Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.
Today we have 5 short verses full of meaning. Again, John gives us a vision of Heaven where the elders worship God. They also describe the Day of Judgment and the revealing of the Ark of the Covenant.
This vision is given to us on this Halloween Day. As a growing Christian, Halloween has never had much significance for me. I enjoyed tick or treating as a kid up in Canada. I remember putting my costume on over heavy cloths and venturing out into the cold to get candy that I didn’t eat and usually gave away. I never really understood the significance of witches, goblins and the focus on death. It still seems at odds with my belief in the afterlife. I have no fear of death. Heaven is a place I want to be. There is however the issue of the final judgment. Heaven is open to those that “fear” God.
There is much to fear all around us every day. We are threatened on all sides and at all times. Fr. Rob spoke of Hell on Sunday in a way that is very real to me and to many others I presume. For me, Hell on earth is living in fear. Fear of the unknown creates stress and influences our behavior. We develop natural defenses against this fear. I believe these defenses separate us from other people and from our God. As we fight the world around us we stop loving the world that God has given us and the other people in it.
Today’s Revelation passage describes our Heavenly destination where we are protected from the woes and tribulations that create our fear. God and his Christ have saved us from our enemies and have promised a heavenly home where we will live in perfect harmony without fear. Thanks be to God and his Christ who we know and love.
John Dickie, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
As we may know, the Book of Revelation belongs to a kind of literature called "apocalyptic." In fact, our English word "revelation" translates the Greek word "apokalypsis." Other examples of apocalyptic in the Bible include Daniel, Ezekiel, and perhaps even Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Apocalyptic writings flourished particularly from about 200 B.C. to about 200 A.D., first in Judaism and then Christianity.
Apocalyptic literature relies heavily on symbolism to convey its meaning. Often the symbolism seems bizarre and extreme, especially to modern readers. A thorough understanding of an apocalyptic text may require considerable study and assistance from other resources to plumb the meanings of the symbolism.
We do not have time and space here to explore the symbolism of today’s passage from Revelation. Even if we tried, it would require extensive explanation and assistance from scholars in the field. Yet we can discern the core meaning as it centers on the two witnesses who figure into the passage.
The two witnesses represent those who remain faithful to Jesus in word and life despite calamity, persecution, and martyrdom. Here we should point to the Greek word "martys" which we translate as "witness." We get our English word "martyr" directly from a form of the Greek "martys." In today’s passage, the two witnesses stand for those who hold fast and testify to Jesus as savior and lord in the face of all false claimants to healing and power in the world – even when such claimants rise up to afflict and kill those who faithfully follow Jesus.
With this in mind, despite what may be initial confusion at the strange symbolism, we can take to heart a strong and encouraging message from this reading in Revelation. Trust God. Hold fast to God as known in Jesus. Stay true to Jesus, whether we experience relative peace and well-being or conflict and suffering. The Lamb who was slain – the focus of Revelation – cares for us with love as no other love we can know. By his suffering and rising, this Lamb, who is Jesus, will bear the world’s history and his people through all turmoil, strife, and affliction to a glorious new heaven and earth, populated by his witnesses from all times and places. Whether we live or die, then, let us stand fast and true for Jesus, as he stands fast and true for us – past, present, and future.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
In today’s reading, Paul was writing to the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Corinth and addressing a dilemma that some of them were facing. The Corinthians knew that as they participated in the Lord’s Supper, they were joining themselves in fellowship and unity with Christ. They questioned what they should do with food sacrificed to idols. Much of the food that was sold in the market had been sacrificed to idols as part of pagan worship. If they purchased this food and ate it, weren’t they in some sense supporting and participating in the worship of the idol?
Paul gives them very sensible direction. Although the idols were mere wood or stone and the sacrifices were meaningless, the Corinthian Christians should refrain from eating food sacrificed to idols. They should live their lives in such a way that their actions and behavior are beneficial and constructive to others.
The freedom that we have in Christ must be expressed in submission and servanthood. This message is just as pertinent to us today as it was to the Corinthians. The “idols” we face are not the pagan idols the Corinthians faced, but the challenge before us is the same, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24)
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Like probably many or most of you, I struggle with John's visions of Apocalypse. Sometimes John himself probably struggles to relate what he is seeing and touching and hearing and even (as here) tasting. He and we are trying to make sense out of extreme sensory perceptions. He has continual questions and his assumptions are, as often as not, incorrect.
The essential problem of the Revelation is stated by N.T. Wright:
"The puzzle of apocalyptic, for any serious Christian, any thoughtful reader of the New Testament, is whether, and if so how, ‘apocalyptic’ can be rescued from the ‘Left Behind’ school of thought, whose adherents anticipate the ‘Rapture’ in which they will be snatched up to heaven, leaving this world behind once and for all. "
And so, with thoughtfulness, we come to this passage. The figure descending to span earth and sea is called an angel but everything about him cries out that he is the "Angel of the Lord", i.e. a theophany, a visualization of the unseeable God. He is wrapped in a cloud evoking the cloud-presence of God throughout the Exodus. He rumbles with thunders that are judgment. The rainbow, sign of God's eternal mercy, is around him. And he offers a small scroll to John, and tells him to do something astonishing: take it and eat it.
And what the angel told John would occur, did in fact occur: the scroll was sweet as honey in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach. And he was commanded to go on a mission, to prophesy to more "peoples, nations, languages, kings."
Is it not at times like that for us when we "share the food and drink of new and unending life"? We taste forgiveness, and it is a sweet and cooling rush, like the tang of raw honey on the tongue. But we are more than forgiven; when the Word is in us, it becomes part of us in ways that correspond to how the Eucharist becomes part of our physical being. But we don't camp at the banquet table; we have to go out into places where we are afraid that we may not be welcome. We may feel things in our guts that are very unpleasant, if we make the mission personal. We are part of the message of God's compassion, but we are also part of the message of God's judgment. We will receive forgiveness, but our dross will be consumed in fire. If we look honestly at the broad context of the message, it isn't all sweet--but it is all True.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Like the preceding reading, upon first reading this section seems fantastic and severe. When I read about such judgments, I remember what I already know about God- that He loves me and He loves the world. That He is Holy. That Scripture is written to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16).
Suddenly I can see myself in the description of those being judged. Uh-oh. This is not just something I can read and think to myself, boy those are BAD people. I realize that in verse 20 these are people who didn’t listen; like I don’t listen.
The Message paraphrase says that the rest of the men and women who weren’t killed by these plagues “went on their merry way,” living the life of worshipping idols which they always had. Perhaps the plagues got their attention but not for long. Why not? It’s sad but we all have times when we don’t listen. Let’s pray that the times of listening and being attuned to God’s voice increase.
I pray that I can pay attention to God, and listen, and repent when He is trying to get my attention. Repent is a good word for it means to change direction. Today I am going to pray that I would be yielded to God, that I would sit and really listen, and repent of any hurtful thoughts, attitudes or actions.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Actually, this isn’t that weird. If you understand something about the type of literature this is—apocalyptic, rich in imagery and numbers and grand cosmic events the make a sort of coded language with which to speak about what God is doing, and if you have read enough of the Bible to understand the allusions to other passages in Scripture (like the locust plague here that recalls one of the 10 plagues of Egypt), and if you take a moment to consider the context, this text is actually pretty straightforward.
Today’s verses are part of the graphic depiction of God’s response to the prayers of his saints that was pictured for us in chapter 8: 1-5. As we have already noted, the trumpet plagues which continue here recall the Exodus plagues. Those plagues were not for the purpose of punishment, but penitence. They were not designed simply to make Pharaoh suffer, but to change his mind.
A locust army also recalls the first two chapters of Joel. Interestingly enough, those chapters sound a call to repentance as well.
When these verses were written, the church was being persecuted by Rome much like their ancestors were persecuted in Egypt. God once again calls for the people of the earth to repent. But when they don’t—when they square off with God, in bold opposition to Him (notice the locusts only attack those who do not bear the seal of God upon their foreheads), the result is terrible (with the word “terror” very much in focus). The day will come where the people of the earth will face the consequences of their actions even as Pharaoh did before them.
What is the message for us? One is certainly the power and importance of prayer. Are we praying for the world? For the church? For the people around us?
But second, I think, is this graphic picture of a life lived at odds with God and his ways. It is not a pretty picture. Is God speaking to us about areas of our life where we need to repent? If so, we would do well to listen, to bring our life into line with His life so that we bear the seal of God upon our forehead (an image of life lived in harmony with God’s ways; our thoughts in harmony with His thoughts). It is infinitely preferable to the sting of locusts!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
To me, Revelation is a hard book to fully understand. Let me try to summarize today’s reading.
When the seventh seal on God’s judgment scroll is finally broken, the final time of the Tribulation unfolds. The first four plagues are introduced by angels blowing trumpets. These first four plagues will destroy one third of the earth, sea, rivers, and heavenly bodies.
Okay this sounds pretty bad. Have you ever heard on the news, or on some other media, a reporter describing the effect of a natural disaster – a flood, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake? Often times the report might say the devastation is on “biblical proportions”. Now I have no doubt that these disasters are terrible and create a lot of human suffering, but if these disasters are of biblical proportion, how do you think the media will report the plagues described in today’s reading? I do not think that when these plagues attack our world there will be any doubt that they are of biblical proportions.
When we move into the time of the Great Tribulation, this will signal the transition from the long period of human history into a time of judgment. In today's reading we see the first four plagues devastate nature. This is a warning to mankind to repent of his sins. So when these plagues strike why doesn't mankind repent? I know I would. It has always been a mystery to me how stubborn some can be. Remember the plagues that struck
The good news to this story is that the Tribulation will end with salvation and victory for the people of God. Hallelujah!!!
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.
Our travelogue with Paul through the Eastern Med is over. This week we visit John’s Revelation as we transition into Advent and Christmas. I love this time of year with the crisp clean air and the color. You can tell I am a Northerner; and yes I have a thing for snow.
In today’s 9 short paragraphs God reveals to us through John a vision of Heaven. It delivers the promises made to us in the Old and New Testament. I must admit that I had great difficulty understanding these passages when I first read them many years ago. My spiritual maturing (aging) has helped better grasp and see the great vision.
In order to see this vision I had to first believe in God, Jesus Christ and the “fact” that the Holy Spirit resides in me as my Soul. The promise of heaven is made real to me as the final destination of my spiritual self. I am one of the multitude dressed in white, waving palm branches and singing praises to God and the Lamb.
I believe that I will survive the great tribulation and that I am saved by the simple sacrifice of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we consider Heaven we naturally consider death. I do not fear death as I once did. Maybe it comes from being a polio survivor and very…very frequent flyer. Jesus has given me the great promise that in heaven under his protection my Soul will be fed, clothed, kept warm and safe and that I will never have cause for tears; and all of this for eternity. Jesus delivers on his promises. Thanks be to God and to The Lamb.
Oh yes! Another thought… Is heaven available to me now? Do I need to die to enjoy heavenly grace? Maybe not --- just a thought!
John Dickie, October 24, 2006
Monday, October 23, 2006
As commentators note, when John received this revelation from Jesus, probably in the mid 90s A.D., the
In that context, Jesus came to John, exiled for his faith, to strengthen and encourage him to remain steadfast. John in turn wrote down the revelation to comfort and bolster churches and individual believers in their faith and worship. They needed such a word because of the empire’s claim to their allegiance and worship and the threats against them should they refuse the claim.
Yet Revelation is, perhaps especially to us today, a strange book. It reads like a “wild and crazy” adventure through fantastical regions of strange creatures, angelic beings, violent conflict, sublime worship, and a glorious new world – with a slain and resurrected Lamb at the center of it all! Nonetheless, the basic and central message is plain and simple. The crucified but now risen Jesus is savior of all and lord of history. Jesus gathers people from around the world into a community of true love and worship. However dire and desperate things seem, Jesus seals and marks them as his own for ever (see the baptismal rite in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 308.) Through suffering and sorrow, he will bring history to splendid fulfillment in a new heaven and earth.
In our context, Revelation continues to encourage and strengthen us. Suffering and sorrow still beset the world. Moreover, if we faithfully follow Jesus, we may face ridicule, derision, and even persecution and death. Yet nothing can overcome and separate us from Jesus’ love and care. From birth through death to life again, he loves us and will bear us to glory. He has sealed us and marked us as his own for ever. To him we can fully give our true love and worship.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
When I read scripture, I try to relate to what’s going on, but sometimes it doesn’t really seem to apply to me. That’s how I felt as I was reading this passage. I don’t worship idols, I’m not sexually immoral, I don’t test the Lord, but then Paul mentioned grumbling. I wish he wouldn’t have mentioned this one.
I do complain – occasionally. Griping is something in which I engage – periodically. Once in a while I do have an attitude of discontent. All of a sudden, I was relating with the grumblers from the passage and not in a good way.
In this passage, Paul doesn’t address strategies for dealing with temptation. He simply points out that everyone has to deal with temptation and there are consequences for not resisting and falling into sin.
It seems that we can be an example of an overcomer of temptation or we can fail to resist, fall into sin, suffer the consequences, and be a bad example - like the children of Israel as they wandered through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.
Paul’s warning is a good one: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (I Corinthians 10:12)
Saturday, October 21, 2006
For the past few days, we’ve been reading Luke’s account of Paul’s travels to Rome teaching the Good News of Jesus everywhere he went. We’ve learned of some tough and dangerous situations Paul experienced. Paul listened to God and went where He asked without knowing the details, or the outcome, or where he would end up. Paul trusted that God knew what he was doing and was in control.
As I have experienced challenges in my life, I’ve often felt engulfed by the things happening to me or around me and the emotions these experiences evoked. I’ve been overwhelmed by the details and had to work at reminding myself that God is still in control. And God has always found ways to remind me that I’m not forgotten and not going through things by myself. Sometimes they are very small things but when I’ve look back, I‘ve been able God’s hand running through the whole experience.
He’s in control and He has a plan; I’m not able to see it or understand it, but I’m very grateful for it.
No one would have imagined that God would offer this great gift of salvation to the Gentiles. But he did; it was part of His plan. Then, now, and always, God has a master plan and is in control.
Friday, October 20, 2006
When I was reading these verses, I was reminded of the joy I feel when I am in fellowship with other Christians. I have some great non-Christian friends. But I think if something ever happened to me or my family I think it is my St. Matthews family that I would look to for help.
I can’t imagine how Paul must have felt, going from place to place, uncertain if he was walking into death. He must have been so relieved when he was greeted by friendly faces, whether Christian or not. Verse 15 of our reading says that Paul “took courage” when he reached Rome and was greeted by Christians who came from all over to greet him. But, I think he was probably happiest to find folks who were open to hearing his message, the message of everlasting hope. Even though I would imagine Paul being so weary at times, so needy of a friendly, kind face, I also imagine that Paul would give that up if it meant he could reach someone in need and convert them to Christianity.
One of the joys of having Christian friends is that we can give each other support in our walk of faith. I can’t imagine living Paul’s life. But, I know I need to do a better job of doing Christ’s work. To be able to have fellow Christians take that walk with me is so comforting, and, like Paul, that fellowship gives me great courage.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Paul, however, is able to persuade the men to stay, and actually to encourage them so they are ready to meet the demands of landing the ship in the day ahead. Day breaks and they spy land, not familiar land, but good land, land with the calm waters of a bay and the sure landing of a beach. Things are looking up…
We root for our heroes to make it shore… but no, they hit a hidden reef and the ship catches there. The waves pound the ship, and it begins to break up. Paul is in big trouble now!
It gets worse. The guards, wishing to do their duty and ensure that no prisoners escape, plan to kill them all—Paul included. Is this the end?
No. The centurion intervenes. Once again Paul seems to cheat death. People jump over board and begin swimming to shore. Those who can’t swim grab planks splintered off from the sinking ship…
And today, at least, everybody lives! The assurance God gave Paul that all will be well (my paraphrase) for that day, at least, turns out to be well founded. Everybody lives!
We, of course, do not simply see fate at work here. We see the hand of God.
And I, at least, am encouraged. Life takes lots of twists and turns, some good and some seemingly not. Some are expected and some catch us totally unaware. Sometimes it looks like we’ve come to the end only to find a new way ahead.
But in all these things, God is near at hand, accomplishing His plans and purposes which are unable to be thwarted by whatever adversity arises. That, friends, is very good news—part of a larger story that much like this one, has a happy end!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Today's reading has an ironic twist but a very strong message.
First, let's discuss the ironic twist that I noticed. In verse 10 Paul warns his shipmates that if they sail now they will experience "great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also." However in verse 24, at the zenith of the storm, an angel tells Paul, "You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." Obviously both of Paul's comments cannot be true. So what gives?
My thought is that we are not to take Paul's comments in verse 10 as a prophecy but merely his normal habit of giving advice whenever and wherever he thought people could use it. His advice in this case is that they should not sail this time of the year as large, powerful storms were common and the consequence could be severe. In verse 24, my thinking is that Paul prayed to God to save the lives of his shipmates and in response to these prayers God sent the angel to tell Paul that they would be spared. Thus, actually, these two verses are not counter to each other they are merely used to explain the events as they unfolded.
Now what about the strong message I eluded to at the beginning? This message, I hope, is made more obvious by the paragraphs I wrote above. The message is, in the face of danger, when all hope is lost, trust in the promises of God. No matter the circumstances, always remember God is in control. God can turn disaster into deliverance and hopelessness into hope if we have enough faith in Him.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.
Paul’s dedication to his mission to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ persists as he continues his journey. He deals with his accusers and those that can help him in the same confident manner. When Jesus confronted Paul on the Damascus road, he promised protection for Paul during his ministry. Paul believed. This confidence in the face of extreme danger kept him alive. He does not weaken and continues his work.
This confidence influences those around him. Paul is threatened by death by the Jews and he seeks protection from the Romans as is his right as a Roman citizen. Festus the Roman Governor suggests that Paul’s learning has made him mad to help explain away the complaint against him. Paul rejects this help and appeals to the king to judge him as is his right. The King rightly suggests that Paul is trying to “---make him a Christian”. Of course Paul agrees and states his intent to make all around him to be just like him except that they not be bound in chains. With this the King releases Paul to the protection of a centurion. Paul and his friends then embarked for Rome to fulfill his ministry.
This is yet another illustration of Paul’s total dedication to the task given to him by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This also illustrates how Jesus uses the Romans to provide the physical protection that Paul required and that Jesus had promised. The faith in this promise is never questioned. Paul acts with total confidence. Oh to be so confident! Where does it come from? My faith allows me some measure of this confidence as I deal with the world around me. It comes from knowing that I am loved and that I will be protected. I however must act in a manner acceptable to my God. Please Lord give me the strength and courage to allow your living presence to be seen by others through me. Let me be a confident witness of your reality.
John Dickie, October 17, 2006
Monday, October 16, 2006
Though it may be difficult for us to visualize, we have in today’s reading a scene of political “pomp and circumstance.” Paul had been arrested by the Roman authority in
How did Paul respond? What did he say in defense to save himself? Paul told them about Jesus. He admitted his former opposition to Jesus. He recounted his subsequent conversion to becoming a follower of Jesus. To the Roman governor, the Jewish king, and many others of power and standing, in a city named to honor the emperor, Paul boldly informed them he fervently wished they all would become, like him, followers of Jesus.
This was not hubris. It was conviction. It was conviction based on a personal encounter, not with a memory or an ideal of a rejected and still dead preacher, but with the living Jesus. When Jesus stopped Paul on the road to
May we so truly know and follow the living Jesus that we do not fear to live in the
Sunday, October 15, 2006
This almost sounds whiny! He’s a spectacle to the WHOLE UNIVERSE and it’s not just people, it’s the angels too.
Even if it is whiny, I can relate to this expression of Paul’s apparent frustration. Sometimes life seems much more difficult than I think it should be. Demands of work, family, church and leisure conflict on too many occasions. The choices between good, better and best leave me dazed and confused. There is too little time, money and energy to attempt, let alone do, all the things that are put before me. The days can string together like the slow death march that Paul describes. Sorry, now I’m sounding whiny.
I wish that I could reach into the reading for today and give you the encouraging word that Paul shares, but he doesn’t really do that. He leaves the reader with the impression that he fully expects to walk a difficult road. He does however leave us with an exhortation, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me”. (I Corinthians 4:16)
I hear this as an encouraging word from Paul. He is walking the difficult road of an Apostle and saying he will travel that road in a Christ-like manner and as we travel our road, we too can walk in a Christ-like manner.
I also hear him saying, “Stop Whining”.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
What are we to make of Festus, the procurator of Judea who has inherited this problem not of his own doing--what to do with Paul? He has just learned that Paul is in fact a Roman citizen, and therefore has the right to take his case to Caesar Nero. But before he can put this process into effect, what looks like an opportunity for further consultation and clarification comes to him.
King Agrippa was heir to the line of Herods who were nominally Jews but by no means friends to the biblical faith. Agrippa's father had been a sidebar participant in the trial of Jesus, consulted by that earlier Roman governor, Pilate. And so Agrippa's seaside vacation at Caesarea is interrupted by the puzzling case that Festus sets before him.
While Festus is painstakingly clear about every manner of legal proceedings, he really doesn't understand what Paul is about. Festus has no high regard for Judaism--his reference to points of "religion" could as easily be translated "superstition"--but he manages to get one thing, amazingly, right on target. The point he grasped was Paul's assertion that Jesus, the man who had died, was now alive.
Perhaps it was this point that sparked Agrippa's interest, for he decided, without any binding obligation, to hear directly from Paul. And so he made the next day one of those grandiose occasions of pomp and splendor for which the Herods are infamous. One can easily imagine the sight of soldiers in dress uniforms marching in, and hear the trumpets sounding. And Festus, careful, cautious, do-the-right-thing governor, is playing his part in a scene that is much bigger than he or any of the others present, regardless of their finery and their titles.
For Paul is about to tell his story.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Paul then presented his case to Festus. The Jewish leaders wanted this to take place in Jerusalem, as they were planning to ambush Paul while enroute and kill him. They were threatened so much by Paul’s message of Christ that they wanted to kill Paul, but God protected Paul and allowed Paul to keep speaking about Christ.
I am struck by Paul’s faithfulness to Christ. He never wavered during his time in prison. It could not have been easy and it was probably scary at times. When he spoke repeatedly to Felix, Felix kept hoping to be bribed for Paul’s release. So, Felix listened to Paul with mixed motive and after two years, didn’t release him. And, God was faithful to Paul, to protect him during this time.
Paul reflects on his many sufferings in II Cor. 11:22ff and what he summarizes with is this, my weaknesses mean that God’s power rests in me, so I am glad for my weaknesses, for with God’s power, I am strong. Today as we work for Christ we will have inner and outer struggles. I am thinking I want to, with God’s power, step back and let God’s strength take over for my weakness, in those times when I want to act as Christ would but lack the power to.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
As several of our devotional writers have commented, this does not make for easy commentary of a devotional nature! The primary purpose of historical narrative is not to teach (that’s called didactic, such as can be found in the teachings of Jesus or the letters of Paul), but to accurately recount the events that began spreading the good news of what God has done in Christ throughout the world.
What we can do with verses like these, however, is note both how God and His faithful followers have acted in history. This gives us an idea of how we might expect God to act today—and how He might expect us to act as well. In other words, we draw principles from the stories which we can then apply to our lives.
For instance, God doesn’t rescue Paul from hardship. Though Felix (a fellow we also read about in such Roman history as the writings of Tacitus, by the way) grants Paul a little leniency, he does not release him. Apparently God is better able to accomplish His (God’s) purposes this way: Paul is able to share the Gospel with some of the most powerful people in the world of his day, Roman Governors.
I think it is safe to say that we can conclude that God will not always deliver us from hardship in our lives as well. He will not always bring us to safe places, as much as we might wish this was so. Things will not always turn out as we’d wish.
But that does not mean that God is not with us, or that He is not actively at work in our lives. Far from it, it may well mean that it is precisely situations like these that God’s plan is being accomplished through us.
When we realize that, then like Paul, we are in the position to make the most of whatever comes our way.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
The Roman official that rescued Paul from the Jews was Claudius Lysias. In his letter to Governor Felix, Claudius writes, "I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment." (verse 29) Of course the law to which Claudius was referring was Jewish law. It sounds very similar to the findings of Pontius Pilate 20 years earlier when the Jews brought Jesus to him. Claudias' findings reiterated the Roman view that Christianity was no threat or offense to Rome.
The view that Christianity was no threat or offense to Rome is correct on one level and incorrect on another. It is correct in that Christianity is not a threat to anyone or anything. Christianity will make Rome famous as the seat of the Western Church. Missionaries will be sent by the Roman Church to convert England to Christianity which ultimately leads to the Anglican Church. At the same time, this view is obviously incorrect in that the spread of Christianity is one of the factors that brings down the Roman Empire (and, of course, Paul's rescue plays a large part in that).
Yes, God most certainly works in mysterious ways. But please remember, that even though God's ways may sometimes be mysterious to us, God is always in control. God is able to see a much bigger picture than we can, and thus what may be mysterious to us many times is that way because we can only see our miniscule part of the universe.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.
This weeks reading reads like a good mystery novel. It is full of intrigue, good guys, bad guys, treachery and suspicion. It also leaves you hanging wanting to read further to see how the story ends. It would do well as a screenplay or novel. We know that it is the continuing story of Paul and Acts of the Apostles. We also know how the story ends and also why it ends the way it does. Yes it is dramatic and for a reason. We need to see ourselves as we really are. Paul wanted those he preached to to see themselves as God sees them. It is not a pretty picture and no wonder they wanted to kill him.
This won’t make a lot of sense if you have not read the passage. In short, 40 Jews commit that they will not eat or drink until they have ambushed and murdered Paul. Paul finds out and sends a messenger to tell the Romans (he is a Roman citizen). They plan to intercede and capture Paul themselves and send him to the Governor. No, this is not a Saturday afternoon Western movie.
What do we take from this story? Bear with me for a moment. Let’s pretend that we are one of the 40 who have committed to kill Paul. Why am I doing this? I am a good Jew. I know the Law. I am living life the way I have been taught and I follow the rules. I love my God and I love the community I am in. I am protected by it and my livelihood comes from it. My religion is the center of my life. Along comes this foreigner who challenges everything I believe. He presents God through this human being Jesus Christ and talks of resurrections and life after death. This just doesn’t fit. It destroys everything that is important to me. He is threatening our whole way of life. Not just mine but also my family and those I care for. I cannot let this continue. He must be stopped. And I am not the only one that feels this way. There are 39 others who feel the same. We cannot all be wrong. WE HAVE TO STOP HIM. "Please God help us to stop him!"
Wow! I am scaring myself just writing this because I believe this is the way we in the West are perceived today my many Moslems around the world. We need another Paul and we need him now.
John Dickie, Oct.10, 2006
Monday, October 09, 2006
As Acts informs us, Paul, having traveled extensively for years, longed to visit
In today’s passage we have the continuation of a story of such opposition. Some Jewish people from the province of
When Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen, the commander halted the flogging. Instead, he put Paul before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, for interrogation. Paul again took the opportunity to affirm his hope in the resurrection. For Paul this meant first the resurrection of Jesus – God’s vindication of Jesus as savior and lord. Second, it meant Paul’s hope for himself after death. Paul’s continuing witness to Jesus roiled the Sanhedrin and put him at risk of further violence. The military commander hustled Paul back to confinement in the barracks.
What did God do in response? Jesus appeared to Paul under arrest and told him to take courage. As Paul had witnessed to Jesus in
Some Christians today seem to advertise a Jesus who died to help us succeed in life without really suffering. Paul knew better. He knew Jesus died to reconcile us to God. He knew Jesus deserved our faithful devotion even if it led to suffering and death. By his own faithfulness to God, Jesus taught Paul this. Paul knew better. May God help us and all who profess Jesus to true faithfulness and witness – not to succeed in the world but to live in the only kingdom worthy of true hope.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Paul talks about this in today’s reading. He says, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?” (1 Cor 2:11a)
Isn’t that the truth? I can relate to this as I’m trying to understand my children, but I also know from personal experience that often I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself – very few people really know my thoughts or feelings. Even when I articulate what I’m thinking, I am seldom able to fully communicate them.
Paul uses this question in the context of discussing how we can know the things of God; or to paraphrase the portion of the passage in my words: If we have so much trouble understanding each other, how can we possibly understand the heart of God?
Fortunately for us, God has given us a special gift to help us understand. Paul describes this gift as the Spirit of God or the mind of Christ. God does not intentionally hide his truth from us. It is His desire to be known by us and for us to know him fully.
Let us choose today to let the Spirit of God, the mind of Christ, draw us closer to the heart of God. Perhaps as we better understand God, we can also better understand each other.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
After being taken prisoner and bound by the Roman soldiers, Paul informs them that he is a Roman citizen. The Roman captain tells Paul he had to pay a great price to be freed from slavery and have the benefits of Roman citizenship. Paul states that he was born a Roman citizen. When the Romans find out that Paul is a Roman citizen by birth, their attitude toward him and their treatment of him drastically changes.
As I was reading this, it struck me that citizenship can have many privileges and protections associated with it. In this story, Roman citizenship meant belonging to a powerful society and having protections and rights not bestowed upon “outsiders”. Citizens were free and not someone else’s property. We experience these privileges and benefits today in our lives as American citizens.
On a much greater scale, as followers of Jesus, we enjoy the benefits of belonging to Him. Through Christ, we belong to His family and have the extravagant gift of grace. We also enjoy His love and protection. Unlike Roman citizenship, God’s gifts don’t have to be purchased and we don’t have to qualify by being a certain race or gender. There is no way we can earn or deserve God’s love and forgiveness. But we do have to make a conscious decision to follow Jesus and accept Him as our Lord. Like Paul, we have to answer Jesus’ call and allow Him to change us. In a way, it’s very simple and it’s available to everyone. But sometimes it’s not so easy to say yes.
Lord, Help us to hear your call and say yes to your gifts and the changes you will make in us. Amen.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Paul, however, reached out to Jews and non-Jews alike. The Jews did not like this and, as was the case with Jesus, it was the Jews who did not trust Paul and wanted him out of the way. They simply did not want to deal with what Paul was saying. The true message of Christianity was uncomfortable to the Jews.
How many of us are like those Jews of that time? Are we uncomfortable reaching out to non-Christians? Are we uncomfortable reaching out to other races, to people about whom we have pre-conceived notions?
Let’s face it. Any time we reach beyond the comfort of our own space it is difficult. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus tells us we must do.
The mission of St. Matthews is to know and share God’s love. We can only do that among each other for so long. That is relatively easy. Although I am sure that God is happy that we are a family at St. Matthews, that is not what He calls us to do. We are called to live our mission. We are required to reach out to all who are seeking peace, all who are seeking comfort from a world gone crazy.
The great thing about having the strong community at St. Matthews is that we can help each other achieve our Christian calling. We can support each other and give each other a high-five when we succeed against our very nature and share the word and the love of Christ with others who would otherwise be strangers to us. That is what Paul was all about.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
New things require much careful planning.
As a tourist in D.C. this week, I kept thinking of all the decisions that had to be made when our nation was being formed. There was no previous model to follow. There were so many things to be put in place, decisions to make, demands to be met (or not), ideas to consider, factions to appease.
These verses in Acts seem to tell a similar story. Christianity was a new thing. While firmly rooted in Judaism, Christianity was very different. The Jews of the day saw their whole culture, their whole history being threatened. As Christians we take for granted our freedom from the law, but in Paul’s time it was unheard of, a radical departure from Judaism, a new thing.
Yesterday we read about some ways the Christian leaders tried to defuse a volatile situation. Despite the careful plans, some unknown Jews made accusations that created a riot. How quickly it spread! In verse 27 the whole crowd was stirred up. In verse 30 the whole city was aroused. Had the commander of the Roman troops not acted quickly, Paul most likely would have been killed. Even with the help of the troops, Paul barely got out of there. But our reading ends with Paul being carried to safety while the crowd chanted the all-too-familiar Away with him, or as some translations read, Kill him! Kill him!
Most of us have not had the experience Paul had of being beaten by a hostile crowd. Most of us, however, have experienced a multitude of “opportunities” to put aside our Christian beliefs and follow the world. God was orchestrating a great new thing. I’m so glad Paul stood firmly on the Rock, even when his very life was threatened. I pray that I…and you…may do the same.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Paul is told by James and the elders of the Jerusalem church that a rumor is being spread that Paul is teaching the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from the law, to turn away from the teaching of Moses. To put this rumor to rest, Paul agrees to join four men in their purification rites and pay their expenses so that they can have their heads shaved. By agreeing to this act, Paul willingly submits to Jewish custom to show that he is still living a Jewish life style. Paul shows us that we must be willing to go the extra mile to avoid offending others, because if we offend them we may cause them to close their door to receiving the good news we want to share with them.
This brings me to another item. We have discussed this item before but I think it is relevant to this reading so I will bring it back out again. There are two ways to think of the Jewish laws. One is the idea that the Old Testament laws will bring salvation to those who follow them. Clearly Paul rejects this idea. Paul knows that no one is capable of fully and completely keeping the laws. We are all sinners.
The second idea is that the Old Testament laws prepare us for, and teach us about, the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the law and freed us from the burden of sin. Clearly Paul accepts this view and was not observing the law to be saved. He was keeping the law as custom to avoid offending others.
We need to learn from Paul's actions. We need to avoid offending others when possible and when we have a disagreement with another person, or when an organization or church has a disagreement, we need to not let minor differences drive a wedge between us.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.
Yes, dear reader this week we continue our travels with Paul. No less than 7 different destinations are mentioned in this travel log. He traveled more than I do. How can I even be glib about comparing Paul to me in any way? The results of his travels so far exceed the accomplishments of myself or any other person I know or have read about makes comparison impossible. This passage is similar to many others as it describes his travels and his ability to stay one step ahead of trouble. In this story, Paul is warned not to go to Jerusalem. The warning comes from a prophesy. In fact, Paul and the other believers believed that the Holy Spirit spoke through these prophesies. I am reminded again of the difference between knowing something and believing it.
This passage speaks to a subject of great difficulty for me and others I expect – martyrdom. Paul knew that if he went to Jerusalem that he would be taken and probably killed. Paul was prepared to commit the greatest act of generosity that we can make; to give his life in the name of Jesus Christ. Father Rob’s sermon this morning is still ringing in my head as I write this for Tuesday. While the focus today was greed, it came to me as a challenge of my generosity. While I am challenged by the extent to which I share my worldly goods, here is Paul who had nothing in terms of what I have, prepared to give away the only thing he had – himself. This act of generosity makes the decision of how much I should increase my weekly pledge seem completely insignificant. Paul has set the bar rather high when it comes to setting the standard of giving.
In my former church in Montreal, a group of us presented a dramatic play in our church called Murder in the Cathedral about the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. I played the part of Thomas. Learning this part was a turning point in my Christian development. God deals with us in different and often strange ways. Thomas (like Paul before him) “knew” that if he continued to challenge King Henry that he would be killed. However, he “believed” that he was acting in the name of Jesus Christ and this overcame his fear and anger. This experience also introduced to me for the first time the fact that “good actions bring good feelings” and not the other way around.
John Dickie, October 3, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
We have in today’s passage a tender scene. Paul, having lived and traveled in Asia Minor and the Greek peninsula for a long time, desired to visit
Yet Paul wanted to do more than mill around and chat with old friends, reminiscing about the past. Paul thought the trip to
Of this “last will and testament” there is much we could ponder to our benefit. Yet one particular point, I think, deserves much prayerful consideration as virtually the focal point of Paul’s instruction here and indeed of his whole life. In verse 24 Paul revealed his heart when he stated that he valued his own life not at all except in relation to Jesus and the task Jesus called him to fulfill, namely, witnessing to the good news of God’s astounding grace. Paul employed the metaphor of running a race to signify this task when he expressed his longing only to finish the race and finish it well. It is an inspiriting expression of vigor, passion, and perseverance, conditioned by the great good Paul found in Jesus.
I start many good things. Too few do I finish. May this not be so with my faith. May it not be so with any of us. Living the good news of Jesus faithfully in heart and mind, in word and deed, may we run the race and finish it well, to the glory of God.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
We all recognize that wisdom is a worthwhile attribute, a valuable commodity to be attained, and based on just this passage from James, it is clear that we are expected to have wisdom or at least be increasing in wisdom.
Look at what some people have said about wisdom.
It don’t take much to see that something is wrong, but it does take some eyesight to see what will put it right again. Will Rogers
Wisdom – common sense to an uncommon degree. Piet Hein
The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance. Charles Spurgeon
When a man lacks wisdom his mind is always restless,
And his senses are wild horses dragging the driver hither and thither.
But when he is full of wisdom his mind is collected
And his senses become tamed horses obedient to the driver’s will.
Often wisdom is naturally attained through experience and age, but we don’t have to rely on hard knocks and birthdays to bring us to wisdom. Earlier in the book of James, there is clear direction on what to do if we lack wisdom, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
Wisdom, true wisdom is not a passive trait. It is better understood as an action word. James shows us this when he answers the question of who the “wise and understanding” are. “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” James 3:13b