times of trials and suffering. It is easy to praise God when things are going well. Our faith will grow when we praise God during a time of suffering. The trials we experience for Christ's sake build our character, demonstrate our faith, and prepare us for further service to the Lord.

May God bless you,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

2 Corinthians 11:1-21

What comes to mind when you hear the word "comfort"?

For some, it may be the ability to acquire new things such as a luxurious car or a second home. For others, it may be enjoying an item already owned such as a favorite chair or a favorite pair of slippers. For yet others, it may be a special treat such as a nice massage or snuggling under a blanket next to the fireplace on a chilly day. However we may envision it, it is safe to say that comfort will be something over and above the bare necessities of life.

Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with comfort but it can be a tricky thing. We need to be mindful of several tendencies associated with comfort.

As we become comfortable, we may tend to:

1. Upwardly redefine life’s essentials. Often, our current possessions become the new essentials. Naturally, this results in a corresponding increase of what constitutes a new, higher level of comfort. As that new level is attained, the essentials are again redefined as the cycle continues and we become distantly removed from the original essentials.

2 Become complacent. The drive and intensity with which we once worked is lost as we become accustomed to the comforts of life. The further removed we are from the bare necessities, the more likely we are to take them for granted and the less likely we are to be concerned with them.

3. Isolate ourselves from discomfort and/or those with only the bare necessities. In doing so, we save ourselves the uncomfortable reminder of either where we once were or what we could yet become.

The question then becomes "How comfortable are we in our spiritual lives?" Have we become too comfortable in our Christian walk? Like the Corinthians, are we looking for (or trying to become) super-apostles? Are we too complacent spiritually? Have we isolated ourselves from the essential message of the Gospel and those who have yet to hear it?

More importantly, if the answer to any of the above is "Yes," what will we do about it?

Mark Vereb

Monday, June 06, 2005

2 Corinthians 10:1-18

Paul’s personal witness led to the first followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city in southern Greece. After some time there, Paul left to witness to Jesus elsewhere. But the church in Corinth developed problems. In thought, spirit, and behavior, some were grievously deviating from the teaching of Jesus. Paul responded by writing to the Corinthians, including this letter around 55 A.D.

Paul’s basic point threading through the passage is captured by a contrast early in it. This sets up the rest of his remarks. Paul refers to “some people [in Corinth] who think we live by the standards of this world.” In contrast, Paul writes, “…though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” Thus he draws a sharp distinction between the standards of the world, or human standards, and the standards of the kingdom of God. Paul applies the distinction to how he and the Corinthians should conduct themselves in these problems. Yet he does so because the distinction is fundamental to life for followers of Jesus. We – followers of Jesus – are not to live by worldly standards. Even while our lives are embedded in a particular human society, we are to live by kingdom standards.

With this contrast, Paul characterizes how followers of Jesus are to live. All ideas, attitudes, and behaviors are to be made captive or obedient to Jesus. They are to be shaped by the life and teaching of Jesus, not the spirit and teaching of the world, of human society. When problems arise, we are to resist and overcome wrong ideas, attitudes, and behaviors by kingdom means, by prayer, exhortation, and discipline exercised in love – not by worldly means, not by arrogance, contempt, or hate exercised in anger and violence.

In all we think, feel, and do, with respect to self and others, we are to measure ourselves by Jesus, not by any other measure, whether from our self, our little group, or our society. In the end, we are to live in such a way that Jesus commends us, because his standards, his measure and approval, are infinitely superior to any other standards.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Revelation 12:1-12

This is a hard passage to read, but also one with great hope.

We're hearing about a time when the Devil and his angels will be coming down to earth. Walking among us and converting the world to his ways.

At the same time there really is great hope. We are encouraged that God and His angels carry the greater power. Those of us who live according to His will and accept Jesus as our savior will be welcomed in heaven.

So, the question is simply this. Will you coast through life or decide to live for and through Jesus?

Tom Leary

Saturday, June 04, 2005

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

In this section of his letter, Paul gently reminds the Corinthians of their prior pledge, which remains outstanding. He also writes of the principles of Christian giving: to give freely, cheerfully, and wholeheartedly. Also, to trust that God will provide abundantly for our needs, so that we can continue giving generously, and God will provide abundantly, and we will give generously, and so on and so on.

Paul is referring to money, and money continues to be one of our needs. Today, we hold stewardship campaigns so that we can budget wisely. But that is only part of the picture. We also need pledges of time and talent to enrich and to grow the Body of Christ.

At St. Matthew's, many pledges of time and talent have been made. They are made visible by individuals who generously and lovingly:

Educate our children on Christianity;
Tend to our grounds and buildings;
Prepare the altar;
Assist with worship;
Greet and assist newcomers;
Visit those hospitalized or home-bound;
Lead prayer in assisted living facilities;
Gather to pray on Sunday evenings;
Lend their voices and instruments in praise and thanksgiving;
Arrange the altar flowers;
Document monetary giving;
Meet regularly to plan and to discuss our church and community needs;
Plan our fellowship gatherings;
Quietly perform behind-the-scenes services;
And so much more!

Many pledges of time, talent, and treasures have been made. Have you kept yours, or does it remain outstanding?

Dear God, fill us with grace to cheerfully give of our time through acts of service, to develop our talents and to use them freely, to manage our treasures wisely so that we may give generously -- all for Your honor and glory and in thanksgiving for your "indescribable gift" to us. Amen

Martha Olson

Friday, June 03, 2005

II Corinthians 8:16-24

Paul begins this part of this letter to the church at Corinth with a prayer of thanks. Paul, who has encountered many challenges in his work for Jesus, has found in Titus someone who thinks as he does. I think of what a joy this is to me, to find a Christian friend whom I know holds as important the things I value too. Recently, for example, I spoke with a few St. Matthews friends about my burden and hope for the students in our youth group, that they would consider the claims of Jesus on their life and not “outgrow” the church in their late teens but instead find in the church a group of fellow passionate Christ-followers. How glad I was to find others who share this hope for our kids.

So how glad Paul must have been to find Titus, who cared like he cared. How happy we are to find like-minded Christians, and also believers who are an example to us. I think of all the believers who are an example to me; who work hard, and joyfully, and trust God with the outcome. Paul must have been tempted to worry about the church at Corinth, and other of the new churches, tempted in many ways. But in his letter to the church at Philippi, written while his excitement for Jesus had gotten him house arrest, Paul says, “don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for God, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when God displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Phil. 4:6-7, The Message paraphrase). Thank you, Lord, for Paul and his hard-won experience and exhortation.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

2 Corinthians 8:1-16

It is now June, and most church stewardship campaigns have long since concluded. The spiritual question of what we should do with our money may well have drifted from our minds. But this text will bring it back.

It starts with people giving beyond their means. Not living beyond their means, which seems to more and more be the American way, but giving beyond their means. The only way I know to give beyond one’s means is to live well below them.

Then Paul writes of excelling in giving. We like to excel in a great many things, don’t we? In our jobs, our hobbies, our parenting…but how about our giving? What would it look like in your life and in mine if we were to put as many of our resources into excelling in giving as we put into excelling in other things?

And Paul goes still farther, linking our generosity to Jesus’ generosity. Jesus who was rich became poor for our sakes. Is Paul saying we should do for others what Jesus has done for us? Isn’t that a little extreme?

But he is still not done. Paul writes of balancing our abundance with their need. Ouch. That one really hits home.

You mean I might have to give up some of the good things I have in my abundance so that others might have anything at all? You mean I might have to learn to have less so that others might have more, especially when what they have is pretty much nothing at all?

If Paul gave the stewardship sermon at church, do you think anyone would come back? And if the church ever got serious about living this stuff—as obsessed with being radically generous as she is with other things these days—well, I expect that would be something the world is not used to seeing, and which would be very, very attractive—to say the least.

Rob Merola

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

In this section of Paul’s letter, the part that strikes home for me is his discussion about being truly sorry for sins we commit. In verse 10 he states, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” The first part of verse 10 refers to being so sorrowful for our sins that it results in changed behavior. In other words, learning from our mistakes and living a changed live. The second part of verse 10 (after the comma) refers to only being sorry for the effects of the sin, or for being caught, and thus not changing our behavior to make sure it does not happen again. As none of us are perfect we all sin. When I sin which part of verse 10 more accurately reflects the way I behave? I strive to make it the first part. I hope you do too.

What keeps any of us from always learning from our sin - the realization that we have sinned and changing our behavior so we do not do it again. When someone points our something we have done do we get defensive? Pride is one element that can keep us from admitting our sin. Of course if we do not admit to ourselves that we have sinned then we will never be able to learn from it and change our behavior. I know sometimes pride gets in my way of acknowledging something I did or should have done.

As an illustration, please consider Peter and Judas the night before Jesus was crucified. Both of them denied Christ that evening – both sinned. However, compare Peter’s remorse and repentance with Judas’ bitterness. Peter changed his behavior and went on to become the first pope. Judas was haunted by his sin and committed suicide.

I hope you and I will continue our spiritual growth by learning from our shortcomings and working to change our behavior so we minimize sin. Where the heart is changed, the life and actions will be changed.

May God bless you,
Richard Leach