Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Acts 16:6-15

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 31, 2007
Acts 16:6-15
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

In today’s writing from Acts, God continues to show himself through the faith of his people. We are told of Paul’s travels and his mission to spread the Good News. He is being guided by the Holy Spirit and he cannot chose where he is to go. God tells him in a vision that he is to go Macedonia. Paul is not making the rules. He is a true servant of God and does what he is told. He does not question and goes. We are told of the route he took and the cities he visited on his journey. It is a biblical travelog.

In Philippi, he preaches to a group of women. The lord opens the heart of one of the women to Paul’s message. She believed and was baptized with her family. She also took Paul into her home but only if she be judged as faithful to the Lord.

Today’s reading speaks to me about being open to the Lord and making oneself available to him. Paul was obviously driven to tell others about God being present in the world in Jesus Christ and that he remains with us through his spirit. Paul is listening and is obedient to the will of God. Paul did not make his own decisions. The communication link between Paul and God remained constantly open because Paul made the decision to keep it open.

Isn’t this the challenge we all face; to keep our communication link with God always open. I find it very difficult. The pressures of daily life and the demands put on me often mean the communication link gets closed because I close it. I know that my daily routine must have God in it. I have found that I do not have to ask for direction from God. If through daily and sometimes hourly prayer I keep the communication open, he will deliver. There have been far too many cases of Godly intervention in my life to write it off as coincidence. I am fortunate that I am in daily contact with fellow believers both at home and at work. I thank God for these people who remind me to keep my spiritual phone line open. I am also reminded that knowing God’s will is not worth much if I do not act on it.

AMEN

John Dickie, July 31, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Acts 15:36-16:5

We may tend to sentimentalize the early Church. Those first followers of Jesus lived so close to his time. Some even knew Jesus before his death and during the time of his resurrection appearances. Daily, it may seem to us, they experienced the refreshment and invigoration of the Holy Spirit in their lives and their life together; and the Church rapidly spread throughout the Mediterranean region. If only we had lived then, what faith, hope, and love would have seeded, sprouted, and blossomed in our lives to the glory of God and the good of the world around us!

Then we read actual accounts of people, relationships, and communities in the early Church – such as today’s passage – and we squarely face reality. Yes, they lived in interesting times, at the end of Jesus’ sojourn on earth and the inauguration of God’s great movement of resurrection life which is the Church, the Body of Christ. They grew in grace and goodness in wondrous ways. Lamentably, they also continued to carry in themselves, as do we, elements of all-too-human weakness, self-centeredness, and downright sinfulness. Even when trying earnestly to follow Jesus, they sometimes fluttered, faltered, and fell to ground.

We encounter a painful instance of such failure in today’s reading. Close companions in mission and ministry, Paul and Barnabas decided to revisit a number of Christian communities to foster their spiritual well-being. Yet Paul and Barnabas disagreed about whether to take John Mark with them. The intensity of the conflict led them to separate and embark, each with different companions, on distinct ministry efforts. How grievous this must have been for them and for the Holy Spirit!

Yet God continued to work his good purposes despite and through their conflict and failure. Luke, author of Acts, observed that Paul’s visits to churches led to increased strength in their faith and growth in their numbers. He also met Timothy, a young Christian, and recruited Timothy to accompany and assist him in mission and ministry. In God’s grace, Timothy became one of Paul’s dearest friends and co-laborers and a leader in the early Church. Eventually, also in God’s grace, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark became reconciled to each other in Jesus.

God’s business is to work his good purposes despite and through our failure and sinfulness. In everything, God can bring good out of who we are and what the world tosses up. Look to Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark for proof! Let us then put all our hope and trust in God, and submit ourselves to God’s redemptive love and direction, that we may decrease in sin and grow in grace and goodness.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Acts 15:22-35

In today's reading, church elders sent a letter to the Gentiles. It essentially said to them, If you want to be called Christian, you don't have to get circumcised, but you do have to follow a certain code of conduct....

While the code of conduct described in that letter may seem lightly restrictive (listing only that they abstain from eating certain foods and from sexual immorality), it did encourage the Gentiles. Perhaps it said to them that, ultimately, what really mattered in being called Christian was their daily activity -- what they did and what they chose not to do.

A code of conduct, or rules and standards, create an order in life, a path that can lead somewhere or to something. If you follow the code or obey the rules and live up to certain standards, you can attain things (a car, a house, a degree,....) or titles (Doctor, MBA, Mayor,....) and all that come with such achievements (security, independence, power,....). AND if you rigorously observe certain rules and earnestly strive to reach the highest of standards, you can even attain highly coveted positions or titles.

Because high achievements often reflect discipline and perseverance, they are viewed by many with great admiration. So when you read, in less than a 2-week period, that a professional quarterback, a well-known movie actress, and a beauty queen with a state title have each engaged in outrageous, shocking, and illegal behavior, you ask, What were they thinking!? Why are they jeopardizing their hard-earned titles and careers? You can't help but think, Why didn't they try harder to live up to their titles?

It's easy to ask such questions of others, especially of high profiled individuals. However, how hard do you and I try to live up to the title, Christian? How well do you and I follow God's code of conduct? Do we abstain from forbidden activity, even the seemingly harmless? Do we faithfully strive to strengthen our relationship with God through prayer and scripture? Do we always treat others with love, respect, and kindness?

Heavenly Father, we pray for the grace to live up to the title, Christian. Daily, may we faithfully strive to follow the code of conduct you've given us -- to love you and to love our neighbor. May we never jeopardize our title or neglect our relationship with you. Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, July 27, 2007

Act 15:12-21

One of the things that fascinates me about this period of time – when the early Christians were trying to start a Church by bringing together vastly different groups of people – is that the same issues they faced can be seen time and time again throughout the history of the World.

In this case, one single man died. He was certainly a Jew. But at the same time he preached a different message. He even went so far as to say that the law was not the end-all. His message was Love. Pure and simple. Anyone and everyone were welcome.

This message caused all kinds of problems for the early Church leaders. But they hung in there. If you read Acts 15 and then go back to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), it is clear what Christ was preaching. As Christ said, He was not sent here to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them. The Jews who were becoming Christians in the Book of Acts, were demanding that the Gentiles who were becoming Christians be circumcised and become Jews “in good standing” before they be accepted as Christians. Today’s reading was the apostle’s response to these demands.

There is certainly nothing in Christ’s teachings that said someone first had to be a good Jew in order to be a good Christian. Again, Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t think he meant the men had to be circumcised first.

Paraphrasing James in his response to the demands of the Jews, he explained that we don’t want to make it hard for the Gentiles to become Christians. Christ belongs to them, too. Fast forward a couple of thousand years – isn’t this true today as well? Christ belongs to everyone.

Makes me think a little bit harder about my built-in prejudices…

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Acts15:1-11

When I first read today’s lesson, I was thinking what on earth could I possibly write about being circumcised that is applicable to modern day thinking on the subject. In our culture, it is usually a decision made for male infants by their parents within a few days of birth and relates more to health benefits than having any sort of religious significance. Also, most men these days wear pants so it is not very likely that a person could readily know whether or not someone were circumcised in any case. The idea that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” came across to me as a mild form of bigotry (albeit one that would be quite difficult to verify, and seems to eliminate women from the equation altogether). Reading further, fortunately the debate ends with the understanding that “we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” and it made me wonder if the church elders of the time might have had to come up with some sort of new “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for circumcision.

There is a natural tendency to analyze, categorize, and generalize about people’s behavior and thinking that differentiates their ideas from our own: circumcised vs. uncircumcised, clean vs. unclean, conservatives vs. liberals, nerds vs. jocks, believers vs. non-believers, vegetarians vs. carnivores, Democrats vs. Republicans, sinners vs. saints, nuts vs. bolts, etc. It simplifies things quite a bit when there are just two kinds of people: those who think there are two kinds of people and those who do not think there are two kinds of people. Such over-simplification and stereotyping is commonplace, but does very little to improve the prospect for salvation; and it may well, in fact, detract from it. It makes me think that all general statements are false - generally speaking.

If only life were so clear-cut that by adhering to the right set of rituals and practices one could be saved. By example, Christ reached out to the entire spectrum of humanity including tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and countless other unlikely candidates to consistently demonstrate His unconditional love for us. I think if Jesus had only associated himself with like-minded circumcised carpenters, no one would ever have believed that he was the son of God.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Acts 14:19-28

As you read this I will be on a mission trip with 41 other people to Belize (please pray for us). Today's reading is about Paul and Barnabas' mission trip to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. I hope our mission trip isn't as filled with the troubles that Paul and Barnabas faced, but today's reading has several messages for us.

Only days after the people in Lystra had thought Paul and Barnabas were gods, they stoned Paul and left him for dead. People are fickle, they follow fads (do you remember hula hoops and bell bottoms - I am showing my age). When many people approve of us and tell us we did a good job, we feel good. However, we should never let the opinion of the majority cloud our thinking or affect our decisions. Today's reading provides us a clear message that we should not live our lives to please the crowd. We are called to live a life that Jesus demonstrated for us and to be true to that teaching. Fads will come and go, popular opinion will change, but the teaching of Jesus does not change, and neither should we.

Another message in today's reading is how we should support each other. In the middle of today's reading we see Paul and Barnabas return to visit believers in all the cities where they had recently been threatened and physically attacked. These Christians needed encouragement in their time of suffering. Paul and Barnabas tell them, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God". I feel Paul and Barnabas were talking about themselves and us. No matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable the task may seem, we must support each other and other believers who need our encouragement.

From Paul and Barnabas' perspective, was this mission trip worth it? All those miles, all the time away from home? The persecution. The stoning. The humiliation. I am confident they felt it was worth it. I know God thinks it is worth it. I hope we feel it would be worth it.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Acts 14:1-18

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 24, 2007
Acts 14:1-18
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

In today’s writing from Acts God continues to show himself through the faith of his people. Barnabas and Paul preach the Good News in Icon’ium. The people are divided between those that believed and those that did not. We are told that the Jews poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against them. Their lives were threatened so they left and went to another town to preach the Gospel. Here they cured a cripple who had never walked. We read that Paul looked at him intently and knew that he believed. He told him it was his faith that made him well.

The people who witnessed this did not understand and interpreted what they saw according to their own beliefs. They thought that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes and tried to worship them. Paul and Barnabas used this to teach them that all things come from God. The proof of God’s love is all around in those things that let us live and bring us joy.

Again in this story we see God showing himself to the world through the acts of love by one person to another. I think of the personal sacrifices made by those teenagers and members of Saint Matthews in the mission trips to New Orleans and Belize. These are wonderful acts of God’s witness. These are experiences that will enrich the lives of those who go and those they minister to. God continues to show himself through those whow witness to Christ’s sacrifice and lead us to show our love for others through our own sacrifice. This proves to all that God is alive and well and living among us.

God is good! AMEN

John Dickie, July 24, 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

Acts 13:44-52

There is a term often used in Christian theology in recent years: “the scandal of particularity.” It refers to the notion that God acts in history through a particular person or people at a particular time and place to effect his saving purposes for the world. Generally, the people, times, and places are not central to what the world considers important and powerful.

We see the scandal of particularity in the Jewish people. For example, we see this when God called Moses to free the Hebrew slaves from bondage. God’s liberating action in the exodus from Egypt definitively forged them as the people of God. Particular people at particular times and places: God acts in and through them to achieve his saving purposes. God says, “I choose you. I choose to be in relationship with you, and you to be in relationship with me. Thus I accomplish my good and holy purposes in the world.”

We encounter the scandal of particularity most clearly and most scandalously in Jesus of Nazareth. In human terms, he was a carpenter’s son – of questionable legitimacy, from an unimportant town in a backward, oppressed country. To seal the reality of his misguided irrelevance, he died an excruciating, ignominious death. Or so the Jewish and Roman leaders saw his life and death. Yet through Jesus, God redeems countless people and indeed the entire cosmos!

God comes to the particular to work toward the universal. This is good news, but a temptation follows it. The temptation is to hold God’s good gifts so closely – out of a sense of superiority, or ignorance (of God’s nature and purpose), or fear – as to miss, resist, or reject God’s continual movement to incorporate more and more of the world into his redemptive love.

This is what must have happened in Pisidian Antioch. After hearing Paul and Barnabas proclaim the good news about Jesus, the Jewish people in Pisidian Antioch rejected Jesus and incited violence against Paul and Barnabas. Those Jews knew God’s long-established favor for them, but they could not allow that God through Jesus extends his love beyond them!

We must take care not to commit the same mistake, which is really a sin. God acts in the particular – you, me, our congregation, our Anglican heritage – to love and save us. But he never stops with the particular. God embraces the particular to draw the universal within the compass of his redemption. We must not clutch what we have received in grace such that we do not share it with the world around us. God loves us, yes, but he loves the wide world as well. God wants to bring all people into his kingdom and the blessings of relationship with him. We must not only allow this gracious movement but participate in it!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Acts 13:26-43

Abraham. Moses. David. These were (and are) the "Big Three", all time, for Jews everywhere, and certainly here for the sons of the diaspora in Antioch.

Abraham was the patriarch--many peoples claim pride of descent from him through either Isaac (the Jews) or Ishmael (the Arab world). Abraham was called out of Ur (present-day Iraq) and left his father's many gods to make a covenant with the One God. Abraham was given a promise of a land for himself and his descendants, forever. It was an inheritance that the first-century Jews gathered in that synagogue, listening to Paul's exhortation, held very dear.

Moses was the Law-Giver, privileged to handle the stone tablets written with the Commandments, and to speak with God and experience the presence of God in a way that made his face shine. And Moses brought the gift of Torah--the first five books of the Bible, revered above all Scripture. The Law endures forever. And yet--the Law brought conviction of sin. And sin brought an immutable sentence with it that could not be freed apart from God's provision.

David was God's Anointed King, the man after God's own heart. The line of David was established for all time, and the hope burned still in Antioch, that the Son of David would resume the order of Kingship that had been established by David.

Paul thus invokes each of these honored ancestors, their dreams that still burned in men's hearts and their legacy that was yet promised. Those dreams and that legacy had been fully realized, Paul asserts, in the person of Jesus. Jesus, who had died yet been raised from the dead in the presence of many witnesses, and through whom all of these people, with their ancient legacy, now could be set free.

An extraordinary claim to make, this message of salvation. People were understandably skeptical. And yet--they wanted to hear more. Theirs was not a hopeful time. The world that their ancestors had known was being wrenched apart and scattered to the wind. They were trying to hold to what they knew. Now, it seemed, God might be doing a new thing from the promises of the old heritage. Dare they believe? Dare we?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Acts 13:1-12

I believe this passage serves as both an example of the purpose that Christ has for His church and on a more personal level why it is important to respond in faith to God’s call.

The passage starts out with the Holy Spirit sending Paul, Barnabas, and John out of the church in Antioch to spread God’s word. These men weren’t sure exactly what the purpose of their mission was at the outset but still they were faithful to calling of the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, they wind up in front of the Sergius Paulus, the ruler of all Cyprus. I say amazingly because these men had no political connections and were not well known in the region. Then just as they are about to proclaim the word of God, Elymas gets in the way and in doing so makes “crooked the straight paths of the Lord”. You get the feeling that this was all part of the plan as God turns the table and ends up using Elymas to bring Sergius to faith.

God’s purpose for the church, His “straight path”, is to spread the word of God and he will let nothing stand in the way of this mission. I can’t help but think of our upcoming mission trip to Belize. Those going don’t know exactly what God has in store for them but they can be assured that God will be with them every step of the way and will let nothing stand in the way of accomplishing His mission. I also can’t help think about the appropriateness of our church mission, “To know and share God’s love”. Our God is a searching and saving God and he calls on his faithful to act. You can hear God’s personal call to you through worship and prayer. Are you listening? Maybe God is calling you to teach Sunday school, help with the youth program, be an usher, make a meal for someone in need, or share your faith with a friend. Whatever the call, will you take that adventurous step in faith without knowing all the details? If you join God on the straight path he will clear the way.

Charlie Biegel

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Acts 12:18-25

Today's reading tells the story of Herod's death in 44 A.D. Of course the message in the story is not that Herod died, or even how he died, but why he died.

Herod was pompous and filled with pride. After making a speech to people from Tyre and Sidon these people called him a god. The people of Tyre and Sidon depended on Herod for food, so these people, to gain favor with Herod, played on his ego and told him he was a god. Herod loved every minute of it.

God immediately struck Herod down. The reason for this judgment was because Herod accepted the people's worship instead of giving the glory to God. God knew what was going on in Herod's heart and refuses to share his glory with any earthly being.

Pride is a serious sin but so are many others. God chose to punish Herod's pride immediately. God does not punish all sin immediately (luckily for me), but he will bring everyone to judgment. The message of today's reading is those who set themselves against God are doomed to ultimate demise.

Today's reading also has an unsaid message and this message is very humbling to me. We are all sinful beings. We cannot uphold the law perfectly. God has promised to hold all of us accountable for our actions. However, God through his love has given us an avenue through which our sins will be forgiven and we will not be judged. This avenue is, of course, Jesus Christ - who took our judgment for us. The next time you take communion, attend a church service, or just are in quiet prayer, please remember what Christ did for us and thank God for it.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Acts 12:1-16

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 17, 2007
Acts 12:1-16
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Greetings dear reader. I wish you God’s blessing and the hope that this summer is providing you a vacation and the opportunity for physical and spiritual renewal. I look forward to my vacation at the end of August. Till then I proceed with my work just as the early Christians did in today’s reading from Acts. This is another very powerful story showing God’s presence in the lives of those that believed in him. We read of Peter being arrested by Herod and put into prison to satisfy the Jews during Passover. We fear that Peter will also be killed. However, this is not God’s plan.

God sends an angel who releases Peter and allows him to escape. Peter then goes to a large group of believers. Knowing that Peter was in prison and was about to die, they thought he was an angel and then Peter tells them that he was saved by God’s angel. This is another example of God showing himself to his people after Christ’s resurrection. They need this evidence and to see his presence with them to know that he is a living God and that he resides with and in them.

Do you believe in angels? I do. I have angels all around me. Some are spiritual and some times they are people around me that show me that God is alive and well and working through them. I see examples of kindness and sacrifice that prove God’s presence. Mankind is not loving, caring and willing to sacrifice by his own nature. God has the power to change human nature. We read about this power in the Acts of the Apostles and we see it all around us every day if we look for it. May you see it today and may you and I show our love of God by being and angel and a faithful witness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

AMEN

John Dickie, July 17, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

Acts 11:19-30

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” So wrote Luke in Acts 11:26. What did it mean that they were called “Christians,” first in Antioch and then elsewhere?

We are familiar with labels and brands. Every article of clothing I have on has a label or brand somewhere on it. Unless we make our own clothes, we cannot avoid such branding. We get labeled without even trying. Yet sometimes we purposely wear clothes with a visible brand name or insignia – such as shirts, jackets, exercise gear, watches, and the like – to mark ourselves and make a statement about who we are or what we want to be. We also “wear” other kinds of labels – sometimes by choice and sometimes not. These include affiliations with favorite teams, memberships in organizations, political persuasion, ethnicity, gender, age group, nationality, and many more. These labels express and shape who we are in various ways and to varying degrees.

We come then to “Christian,” as in Acts 11:26 – to be called and labeled “Christian.” What does it mean? Perhaps especially in Western cultures today, the label “Christian” has become common enough that it marks nothing overly particular or distinctive about a person “wearing the label” in the minds of most people, and possibly even in the mind of the “wearer.” At most it may indicate that a person was raised in a certain cultural milieu – hence, that a person is not Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or other religion in background.

When the disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch, the label meant something very particular. The “brand name” identified them as “Christ-ones.” It meant they consciously belonged to and intentionally affiliated with Jesus in at least two key senses. (1) In mind and heart, they acknowledged Jesus as savior and lord of their lives and of the world, not any other claimants to those roles. For them, as for us today, many powers sought to save and direct their lives: other “gods,” Caesar, philosophy, wealth, power, sex, and more. Those disciples knew that Jesus alone is savior and lord. They pledged their allegiance to him. (2) In acknowledging Jesus as savior and lord, they committed to model themselves after his life and teachings and Spirit. In short, by acknowledging Jesus and committing themselves to him, they sought to follow and manifest Jesus in the world by their very lives, their every word and deed.

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” How do we today label ourselves? How do others label us? Do they see people who acknowledge and commit to Jesus radically and boldly in mind, heart, and action? Do people look at us and label us “Christians”?

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Acts 11:1-18

In today’s lesson, Peter is put on the defensive for socializing with an apparently inferior class – the Gentiles – uncircumcised and unclean. It didn’t matter that Cornelius and his entire household had “…accepted the word of God.” All that mattered to the critics was the appearance of the situation – Peter had entered the home of Gentiles and had eaten at their table. Peter knew he'd be criticized, but he acted on faith, on the words of God in his vision, on the power of the Spirit -- that God offered salvation and eternal life to Jews and to Gentiles equally.

A few days ago I saw a news feature about a lawyer who, several years ago, gave up her lucrative practice in order to work with criminals scheduled to be released into society. While many of us would avoid looking at or speaking to a criminal, she did the opposite. She looked at and saw in them the potential for hard-working, honest citizens. She reached out and generously offered her God-given time and skills to teach them. She believed in them and taught them to believe in themselves so that when they finally got the opportunity to start over, they’d get it right. The statistics of prisoners returning to prison after being released speak loudly in favor of her program. Prior to her program, 60% returned to prison. After taking her program, only 5% returned to prison.

While listening to this news feature, I wondered about the reaction of the victims and their families – victims of the crimes these convicts had committed. Would any of them have criticized the lawyer for even trying? Would they, even now, recognize and acknowledge the success of her work?


Fortunately for us, God sees our potential, he is generous, and in his eyes, none of us is beyond saving, even when we make big mistakes. It took Peter six witnesses and a well-rehearsed step-by-step account of how God had spoken to him about this matter to silence his critics. What will it take to silence our criticism or judgment of others, especially those who are different from us?

Heavenly Father, thank you for offering salvation and eternal life to each and every one of us. May we receive your Grace each time we are tempted to judge or to criticize others. Amen.
Martha Olson

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Acts 10:17-33

This passage shows us how God guided Peter and used him to accomplish His will in breaking down the artificial walls between Jews and Gentiles in His church. I think the passage also illustrates how we can be guided by God in our daily lives so that we can better live into the plan that God has for us.

The passage starts off with Peter contemplating, perhaps meditating or praying, about a vision that he had of unclean animals in which God said, “They’re not unclean”. My feeling is that Peter was probably struggling for some time with his own beliefs regarding Gentiles, instilled by his Jewish heritage, which were challenged by the message Jesus conveyed.

In the midst of his thoughts, he is presented an opportunity to step out in faith when he is prompted by the Spirit to respond to the three Gentiles who have come requesting that Peter speak at Cornelius’ house. Peter allowed himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit instead of sticking to what he had always believed. He takes the Gentiles into his house overnight and sets out with them the next day on the day long journey to Cornelius’s house. The reception Peter receives on arrival seems to further validate his step out in faith and he proclaims “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

Do you feel that God is calling you to change in some way? Are you carrying out God’s agenda or acting your own? How can you be sure? I’d suggest to be guided by God we need to follow the example of Peter and enter into a dialogue with God through prayer, ask for His guidance and study the teaching of Jesus revealed in scripture. When we do this, God will in time present us with an opportunity to act on what he is trying to reveal. If you are faithful enough to follow then look for God to validate your step out in faith as he did with Peter. God guides people today just as he did Peter, all we have to do is ask for His help, study to His teachings, and watch for the opportunity to act.

Charlie Biegel humbly filling in for Rob Merola

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Acts 10:1-16

Have you ever given any thought to what a chronicle of your spiritual life might look like? It occurred to me while reading today’s lesson that in some aspects mine might look a lot like Peter’s. I don’t mean the part where he’s told he is to be the rock upon which Christ will build His church. Far from it. Rather, I think of what looks an awful lot like a thick-headed, bumbling fool.

Peter had a penchant for dramatization. When Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet before the Last Supper, he questions Jesus about washing his feet. After Jesus replies that “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” Peter responds that not only his feet should be washed but his hands and head as well; it seems he’s ready for a bath when only the dust needs to be washed off his feet.

Of course, we all know of Peter’s declaration that he would go to prison and would even die for Jesus only hours before he denies Him three times.

One would think that after a while, Peter would be a little bit slower to speak and a little bit quicker to “see” but it seems that he’s still a bit slow on the uptake. In today’s passage he’s told to “not call anything impure that God has made clean." He’s told this not once, not twice but three times. Yes, these are the parts of Peter’s accounts I can see in myself.

And yet, Peter doesn’t let his setbacks interfere with his work. He may not be the smoothest operator out there but he doesn’t let that stop him from being used by God. We’ve seen God’s mighty power made manifest through Peter during the earlier chapters of Acts and we’ll see it again in the coming chapters as well. Perhaps if I were less worried about my missteps, I too could be better used by God.

Dear Lord, help me be less concerned with making mistakes or looking foolish as I follow Your will for my life. Instead, help me put my full trust in You knowing that You can overcome, and even work through, my weaknesses so that blessings may be poured out on those around me and glory may be brought to Your Name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

acts 9:32-43

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 10, 2007
Acts 9:32-43
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

We continue with the Acts of the Apostles. In today’s reading we have Peter healing Aene’as and Tabitha. In the case of Aene’as, Peter says to him”…Jesus Christ heals you, rise and make your bed. Peter recognizes the power to heal comes from Jesus and not from himself. In the case of Tabitha, he raises her from the dead. Before he raises her he puts aside the tunics and other garments that that she made. By doing so he put away her former life and raised her into a new life. She was born again in Christ.

These are examples of the power of God released through the Apostles. These events preceded the conversion of Paul and explosion of God’s power through him. The early Christians had power they did not know they had. It was essential that Christ’s followers use and demonstrate that power while doing good. Both Aene’as and Tabitha were recognized and respected in the community. The healing of these two people showed God’s power being used in a very positive way. This proof of God’s love brought conversions.

We had a death in the family this week. My daughter’s and grandchildren’s cat passed away. She was 15 years old and had lived a good life. She was loved dearly by her family. My daughter found her late at night. This was the 1st time the children had experienced death up close and personal. It really shook them. The concept of cats in heaven came into play. Noah told some friends that his cat had died and had gone to heaven. A “friend” challenged him on that and said that cat’s don’t go to heaven. Noah asked for a bible reference to support his “belief” that his cat was indeed in heaven. I thank God for the internet and Google because they produced the evidence required.

God does make us all new in rebirth. This rebirth will happen when our life is finished here on earth or can also happen when our soul is refreshed through spiritual renewal. Either way, the power of God is ever present to protect and keep us even to the end of our days; not only for us but also for our pets that we love.

God is good! AMEN

John Dickie, July 10, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Acts 9:19-31

How different are you because of Jesus? How different is your life? I ask the same questions of myself. How different am I? How different is my life because of Jesus?

These questions have two basic, overlapping, and interlocking dimensions. The one has to do with self. The other has to do with the world. (1) With respect to self, how different am I from the kind of person I was before Jesus grasped me in love and redemption? Or, how different am I from the person I likely would be apart from Jesus? (2) With respect to the world, how different am I from the world around me – that is, from the ideas and practices of a world which does not acknowledge Jesus as savior and lord? How different is my life from this world? I ask the same questions of you.

If we ask these questions of Saul (later, Paul), we find a fundamental answer to them. How different? Radically different! As clear from earlier in Acts (compare Saul’s presence at the stoning of Stephen and his subsequent mission to Damascus), Saul had fervently opposed the idea of Jesus as savior and lord and therefore harried the followers of Jesus. Then the living Jesus – not condemned but vindicated by God through resurrection! – confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, restructured divine and human reality for him, and remade Saul into a fundamentally new person. From zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers to devoted disciple and evangelist of Jesus – within days, and for a lifetime, as we discover in today’s reading! Such was the radical difference Jesus made in Saul as a person, in the entirety of Saul’s life compared to what he had been and compared to the world around him.

With Saul in view, and Peter, and countless others from the early church to the present whose lives have been fundamentally turned around and transformed by Jesus, we come back to these questions for you and for me. How different are we? What difference has Jesus made in our lives, in the compass of our beliefs, perspectives, feelings, commitments, and behaviors? Because of Jesus, how different are we as people within ourselves and in relation to the world around?

Jesus loves us as we are, but he never leaves us as we are. We see this manifestly and paradigmatically in Jesus’ encounter with and transformation of Saul. But it is not only Saul whom Jesus loves and changes. He loves and wants to change you and me and the whole world. Are we, with Saul, willing to lay down our former life to receive totally new life from Jesus and live it boldly in the world around us?

Gregory Strong

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Acts 9:10-19

Why was Paul struck blind on the road to Damascus? Why was Ananias given a divine appointment to go and meet the man who, three days prior, wanted to kill him? And most of all, why was Paul of all people chosen to bring the name of God "before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel"--a great honor--and yet to suffer so much for the sake of that Name?

A recent book, Crashing Through, describes how stem cell transplants successfully restored sight to a man, Mike May, who had been blinded in a childhood accident. Mike had been thriving as a blind man in a sighted world, but when an astonishing new procedure was unexpectedly offered--through a seemingly chance appointment--he decided to go for it, despite numerous risks that came with that opportunity.

Medical science at its leading edge nearly touches what is, in the 1st century and today, miraculous. Though hearing and smell provide us additional cues about our surroundings, it is sight that enables us to navigate through our world. Paul was rendered helpless by his blindness, and reduced to praying for a healing appointment. Ananias was given something beyond "mere" sense--a vision from God that sealed that appointment.

Amazing Grace. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. Paul is restored to sight, but he is starting to get a view of the world that will rock and topple his whole foundation. Scales fall from his eyes, but what drops from his heart is far more freeing. His restored sight allows him to freely move about, but his freedom will come under a new drive, to go to many and tell an astonishing story of how that new sight can be brought to the world.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Acts 8:26-40

Do I understand what I am writing? How can I, unless someone guides me.

When I read today's scripture it was interesting to me how Philip initially struggled with trying to understand the meaning of the words written in a particular passage, yet then he did not even begin to hesitate with his willingness to evangelize and share the sacrament of Baptism. He proclaims the good news about Jesus to the eunuch, even stopping his chariot at the first sign of water so that he may be baptized. I know for me, reading and interpreting the words would probably be less stressing than actually spreading the word.

The Bible often seems confusing and sometimes people try to interpret the words to fit their particular needs rather than looking for guidance from above for understanding the essential meaning. In the book Gödel, Escher, and Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid the author Douglas Hofstadter highlights the fact that mathematical symbols can have multiple interpretations depending upon their mapping to the physical world, but they can still only have one meaning as determined by the theorems and axioms of the system. I think the same is true for God's Word. There may be many different interpretations for what we read in the Bible as to how it might fit into our everyday lives; but there can only be one true meaning. The words are not there simply for us to read and interpret; but to actually inspire meaningful actions that are consistent with God's purpose for us. It is that second part that presents the greater challenge, yet Philip enthusiastically lets his actions speak much louder than the words that he has read.

Do I understand what I am writing? How can I, unless someone guides me.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Acts 8:14-25

Happy 4th of July!! Today is the USA's 231st birthday. I hope you are able to spend it with special people in your life.

Today’s reading gives us the message that no amount of money can buy salvation, forgiveness of sin, or God's power. These are only gained by repentance and true belief in Christ as the Savior.

In today’s reading Simon wishes to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. "When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, 'Give me also this ability...'" (verse 18, 19).

Today's reading gives us the word 'simony'. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines simony as, "the buying or selling of a church office or ecclesiastical preferment". Sadly, people have not abandoned simony down through the centuries. Martin Luther was enraged by this practice. This practice was one of the causes for the reformation and the establishment of Protestant denominations. In other words, this practice was a cause of the splitting of the Church.

Church history has shown that persecution from outside the Church did not hurt the Church - in fact it usually scattered the believers and helped spread the gospel. What hurt the Church, and continues to hurt it today, is people on the inside professing to be believers when they are not believers. Jesus was betrayed from the inside. . He was betrayed to the Jewish authorities (his nation) by one of his disciples. He was betrayed by his nation to the Roman Empire so he could be crucified. Simon had all the outward signs of being a follower but it was not an inward genuine faith.

Today’s reading explains to us how crucial it is to build our faith through acts and true belief not through buying our way into the Lord’s favor.

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

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Acts 8:1-13

Daily Devotional – Tuesday July 3, 2007
Acts 8:1-13
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Greetings dear reader on this day before our national holiday. We prepare for a celebration of our national birthday. We celebrate being proud of who we are. Being a Canadian living here I am fortunate to celebrate July 1 or Canada Day and also July 4th. Both great peoples are proud of who they are and their heritage. Regretfully this kind of pride is more important to the old than to the young. We are fortunate to be able to celebrate what we believe and who we are. It has not always been so. Today’s reading from Acts tells of events immediately following the stoning of Stephen the first of many Christian martyrs. The local leader of this persecution was of course Saul, later to be called Paul.

I marvel at the power of the faith of these 1st generation Christians. They were not bible scholars or theologians. They were not the children of Christian parents who had attended Sunday school and learned bible stories as children. These were adults who were told where they could find salvation, peace and life everlasting. They were introduced to a totally new concept that changed their outlook on the world and each other. This concept was called love. And they believed it. In today’s short passage we see Philip working God’s magic and preaching the good news and converting many.

We read of Simon who was a magician and was proclaimed as having God’s power. However, Philip’s examples of God’s true magic in the name of Jesus Christ was recognized as coming directly from God. Simon himself believed and this confirmed the good news to all. This faith in a time of extreme persecution is hard to understand in our modern world. These Christians knew exactly who they were and what they believed and they were proud. Today’s church suffers from an identity crisis where we are being asked if we are Episcopalians or Anglicans and many don’t know the difference or simply don’t care.

I wish you a happy 4th of July in the hope that we can all together thank God for putting us in a place where we can worship God and celebrate our national pride and public demonstrations with the fear of persecution.

God is good! AMEN

John Dickie, July 3, 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007

Acts 7:44 - 8:1

As we come in today’s passage to the climax of Stephen’s witness to Jesus before the Jewish religious and political authorities in Jerusalem (see chapter 6 ending and chapter 7 beginning), we come also to the climax of Stephen’s earthly life. Stephen, a Jewish-Christian probably raised in a Greek-speaking context outside of Palestine, was a man “full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Because of Stephen’s witness to Jesus, some people in Jerusalem fiercely opposed and agitated against him. They seized Stephen, hauled him in front of the Jewish authorities, and engineered false testimony against him. By accusing him of subverting the temple and the laws of Moses, those opponents and the authorities aimed to stop Stephen and cripple the whole Jesus movement.

Despite the intimidation and threat to his life – he and all the believers knew well what happened to Jesus when opposed and dragged before the authorities! – Stephen refused to step back from his devotion to Jesus and his testimony to Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. As Stephen explained at length to the authorities, while God had truly revealed himself to the people of Israel throughout their history, now God had made himself fully and uniquely known in Jesus. And, continued Stephen boldly, just as the people of Israel had long resisted God in many ways, so they had also rejected Jesus!

Stephen’s straightforward response to those who opposed him did not endear him to them. They rose up in fury against Stephen and dragged him outside of Jerusalem. There they stoned him to death. The young man Saul – known later to the world as Paul, and then as devoted to Jesus as Stephen, even to death like Stephen – observed that execution with approval.

We find in this account a great grace from God when we read, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). It was a great grace to Stephen, to know truly at the time of his trial and death of Jesus’ great love and tender advocacy for him in heaven. It is a great grace to us as well. The same Jesus – risen and ascended, living and ruling – offers us his saving love and advocacy in and through the Holy Spirit as we experience life’s trials and then death. May we therefore, with Stephen, commit ourselves to live in Jesus, eventually to fall asleep in Jesus, and finally to rise to heaven in Jesus – all in God’s grace and power and glory!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Romans 4:13-25

There is an old hymn by P. P. Bliss called “Almost Persuaded” that tells a sad tale of those who never take the step from knowledge of Christ to belief in Christ. Hearing the invitation to come to Jesus, they refuse – waiting for a more “convenient” day to take that step of faith.

In contrast to this picture, today’s reading in Roman’s extols Abraham as one “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:21)

Paul uses the description of Abraham to help the Jewish Christians of the early church who were bound to a tradition of law and works understand what it meant to live a life of grace and faith. You might say these early Christians were somewhat persuaded. They believed in the resurrected Jesus, but were having trouble understanding how to live this out day-to-day.

I suppose that many of us find ourselves in the same predicament of being somewhat persuaded. We believe in God and his power to work in and through us, but we turn to our own devices and plans without bringing God into the situation at all.

Another old hymn gives us some good words on how to move from “somewhat persuaded” to “fully persuaded” in all aspects of our life.

True-hearted, whole-hearted, fullest allegiance
Yielding henceforth to our glorious King;
Valiant endeavor and loving obedience,
Freely and joyously now would we bring.

True-hearted, whole-hearted, Savior all glorious!
Take Thy great power and reign there alone,
Over our will and affections victorious,
Freely surrendered and wholly Thine own.

“True-hearted, Whole-hearted”
George C. Stebbins

Alan Davenport