Friday, August 31, 2007
Paul was bitten by a viper as he was building a fire (maybe Paul was distracted thinking about the gospel) and miraculously, Paul lived.
Paul and his companions stayed three months on Malta and then sailed towards Rome. Some believers in Rome encouraged him. Paul has been called “the Apostle to the Gentiles,” as Jews and Gentiles in the book of Acts have come to believe in the Gospel. This is another kind of miracle, at first glance less dramatic, but as miraculous as being protected from a dangerous snake; the miracle of Christian community. Paul experienced it in this passage, and we experience it today as we pray for and support each other.
Last week we sat around a wooden table as a family, eating ice cream at and ice cream stand. It would be the last time in a while doing this together, as we were taking our daughter to college. It reminded me of Paul’s words about taking communion, and how, when we take communion we yearn to see Jesus again. Meals mean fellowship, and because of Christ’s death, we fellowship with other believers. We support and pray for each other. Not for nothing; not just for our own comfort, but so our lives will touch others.
This week, I have been encouraged by the kindness of other believers. Once again, as I read this passage, I am thankful for Paul. He said in Colossians 3 that everything in his life he counted a loss, compared to Christ. His energy and devotion and mostly his yearning for Christ and the kingdom, inspire me.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Stories are rarely “just stories”. They are a record of how God has acted in the past, and since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, they serve as a guide as to how we can expect Him to act in the future. They are also capture real life, flesh and blood pictures of what it looks like to live in harmony with God, and to have a relationship with him.
So how has God acted in this story? How did Paul act? What matters to Luke (the story teller) that maybe should matter to us as well?
These are the kind of questions we ask in a passage like this. And then when we’ve answered them, we apply those answers to the present. How can I expect God to act today in the crisis I’m facing? What would it look like for me to trust God like Paul trusts God, in the dark of the night when the situation appears to be worsening (the ships running aground, the crew wants to abandon ship, the prisoners—including Paul—are about to be killed)? What difference would it make in my life if the things that mattered most to Luke mattered the most to me (hint: Luke likes to count, and just like the rest of us, what he counts is what is important to him).
If we take the time to read the story, reflect on some questions, and work through the answers and implications for our lives, we'll find the gifts this passage has to offer.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Leaving the relative safety of Fair Havens, Paul’s vessel encountered a violent storm. The crew tried valiantly to weather the storm but eventually gave up all hope of saving their lives, much less the battered ship. Paul gathered the ship’s crew and encouraged them with two promises of God: (1) that he (Paul) had been guaranteed safe arrival in Rome; and (2) that everyone sailing with him would be protected from harm. One truth stands clear in the middle of this nerve-racking voyage: Life may get messy, complicated, or even frightening, but God’s will cannot be thwarted! God can turn disaster into deliverance and hopelessness into hope. Having faith in God means taking God at His word and relying wholeheartedly on the promises of God.
We all face trials and tribulations during our lives. Today’s reading reminds us to trust in God to get us through. I do not know about you but sometimes when the going gets tough I try to rely on me – I do not ask God for help or look to Him for help. This usually has limited success. Today’s reading helps me to remember that when the going gets tough I need to rely on God – ask God for help, seek His will and path forward. Today’s reading is a reminder to all of us.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ and Happy Birthday Jodie,
Monday, August 27, 2007
As we have seen in previous readings, Paul had been taken into custody by Roman authorities because of a disturbance and complaint generated by a number of Jews in
Paul stood accused by his opponents of scandalizing Judaism and disturbing the peace by proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, as Savior and Lord. They wanted to punish and even eliminate Paul. They also realized that his proclamation and the commotion it aroused potentially threatened Roman rule and order in Judea. Hence, if they could not punish or kill Paul themselves, let the Romans exert their authority and power against him! In this context, the Roman governor, Festus, wanted to know more precisely the grounds of accusation. Agrippa, Jewish himself though collaborating with the Romans to rule, could help Festus understand Paul’s proclamation in relation to the charges against him. So Agrippa, in company with Festus and many other officials, summoned Paul to defend himself.
What did Paul say? Paul told the story of Jesus in his life. He told how he had grown up a devout Jew, seeking to love and serve God as well as he could. He had longed for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to send a special person to free people and lead them in true worship and right life. Scandalized that followers of Jesus claimed this crucified man was God’s special person, Paul had vehemently opposed Jesus and his movement.
But it turned out Jesus did not stay dead after being crucified – as Paul and everybody else would have expected. God raised Jesus from the dead, thus validating that Jesus is God’s appointed agent to free us from sin, to give us new and right life. The resurrected Jesus, in all his glory, confronted and transformed Paul on the road to Damascus. From enemy of Jesus to devoted follower and witness, Paul became a radically new person! This is the good news Paul rejoiced in and shared wherever and whenever he could – including with Agrippa and Festus while he was in custody!
What would we say if asked to explain our belief in Jesus? Would we tell of how the living Jesus transformed us? Would we, confident and trusting in the Spirit, be willing and able to tell the story of Jesus in our life and in the Church? Today’s reading from Acts challenges us to ask whether we truly know Jesus intimately and powerfully, whether we have a story to tell others of God’s good news for us and in us, changing us in Jesus into radically new people, from beginning to end. May this be so!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
People who walk in the Way are people who are living what they believe. Too often, Christianity is a group of people who profess to believe something that has little or no impact on their lives.
People who walk in the Way are people who are on a journey. Being on the Way, they know they are not yet there. Too often, Christianity is a group of people who behave as if they have arrived.
People who walk in the Way are people who are committed to be a little farther tomorrow than they are today. Too often, Christianity is a group of people who think that once they’ve been baptized, received communion, gone to church, read the Bible, or made a “decision for Christ”, think they’ve basically done what they have to do.
People who walk in the Way know there is a Path to follow and that if you wander from it you will get lost. You will never get where you are going. Too often, Christianity is a group of people who follow a variety of ways, and those ways look surprisingly like the ways of the world around them.
All of which, of course, leads to the question: “As a Christian, am I walking in the Way?”
Monday, August 20, 2007
Was Paul deliberately and actively antagonistic toward Jewish and Roman authority? Nothing in Acts or his surviving writings would indict and convict him as such. Yet there he was, as we read in today’s passage from Acts, accused and hauled before Jewish and Roman authority as a problem to both. From this situation, Paul eventually ended up a prisoner in Rome and then a martyr. How did he get himself into all of this if, as would seem the case, he was not deliberately and actively antagonistic?
The answer appears to be that Paul – like others who also witnessed, suffered, and died in those early decades of the church – loved, served, and proclaimed Jesus as Lord without equivocation or compromise. To the Jewish authorities, this offended their view of God, and it threatened the “peace” of their political compromise with Rome in its occupation of Palestine. To the Roman authorities, this countered the empire’s foundation on and assertion of Caesar as Lord, both political and religious. The empire would not allow it. Hence without even going out of his way to incite trouble, Paul, by his mere assertion of and steadfast fidelity to the lordship of Jesus, unnerved both Jerusalem and Rome.
Do we love, serve, and proclaim Jesus as Lord without equivocation or compromise? What does this even mean to us? We do not live in ancient Jerusalem or Rome, yet we do live in social and political contexts where authorities and powers attempt to claim our identity and allegiance – to tell us who we are, what we should think and say, and how we should live. That Jesus is Lord means, in contradistinction, that no one and nothing else can rightly claim to be the highest and ultimate authority and power for our lives and our world. Jesus is Lord: not any other person or system of authority and power.
Today some followers of Jesus live in countries where relative ease exists between the Church and society. Other followers live in countries where relative tension and worse exist. In either situation, followers of Jesus must grow ever deeper, truer, and firmer in loving, serving, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord in all aspects of their lives. This may mean potential or actual tension with worldly authority and power. But with Paul and countless others throughout the Church, we must confess and live Jesus as Lord whether in peace or in suffering. In either case, we can take courage as we do, for the Lord stands beside us as he stood beside Paul, to love and strengthen us in life and witness.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Paul primary concern in today’s reading is certainly not to “make society work”. His first concern was to be faithful to Jesus Christ. This meant boldly preaching in public about what God had done in Christ. It also resulted in a riot.
To the degree that society has institutionalized things which run counter to the teaching of Jesus that we are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we cannot “reinforce the powers that Christ defeated” (I am again quoting Hauerwas).
What does that mean for us? It’s something worth giving considerable prayerful reflection. As but one example, does it have implications for the way we consume—both in the sheer quantity of our consumption but also the means and practices that support such consumption? As you might guess, I’d suggest it does.
But maybe even more basically, are there ways we are choosing simply to go with the flow, keep the peace, and promote the status quo rather than taking the risk of telling other people about Jesus? To be sure, the example of Paul (and of Jesus before him) is not an easy one to follow; but follow it we must if God is really to be given first place in our lives.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Often a Jew who has been in Gentile territory for a lengthy time would undergo ritual purification upon returning to his homeland. OK, but what is the point of all of this? I feel the point is that sometimes believers must submit to authorities to avoid offending others, especially when such offense would hinder the spreading of the Word. Thus, even though Paul did not fully agree, he did go through the purification ritual and paid for the others to do the same.
Those who think Paul may have been wrong for going along with this request perhaps overlook one of the marks of Paul's ministry. I am speaking about 1 Corinthians 9:30, "When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ." This was one of those times when it was not worth it to offend the Jewish authorities. Spreading the Word is too important to push others away by not complying with a custom.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Monday, August 13, 2007
In the early 50s A.D., Paul resided in
Toward the end of his sojourn in Ephesus, Paul decided to visit Jerusalem again, but in a round about way by first crossing the Aegean Sea westward to Macedonia (Roman province covering what is now northern Greece) and Achaia, then doubling back south by ship to Palestine and inland to Jerusalem. So as not to get sidetracked on the way from Macedonia and Achaia, Paul determined not to stop in the port at Ephesus. Yet he desired to see the leaders of the church in Ephesus. At Paul’s behest then, those church elders met him at Miletus, a little south of Ephesus on the coast.
Uncertain of what would happen to him in Jerusalem or beyond, Paul spoke intimately and passionately with his beloved friends. It was a time for him to clarify his focus in life, for his own sake to be sure, but especially for the sake of the church in Ephesus. The followers of Jesus in Ephesus lived in a city, a province, and an empire teeming with a plurality of religious and philosophical beliefs and practices. Paul made clear that he staked his life upon and proclaimed to all the good news of repentance and faith in Jesus. He charged the church leaders to do the same. Challenges and temptations would swirl around them to tear them from the good news. Yet in God’s grace, through worship, prayer, fellowship, and service, they could stand firm and grow in repentance and faith.
We face a context – locally, nationally, and globally – of teeming plurality and diversity in beliefs and practices. How will we respond? Will we respond by ever-deepening commitment and witness to repentance and faith in Jesus, savior and lord of all? Will we persevere, joyfully and hopefully, in worship, prayer, fellowship, and service – all focused in Jesus and his good news for us and the world? Will this be the race we run, in company with Paul and countless other faithful throughout history, until we complete the task we have been given, namely, to lead a life worthy of Jesus? May we – today, tomorrow, and ever – resoundingly answer “Yes!” in heart and mind, in word and deed: our whole selves our whole life for Jesus!
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Eutychus’s life would have ended if Paul had ignored the commotion. Eutychus would have stayed dead if Paul hadn’t taken the time to stop, go down 3 stories, and hug the lifeless body of a person he did not know. Or, Paul simply could have decided to say a prayer for the unfortunate young man and use the incident as an example in his preaching. But he didn’t. Instead, Paul paused and acted. Paul’s action breathed new life not only into Eutychus but into every individual present and listening that night.
Thirty years ago, while processing claims for the Organization of American States, I met a man named Dr. Laravide. I don’t remember his job title or even his first name, but I do remember that Dr. Laravide was very gentle, very charming, and always smiling. He seemed to be happy. So it was a great shock to all of us that, one evening, he ended his own life. For reasons unknown to us, he succumbed, not to sleep, but to despair. Like Eutychus, no one saw him “fall” until it was too late. Unlike Eutychus, no one was there to breathe life into him.
If the person standing next to Eutychus had noticed him nodding off, maybe he could have gently nudged him awake, or maybe he could have caught him as he started to fall. If those closest to Dr. Laravide had seen the signs of growing despair within him, maybe they could have lend an ear, spoken encouraging words, offered friendship. But it simply isn’t possible to know or to see when someone starts to fall, is it?
Heavenly Father, through your grace, may we always take the time to offer a friendly smile, a moment of listening, or a word of encouragement, especially to those closest to us. Sometimes that’s all a person needs to feel that “…his life is in him.” Amen.
Friday, August 10, 2007
In today’s reading a big, fat riot happens. It’s about money and it’s about false gods. Demetrius, a silversmith, realizes that if people believe in Jesus, they won’t need to buy the idols which he and others makes. So he calls a meeting to discuss this problem and also point out that people who worship Jesus won’t worship the godess Artemis or worship at her famous temple. This caused the big riot.
God protected Paul and his co workers in the midst of this. God used a very reasonable town clerk who urged the protesters to be calm (after they had shouted for two hours).
Again I’m thankful for Paul and the courage of he and his coworkers. I see the miraculous way that the gospel spread. I know it must have been hard for the artisans to see a source of their income go away. We too struggle with greed in many forms. I have been reading in I Corinthians to find out more about Paul, and when he lists sins, greed takes a place with other “big league” sins! (I Cor. 6).
These stories in Acts makes it seem like the gospel came through peoples’ lives like a fire hose to drive out darkness. Maybe we also be willing to live in the light as revealed in Scripture. I think greed is tied to trying to feel full, or fulfillment. May God show me what I am greedy about, what I am trying to use to obtain rest or peace instead of finding fulfillment in Christ.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
First, censorship. The practice in the early church was a little different than what we might think of when we hear the word today. A standard was not imposed from without; believers chose to censor themselves. They chose to set limits for themselves as to what was acceptable and was not—what they would let into their hearts and minds and souls, and what they would not.
Second, intolerance. What a nasty word! In a day and age where all too often anything goes, intolerance is still an undesirable vice, a inexcusable sin. But that, of course, was not the position of the early church. In choosing standards, they committed themselves to a way of life where some things were unacceptable and out of bounds. That which did not promote their life in Christ, they did not tolerate.
And third, book burnings. Fifty thousand silver coins worth of books! Ouch! The books they burned were presumably their “magic” books; books that spoke of putting one’s trust in someone or something other than God as he is revealed in Jesus.
It all seems a little extreme. Or does it?
Are there things—movies, books, internet sites, TV shows, video games, etc—that we should do a better job of “censoring” from our hearts and minds and souls? Are their standards to which we should be so committed that we are not willing to tolerate that which violates them? Should we irrevocably part with things that keep us tied to our old ways of living, and that keep us from putting our trust fully in God and following him?
Hmmm… Extreme though they may be, it seems to me those might be questions well worth asking
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
As far as I know, this is the only place in the Bible where someone was “rebaptized”. But why did Paul do it? I think to answer this question we must first remember John’s ministry. One of the best verses to do this, I feel, is Matthew 3:11, “"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism was one of repentance. Repentance is the beginning of a spiritual process. Baptism is an “outward” sign of commitment. Like all sacraments, to be effective, it has to be accompanied by an “inward” change of attitude leading to a changed life. John’s baptism did not give salvation; it prepared a person to welcome the coming Messiah and receive his message and his baptism.
I do not know if you know this, but the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer contains a section in the back called the Catechism. I commend this to you as a great resource. The Catechism is laid out in a question and answer format. A topic that is extremely pertinent to today’s reading is, of course, Holy Baptism. The Catechism states,
What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?
The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.
What is required of us at Baptism?
It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
At first glance today’s reading seems like a nice story but not very relevant. However, I feel it calls all of us to reexamine how we are doing in our spiritual journey to change our life to follow Christ. I know that if I do not intentionally examine this aspect of my life, I can quickly get off course. How are you doing?
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.
We continue today with Luke’s account of the critical teaching experiences of Paul as he spreads the word of God’s great gift to the world. We read again about how the Jews reject his teaching. In this case the Jews complain to the Roman proconsul that Paul is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law. They would have the Romans judge Paul against Roman laws. The Roman has the good judgment in this case to reject their complaint as it was the Jewish law that Paul challenged and he refused to deal with it. Paul then left and went to Ephesus where he stayed for a period of time and then departed leaving 2 others to continue their work. They wanted him to remain but he said that he would return if God willed it.
Luke then tells of a Jew named Apol’los coming to Ephesus after Paul's departure. He is described as eloquent and was aware of Jesus and the ways of the Lord. Together with those Paul had left behind they continued to teach the Jews in the synagogue with great success. When I read these stories about the difficulties Paul had to “convert” the Jews I wonder why he even tried. Why not preach only to the Gentiles? I believe that Luke and Paul (to a lesser degree) considered the new spirituality reality introduced through Jesus Christ as the evolution of Judaism and not as a new belief. It was important to them to show the connections between the Jewish teachings and those of Jesus. It was therefore important when a Jew like Apol’los becomes the one delivering the good news that the long awaited Christ is Jesus.
As I read these accounts of the early history of our Church I am encouraged to see the power of God prevail against man’s rigid adherence to tradition and the “law”. Even today we continue to see man’s inability to look beyond their own traditions and experience and fail to see what heaven has to offer. We are often a slave to our history and cannot see God's will in the changing world around us. Our Church is being callenged by a changing world. Jesus is all about change. Are we?
John Dickie, Aug.7, 2007
Monday, August 06, 2007
Location, location, location. No, this is not a promotion of the real estate mantra. Rather it is a recognition of the extremely itinerant nature of Paul’s life. Once Paul had encountered the living Jesus and become a devoted follower, he lived the rest of his life seemingly rootless and compelled to travel. A read through Acts sketches the picture of how many years he traveled and how many cities and people he visited – all in the name of Jesus.
We have in today’s reading only a thin cross-section of Paul’s locations, locations, locations. He had been in Athens proclaiming the good news of the living Jesus in the synagogue, marketplace, and political forum. He spoke and debated with any who would listen and talk. Then Paul went to Corinth. (Both Athens and Corinth were in the Roman province of Achaia – southern Greece. Macedonia was northern Greece.) In Corinth, Paul continued to share Jesus in the synagogue and anywhere he could, meeting with many people. Some responded joyfully and became followers of Jesus. Others – notably, a contingent of Jewish people – opposed and hectored him, even accusing him of troublemaking before the highest Roman official in Achaia. Paul, trusting in God’s care, simply continued in faithfulness to Jesus.
As suggested above, it would be easy to perceive Paul – traveling from location to location to location – as rootless. But he was not rootless. He simply did not root himself in any thing or person but Jesus. Paul may seem rootless to us because we put so much of our time, energy, priorities, and efforts in trying to root ourselves in so many things other than Jesus. These include possessions, power, accomplishments, prestige, appearance, family, ethnicity, country, and the like. Paul could have done that. He had a profession, as we see in this passage. He was well educated, intelligent, passionate, and visionary. He was even something of a “celebrity” in the burgeoning Jesus-movement. But he grounded himself in Jesus.
Itinerancy is not a requirement for rooting ourselves rightly. But we do have to refuse those things, many of which may be good as far as they go, that would root us in something other than Jesus. To do so we must join with Paul as he affirms in Philippians 3:7-9: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him….” For, as Paul truly knew and we can also know, Jesus is the only true home for our hearts, minds, and bodies – for our very selves.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Friday, August 03, 2007
That brings me to today’s reading. Paul suffered yet another setback when he was mobbed by the angry crowd and brought before the authorities in Thessalonica. This was certainly not the first or last time this happens to Paul as he travels throughout the Middle-East and Mediterranean regions establishing the church. But, he sticks with it. And each time, until his eventual captivity and death, the Lord disentangles him from the mess and Paul goes on his way to continue his work.
Paul had no shortage of faith and he was absolutely steadfast in his devotion to the goal: to bring as many people to the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Only death separated him from that goal.
I personally can learn so much from Paul. First, to be devoted to a goal. Second, to have faith that is strong enough to continue through set-backs. Third, to be relentless in meeting the goal, no matter what happens. However, there are some differences between me and Paul that perhaps make it more difficult for me to do these things.
For example, I have never been visited by Jesus. Throughout the Book of Acts, it was clear the Lord was virtually walking with Paul and causing things to happen, not the least of which was getting Paul out of trouble. I’m not sure if it is the din of our present day civilization or just the noise of my own life, but I often have a hard time listening or even feeling the Lord’s presence.
In his faith, Paul knew the Lord was with him. My guess is his faith was one of the things that kept him going even though he faced death almost daily. So perhaps this is the biggest lesson from Paul: to keep the faith no matter what is thrown at you.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
I feel to understand what Paul did, we have to understand a bit more about the times in which they took place. Fortune-telling was a common practice in Greek and Roman culture 2000 years ago. There were many superstitious methods by which people thought they could foretell future events, from interpreting omens in nature to communicating with the spirits of the dead. This young slave girl had an evil spirit, and she made her master rich by interpreting signs and telling people their fortunes. The master was exploiting her unfortunate condition for personal gain.
What the slave girl said was true, although the source of her knowledge was a demon. Paul and Silas were indeed servants of the Most High God and, in fact, were telling others how to be saved. Why did this annoy Paul? I would think that it is the connection of their message to a demon that really annoyed Paul. If Paul accepted the demon’s words, he would appear to be linking the gospel with demon-related activities, not to mention the prophecy-for-profit approach that this girl’s owners had taken. Such association would damage the message of Christ.
Today’s reading tells us that the way we deliver the message of Christ to others is just as important as the message itself. The good news is too important to be linked in any way to anything unscrupulous. Now I know this might seem obvious, but it is helpful to me to constantly remember this. It reminds me of the old saying, action speaks louder than words.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,