Monday, August 30, 2010

Acts 11:19-30

In today’s reading I like the reference to prophets. “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)” (verses 27 & 28).

Prophets were not limited to Old Testament times. God appointed, and still appoints, certain people to be prophets to the church. Paul ranked “prophets” second only to apostles in his list of those gifted by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:28). Peter had quoted the prophet Joel in his sermon at Pentecost: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). Prophets had special gifts in ministering God’s messages to his people.

The gift of prophecy, however, shows itself in different forms. At times, prophets would foretell the future (as Agabus did here), but the gift of prophecy was also valued for its role in exhorting, encouraging, and strengthening God’s people. God spoke through prophets, inspiring them with specific messages for particular times and places.

Have you every had someone say the right thing at the right time? During my life I have experienced many people who have encouraged, helped, and strengthened me. I did not know it at the time, but these people had the gift of prophecy. The message these people give can be invaluable. When you are in a tough spot, or feel you are at the end of your rope, the message given by a prophet can give you such hope and strength.

God in his infinite wisdom has provided this gift, and many spiritual gifts, to us humans. Perhaps you have this gift.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Acts 9:19-31

Today’s reading tells the story of Saul (Paul) immediately after regaining his strength after his conversion. Obviously, those who had known Saul prior to his conversion were confused by his change. Christians, whom he had persecuted, were not sure what to make of him and did not immediately trust him. They thought he was trying to trick them in order to get close to them.

What kept Saul away from the gospel for so long? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had believed, and it's certainly not unlikely that Saul had seen and heard Jesus personally as well. It is known, from his own words, that his deep commitment to Pharisaical Judaism caused him to choke at the mention of a Messiah from Nazareth. But beyond that, could it be that he simply could not get around the cross? Even if he had opportunity to observe a miracle or two and perhaps listen to Jesus' explanation of the Old Testament, which would have been impressive to an intelligent rabbi, the thought of a Messiah on the cross turned the stomachs of many Jews.

Does not the same problem plague unbelievers today? Many are happy to talk about God, even a personal God who, they anticipate, will welcome them into his heaven someday. The introduction of Jesus as the virgin-born Son of Mary complicates their thinking just a bit. By the time the gospel portrays him dying on the cross for the sins of the world, many now, as then, turn away from a suffering Savior.

I feel Saul (Paul) says it in his own words in his first letter to the Corinthians. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Acts 9:1-9

Have you ever had a conversion moment? Maybe you were dead certain about something, but then you learned something else that made you take a 180. Or, maybe your expectation of something was one way, then that something went an entirely different direction. Did any of these situations result in you taking several days to get your bearings back?

That's what happened to Saul/Paul. I have never had a conversion moment. I'm one of those cradle Episcopalians who never knew what it was like to not know Jesus as my personal savior. So, I cannot imagine what happened to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.

But, I think there are other types of "conversion" moments that are, perhaps, as life changing. Maybe it's holding your first born just after birth. Perhaps it's standing by a loved one's graveside. Or standing in the ocean mist or on the Appalachian Trail and revelling in the glory of God's creation. For me, I have had conversion moments in the slums of South Africa and in Haiti.

The important thing about "conversion" moments is to keep them close to you. I have a few practical tips for this. First, journal about what you are seeing and feeling. You will need to refer back to how you felt because these moments pass. Second, pray about what you are feeling and what God means for you to do with these feelings. Third, share what you are feeling with trusted friends and confidants.

Sometimes, conversion moments aren't so obvious even though in the long run, they lead to a fundamental change in your life. The point is to stay open to such moments. The old saying "God moves in mysterious ways" is very true. Maybe we won't be hit by a bright light, loud voice and sudden blindness the way that Saul was, but our lives can be changed nonetheless.

I'm still waiting for my divine conversion moment and I hope to share it with each of you when it happens.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Acts 7:17-29

Do you have any friends with the gift of faith? I have a friend named Mary who is one of my “faith anchors.” She lives in Washington State. We don’t see each other very often, but when my faith dims I tell her my troubles. Her response always reminds me that God is upholding us and our loved ones.
I have the wonderful privilege of knowing many of St. Matthew’s youth group members. What great people they are. Sometimes I get anxious for them, wanting them so badly to discover as I did the rewards of following God. Today’s reading tells me to have patience and faith that God will work in lives (even mine).
This passage is the life story of Moses, told by Stephen. One of the things I love to read most in the Old Testament is Moses’ lively conversations with God in the book of Exodus because they point out how real God was to Moses. As Moses led the Israelites he would speak to God “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Moses had faith. But Moses’ faith didn’t develop overnight. In fact, today’s reading ends with young Moses killing a man and fleeing into the desert. Verse 30 caught my attention, “after forty years had passed….”
Forty years!! During that time, God was shaping Moses. Lengths of time mean little to God. God will grow the faith of those we love. Let us have patience and faith and trust in God, and commit those we love to Him.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Acts 5:12-26

God willing, I along with 19 others will be in Haiti this week on a mission trip. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

I have read a number of items written about today's reading. Most of what I have read centers on the Apostles healing many people - verses 12 - 16. But I want to discuss a different passage. Let's have a look at verses 17 & 18.

Verses 17 & 18 read, "Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail."

It strikes me that these religious leaders did not listen and learn the gospel message that focused on their own Messiah. Instead they were jealous. Violently jealous. The religious leaders were jealous of Peter and the apostles because they were commanding more respect. They were commanding more respect than the religious leaders ever had. These jealous religious leaders thought they could silence the apostles by throwing them in jail. But God would not allow his servants to be silenced.

The verses are striking to me for a couple of reasons. One, how often do we let our petty jealousies get in the way of spiritual growth? I know it happens to me. Who cares who gets the credit as long as God's will is being advanced?

The second is how these religious leaders tried to quite Peter and the apostles. How many times, if we are not getting the credit or are not the center of attention, do we not support an activity? Or even try to sabotage the activity? When in reality we should be doing everything in our power to support it.

Jealousy is a terrible vice. It causes all sorts of problems in the world. I don't think I will ever be able to do away with my own jealousy, but perhaps I could minimize it.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,

Friday, August 06, 2010

Acts 4:13-31

Today's reading takes place right after Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. The disciples have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and have begun the evangelistic walk. The Sanhedrin calls them in, trying to figure out what to do with these guys. They can't crucify them too, so they tell them not to speak of Jesus. They refuse. But, they are also very afraid. So, they returned to there new-found follers and they all began to pray to God to give them the courage and the words to move forward on their walk.

I am going to Haiti tomorrow. This passage is spot on as to our trip. Most of us are anxious - some very anxious - about all the potential difficulties on this trip. Some are worried that it will be too hot to get proper rest, making it more difficult to do the physical work we are being called to do. Some are worried about the food and the potential for sickness. I am worried about being there during an earthquake or a hurricane. All of those worries take our heart away from the real mission which is the human mission. We are called to spread the love of Jesus - plain and simple.

We all know in our heads that we only need to trust God. He alone knows each of us and how we will be affected by this trip. But, our fears are real, too. One of the powerful lessons of today's reading is that Peter and John's people, when they heard what the Sanhedrin had said, "they raised their voice together in prayer to God". They did not go their separate ways to each pray alone. They asked God to consider the threats of their enemies and they asked that He "enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." I ask the same.

So, read today's passage. And please pray for those of us going to Haiti.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Acts 2:37-47

I have heard Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, talk about an Acts 2 church. How he wants Willow Creek to be an Acts 2 church. But what is an Acts 2 church? Today’s reading reveals this secret (not really a secret as it is in the Bible in plain view).

Verses 42-47 provide a concise summary of what the early church was about. It provides a model that can be applied to the modern church as well.

An Acts 2 church is characterized by:

Teaching. All Christians, new and experienced, need to further their spiritual formation. Teaching helps them understand this need and how to advance on this path.

Fellowship. The sharing experiences, learning from each other, and encouraging each other.

Joining in the breaking of bread. The remembering of what Jesus did for us on the cross. The realization that grace is a gift from God. The celebratory waiting for the return of Christ.

Prayer. This includes corporate prayer (i.e., church service) and private, personal prayer.

I feel Saint Matthews does a good job of all of this. But of course there is always room for improvement. What could you or I do to help make these improvements? I submit it is not always easy, but getting involved, using your spiritual gifts, is what we are all called to do. So get involved – if you are not sure how, talk to any church leader.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,