Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Everybody's job

Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch (a convert to Judaism) were the first seven deacons. If we read the text, we find that they were appointed to make sure the widows were taken care of and to "wait on tables" so the apostles could do the important work of praying and ministering the word.

So, the apostles go out teaching and these guys stay home and make sure things are running smoothly, right? Nope. Stephen is out preaching to the Sanhedrin and forfeits his life. Philip goes to Samaria, casts out demons and makes disciples. We don't hear what the other gents get up to, but I'm willing to wager that it's similar.

Were these guys forsaking their responsibilities? Were they speaking out of turn? Were they rebelling against the agreed-upon plan? No. They were doing what they were commanded to do - make disciples.

You can't please all the people all the time

Is it bad that I'm a little comforted by the first sign of discord in the church in Acts?
When Ananias and Saphira try to pull their prank and when the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews about care of widows it lets me know that there was imperfection then like there is now. Even the disciples couldn't make everyone happy. The church has dealt with unhappy people since the beginning and we won't be stopping any time soon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Turning the other Cheek

"They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."

Flogging => Rejoicing.
Now, I'm no expert on flogging, but rejoicing was certainly not the intended result. Either the guards seriously messed up their job, or there was something very different about these men.

I want their attitude. I want to rejoice in the suffering I endure (that is so much less than what they went through). I want to relish the opportunity to be called out, to be persecuted, to suffer.

But, I don't. I work to not be persecuted, to fit in, to be accepted. It seems like that is what I should do to attract people and spread Jesus' love.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In the Garden

(Sorry C. Austin Miles, but I hear God best in working with other people in community.
My trip to the Garden was a little bit different than yours. And I'm certainly no hymnist.)

I went to the garden and knew I wouldn't be alone,
I knew there wouldn't be roses.
The greatest need of the people there,
the Son of God discloses.

And we walked with them,
and we talked with them,
and we also did some gardening;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
is what we were created to know.

He speaks and the sound of His voice,
I hear in the voices of others,
and the melody that He gave to me
shines in the eyes of my brothers.

I`d stay in the garden with them
though the night around me be falling,
but He bids me go; through the voice of woe
The voice of others is calling.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Compare and Contrast - Charity & Community

I was reading some of Perkins' "Beyond Charity" where he talks about the difference between charity (not the biblical word for love, the modern practice of giving stuff to people to make yourself feel better about not being someone who depends on people giving them things to survive) and community development.

Then I was reading Acts 4 and 5 where Luke describes the situation of the early church. Here, like in Perkins' book, people in need are cared for.

So, my question for today - how does the early church practice compare to today?

The two are similar in that the people who had gave to the people who didn't. In this way everyone was taken care of. There has been a lot of political talk lately about "redistribution of wealth" and even some talk of the Bible's command to bring this about. Is this what we are reading about in Acts?

Another area of comparison is sacrifice. Many (we don't know if it was all) of the early Christians gave all they had to one another. They didn't give leftovers or just a portion, even though giving everything was not demanded of them. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead because they lied about giving, not because they withheld a portion of their giving. They didn't have to give all the money they had, they just had to be truthful about what they were giving.

The people had a choice as to what they gave, it wasn't mandated and it wasn't a tax. Giving is an individual choice, not a rule followed under threat of penalty. It is a way to show that you love your neighbor as yourself. It should make us happy to give, we should enjoy it. If we have to give, it isn't any fun.

The third area is relationship. These people lived life together. They didn't consider their possessions their own. They weren't giving up what they had, they were sharing it with people they cared about. The watch passed down from your grandfather to you has much more value than the one from the department store glass case. Why? Relationship.

Redistribution of wealth, welfare and even things like Product(Red) [love you, Bono], exist only because true giving does not. They exist because true charity does not. They exist because true love does not. They are Diet Coke, the unnatural, man-made substitute that will never really duplicate the original.

Ain't nothin' like the real thing baby.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dangerous Giving

"Giving is a dangerous thing because, as Robert Lupton puts it, 'Receiving is a humbling matter. It implies neediness. It categorizes one as being worse off than the giver.' Therefore, we must be careful how we give. Giving should affirm and not dehumanize. We give because God gave to us. We should be humbled by our opportunities to give. A gift is something that you value yourself, something that you would want to receive yourself."
- John M. Perkins in Beyond Charity
Do we give gifts or do we donate leftovers?
Do we affirm or dehumanize?
Do we humbly give or proudly donate?
Are we Christians or charity workers?

Boldness and Prayer

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness."

Where is our boldness when we tell others about God?
Where is our boldness when we think about what God can do?
Where is our boldness when we think about what God will do?
What are we afraid of?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Persistent Power

What happens when one power is threatened by another? How do people react when their power may be usurped or upended? How does the veteran react when the talented young rookie steals his starting spot? How does the CEO react when the board disagrees with him for the first time? How do parents react when their 18-year old makes a decision knowing they will disagree?

The Sadducees wrestled with the emergence of the power of Jesus. Every ruler of the time wrestled with the emergence of the power of Jesus. They rejected his power. They questioned his power. They forbid the mention of it. None of these things stopped it.

That's the thing with real power - you can't stop it. You can disagree all you want. You can fight all you want. Nothing will stop it.

No matter what we want or what we do, God's power is paramount. We think we have power, but in comparison it is just an illusion. We can claim our power, we can reject God's power, we can try to silence or ignore God, but in the end God will reign.

What doesn't happen in the world is the embrace of an external power. What doesn't existence in the world is the foundation of love in that new power. What doesn't happen in the world is the rejection of personal power.

If reject God's power, it will become the capstone. If we try to enforce silence from God's followers, the rocks will cry out. If we renounce our own power and rely only on God's power, He will gladly share it with us.

Just plain ordinary. However...

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."

He is an ordinary man, but he's been with Jesus.
Is there a better compliment?

Who in your life would you describe this way?
What do I need to do (or stop doing) or say (or stop saying) or be (or stop being) to become a man you would describe this way?

God Bless You

When I think of blessings, I normally think of things you can get - blessed with money, blessed with cars, blessed with good looks, blessed with talent, blessed with family, blessed with friends. Is this really what blessings are all about, or do I have this idea of blessing because I'm focused on me more than I'm focused on God? When God says He has plans to bless and not curse me, does He mean He will give me stuff and not take it away? That just doesn't seem right.

What does God mean by bless? What does blessing really look like? It seems like it would mean a better life than the one I have now. Does that come from more stuff or even more or better relationships?

"When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."

Jesus' first blessing to us was to turn us from our sins. His first mission wasn't to die. It wasn't to come back from the dead. (That doesn't lessen the importance of those missions in any way.) His first mission was to bring repentance. We can't forget the importance of Jesus' first mission. We can't forget the importance of repentance; it is a blessing.

Suddenly, I don't feel so bad asking for blessings.
God, bless me today. Turn me from my wicked ways.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Being Liberal

"Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you."

Am I liberal? No, not politically.
Am I liberal with the gifts God has given me?

Peter sees this guy who wants money. It would have been easy for Peter to think to himself, "I don't have $, so I'll just keep going." That is probably what I would have done. Heck, that's what I've done plenty of times when I had money.

Peter doesn't though. He gives the man what he had, even though it wasn't what he asked for. What do I have? What has God given me that I need to be liberally giving to others?

Everything in Common

The beginning of the church was community. It wasn't enough for people to simply repent ,be baptized and go on with their lives. Instead, they left everything in their lives and joined together. They lived together, they shared their possessions and had "everything in common."

When did that stop? How did it change to what we know today? Was it a recognition that the end wasn't as near as originally thought? Was it a lack of resources? Were the Christians taken advantage of? Was it a mistake?

What does this mean for us today? How do we have "everything in common" in a world where we celebrate just having something in common? Maybe we start with a redefinition of what we hold onto as everything.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Peter's Point

When we read Peter's sermon in Acts 2, it is very common to focus only on verses 37-41. We look at the result. But how did Peter get to the result?

When I read it, I find myself reading verse 36 and cringing, especially at "whom you crucified." This verse makes it sound like everything that came before was just a set-up for Peter to lay the guilt on thick. "You did this. It is YOUR fault this innocent man was tortured and killed."

But that is just one verse, actually it is just one parenthetical phrase, amidst a lengthy description of the position and glory of Jesus. Too many sermons are flipped. They are filled with guilt and have only a little glory. (Actually, too many sermons have none of either.) Peter's pattern must be the pattern we take - a whole lotta praise and a tiny dose of hard truth.

Poor Guy

Did you ever wonder what happened to the "other guy"? Two men were proposed to replace Judas, but only Matthias made the cut. Poor "Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus)." First he is stuck with a name that is longer than some sentences, then he isn't chosen to take Judas' place. Instead, he goes down in history as missing out on being one of The Twelve.

Then again, because he was nominated, we know that he was a witness to all of Jesus' ministry. Scholars think he was one of the seventy-two who were sent out and some think he was one of Jesus' brothers. Some even name him as St. Justus of Eleutheropolis. (I bet you didn't know that, did you?)

I've often wondered what heaven would be like. Will there be people there who are upset by not being in the top 12? I'm thinking not. I'm thinking that just being in the presence of God will be more than enough to destroy our false notions of place and position. I'm thinking Justus felt the same way.

Do I?

Monday, April 13, 2009

What are you waiting for?

Yet another Easter just passed. Together with millions of our closest friends we celebrated the most amazing event that ever transpired. Anywhere. At any time.

It is not surprising that we could feel a little let down or left out afterwards. The disciples did. They had 40 days afterwards when Jesus hung out with them, ate with them and taught them (again) about the Kingdom of God. Then he left. He floated right up into the clouds - a fittingly amazing ext.

What was the disciples reaction? Something like this:

They stood there staring up into the sky, dumbfounded. They were waiting. They didn't know what it was, but they knew it was amazing. It was them. And it was amazing.

Jesus had talked to them about the Kingdom of God and told them that it wouldn't be easy to categorize or describe. But, Jesus did say it was in them. The time was quickly approaching for them to let the Kingdom out and to put it into practice.

As we see Easter 2009 getting smaller in the rearview mirror, we find ourselves in the same situation. We can start to wonder what is next. We can await something amazing. We can stand staring at the sky with our chins hanging down and our mouths gaping. We can ask our church leaders what they are doing next. Or we can be amazing. We can see the Kingdom inside of ourselves and let it out. We can stop waiting and start being.

You don't get to know that

I hate not knowing. I hate feeling like I've been left in the dark or that I've been excluded from some piece of information. Maybe its because I'm a know-it-all or maybe because I've got control issues (If I don't know something, how can I control it?). In a way, I feel like I deserve to know things, either about work or friends' lives. Maybe I feel that because I'm such a good friend or employee I've earned it. Ir maybe it is because I feel like information should be more freely available. Maybe I don't value information enough.

In Acts, after Jesus' resurrection, the disciples ask Jesus if he was (finally) going to restore the kingdom to Israel. His response? "That's not for you to know." Or as the Message puts it, "You don't get to know that."

This is privileged information, it is of great value. They didn't get to know this, and they didn't need to know this. How privileged are we to know what we know? I have access to so much more information than my parents' generation, all at the tips of my fingers. I can instantly find out the best place to park for a Pacer's game in Indianapolis or the weather in Ireland, without putting in much work at all. I also have direct access to almighty God and insight into his plan for my life.

How privileged is that? How could I ask for more than that?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hitting Close to Home

So, this morning I wrote a few things about suffering. Not because I really felt like suffering, but because that was what spoke to me. A few hours later I'm faced not with my suffering, but with the suffering of a dear friend.

When we see Jesus on the cross we know that he suffered for our sins. He didn't deserve it, but we can see the reason behind the suffering. It was done for the good of all mankind.

Again, when we see Peter denying Jesus, being sifted like wheat, we can see the reason. It got him ready for his ministry, for the sermon at Pentecost and a life of never again denying his master.

But what about my brother suffering right now? I have no idea what the reason for this struggle is, and I may never know. It would be partially comforting (for me, at least) to know why God has placed this time in his life. What is he being prepared for? In what great way is God going to use this problem? We don't know and we may never know. We don't even know how big the problem is right now.

This is why Jesus prayed for Peter to have unfailing faith. It is when we don't know that we must believe. It is when things seem darkest that we must keep going. It is when our friends feel alone that we must show them they are not. It is when our brothers and sisters are on the precipice that growth happens, but that is where it is easiest to fall.

That's my prayer for my brother - that his faith will be unfailing.
And that's my job as his brother - to be ready to catch him if he fails.

Luke 22 - Gee, Thanks

Jesus takes Peter aside and lays some hard truth on him. Satan had asked to "sift him as wheat," which really sounds terrible. Luckily for Simon, Jesus had intervened in prayer. If Jesus was praying, you should be covered, right? The only problem is that Jesus tells Peter specifically what he prayed,"that your faith may not fail."

Wait, what?
Where is the prayer for safety and protection?
Where was "I bind you Satan" and all that?

Jesus doesn't pray for Peter's safety or his protection or even for him to be delivered from evil. Jesus could have prayed these things, and they would have worked. He could have protected Peter from every evil in the world, but that wasn't his choice. He prays that when Peter faces this evil, when he is sifted, that his faith will not fail. Peter needed to be sifted. He needed to be tested. He needed to be made stronger so he could face the assignment ahead of him.

We aren't any different. We need to be sifted too.
Why do we run from it?
Why do we try to shield others from it?
That's not what Jesus would do.

Luke 22 - Eager

Jesus tells the disciples that he has eagerly desired to eat the Passover meal with them, because it was the last one that he would eat before he suffered.

It seems like there are 2 possible explanations for this:
1) Eating Passover meals with the disciples was such a terrible experience that Jesus couldn't wait to get them all over with.
2) Jesus was eager to suffer.

Assuming that 1 is not the case...
Jesus was eager to suffer. But, he wasn't eager to suffer. Just a few verses later we'll read about Jesus asking his father to take the suffering away from him. If he was eager, why would he try to get out of it? It looks like he wasn't eager to suffer.

"Yet not my will, but yours be done."
Jesus wasn't eager to suffer, but he was eager to see God's will be done - even if that meant suffering.

I'm eager to see God's will done too, but what if that means I have to suffer? What if the only way God's will will be done is if I suffer to bring it about? What if it causes me pain to do so? Am I still so eager?

We pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done" but do we ever consider what it might cost us to bring that about? Would we be so willing to to pray that prayer if we considered the cost?

My father, who's in heaven, your name is worthy of my devotion.
I pray for your kingdom to shape the earth in the same way that it does heaven.
Make me eager to do my part to help your will be done here on earth like heaven, no matter what it may cost me. Make me eager to obey and willing to suffer.
Like you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Luke 21 - Careful

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close unexpectedly like a trap.

Luke 21 - All Inclusive

Who is it that Jesus praises for their gift?
He praises the widow who "put in all she had to live on."
Why do we think that people in poverty shouldn't be challenged to give?
Who are we to deprive them of the opportunity this widow had?
Why do we read this passage to rich people and not to the poor?
Are we so faithless as to think God won't take care of them?
Is it because we are so outside the kingdom that we aren't taking care of them?

Luke 20 - Authority

"Who gave you this authority?"
The Pharisees railed against Jesus for many reasons, especially because he acted with an authority that they knew nothing about. He spoke as one who made the laws, not one who memorized them. This put their authority in doubt. If they lost their authority over the people, what would they have left? If the people didn't listen to them, who would they listen to? Their authority was their birthright and their livelihood.

rebelnoun |ˈrebəl|a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or ruler a person who resists authority, control, or convention.

Jesus' response was to point out to them how flimsy their authority really was with a simple question. He could and probably would do the same to each of us. All human authority is equally as flimsy, even if we are right.

Luke 19 - IHOP

When Jesus clears out the Temple, he declares what the Temple should be. His first, primary insistence is that the Temple is a house of Prayer. He doesn't say it is a house of worship. He doesn't say it is a house of fellowship. He doesn't say it is a house of preaching. He puts prayer above all of these things.
Do we?

Luke 19 - Peace

"If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes."

Jesus is looking out over Jerusalem on his way inside and the people are rightfully and fittingly praising him, but Jesus mind is somewhere else. He is concerned not for those cheering sheep who are still in the flock, but for the city full of lost sheep before him. He knows what can and will bring them peace, but they do not.

We are often in the same boat. We just don't see what would bring us peace. "It is hidden from (y)our eyes." What is hiding it? I would say that it is us. We continually try to find peace on our own. We try to find peace in other people. We try to find peace in success. We try to find peace in power. We try to find peace in luxury. We try to find peace in control. We try to find peace in the right house or car or clothes. In reality, all these things are what hide peace from us. No wonder it is so hard for the poor rich man.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Luke 19 - Darker

The parable of the 10 Talents is found in Matthew 25.
The parable of the 10 Minas is found in Luke 19.

One is famous and one is not. What's the difference? In the Minas version, the man is going away to be made king and his servants hate him enough to send people to plead with the powers that be not to make him king. The rest of the story follows the same pattern (aside from the differences in the amount of money they were given). But at the end, the newly appointed king orders those who opposed him put to death.

Why the differences in the story? It is assumed Luke was writing to Gentiles and Matthew to Hebrews. Was this omitted in Matthew's version to not scare the Hebrew servants who did not want Jesus to be king? The Minas version certainly seems to frame the money-lender as Jesus over the Father - Jesus is in effect leaving us for a time and then returning as acting king. Whereas in the Talent version, it seems like the Father is the master, because Jesus is telling the story.

A Minas is generally accepted to be 1/16th of a Talent. This seems to imply that the Luke version would deal more with the common man while Matthew was dealing with the wealthy.

Maybe it is one of these things. Maybe all. Maybe none. The fact remains, Luke's version is notably darker than Matthew's and the point of both is the same.
We've all been blessed and we're expected to put those blessings to work.

Luke 18 - Confused

"'We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.'
The disciples did not understand any of this."

How could they not understand this? How could Jesus have been any clearer? He flat out said exactly what was going to happen and they still didn't get it. Sometimes I think that the disciples had this huge surprise when Jesus was captured and crucified - but they had advanced notice. Jesus told them explicitly what was going to happen.

Why didn't they believe? Was it because they didn't want to? They had an idea of what Jesus' mission would be. They saw military victories and a physical kingdom (that they would be in charge of as his closest followers). This was an idea that they loved and wouldn't let go of. Even after Jesus died and came back, they still asked, "Lord, are you then at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

So, what are the ideas that I won't let go of? What are the things that I want so strongly that I refuse to see the truth? Where am I blocking my own view of God?

Luke 18 - Humility -> Justification

"God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Why is it so hard for me to humiliate myself and look at who I am, a sinner. That doesn't preclude me from doing what God wants me to do, it doesn't define who I am. It is the place from which I must approach God. That is what he calls us to do, what we are called to recognize.

We are all lovingly created children of God. He knows each hair of our head and each thing we've done wrong, but he still loves us. This is why we can, no we must, approach Him from a place of humility. It is when we approach God from the place of feeling like we are nothing that we begin to rely on Him instead of on ourselves. That is where real strength and real power come from.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Luke 17 - Here it is

"The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

Will you let it out or keep it in?
Will you build it and help it grow or tear it down?
Will you share it with others or horde it for yourself?
Will you be a servant of the King of the Kingdom or the king of your own mess?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Luke 16 - Proof

Yesterday I heard the question raised, why did Jesus spend his 40 reincarnated days with so few people? He proved to them he was alive again, but why not prove it to the world? Wouldn't that have made things easier for the disciples after he ascended?

Apparently not: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

Luke 16 - Topic and Context

In verses 16 and 17 Jesus talks about the Law and the Prophets, concluding that, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear that for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the law." From here, at face value, he seems to make a radical shift in topics to marital infidelity. He says, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Is he talking about husbands and ex-wives and wives and new husbands and messed up relationships or is he still talking about people separating the law and joining new things to it?

On the one hand, the divorce and remarriage teaching is echoed by Jesus at other places in scripture. (Matthew 5 & 19, Mark 10) On the other hand, this is a radical departure from his topic. It doesn't seem like something he would just throw in there because it popped into his head.

So, if this wasn't an accident, what can it teach us about the relationship between us and the law in comparison to a husband and wife?