Saturday, August 29, 2009

Acts 28:17-31

The proclamation of the kingdom of Lord and Christ Jesus reaches its climax in Acts 28. Paul travels to Rome to meet the emperor and god of the known world--Caesar. The spread of the gospel of the Resurrected Jesus meant that Caesar’s throne was being challenged by a grass roots movement that was openly defiant of the king of this world. Right down the street from Caesar’s palace, Paul was preaching the “kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). In his recent book, "Surprised by Hope" N.T. Wright puts it this way, “the kingdoms of the world are now claimed as the kingdoms of Israel’s God.” The end of the Book of Acts is, however, not the beginning of the end--it is the end of the beginning. Abruptly and concisely, the book wraps it up and ties it with a bow.

And the next chapter--Acts 29--is the story we find ourselves in. It is the story of the Church as it lives into the message of Paul which is the Good News: the proclamation in all boldness that the kingdom of God is here and alive in the person of Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Acts 28:1-16

I took Thursday's devotional to heart and used it to write this devotional about today's reading. I wanted to try and apply today's reading, about Paul's further travels to Rome, to my own life.

First, I am amazed at how willingly Paul went to Rome. He knew he would most certainly face death (although he did not know when or how, of course). Yet he put all of his faith in God and was willing to merely take everything as it happened believing it to be the will of God. Just reading about everything he goes through to get to Rome on this first trip is incredible. I could certainly see myself using any one of these misfortunes to turn around and go home. But Paul did not.

Second, I am struck by how Paul saw the good in everything. I think this follows on my first point. If you truly believe you are following God's will, then there would be nothing bad that could happen. Again, this is where I see how puny my faith is.

Third, you can see how God worked in Paul's life and in every step of Paul's journey. Every bad thing that was thrown into Paul's path was handled with what appeared to be seamless efficiency. Again, I see this as a by-product of Paul's faith. If you know for certain that everything will be as it should be and that the end result will be achieving your heavenly place, how could you possibly see anything bad?

But, yet, I see bad stuff everywhere. Just getting out of bed, getting ready for work and driving to work makes me fearful that the day will deal me with some situation I am unable or unwilling to handle. Before one hour of my day goes by, my faith is the farthest thing from my mind. I am overly dependent on myself, and no depending enough on God. I am fearful.

So, I am going to strive to be more like Paul. I am going to try and have his faith that God will take me where he wants me to go, safely. God will take all obstacles out of my way and I have nothing to fear.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Acts 27: 27-44

It is important for us to know how to study the Bible, and today’s reading gives us a chance to think a bit about that in raising an important question: How do we approach the stories in the Bible?

There isn’t a command to follow or a teaching to obey. There is not a promise to be claimed by faith. It’s a story, just a story, of something God did a long time ago. What does that have to do with us?

Well, everything.

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.

Here, for instance, are some the questions I find myself asking: How can I expect God to act today in a 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 (when the “ship is about to run aground”, or when I’m afraid of being abandoned)? 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).

Taking the time to read the story, to reflect on some questions, and to work through the answers and implications for our lives, is what it means to study the Bible. It’s how we discover God’s word for us—and not just what he has already said to someone else.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Acts 27:9-26

Today's reading contains a great message. Sometimes I have a difficult time to grasp and understand the message in the reading. In today's reading the message seems crystal clear to me. In fact I see two messages.

Message one is about life on this earth. Life, your life, my life, is like the ocean in today's reading. The weather of our ocean may seem fine, almost perfect, thus we shove off and proceed with life. We never know what storms we may encounter or face, however, one thing we all know is that storms are out there. Faith in God is essential to weathering some storms. Through God we get courage and hope. Hopefully, the vast majority of storms we face are not life threatening like the one in today's reading, but even if they are God can bring us through. I am inspired by the actions of Paul when, after this storm has been raging for days, he tells the sailors that God, whom he serves, will stand by him. Please remember that God can turn disaster into deliverance and hopelessness to hope. It is in these storms that our faith is sometimes tested but always grows.

The second message pertains to the way we live our lives and the importance we place in trusting God. During the voyage in today's reading, after the storm hit, the people in the ship did not know exactly where they were as they had not seen the stars or sun for several days. In that time in history, navigation was not done with a compass but by the stars and sun. Thus, when the sailors had not seen either, they were lost. This feeling of being lost is the condition we all feel when we lessen our faith in God. It is also a feeling people who do not have a strong faith, or any faith, experience. When this happens to us or to others it is as if we are walking in darkness without any light. This is a terrible feeling. Paul sets a great example for us by not losing hope and faith in God. In the face of the storms you face, trust in the promises of God.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Acts 23:23-35

As my mother used to tell me, God works in mysterious ways. Today's reading screams this to me loud and clear. The more obvious example of that in today's reading may be the Roman soldiers delivering Paul from his enemies. However, I want to write about another, perhaps less obvious, example.

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,
Richard Leach

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Acts 22:17-29 "I am a Citizen!"

The difference being a citizen makes... Paul is really up against it now. The angry mob wants his life. This crowd has the same spirit (a spirit of pure hatred) that cried out for Jesus to be crucified. And it could well have happened to Paul right here... But Paul has a trump card, not quite a get-out-of-jail-free-card, but enough to grant his bail. He is a citizen of Rome. This fact nearly blows the captain away. "You are a citizen? My goodness, it cost me a hefty sum to buy my citizenship." But Paul's citizenship was his by birth.

Oh, how we today take our privileges for granted! We, like Paul, are citizens of the most powerful nation on earth--the most powerful in human history. Did we purchase it? Not with coin of the realm. Many (not all) of us were born into it. Nothing that we (personally) did earned us the glorious title of Citizen of the United States of America.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Act 21: 27-40

In the book of Acts we have been introduced to Paul, one of the indisputable heroes of the faith.

What makes Paul a “hero” is his faithfulness to Jesus. It is the boldness of his witness. And in this we see something both of the depths of Paul’s love for Jesus and for the people Jesus died to save.

He thinks of them before he thinks of himself, which means that his faithfulness, his witness, and ultimately his love, often come at a very high price. As in today's reading, Paul suffers criticsim, hatred, persecution, and violence. Because of his faithfulness to Jesus, and the people Jesus loves, it seems like there are almost always people "trying to kill him."

Faithfulness to Jesus will also call us to make sacrifices as well. Perhaps it is the parent who is willing to be the parent God called them to be by disciplining a child even though the child hates them for it or simply calls them “mean”. Or the friend who speaks the truth in love or refuses to go along with the crowd even though they know their image might suffer in the opinion of others. Or…the devoted Christ follower who speaks out, loud and clear, about who Jesus is and ultimately what he requires.

Take your pick of these and a hundred more situations just like them. But if you do…well, like Paul, we had best be prepared for trouble!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Acts 21:15-26

In today’s reading we see that some Jews believe Paul is telling people, both Gentiles and Jews, that they do not have to follow the laws given to the people by Moses any longer. They only need to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. To counter this perception, Paul participates in an ancient Jewish ritual of purification.

Now, in my opinion, to participate in this ritual would have been distasteful to Paul. For him the relevancy of things like this were long gone. However, to avoid an unneeded and petty conflict with the Jews he went ahead and did it. To me one sign of a truly great person is when that person can subordinate his / her own wishes and desires for the sake of the Church. There is a time when compromise is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

Sometimes a church bickers over disagreements about minor issues or traditions. Like Paul, we should all remain firm on Christian fundamentals but flexible on non-essentials. Of course no one should violate his or her true convictions, but sometimes we need to exercise the gift of mutual submission for the sake of unity and for the sake of the Gospel.

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

Friday, August 07, 2009

Acts 19: 21-41

This passage describes yet another conflict caused by the spread of the Gospel. This time, silversmiths who made shrines to the goddess Artemis were concerned about the loss of income as people became Christians. A city-wide riot broke out as the silversmiths became enraged. God protected His people and the crowd dispersed.

In Isaiah 44 the prophet Isaiah points out the folly of a craftsman putting half a piece of wood in a fire then making an idol from the other half. It’s a passionate passage but Isaiah saw a vision of the real thing; God who filled the temple with His glory; a huge contrast to a wooden object. ( Isaiah 6 ).

What do I want from a God? What does God do that I love? He loves me, for one thing. He listens, feels and works. I think that since I want a God which is not created by me, I must trust this God that He is working in my life and the lives of those I love.

Many passages in the Bible describe our human propensity for worshipping idols. I think in these modern times people wouldn’t worship stone or wood images, but idol worship is even mentioned in the book of Revelation. Perhaps it’s easier to put our trust in what we can see; even if that means a future that we try to create for ourselves or something else that we put our trust in.

Even if I can’t always figure God out I praise Him for who He is.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Acts 19:11-20

Censorship. Intolerance. Book burnings! They are all present in today’s reading.

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, an 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

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Acts 17:16-34 "Who is the Unknown God?"

Concerning an Unknown God...
I have strong and fond memories of Athens. It was there that, as a young Navy lieutenant, I first picked up my six-week-old son, born during my deployment to the Mediterranean. Our new family of three spent several weeks in the Omonia Hotel while my ship was repaired at Skaramangas shipyard--but I digress. From the hills and cliffs that surround the Acropolis, I saw the glory that was Greece. I could easily understand the impact that that architecture would have had in its golden prime--indeed, still has today. On one of those Greek hills I walked in the literal footsteps of Paul. On Mars Hill (Areopagus), in the shadow of the Acropolis, the apostle to the Gentiles confronted the builders of the temples of mythic gods. He had seen an altar dedicated to an Unknown God (Agnostos Theos). Borrowing verses from some of their own poets, he challenged them to take a step beyond admiring the beautiful work of human hands, repent, and believe in the One God, and his appointed judge, now raised from the dead.
Some of his audience sneered with ridicule--this crazy man was suggesting something contrary to reason. But others wanted to hear more, and a few of them believed and followed.We too are out here in the forums of our community, bringing our message daily (consciously or unconsciously) into the court of public opinion, to a growing population of Agnostics. But are we connecting our encouraging, joyful, generous-- though ultimately and radically challenging-- message to the embedded spiritual longings of the wider culture we are in?

O Lord in whom we live and move and have our breath of being--
Help us so to live and move, listen and speak to those who gather on our hills
that we may breathe on all the spirit of the everlasting.