Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Acts 10:1-16

In today's reading, Luke provides us with two stories. The first is the story of Cornelius calling for Peter and the second is Peter's vision. Let's have a quick look at both of these stories and attempt to understand why Luke shared them with us.

A common question regarding salvation is, what will happen to the people who have never heard about Christ? In today's first story, we are told about a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was not a follower of Christ - in fact he may never have heard of Jesus Christ. However, Cornelius was seeking God as we are told in verse 2, "He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly." As a result, God sends Peter to Cornelius to tell him and his household about Christ. Cornelius is an example of someone who found God by sincerely seeking Him. This story illustrates that God will answer the sincere prayers of those who seek Him by sending the right person, or the right information, to the seeker at the right time. This goes for a Roman soldier or for any of us today.

The second story in today's reading has to do with a vision God gave to Peter. During the time when Peter lived, Jewish law contained strict dietary rules. These rules made it difficult for Jews to eat with Gentiles without risking defilement. In fact, along the vein of you are what you eat, Jews often thought of Gentiles as being unclean. But verse 15 clearly countermands this perception, "... Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." This vision showed Peter that he should not look upon Gentiles as inferior people whom God would not save. This vision cleared Peter's conscience and made him realize that he not only could go into a Gentile's home to preach the Gospel, but that he should go in.

So in today's reading we have two stories. The first corroborating the old saying, seek and ye shall find, and the second telling us that God made everything and everyone and thus there is no place we should fear going to spread the Word.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Monday, August 28, 2006

Acts 9:19-31

Devoted to God, Saul had ardently opposed those who followed Jesus. Then, on his way to inflict his zeal on the Jesus-community in Damascus, Saul encountered the risen Jesus. That is, more truly, Jesus confronted Saul. In the exchange, Jesus revealed himself as lord of life and all creation to the world-upturned Saul. Blinded by glory, Saul perceived everything anew. Now devoted to God in Jesus, Saul ardently turned to spread the good news of Jesus among his fellow Jews.

Is it any wonder the Jesus-followers in Damascus and Jerusalem questioned and doubted whether the story was true? Saul’s reputation as a terror to the Jesus-community preceded him. Now came the claim that he had changed around radically to advocate, with zeal and power, the person and cause of Jesus! No wonder his former targets expressed skepticism and fear at first about the authenticity of Saul’s conversion.

In a real sense, though, it is a wonder. Many in Damascus and Jerusalem had experienced deep and marvelous life-change in Jesus. They knew the mercy and power of Jesus’ transformation of their own lives. When it came to Saul, their first response appears to have been to lose sight of what God can do in Jesus. Doubt came more easily and naturally than trust.

I find I tend this way all too easily and naturally, too. I doubt rather than trust God’s power to transform my recalcitrant heart. I doubt rather than trust God’s power to transform individuals and relationships among my family, friends, neighbors, and community. Yet God clearly and passionately desires and acts to transform. This is the story of the cross and resurrection. This is the story of Peter and the apostles. This is the story of Saul and millions since to the present day. Radical, thorough-going transformation of people’s lives from death to life, from misery to hope, from enemies to lovers of Jesus – all in the mercy and power of God’s grace to us in Jesus.

For me and for all of us, may doubt and fear atrophy. May trust invigorate our whole being more this day and each day, all the way to thorough transformation in this life and the next. This is what God promises and longs to effect in each of us as followers of Jesus, who died and rose as both exemplar and guarantor of the authenticity of God’s astonishing, wondrous transformation.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Revelation 4:1-11

Two points jumped out at me from today’s reading in Revelation. First was how clearly God’s direction came to John, “…there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.””. (Rev 4:1) The second point was how everything and everyone worshipped Jesus - in both action and word.

There have been very few times in my life when I heard God’s direction as clearly as it came to John, but John does identify some key points in finding direction: he was looking, he was listening, he recognized God’s voice, and he responded.

Most of us are looking and listening for direction and many voices are trumpeting “Come here…” The critical point seems to be recognizing the voice of God. How can we isolate the voice of God when the busyness of our lives and the cacophony of voices blaring in our culture make it so very difficult and confusing?

One way that we can know when we are hearing and following God’s direction is the same way that John knew - worship will be a natural consequence. We should find that God is honored and glorified by the choices we make and the direction we choose to follow.

If we are ever in doubt of a call that we are hearing, we can ask ourselves the following question, “If I follow this direction will it bring glory and honor to the Lord?”

It should.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Acts 9:10-19

Yesterday, we read the story of Saul (Paul) being blinded by a flash of light as he was working to arrest followers of Jesus.

Today, we read about the part Ananias played in the story of Saul. God told Ananias to go to Saul and lay hands on him. Ananias knows who Saul is and how dangerous Saul is to believers. I imagine Ananias experienced a combination of fear, uncertainty, anger and opposition to God’s request. After all, why would God want him to help a man who was persecuting and killing people who believed in and followed Jesus?

I’m not so sure I would have been so obedient to God or so compassionate to Saul. But Ananias put aside his fear and, possibly, hatred to do as God had asked. And, he even does it in a loving way. The love of God gives Ananias the courage, compassion, and willingness to do as He asks. Ananias has experienced and been filled with God’s love. Because of the changes God has made in Ananias, he is able to go to Saul and treat him as a brother

What a great example of the powerful things God’s love can work in all of us.

Sue Reier

Friday, August 25, 2006

Acts 9:1-9

Much has been written about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. One of the reasons that this particular conversion was so amazing is that Paul was a self-described fanatic on Judaism and Judeo law. He was a Pharisee, one of the high priests who conspired to have Jesus killed. He was very proud of the role he played in the stoning of Stephen. In fact, he had made a name for himself during that event in that he “watched over the robes” of Stephen’s killers.

I imagine Paul as one of those all or nothing type of guys. No partial conversion for him. After the Lord’s visitation to Paul as described in these verses, Paul did not respond by picking and choosing what aspects of God’s call he would live. After that day, he did not wake up thinking “I just don’t feel like being a disciple of God’s Word today.” He was in – hook, line and sinker. In fact, he was in to the death.

What was your conversion like? My guess is that you were not surrounded by a blinding light and a booming voice from heaven. It may have been subtle. Sometimes you have to listen very carefully to hear God’s call. God probably had to hit Paul very hard with something to cause his conversion because He knew that Paul was probably one of His toughest cases.

But God calls each of us, regardless of the nature of the call or how the call is made. If we aren’t watching and listening, we may not hear it. By prayer and devotion to God’s Word, by giving yourself quiet time to be with God, these are ways you can listen. Even though we may not have our physical space filled with light, by answering God’s call, your heart and soul will be filled with the light of Christ. At that moment, your conversion will be like Paul’s – wondrous and life-changing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Acts 9:1-9

Acts is such a wonderful book. It gives us so many examples of how a church should run and how we should live. Today's reading is no exception.

Have you heard of the word simony? Do you know its definition? Well today's reading is from where this word comes. Merriam-Webster defines simony as, "the buying or selling of a church office or ecclesiastical preferment." In today's reading a man named Simon tries to buy the ability to launch the Holy Spirit in people - "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." (verse 19).

Of course Peter rebukes Simon and tells him, "You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness..." (verses 21, 22). Peter makes two major points in his comments to Simon. First a person's heart has to be right with God. In other words, as we live our lives, our motives need to be pure and of the utmost honor. God calls us to do things for the good of others, to serve others, and not to do things in hopes of an earthly reward. If our motive is to get praise or some other reward for our self, then our heart may not be right with God.

Second, we must repent of our sins. Remember to repent is not just to say we are sorry, but we must truly live a changed life. It is easy to say we are sorry and not do anything to change our life. But if we are truly sorry, so sorry we do not want to do it again, we will change our life so we do not repeat the sin. Again, this is what God calls us to do.

Remember that no amount of money can buy salvation, forgiveness, or God's power. However, we all can gain them by having a servant's heart, repenting of our sins, and belief in Christ as our Savior.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Acts 8:1-13

Daily Devotional – Tuesday August 22
Acts 8:1-13

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ unleashed a great power on earth. Jesus was the fuse of an explosion that changed the world forever. It was a spiritual power but it was given to common everyday people to use. In business we struggle mightily to empower employees to take control and responsibility. God sure knew how to do it. Jesus is the most empowered person the world has ever known. The unleashing of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost gave that empowerment to everyone.

Today’s reading from Acts describes the events immediately following the martyrdom of Stephen the 1st of many Christian martyrs. Stephen himself provides the ultimate example of individual empowerment. His example of faith unleashed the holy spirit in others. At the same time that Stephen was killed there was general persecution of Christians in Jerusalem led by Saul who we all know would soon himself become empowered in the form of Paul following his dramatic conversion and encounter with Jesus. While the persecution was intended to stop the growth of belief it had the opposite affect. The dispersion of the Christians caused the faith to grow and spread. I find it interesting that the Apostles themselves stayed close to Jerusalem; so the actual spreading of the word was done by converts after Christ’s death and resurrection.

These converts were empowered with the ability to teach, preach, heal and baptize. They were practicing miracle workers. Even a well known magician believed after baptism and helped spread God’s word. We of course know that it isn’t magic. It is God’s love in action. It is God using us (you and I) as instruments of his peace and plan. We have all been empowered by Christ’s sacrifice. We are expected to use this power for good. We have been given a great gift. It is up to us how we use it.

AMEN

John Dickie, Aug. 19 2006

Monday, August 21, 2006

Acts 7:44-8:1

In the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, thousands heard the good news of God’s love and became devoted followers of Jesus. Stephen, a Jew probably brought up in a Greek-speaking cultural environment, was one. As noted earlier in Acts when Stephen was selected to be one of the first deacons in the burgeoning Jesus-community, he was known as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.

In our current culture, saturated with a marketing perspective and its devotion to glossy appeal and personal fulfillment, often even in churches, the story of Stephen may seem an anomaly, even an offense. For at the same time thousands were giving their lives to follow Jesus, many others were opposing and even attacking the good news and the Jesus-community. Hence, Stephen, full of faith and Spirit, ended up literally giving his life for Jesus in a terrible, agonizing way. Stoned to death by an angry, rabid crowd! Not much gloss and appeal in that image! Even Stephen’s long address to his accusers and executioners seems not the stuff of a positive, motivational message to win the target audience.

Yet one was there, condoning that death, who carried the story, the image, in his mind and heart until he, too, became a devoted follower of Jesus and a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Saul witnessed Stephen’s witness, even to death. Saul observed the good news in Stephen, though he could not accept it as such. Yet in God’s harrowing mercy, the good news stuck after Saul. Eventually Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus and knocked him down with love and mercy. Good news embraced as good news at last by Saul! Saul gave himself to Jesus, and finally, as Paul, gave his life for Jesus.

This is what we commit ourselves to in baptism, whether ours or our children’s: a good news that is truly spectacular news! Yet it is good news through death. Glory does surmount – in and through the cross. This is good news both out of this world and very much in this world, yet not of this world. We are to take up and proclaim this good news-cross through all our words and all our deeds. The martyrdom of Stephen and the eventual conversion of Paul remind us of this, and they call us to embrace the true good news which comes from God through Calvary, then an empty tomb.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Acts 7:30-43

“God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.”

In this passage, Stephen is continuing his prophetic narration of the history of Israel. The Exodus narrative is critical to the very formation of the Jews as a people; but those who were in the Exodus were, as Stephen reminds us again and again, stubborn and sinful. They repeatedly rejected Moses despite his clear appointment by God as the one to lead them out of Egypt. And Moses had foreshadowed the rising of Messiah from out of his descendants.

Of many messengers that God sent to his people, Moses was not among those who were killed. But the continuous rejections surely took a toll on him, and he did not live to see the fulfillment of the promise given to him.

Stephen too is a messenger and a prophet. But unlike the messengers who simply conveyed the message without truly “owning” that message, Stephen does not shrink from it. He does not wrap it in fragrant garments. He lays it out, unmistakable and utterly offensive to his hearers. And he will not shrink from its consequences.

There is a time to heed authority, and a time to defy it.
There is a time to tell the old story, and a time to graft our new story onto the old root.
There is a time to prserve our life, and a time to lay it bare before the consequences.
Lord, give us grace to know the times we are in, and to act with that grace. Amen.
mlb

Thursday, August 17, 2006

John 4:27-42

Recently I had the opportunity to see Bono, the lead singer of U2, interviewed by an influential Christian leader. During the course of the interview, Bono said that he had no problem with Jesus Christ or his message. He just did not like Christians very much. They were too judgmental. If you did not conform to their plan for what was required for salvation then you were out. Today’s reading from John’s gospel made me think back on how many times I have judged someone based on their appearance, economic status, or concluded that they did not have much potential for a relationship based on level of education, sexual orientation or even what type of Christian box I placed them in. I am not alone unfortunately. Even Christ’s disciples are guilty of this. They are amazed that Jesus was talking to a not only a woman, but a Samaritan woman. Someone whose life and religious practices were quite different form their own. If we look carefully at today’s reading, Jesus shows us two things. First, the Kingdom and salvation are available to everyone, not just those who claim to be his followers. Second, Jesus meets us where we are, not condemning, not judging but loving us. He sees the potential in each of us and he reaches out to our need showing how much he loves us not because of what we are or the type of sins we commit or how we practice or don’t practice our faith. He calls us to do the same. He calls each of us to reach out to others, to see potential just as he saw potential in the Samaritan woman. This unlikely evangelist who brought her family and friends to Christ could be the person you reach out to today. Lord, help me see potential in everyone I encounter today, judge less and love more because even though we don’t deserve your love you love us anyway!

Ann Ritonia

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Acts 6:1-15

In today's reading, Luke once again gives us some very practical advice on the working of a church via an example that happened in the very early church. Today's example hits home with me and I think it is relevant to all of us.

The example I alluded to in the paragraph above is told in the first 7 verses of today's reading. This story is about delegation and volunteers. It would be impossible for a pastor or rector to do everything in the running of a church. I feel that one of a pastor's main priorities is the ministry of the Word, thus due to human limitations regarding time and space others must take on other duties within a church. In todays reading the "Twelve" represent a pastor of a church that must solve the problem of distributing food to certain widows without sacrificing their own calling.

Some people tend to look at a passage like this and make distinctions of importance between taking care of widows and teaching God's Word. However, I submit that Luke does not make this distinction. In fact, he tells us that all tasks within a church are so important that each must have a leader that has the ability and time to be successful.

As churches grow so do their needs. I am a witness to this fact as the church I belong to has grown quite a bit in the last few years (praise God). As a church's needs increase, so does its needs for volunteers to handle those additional items. As mentioned above, the pastor cannot do it alone. Luke tells us that an essential qualification for a volunteer put in charge of a need is "known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom." Some churches have such needs that sometimes the reverse happens - managers, teachers, or leaders for various aspects of church ministry are chosen and it is hoped that they grow into the job. Luke tells us that the success of the church is so important (i.e., bringing soles into a relationship with Jesus Christ) that the people we select for these positions must have the qualities needed to be successful and these qualities should be obvious.

All of us have God given gifts that can be used to advance the Kingdom. I urge all of us to understand our gifts and to offer them in service to God.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Acts 5:27-42

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Aug.15 2006
Acts 15:27-42

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

May the Lord Bless you and keep you this day. Today we continue with the Acts of the Apostles. Today we have a little Politics thrown into the familiar story. It starts with a little civil disobedience on the part of Peter and the other Apostles. They have been specifically told by the Pharisees not to preach Jesus as the Christ; however they did it anyway. Their instruction comes from God not from the Pharisses. They are called in front of the Council and put on trial for their actions. Their very lives are being threatened by their actions.

Today we may wonder, how is it that the Pharisees couldn’t understand who Jesus really was? It is hard for us to understand this ignorance of the truth. Yet, if we stop and consider that they were hearing this message for the first time, maybe it is understandable. If we were told that a person in our village and one who we have known personally was – “the chosen One by God, the Leader, the Savior, the One providing repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins, the One empowered by the Holy Spirit”; chances are we would also be skeptical.

Within the Council, reputable members cautioned the group to not act too quickly and to consider some recent events. There had been prior occasions where similar preaching had taken place and there were many followers. This was a growing movement. The council was influenced in a very political way. They were conscious of the public will and were influenced by what they might think. They were also told to consider what God might think. A person with great wisdom told them to consider 2 possibilities. If this new movement was just about man and the power of man, it would fail and they had nothing to fear. If however, this really was about God, there was much to fear. Their actions could be in direct opposition to God. This wisdom led to the decision to only reprimand (beat) and let them go. They continued to preach Jesus The Christ as before.

I like to think that God’s will influenced this wisdom and reason. As an Engineer and one trained in logic and reason, I believe that man has many tools to use but behind these tools is the driving force for how they are to be used for the betterment of mankind. This driving force is the love of God as given to us in the form of Jesus Christ. Help us Lord to be patient with those around us and to use the tools we have been given to act wisely and for the betterment of those around us.

AMEN

John Dickie, Aug.15, 2006

Monday, August 14, 2006

Acts 5:12-26

We talk about the good news of Jesus Christ. We are right to do so. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus constitute good news for a world desperately in need of good news.

We see evidence of this in today’s reading from Acts. Many people found the narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection appealing and compelling, so they devoted their lives to Jesus after hearing the apostles tell about him. Additionally, in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles performed signs and wonders. Those acts included healing many who were physically, emotionally, or spiritually ill. All of this sounds like good news to me – good news of rescue from sin and death!

Yet not all receive the narrative and person of Jesus as good news. Some people remain skeptical. Some feel threatened. Some even oppose Jesus.

We see this reaction in today’s passage as well. The religious and political leaders in Israel had the apostles arrested and jailed. Those leaders and others did not perceive Jesus as good news. They feared and even hated him. This is why Jesus was crucified, and why many of the followers of Jesus suffered persecution and even martyrdom in Israel and beyond.

If we are to follow Jesus truly and faithfully, it is important for us to understand this kind of reaction and take it to heart. For example, we must ask in what ways we still resist the good news? While we may love Jesus, sadly there likely remain aspects of our lives where we do not receive Jesus as good news. This is because his good news means those aspects must change to accord with God’s good will and purposes for us. With God’s grace, we must repent and receive God’s good news especially in those areas where we still cling to sin and death.

Also, we must expect opposition to the good news and to us as agents of the good news from some powers and people in the world. We must resist the temptation to make the message acceptable and attractive in ways that subvert or even betray the true substance of the good news. However truly wonderful the good news really is, some will fear, reject, and even oppose it! Yet the good news truly is good news because God knows best what is best for us, even when people do not perceive and receive it as such. We must simply and deeply trust God to work in people’s lives in ways we cannot imagine. And we must likewise trust God to care for us, despite opposition and even suffering, when we faithfully live and proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, August 13, 2006

2 Corinthians 11:21-31

In today’s reading, Paul lists a litany of hardships that he endured: hard work, imprisonment, floggings, and exposure to death. He was also shipwrecked and marooned at sea. He experienced severe hunger, thirst, and deprivation from sleep. Paul concludes his listing of sufferings by saying, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28)

As I thought about Paul’s words, it was interesting that his concern for the churches seemed to the greatest burden that he carried. Paul’s words reminded me that the responsibility of church leadership can be a tremendous burden.

There are many ways that we can ease this burden our leaders bear but there are two very simple things we could do today that would be very effective. First – Pray for them. Take a few moments, perhaps even now, to thank God for the blessing they are. If there are specific challenges you know they are facing – pray they would find strength and grace as they persevere. If you don’t know how to pray for them or what to pray – talk to God and His Spirit will guide you.

The most common communication that church leaders receive is often criticism or complaint – this promotes discouragement and a heavy heart. Proverbs 12:25 tells us “… an encouraging word cheers a person up.” The second thing we can do today is to tell our leaders “Thank You.” You can say it, e-mail it, text message it, snail mail it, IM it, or perhaps you could say it with a hug, a handshake, or a kiss. Whatever form your “Thank You” takes – you can be assured that it will be welcomed.

Rather than a one time event, we should make praying for our church leaders and telling them “Thank You” a habit. Consider it sowing a blessing into the live of another.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Acts 4:32 - 5:11

Remarkable and uplifting! Such are the first lines of today’s passage in Eugene Peterson’s “The Message:” “The whole congregation of believers was united as one – one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions.” Suddenly, however, the story shifts to one of jealousy, greed, deceit, and punishment. Ananias and Sapphira, husband and wife, greatly desired to be held in good favor. So they sold their land; but instead of giving all the proceeds to the apostles, as did Barnabas, they lied about the amount they had received and gave less, for they wanted to keep part of the money for themselves. Punishment was swift and harsh. Each fell dead.

As members of the Body of Christ, with one heart and one mind, we are to love God and to love our neighbor. But do our actions reflect this? Do the moments that equal the sum of our day reflect patience, kindness, and love? Are we truly united within the Body of Christ?

I have a sister in South Carolina, and Thursday I called to wish her a happy birthday. I was surprised to learn that she was out-of-town with a friend. Vera loves celebrating birthdays, especially her own, with family. Well, it turns out that she was helping a distraught friend by driving her to Ohio to see her dying father. Vera has always been a good friend.

Whether it’s helping a friend, or listening to a child, or using a kind tone with your teen, or returning an item to a department store after discovering that you weren’t charged for it, or visiting a lonely parishioner, or pulling weeds from the church garden even though it isn’t clean-up day, your actions, my actions, must reflect that we are, indeed, of one heart and one mind within the Body of Christ. So the question each of us must ask ourselves is: Today, did my actions show that I am a Christian? Today, did I share God’s love?

Heavenly Father, may our words and deeds, however insignificant they may seem at any given moment, reflect that we are truly of one heart and one mind, united in action and prayer as living members of the Body of Christ. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, August 11, 2006

Acts 4:13-31

One thing that strikes me in these next verses of Acts is the courage of Peter and John. At the beginning of this chapter, Peter and John are still in Jerusalem where, just days before, Jesus had been violently killed. Now, in chapter 4, they are taken to the Sanhedrin, the same body which plotted to have Jesus killed and tried to make it a Roman act. If I had been standing in their shoes, I would have assumed that I would be following in Jesus’ steps to crucifixion, or worse.

Perhaps they were frightened. The verses do not say whether Peter and John were resigned to their fate after they were arrested at the temple and therefore had nothing to lose in speaking out, or that they were confidant in their faith that their fate made no difference.

By reading ahead through the first 5 or 6 chapters of Acts, the apostles grow more and more courageous, as they perform more miracles and bring more people to belief in Christ. At one point, they even rejoice in their arrest and flogging as this is a sign that they are having the desired affect.

And I can’t even bring myself to talk to co-workers about Christ. Shame on me! I don’t have to worry about flogging or death. People may laugh at me, or even reject me, but that certainly seems far less than what the disciples faced. Richard Leach uses a great analogy saying that if we have a cure for cancer, shouldn’t we be sharing it? Isn’t saving someone’s life worth the risk of being rejected? The only real risk is that we may lose our opportunity to bring someone to know Christ. And that life will still be lost. That, friends, is the tragedy.

Acts 4:13-31

One thing that strikes me in these next verses of Acts is the courage of Peter and John. At the beginning of this chapter, Peter and John are still in Jerusalem where, just days before, Jesus had been violently killed. Now, in chapter 4, they are taken to the Sanhedrin, the same body which plotted to have Jesus killed and tried to make it a Roman act. If I had been standing in their shoes, I would have assumed that I would be following in Jesus’ steps to crucifixion, or worse.

Perhaps they were frightened. The verses do not say whether Peter and John were resigned to their fate after they were arrested at the temple and therefore had nothing to lose in speaking out, or that they were confidant in their faith that their fate made no difference.

By reading ahead through the first 5 or 6 chapters of Acts, the apostles grow more and more courageous, as they perform more miracles and bring more people to belief in Christ. At one point, they even rejoice in their arrest and flogging as this is a sign that they are having the desired affect.

And I can’t even bring myself to talk to co-workers about Christ. Shame on me! I don’t have to worry about flogging or death. People may laugh at me, or even reject me, but that certainly seems far less than what the disciples faced. Richard Leach uses a great analogy saying that if we have a cure for cancer, shouldn’t we be sharing it? Isn’t saving someone’s life worth the risk of being rejected? The only real risk is that we may lose our opportunity to bring someone to know Christ. And that life will still be lost. That, friends, is the tragedy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Acts 4:1-12

In Today’s reading from Luke’s Acts we see Peter and John jailed and then confronted by the Temple authorities for doing a good deed, healing a person lame form birth and preaching that in Jesus there is resurrection of the dead. Peter and John’s opponents are annoyed because of the welcome response they are receiving from the local people. This threatens the temple leaders’ authority because their hope of salvation was found in temple observance and nothing else.

They did not possess a strong sense of a restored Israel. These temple rulers are not aligned with God’s purpose and plan for salvation. Their power over the people was being challenged by these uneducated followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who healed in his name and promised eternal life not just for the Jewish people but for all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. They thought they had put the problem of Jesus behind them but instead found his followers preaching the continued authority of the living Jesus.

The lives of Peter and John show us Jesus’ promise to empower his followers through the Holy Spirit to be faithful and bold witness even in the face of those who threaten. Peter and John did not have to depend on their own wits to challenge the powers that be. Rather the Holy Spirit gave them just the right words.

This is a lesson for each of us who at one time or another have had to explain our belief in Jesus to someone who has been less than sympathetic or have felt we have done a less than adequate job. No special degrees are required or positions of church leadership are necessary for any of us to be open to the work of the Spirit in helping us talk about our faith and belief in the hope of the risen Christ.

If we remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit and let her rule over all aspects of our lives, we too will be empowered to reflect that same conviction that Peter and John display in today’s readings.

AMR

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Acts 3:12-26

What a lovely reading we have for today! Today's reading left me with a very strong message. I will try to convey that message in this short devotional.

The NIV version translates verse 19 to say, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord," The Message translates verse 19 as, "Now it's time to change your ways! Turn to face God so He can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you," Verse 19 made a large impression on me. Many of us want the benefits and prestige of being identified as Christians without admitting our own sins and changing our lives so we do not repeat those sins. A key to God's forgiveness is confessing our sins and living a changed life. To be a proper Christian one has to walk the talk. It is easy for any of us to declare that we are Christians, but we are called to do more. We are called to change the way we live our lives.

Many of us do not want to give up a particular sin. We may rationalize that it is not hurting anyone or that it is not that important compared to all the world's issues. We also may realize that it will be painful to stop. However, I submit, this pain will be short lived as God will refresh us with a better way. If we repent of this sin and ask God to use us to further His will, He will present an opportunity to us that will do exactly that. An opportunity that we can only do if we give up this sin. So what is the one sin that you should cease and turn to God for guidance? I know mine, and I hope that little voice in your head is pointing out yours.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Acts 3:1-11

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

May the Lord shower you with blessings this day and every day. Our individual lives provide so many opportunities every day to show the love of God. May this be another one of those days where the example we set by our behavior to others clearly illustrates that love.

The Bible contains countless examples where God’s love and forgiveness is illustrated by acts of kindness and compassion. Today’s reading from Acts is just another example. “The Beggar at the gate” is a well-known story with meaning at all levels of comprehension. It can be read as a very simple example of compassion by Peter and John for a poor beggar sitting at a gate into Jerusalem. The Bible is full of such stories.

With each successive reading I have discovered more and more of the significance of this story. The most profound revelation for me was to really see myself as the beggar at the gate. In fact, are we not all beggars at the gate to some extent? We have our own personal and too often private afflictions. Also, are we not always begging in our own way? In our relations with others, are we not seeking relief from those afflictions?

John and Peter demanded that the beggar look at them. The beggar must acknowledge who and what they are. They are followers of Jesus Christ and emissaries of God. To receive relief, the beggar must acknowledge where the relief comes from. Many people pass the gate into Jerusalem. Peter and John are special.

The beggar is seeking silver and gold. Is that what he really needed? No. He needed to be healed. I often find myself seeking the things I don’t really need but ignore what I really need. I spent many years and mountains of energy in my working career seeking promotions and those rewards that satisfied my ego and self-respect. All this when what I really needed was a secure job that provided the security to provide for my family and allow me to devote my energies to meaningful contribution to the people around me.

The beggar was healed and publicly acknowledged that it was from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The beggar was used as an instrument of Godly love by Peter and John to publicly show this love to the world. We have this opportunity every day. May God give me the grace and strength to use the opportunity.

AMEN

John Dickie

Monday, August 07, 2006

Acts 2:37-47

If today’s reading does not challenge us to live our faith more truly, thoroughly, and concretely, then we have not really read it or we have consciously or unconsciously resisted it. Whichever it is, it is not God’s Spirit and purposes working in us. If God works in us when we read this passage, we cannot remain the same.

This reading follows Peter’s public speech on Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit surged through Jesus’ followers, with consequent empowering of them to live in bold faithfulness. In this context, Peter had proclaimed the good news of Jesus to a crowd, probably within the temple grounds in Jerusalem. Many were not followers of Jesus, but when they heard the good news they were “cut to the heart.”

What an incisive phrase! Are we “cut to the heart” by God’s good news in Jesus? If not, why? What in our lives hardens or even deadens us to God’s pierced and piercing love for us?

If we are “cut to the heart,” what does it mean? The text is quite specific. We – as individuals and as Christian communities – must repent. Baptized by water and Spirit, we must be dead to sin and alive to God. We must devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship of believers, to sacramental worship, and to prayer. (Cf. the baptismal covenant on p. 304 of the Book of Common Prayer.) We must manage all our goods for the common (not private) good, available to meet the needs of any and all. We must strive to increase the number of believers.

I am both discomfited and exhilarated by this reading. I am discomfited because my life does not look much at all like this description. I have to question whether I am truly “cut to the heart” and transformed by God’s Spirit.

If I am to be truly, thoroughly, and concretely faithful, I must repent and believe with wholehearted, whole-self commitment. I can do this, in the power of the Spirit, by devoting myself to the apostles’ teaching, to fellow believers, to sacramental worship, and to prayer. And I can do this, in the power of the Spirit, by sharing what I have for the common good, meeting the needs of any and all.

I am exhilarated because, despite my recalcitrant ways, I really do want to be part of God’s Spirit and purposes in the church and the world. I want my life to change – so much of me is calcified against God’s transforming Spirit. I want to be part of a changed community – so much of life is hard or dead to God’s love and purposes in the world. And so I pray, in the words of the hymn, “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire.” Will we, the Church, pray the same?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, August 06, 2006

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Did you select the link for today’s reading? If you haven’t – take a moment to read through it.

Often this passage is used to discuss giving of finances or services. That is certainly appropriate and the passage holds some great truths in that regard. However, as I read the passage and reflected on “Sowing Generously”, my thoughts were taken down a slightly different road – the extended road trip our family took this summer.

We spent almost three weeks driving over 4000 miles through 13 states in temperatures up to 110°. Driving through Texas and Oklahoma in July is probably not the first choice for vacation travelers!

In the course of our trip, we visited my 90 year old grandmother. I left the visit with her knowing that I might not have another chance to see her again and was so thankful that I was able to spend time with her. We also visited some of my aunts and uncles – they had shown me what sharing and caring were all about when I was a little boy. We visited my wife’s parents and I saw my children reconnecting with a legacy of love that they had been missing. We were able to see my wife’s brother and personally rejoice in the extraordinary accomplishments of his high school son. We also got to visit my brother and sister-in-law and celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary – congratulations Steve and Cindy!

As I look back on our trip, I realize that my family is reaping generously from a rich heritage of faith and kinship that many people have sowed into our lives and I thank God for them. The principle of sowing and reaping is a profound one – BE A GENEROUS SOWER.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Acts 2:22-26

“Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him.”

The quote above is from Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of verses 22 through 24 in “The Message”. These verses are a good summary of the story of Jesus’ life. Luke, the writer of Acts, is spreading the word to the people of his day. In this reading, he not only tells us the story, he makes it very clear that this was no accident. God had a very deliberate plan and David was just one of the prophets to tell about this plan long before it happened.

Luke uses quotes from Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1, where David writes about the messiah to come, to drive this fact home to his audience. Luke reminds his audience that David died and was buried and remains in his tomb. But, in Psalm 16, David wrote “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.” – prophesying of Jesus’ resurrection.

There are a couple of things that come to mind as I read this. The first is that God does have a plan; not something just thrown together in a hurry but a very “deliberate and well-thought-out plan”. I find this very comforting - to know that from the very beginning God has been in charge and, although I may not recognize it, He knows what He’s doing. The second thing that comes to mind is that there are still people that need to hear this story and it is important to continue spreading the word in ways that can be understood by our audience. It’s not always easy, but by telling people the Good News of Jesus, we are continuing to be part of God’s plan.

Sue Reier

Friday, August 04, 2006

Acts 2:1-21

I have been thinking a lot of how, when Christians who are really seeking the Lord gather, the Lord really is in their midst. We are comforted and strengthened by our fellowship with God and each other, but more important, acts of kindness and reaching out result and the good news is shared.

I think prayer is behind this. I know that if what I really want is even stronger bonds between us as believers, I should pray more for it. Again, those bonds are not just for our comfort but for others to come to the Lord.

These verses in Acts describe the coming of the Holy Spirit to the small group of the first believers, those brave few to whom we owe so much. Christ had hung on the cross not too many days before. They had seen Him after His resurrection. They had stared up looking at the place in the heavens to where He had ascended, until two angels came and asked them, what are you doing just standing there staring? He’s coming back. (I guess the point is that we are not meant to stand around staring). (1:11).

The description of the coming of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful and somewhat familiar passage. Two things stood out to me as I ponder the Holy Spirit’s presence as we gather together; one; the people prayed. Acts 1:14 says “they joined together constantly in prayer.” They certainly needed God at this stage but so do we in 2006. God certainly answered their prayers in a mighty way.

Two, they were all gathered (2:1) when God sent the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit does speak to us individually but when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost the result was that many people at once heard the gospel in their own language and the Word of God was spread to many peoples.

Let’s all pray and pray hard, for God to come to us and do great things for His kingdom.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Acts 1:15-26

I’ve had easy passages the last couple weeks. This one more than makes up for it. It raises all kinds of questions!

For instance, there is the way Peter uses Scripture, seeing in the 69th and 109th Psalm explicit references to Judas. What, if any, are the implications for us in the way Peter interprets and applies Scripture?

It’s not a question I have space to answer here. Perhaps it’s best to note that they were reading Scripture, looking to it for guidance, and seeing in it specific instructions for their everyday lives—and that this is something we should be doing too

Then there is the method of choosing a new Apostle. They pray—and cast lots! They apparently rolled the dice, drew straws—played a game of chance! How would this work in our lives? Do I say a prayer like, “God, should I buy a Corvette?” and then roll a dice marked with yes and no to decide?

There are even some (I am not among them) who believe the Apostles are making a mistake here (or worse, engaging in sin by gambling). They believe God clearly wanted Paul to be the 12th Apostle, and that neither Barsabbas nor Matthias were His choice and that’s why we don’t here anymore about them or their ministry.

I’d suggest that the Apostles used solid reasoning and Scriptural principles to guide them as far as that would take them. And then at that point their method of decision making was their way of placing the decision squarely in God’s hands, and trusting Him to honor that desire.

So, in my example about the Corvette, for me (and only me in the context of my faith journey and station in life) I don’t need to roll a dice to see if God wants me to buy a Corvette. Through reason and application of Scriptural principles, I already know the answer. I can’t afford it.

But let’s say I was going on vacation and came up with two spots that seemed to be equal in every way. Let’s also say I really wanted God’s guidance on the matter. Perhaps praying and rolling the dice would be an appropriate way to proceed—rolling the dice only once, and trusting that the outcome would be an expression of God’s will.

The above is only my opinion, and it’s not one I hold with great certainty. I sure wouldn’t build a sermon around it or argue with someone about it.

And in the end, that is one of the things that really impresses me about Scripture. Yes, I believe it is all divinely inspired by God. But somehow it still manages to be such a…human book. The stories are still so…raw…that is, they aren’t heavily reworked to serve some hidden agenda. They present problems and conundrums and people sometimes solving them by doing things we’d never think to do and still leave us puzzled as we look back and wonder why. Yet somehow through it all…God works, just like He does in your life and in mine.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Acts 1:1-14

The acts of the disciples is a cornerstone in my Christian belief. These people were convinced that Jesus Christ was the son of God and the only way to God. They so believed this that they would rather face imprisonment, beatings, exile, and, in many cases, very unpleasant deaths, than to say that Jesus was not the Messiah. Who would do this if it was not true?? No one would. No one would be stoned, crucified, or beheaded if they were not 100% sure that Jesus was who He said He was and that by following Him they would end up in a place with a peace beyond human understanding.

I read an account of the Watergate break-in the other day. In this account, one of the Nixon Whitehouse insiders said that the brightest and the best worked in the Nixon Whitehouse yet they could not keep the break-in cover-up a secret for even a few months, and none of them were threatened with death. But the disciples kept the truth of Jesus in front of the masses even though they were not only threatened with death but, in many cases, executed. They did not reverse course one little bit. Again, no person would risk their life if they were not 100% sure of something better after death.

Today's reading tells the story of Jesus spending 40 days with His disciples after He rose from the dead. These 40 days drastically changed the disciples' lives. Before these 40 days, they had argued with each other, deserted their Lord, and even lied about knowing Jesus. After these 40 days, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they became a unified voice that consistently gave the same message about Jesus - no matter the hardship with which they were threatened.

Yes, I am convinced that the disciples absolutely knew that Jesus was the son of God. They were not 50% sure, not 90% sure, not 99% sure; they were 100% sure. Their acts demonstrated their knowledge. The steadfastness of the disciples should be a model for all of us.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Romans 16:17-27

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Aug.1 2006
Romans 16:17-27

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Greetings dear readers and May God bless you this day and every day.

Today we have a very short and very concise statement of reality and it provides a suggested response to a real life situation based on the example of Jesus Christ our mentor and teacher. It provides us further instruction on living as God would have us live.

We are told to avoid those around us who do not share our beliefs and values. Further we are told that they do not share our devotion to Jesus Christ and the example of Godly living that he provides to us. The proposed solution is to simply avoid them.

This seems so simple a solution. This letter is from Tertius and is not from Paul. Tertius provides a very different solution from what we might expect from Paul. Whereas Paul may have declared war on these dissenters and tried to convert them, Tertius simply says “avoid them”. What a simple solution. Is it the right solution?

In our daily Christian journey we often face the dissenter who challenges our beliefs and values. How do we respond? Do we ignore and move on or do we challenge the dissenter and try to convert the unbeliever to our side? What does God expect of us? Lots of questions and few clear answers.

I believe that God created us to make these choices on our own. Personally I have never felt comfortable as an evangelist preaching to others about what they should do and not do. As a “boss” in my working career I have often been in a position to preach and impose my beliefs on others. I have tried not to do this. I have chosen the route of leading by example. I will be judged by God and those around me based on my actions and not on my stated good intentions. This is the choice that I have been given. God did not create me as a robot responding to his every instruction. He gave me the free will to serve him in my own way. God has honored me by providing me with this privilege. I thank him and praise him every day for this gift.

AMEN

John Dickie, Aug.1, 2006