Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lydia's Leadings

"The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message."

The Lord opened her heart, he didn't respond for her. It was still Lydia's decision to make, she was still the one who had to take action. She still had to choose. She still had to move, to act.

I'm guessing that most people have been there. They've been in a situation where they gain some understanding or some insight. They feel called or know they should respond, yet when it is time for them to do their part, they sit and wait for the moment to pass.

How many times has God opened my heart to respond and I've failed to act?
How many opportunities has God presented that I've ignored (willingly or because I wasn't paying attention or because I had other things to do or because I was embarrassed or because...).

Monday, June 29, 2009

God hates Asians

Okay, not really. Just feeling a bit sensationalistic this morning.
It does make me curious why Paul was "kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia."
Were they gonna kill him?
Was there a more pressing need somewhere else?
Was someone else already tasked with that job?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

People Pleasing

Paul meets Timothy and says, "Hey, we should mentor this guy."
What's the first thing they do? They circumcise him. Huh? I thought the whole circumcision thing was old-covenant and no longer necessary. I thought Paul threw a fit over people saying gentiles had to be circumcised. What is going on?

Paul is choosing his battles. He knows that they will face opposition from the Jews in the places they will go. He knows Timothy will need access to Jews and their places of worship in the future. He knows that this is not the place for that fight.

Circumcision was not necessary, but it didn't do any harm. (So to speak.)
If being circumcised would make Timothy's job easier, why not? Paul's goal was not to correct thinking about circumcision, it was to preach the gospel to the gentiles. If having circumcised compatriots made this easier, then so be it.

Our job is to make disciples. We should be doing whatever it takes to make that happen.
If that means circumcision, so be it.
If that means wearing a tie, so be it.
If that means never wearing a tie, so be it.
If that means loving people you don't feel like loving, you should be doing that anyway.
If that means hanging out in a coffee shop when you don't drink coffee, so be it.
If that means talking to strangers, so be it.
If that means babysitting Jr. High Know Sweat Kids, so be it.
If that means...

What else do you have to add?

Monday, June 22, 2009

4 simple rules

"You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."

This is James' decision as to what the gentile converts should follow from the Law of Moses.

There are three that deal with food.
No food sacrificed to idols (although Paul later says this isn't a sin)
No Blood (this just seems gross)
No meat from strangled animals (???)

And the last one:
No sexual immorality.

As I look through the commandments, these probably aren't the ones I would choose. Granted, food sacrificed to idols would be very hard to come by today. But, I think that lying and stealing were just as prominent then as now. Why didn't they make the cut?

Were these four laws just highlights? Were they the laws that were toughest to follow? Were these the ones that were the major differences between standard gentile life and Jewish life? Were these the laws that the average gentile would assume were okay, but really were not?

If we wrote 4 rules (maybe not simply rules, maybe ideals) today that the average non-believer would think are okay, but that are contrary to God's will what would they be?

My quick list (I reserve the right to change this at any time):
No sexual immorality (physical or otherwise)
No me-first (or me-only)
No apathy
No withholding grace

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Power of Struggle

I've always thought that Paul's missionary journeys were unique. I thought he went out preaching the word and no one could refute what he said. I thought that those he discipled got it and never doubted (they may have gotten a little confused - prompting him to write a letter now and again). I thought that he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries and those who would come after him.

Turns out, things didn't always go so well. In Iconium he did convince a great number of Jews and Gentiles to believe. But at the same time, the Jews who didn't believe "poisoned the minds" of those people against Paul and his compatriots, undoing all that he had done.

Paul persisted and cranked things up a couple notches - more preaching, more time and some miracles. Yet still the city was divided. The persecution got worse and turned to violence and Paul left.

This doesn't sound like a tremendous triumph to me. Instead, it sounds like a struggle - much like the struggle we face today.

Could God have changed people's hearts en masse? Could he have forced a complete revival where there was no opposition? Sure. But where would be the lesson for us? What could we learn from Paul if that was the example he set? How would we live up to that standard? What would that teach us about perseverance and dealing with adversity?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


My last post talked about the amazing offer that Paul extended to the Gentiles, the same offer that Christians offer to others today.

But Paul and the Gentiles were not the only players in that story. There is another piece to the puzzle, another stance that Christians today can take. It is the same stance that the Prodigal's older brother took.

While Paul was out front embracing the Gentiles and extending God's grace to them, the Jews were in the back, cringing at his every word. "When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying."

There are a couple of reasons for this, and they were both probably true.
The Jews could have been jealous of Paul for the response he was getting. When was the last time that a Jewish teacher had drawn such huge crowds? The answer was probably outside of their memory. He must be doing something wrong.
The Jews could have been jealous of the Gentiles for the offer they had been given. Yahweh had been the God of the Jews for thousands of years. He was theirs. Now, suddenly these dirty Gentiles were given the same benefits that they were. It wasn't fair.

We as Christians do the same things today. We are jealous when we see success in others. The church that explodes in attendance or recognition must be doing something wrong. They are selling cheap grace or not being hard enough on sin or skipping some important step. We create every excuse we can to explain away their success (or our lack thereof).
We are jealous when we see someone who has led a life of sin receive unconditional love. They have done terrible things and we're just supposed to forget that? We are supposed to pretend they haven't hurt people, they have done disgusting things, they haven't soiled their soul while we were faithful? It isn't fair.

Loving messed-up people is work. Accepting people who are glaringly imperfect is hard (those who are better at hiding imperfection are both easier and harder to accept). Dealing with sin is heart and soul wrenchingly painful.

It is taking up your cross.
It is dying to self.
It is loving your neighbor.
It is loving God.
It is our mission.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Paul and Barnabas are sent out (after a word from the Lord) and begin their missionary work. In Psidian Antioch, they meet at the Jewish synagogues to preach the good news. In doing so, Paul recounts the history of Israel, starting with "God chose our forefathers..."

Put yourself in the place of the Gentiles at the meeting. There were those there who feared God, but were simply born into the wrong race. They were excluded from the promise. They were outsiders, outcasts who for years had heard that God loved someone else. Put yourself in their place, your heart sinking as Paul recounts the history of his people, but not yours. Paul tells about his savior, but not yours. You would feel dirty, neglected, left out and unappreciated.

Fast forward 2000 years. You've heard about Jesus, but you've also seen the way that Christians respond to those who mess up or struggle with certain issues. They label them, tell jokes about them, look down on them or simply ignore them. They scoff at those who have yet to hear and believe or who struggle with changing their life. Not all Christians do this, but the loud ones do. The ones in the news do. The ones you hear about outside of church do.

Paul repeats God's words to the people:
"I have made you a light for the Gentiles (sinners), that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."

Look at their reaction:
"When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord..."
A few verses later:
"And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit."

Imagine the weight lifting from the shoulders and spirits of the Gentiles when they heard this message. Salvation could be theirs, despite who their fathers were. Forgiveness could be theirs, despite what they had done. God's loving embrace could be theirs, despite what they had been told in the past.

We have the same message to offer sinners that Paul offered to Gentiles. But, in order to offer it, we have to mean it and live it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

It seems that every so often Christians hear the old refrain, "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?". It is one of those questions that seems to never have a good enough response. I'm not going to offer one, either.

I think that this is a question we will always have and one that has always been around. Jesus had three main compatriots when he was on earth. Peter, James and John were the three who were always by his side, the three he took with him to pray, the three he seemed to be grooming in a more intentional way than the rest of the twelve. John went on to write a few books, including a gospel and Revelation. Peter preached the sermon at Pentecost and became the de facto head of the early church. What happened to James?

According to Acts 12:2, Herod had him put to death with a sword. The account is very matter-of-fact and not filled with daring or supernatural intervention.

Seeing the gleeful reaction of the Jews, Herod decides to do the same to Peter and has him imprisoned and guarded by 16 soldiers. This was obviously not nearly enough, because when the angel showed up, they just walked right out to freedom.

My question is: Where was James' angel? Where was his supernatural rescue? Where was God's loving protection for John's brother? Why did Jesus spend the time with him, only to have him die? Why were Peter and John spared, but James was not?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


"Who was I to think that I could oppose God?" - Peter

Peter came to this realization after he witnessed the Gentiles (who he believed to be outside of God's grace) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He realized he was wrong and decided to change.

In thought this was easy, but Paul's words in Galatians 2 show us that it wasn't as easy to change in action. Peter is perfectly content in hanging out with Gentiles and eating with them while it was just him and Gentiles. When other Jews start showing up, the peer pressure gets to Peter and he begins to fall into old practices, sitting with the Jews exclusively and falling into their customs. When Paul shows up, he opposes Peter's actions and calls him to task.

Could we call Peter's actions backsliding? He was slowly, in very small steps moving back toward the place of opposition where he started. In wasn't a drastic shift, but it was movement. Peter didn't wake up and say, "You know what, I think I've changed my mind about this Gentile thing." That's not the way that sin works. It is much craftier than that. It devours us little by little, bit by bit so that we don't even realize it is happening. We think that we are standing side by side with God, when in reality we have been slowly moving more and more into opposition with Him.

The same thing happens in our lives that happened in Peter's. We commit to being welcoming, or befriending those different than us or building relationships, but we slowly begin to revert back to our old ways. We move away from our goal and settle for the past. That's not okay.

That's not real life change. Real life change is hard, and it requires us putting forth constant effort to not just continue to change, but to maintain the ground we've already gained. Peter couldn't do it alone, he needed Paul's help. We can't do it alone, we need help too. From each other and from the Holy Spirit. That's the change where we need to put in the most work.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Embrace or Admission

Gentiles were the outcasts, and not just in a "we're better than them" way. It was more like, "you are unclean if you touch them" kind of way. It was a "it's a sin if you go into their houses and eat with them" kind of way. This was serious. It was church-mandated segregation, salvation-mandated segregation.

So, when Peter sees a vision about foods that were considered unclean being called clean, it was one thing. The realization that this wasn't just about food must have been quite another. "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."

I love what happens next and how Peter responds. The Holy Spirit comes on these gentiles as a sort of affirmation of what Peter has been saying. So, he baptizes them and then stays with them a few days. First he ceremonially embraces them as brothers by baptizing them into the faith, then he relationally embraces them by staying with them for a few days. He lives in their homes and eats their food (non-kosher as it was). This wasn't just embracing them with words, it was embracing them in deed, too.

Imagine if Peter had said, "God is now accepting gentiles! Now, I'm going to go hang out with the Jews again. Have a good time. We love you. Bye." Would the gentiles have felt like they were truly welcome? Would they have been actual members of the family or would they have been step-brothers, second-class citizens? That's why Peter does what he does. He embraces them and makes sure they know how much they are loved and accepted. This isn't just a little thing - they are on equal ground.

Do we do the same thing? Do we truly embrace people? People who are different than us? People who came from a very sin-filled background? People who are still struggling with sin? People who are still struggling with grace and forgiveness? People who don't yet know what it means to follow Christ? Are we eating with them and drinking with them, spending days with them and welcoming them into our lives? Are we embracing them or only admitting them?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prayers and Gifts

I'm not sure if it is true for others, but I know that I have a tendency to separate the spiritual from the non-spiritual even in church related things. Fasting and Praying are spiritual. Reading the Bible is spiritual. Telling the truth is the right thing to do, but it is not really spiritual. Tithing is the right thing to do, but it is physical, not spiritual, right?

Wrong. Cornelius hears from an angel of God who groups these things, gifts to the poor and prayer together as a "memorial offering before God."

Giving isn't just the right thing to do - it is a way to worship God. That's what offering means, worship. In our weekly church-life way of doing things "offering" has become the equivalent of "passing the plate" or "collecting the money." But that isn't what offering is at all.

Giving to God and to the needy must be just as spiritual as prayer, as Bible-reading, as baptism, as speaking in tongues. Church leaders need to present giving as what it is - a way to get closer to God, to build that relationship more and more. Giving to God and giving to the poor is loving God and loving others. It will change your life.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lydda, Sharon, Joppa, Cincinnati?

At the end of Acts 9 we read about the healing of 2 different people - Aeneas and Dorcas. But the impact goes way past these two individuals.

Aeneas, a paralytic, is healed and the result is huge - "All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord." Even if we count for a little exaggeration (in the Bible !?!), and assume that every single person in those towns did not turn to the Lord, it was still a number far greater than just those healed or just those present.

Dorcas lived and died in the next town over, Joppa. As timing would have it, the dying came right after Aeneas was healed and people knew who to call. After Dorcas is raised from the dead, Luke becomes more subdued and simply states, "this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord." Not the whole town, but not too bad either.

Peter is doing big things. Such big things that entire towns and cities stand up and take notice. Was he acting simply to serve and save Aeneas and Dorcas or did he and God have bigger plans? Their actions were for the individuals, but also for the whole community.

What are we doing to get the whole town to stand up and take notice? How are we changing lives in such a way as to impact the whole city? What would it take to make a whole town turn to the Lord? What's stopping us from making these moves?