Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Those Crazy Apostles

Here we go again with the wild attitudes of the first Christ followers. In Acts 5, after the court time in Acts 4, the Apostles are again found preaching in the Temple. This time the whole bunch of them is dragged before the court and commanded to not preach in the name of Jesus (they were accused of spreading this Jesus thing throughout the whole city). The Sanhedrin listens to one of its leaders, a man named Gamaliel, who suggests that if what the Apostles are doing is from human effort then it will dry up and blow away but IF it is from God then opposing them would have the court opposing God (not a good plan).

The Court listens to this bit of wisdom and releases the Apostles AFTER having them properly flogged and warning them once again to not preach in the name of Jesus. After their proper beating the Apostles "left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41)."

It is too common in my own life under persecution -- if someone looks at me funny for preaching, or if someone criticizes me for trying to live faithfully for Jesus, or if there is opposition to some project I am in the middle of -- is to withdraw and lick my wounds. I dare say what I have to endure does not qualify as perecution. I am not sure I would have the crazy assurance and confidence of our first leaders. The attitude of these people was, Jesus was crucified for us it may not be such a bad idea to suffer embarrassment and abuse for his name.

My prayer today has been: Lord give me boldness to live fully for you like they did.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Holy Boldness: Acts 4

The reading today is from Acts 4. It is the story of the aftermath of a healing that Peter and John perform in the temple courts. The healing is reported in chapter 3 and raised such an uproar that it got the attention of the religious leadership in Jerusalem.

Peter and John are dragged before the court, they are questioned and they speak boldly. The court is baffled by their speech since they are obviously unlettered men. They take note that Peter and John had "been with Jesus". There are few court room go arounds when, finally, Peter and John are ordered to stop speaking about this Jesus person. They tell the court, "We cannot stop talking about what we witnessed."

Then comes the part that gets into my heart. Peter and John join a gathering of the church for a prayer meeting. The church prays for Peter and John. I am moved by what they DO NOT pray for. They do not pray for comfort, they do not pray for the end of persecution, and they do not pray for deliverance. Instead, Acts 4:29 says "And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

I find myself praying the same thing. Help me, Lord, to not shut up, to not weigh the politics, and to not consider the personal cost. Help me Sovereign Lord, to live life radically for you.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Burning Bushes

Exodus 3

I have in my office a work of art done by artist Bracha Levee that I purchased in Jerusalem in 1992. The title of the work is "The Burning Bush" and shows a arid mountainous landscape with a shrubbery in full flame in the fore ground. The colors of the flame are bright red and orange and from the midst of the flame two white wings arise. Exodus chapter 3 tells us "the Angel of the Lord" occupied the burning bush that Moses saw and Mr. Levee shows this with the wings amidst the flame.

I look at this artwork from time to time. I keep it on my office wall. I look at the picture and I wonder how did Moses hear God's voice? I look at the picture and I wonder about the burning bushes in my own life. Those moments when God unmistakeably spoke to me through the Bible, through friends, through circumstances and through prayer. I have never seen the angel wings (but I have felt their gentle brush on my face). I have never heard an audible voice from God (so don't call the guys with the white coats just yet) but when God has spoken to me there has been no doubt about it.

I need to be reminded of burning bushes and the call of God on individual lives and I feel that part of my responsibility as a pastor and leader in the church is to pour gasoline on the burning bushes of others. It is an awesome thing to be called, challenged, and sent by God. It would be a travesty if we poured water on the authentic visions and dreams of others.

Look to your side, do you see this strange sight? How often do we ignore the unusual all around us? For Moses it was a bush that was burning but it was not being consumed. What is the unusual for you? Your life can be set aflame by the power and spirit of God yet you remain uniquely you. Turn side and look at the thing God is doing, and look at the thing God is planning, and become part of something great!


Sunday, January 20, 2008

You Meant it for evil, God meant it for good

In Genesis 50:20 Joseph's brothers are afraid that now that their father Jacob is dead, Joseph will now come after them and get revenge for what they did to him. They, of course, sold him into slavery and left him for dead. Speaking to their fear, Joseph tells them "you meant it for evil but God meant it for good". In a sentence he puts the past behind and faces the future.

A common struggle for most of us is letting the past go and moving into the future. Joseph could have made his brothers suffer (and he does play with them a little bit in Genesis 40 and following); he could have carried the same arrogant anger that he had when he was 17 (see Genesis 37) when he told his brothers about his dreams of supremacy. After they sold him into slavery he could have carried that bitterness, pain, sorrow and loss all the way to his (and their) graves. But 23 years has changed him. Twenty-three years of over coming adversity has formed and shaped him into a very different man.

How often do we need to surrender the spectres of the past and move into the future? I wonder how often do I carry the hurts, pains and struggles of decades, years, months, weeks even days forward with me and never let them go?

I will know I have arrived at a new place when I can bless the name of the Lord and praise God for the good days as well as the bad as I learn that God uses both to form and shape me into the kind of person I need to be.

They meant it for Evil; God used it for good. Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (NRSV)."


Friday, January 18, 2008

Joseph, son of Jacob

What do you say to a person who has lost his home, been betrayed by his family, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused, wrongfully imprisoned and assumed dead? As a pastor I am stumped. The "pastoral counselling" model that I was trained under has me sitting with this guy trying to make sense, trying to help him adjust, trying to be a comforting presence and praying that he be relieved of his suffering. In reading Joseph's story, however, this approach to his situation would have been wrong.

I have learned over the years that God created me for time and eternity and that God is more interested in the formation of my character than in my comfort. When we read Joseph's story in Genesis 37 through 50 what we find is that God has formed his life, used his experiences and placed him where he will do the most good. His life experience, from being his dad's favorite, to being the object of scorn of his brothers; and from being the head slave in Potiphar's house to living in prison after being wrongfully accused by Potiphar's wife all form and shape him for the life he is yet to live.

We never get to see Joseph's struggle, just the details of the journey. I suspect, however, that he has some dark and dreary days and an occasional pity party as he fought his way through his misfortune. In the end God used these struggles to form him into the man who would save his entire family. The summary of the journey comes in Genesis 50:20 Joseph tells his brothers (the ones who sold him into slavery because they were jealous) "Even though you meant to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today."

What does God intend from your misfortunes? What will God make of your struggles, failures, betrayals? What would happen if we surrendered our lives and trusted our Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in this world for his sake? What woudl happen if we decided to treat life's difficulties as "formation training"?


Monday, January 14, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

I was struck while reading in Luke 14:15-24 that these guys are making some pretty lame excuses. In the passage, someone is giving a great banquet and has invited many guests but when the time of the banquet comes the invited guests don't come to the banquet and give excuses. One says he has bought some new oxen and has to try them out. Another says he has bought a field and needs to go see it. The third has gotten married and begs to be excused.

As I was reading this I thought: who would buy something without trying it out first? I recently bought a new car, I drove several before I picked the one I wanted -- I took a very thorough test drive. In the ancient world you would not buy a team of oxen without taking them for a test drive -- the excuse is lame.

Then we find the guy who bought a field and has to go see it. Can you imagine buying a house or any property without first examining it, walking it, searching it? Neither can I, the excuse is lame.

Finally, the guy who got married. Why can't he just bring her to the banquet?

Too often we are invited into this great adventure of following Jesus and, rather than enter the adventure we make excuses. Some that I have heard recently: I would be a Christ follower but I don't want to give up my beer; I want to be a Christian but I like to sleep in on Sundays; I want to be a Christian but I still have some questions (the only good one so far -- keep asking, keep seeking, you'll be fine). These and many more keep people from the greatest adventure there is available in life -- the adventure of living life within the very purpose of our creation. The adventure of transforming the world with Jesus.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A turning point with the same challenges

I was reading in Luke 9 this morning. Luke 9:51 is the turning point of the gospel according to Luke. It says "An Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem". Up until this point in the story Jesus is wandering with a purpose. He is preaching from town to town, healing the sick, caring for folks and proclaiming the message of God's amazing love. From Luke 9:51 Jesus is on a collision course for Jerusalem. He begins to openly confront the religious leadership, he begins to purposefully and resolutely begin a march toward his own crucifixion.

What interests me here is that in Luke 9:52 and following the Disciples, once again, demonstrate how clueless they can be (sounds like my life too!). James and John want to punish the Samaritan city that would not receive Jesus (because he was going to Jerusalem). They want to call down FIRE from heaven and destroy them. Jesus, who has just set his face on the final road, corrects them. I suspect he sighs, reminds them (AGAIN) about servant leadership, and resolutely moves forward.

Have you set your face toward what God has called you to do?


Monday, January 7, 2008

How many righteous people?

I am very intrigued by today's reading in Genesis about Abraham apparently negotiating with God for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The gist of the story is that the Lord promises not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there are 50 righteous people left, then it is 45 then 40 then 30 then 20 and finally 10. The Lord will not destroy the city if there are only 10 righteous people left.

Question: what does it mean to be righteous? What does it mean for a Christ follower to be righteous? (Hint: it is not by our works that we are made righteous but by the work of Jesus).

The really scary part of the story is that there are NOT 10 righteous people in the city. Under rather bleak circumstances, Lot and his family have to flee for their lives. And the cities on the plain are lost.

Who would bargain for our cities? Who bargains for our lives?

The price of our righteousness was a great price indeed. The price of our right standing with God was the death and resurrection of Jesus. He stands as our "Advocate". He alone stands in our place.


Friday, January 4, 2008

One thought and Jesus at Home in Nazareth

I was reading today's readings (Genesis 9-11 and Luke 4) and noticed some things I had not seen before. It appears, from Genesis 9 that "meat" was not given as food to Noah and his family until after the flood. Before that they were given "green plants" for food. However, it is also clear that eating meat was practiced before Noah -- but apparently in disobedience?

I like Jesus in Luke 4. He goes home to Nazareth and intentionally provokes the religions types. He begins by claiming the passage from Isaiah "The spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . ." for himself. He then intentionally reminds the audience in the synagogue of Nazareth that God extends mercy to folks who are outside the faith. Jesus mentions healing for two individuals who were most certainly Outside the expectations of the religious types. And, for some odd reason, the religious types are mad at Jesus.

How often do we unintentionally leave those outside our comfortable faith parameters on the outside because they are different, think different, look different or haven't adopted our own religious scruples. The room at the foot of the cross is infinite and there are no prerequisites for joining. We need to be constantly reminded that God is not interested in our comfort zones but in the transformation (the reclamation) of the entire world!


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Original Sin

Genesis 3,4,5
Today's reading from Genesis reminds us of the state of humanity. Although Christianity is a hopeful faith, it does take a gloomy view of human ability. In a word, we are born broken. When Adam and Eve chose rebellion they obtained the knowledge of good and evil. We all have that knowledge although I don't think it helps us all that much. Most of know right from wrong what we lack is the capacity to act on it. There is something fundamentally flawed with the human creature. We were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1) but that image is now shattered. The evidence of this brokenness is played out in Genesis 4 with the murder of Abel and our brokenness is continually played out in our propensity for all forms of violence.

Sometimes people will argue that because we are born with certain tendencies, that it is God's will for our lives. Genesis and the Christian doctrine of "Original Sin" tells us otherwise. Our urges, desires, and motivations, are broken and flawed. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said that the doctrine of Original sin is the only doctrine of our faith that can be proved empirically. All we need to do is read the paper, watch the news or take a good look around. We are flawed and broken creatures desperately in need of redemption and healing.

The Good News is in Luke 2. The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, is God's plan to redeem us all.