Sunday, April 29, 2018

Speaking to the People of the Unknown God - Acts 17:16-33

The Athenians were deeply spiritual people. They were “religious in every way.” Type A religious folk. Some people work hard to leave no stone un-turned, these people worked hard to leave no god un-worshiped. Athens was full of temples, shrines, alters and markers, places to worship gods. They were an eclectic people who worshiped an eclectic assortment of gods.
When Paul first arrived in Athens he was distressed by the amount of idols he saw. So he went into the synagogues and the marketplace and “argued” with anyone who would speak to him. This sounds hostile and unfriendly but what he was doing was the practice of the people in Athens. It was a sort of verbal dance, point, counter point; verbal fencing thrust, parry; a congenial back and forth that allowed intellectual life to thrive in Athens. Paul was speaking, but he was also listening, hearing, paying attention to what was going on around him. He was learning about the city and the people who lived in the city. It just so happened that this arguing debate he was doing was the very best way to understand the people there.
Understanding our audience is something they taught us, when we were in seminary. Whenever a preacher gets up to preach, she should work hard to understand her audience. This is easier when the audience to which you are speaking is a congregation you have pastored, and walked alongside for nine years. It is a little harder when you are asked to preach to someone else's congregation or to be a special speaker at an event. There is a lot more guess work and extrapolation, but none-the-less one must work to know the people to whom you speak as best you can. And at times you shift and change your sermon as you are speaking to adapt to the people who are in front of you, so that the truth you have to share will be best understood.
As Paul is doing this, he is cut short, he is taken to the Areopagus a large rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis. Now why Paul was brought there is greatly debated. Some, siting that the Epicureans and Stoics found him to be a babbler at best and a purveyor of foreign deities at worst, say he was taken there hostilely, much as Socrates was, to be tried and convicted for the ideas he was presented in the marketplace. Others believe the purpose was one of genuine interest, wanting to know and understand what exactly it is that Paul is teaching, sighting the words of inquiry used, “this sounds strange to us, we would like to know what it means.”
Either way, Paul gains the ears of all the most important citizens, best thinkers and possibly their ruling court on all matters concerning public life, philosophy, religion and morality. Given this opportunity, Paul seizes the day. While he was debating, he was listening, while he was listening he was paying attention. He has worked to know and understand these people as best he can during the time he was been there and he is ready. He has seen their idols, he has heard the desire to know and learn new things. He sees they are a people full of religious fervor. And he knows how to speak so that they can hear, how to share the gospel with words so that they can understand him.
Standing on the street corner yelling, “The end is near!” Or shouting, “You are all vile sinners repent and be saved!” is easy, but it is more than that it is lazy and it does a disservice to the Gospel. I think most of us agree that this is really no way to win people to Christ. We instinctively know that although perhaps at some point in our history this kind of preaching would have started a discussion with a passerby, that if that time existed, that time is not now. Today, doing this would arouse disdain in passersby, at best they would simply continue to pass by, and at worst hurl insults and other things in our direction. We know enough about our culture, our society, the people in our city and our country, to know that this tactic simply would not work.
Sharing the gospel is hard work. If it was as easy as marching into Central square standing up on a bench across from the Starbucks and preaching the gospel, I would say, lets, pack up Church right now and go do it. And you had better bet that we would not be the only people who were vying for space to do it.
Paul begins with prayer. This is not specifically mentioned in his passage, but Paul makes his dedication to prayer, abundantly clear throughout his writings. He speaks frequently of praying. He prays for the Church; he prays for the people who minister alongside of him; he prays for the work and ministry God has set him to do. He tells us that he prays continually about all things. And he asks all his churches to do so as well. There is nothing Paul does which is not immersed in prayer from start to finish. So we know that not only his journey to Athens but everything he does and says there is bathed in prayer.
Paul by going into the marketplace to debate and argue with the Stoics and the Epicureans, was meeting them in place they understood. He was using tools they understood and speaking the language of philosophy which resonated most with them. Paul began by connecting with the people of Athens. He works within their system. He goes into the marketplace and debates with them, works to understand their way of thinking and where they are coming from. He works to connect with them at every point. He wants to understand them; wants them to feel comfortable with him. He works to see who they are and where they are coming from. By debating in the marketplace, he is also coming to understand how they think, how they reason, the words and language that will speak to them. The ways they understand their world, the place religion and worship play in there lives. And because he does this they are ready to hear him when he begins his sermon on the Areopagus.
He begins his sermon by finding common ground. Paul is a devoutly Christian man, and although the amount of idols in Athens distresses him, Paul can see they are a deeply religious people, so he begins there. They are people who want to make sure every god is at least acknowledge, if to not properly worshiped. Every god is included, not even one is left out. Paul begins there. He makes their religiosity the foundation from which he builds. So they are all starting in a place that deeply matters to them.
It is only because he does these things that he is able to declare to them that the unknown god whom they have so carefully included in the pantheon of gods they worship, is in fact the the God of the heavens and the earth through whom all things find their existence. Paul is able to find a point that will make sense to them. He is able to find a way to help God make sense to them.
Christians down through the ages have worked and done a similar things. We bring trees into our houses at Christmas because when Christianity came to the Germanic lands we connected the evergreens they brought into their house for their mid-winter celebrations to the undying nature of the Christ child. We paint eggs and do egg hunts at Easter for a very similar reason. Saint Patrick is said to have used the ubiquitous shamrock to help the people of Ireland understand the Trinity. Finding common ground, understanding and using the language, the symbols and the tools of a society to share the Gospel is actually the best way to help them come to understand who Jesus is.
Once Paul has connected with the people of Athens, participating in their lively debates and arguing with them in their traditional manner, and thus finding a place of commonality, it is only then that Paul begins to tell them about Jesus Christ. Sharing with them the truth of the gospel clearly and articulately, continuing to use means and language that makes sense to them, so that they can hear and understand him.
Paul throughout his life is literally fulfilling the final command of Jesus for us all to go into the world making disciples, being a witness not only in Jerusalem, Judea and the surrounding countryside, but literally to the ends of his known world. This is the call of Christ on us all. Perhaps not so much each of us going to the ends of the earth, but we are at the very least called to be witnesses in all the parts of the world in which we inhabit. Our neighborhoods, our schools, the places we work, shop and play, our offices, our grocery stores and coffee shops.
Whatever we are doing our lives, like Paul's should be bathed in prayer. We too should be praying continually, and among the many things we pray for should be our fulfillment of Jesus' call on our lives to make disciples and to be witnesses of the gospel in our world. We should continually be praying that we are able to bring the truth of Jesus to those around us, praying that we will do and say the right things when the time comes.
But we can not just sit around and wait for someone to approach us and ask us about our God, seeking to learn and understand more about Jesus Christ. Although there are stories about this sort of thing happening, it has never happened to me, and my guess it has never happened to you. No matter how much I wish that someone else would walk up to me and start that kind of conversation, in my experience it is yet to happen. So we begin by connecting with people around us.
We put ourselves in places where people are. We talk to our neighbors, we engage our co-workers. If we always have the same checkout person at the grocery store we seek to get to know them. In short we make friends with people around us. We get to know them, come to understand them. We invite them into our homes, we participate in leisure activities together.
The second thing we do is find common ground. We find out what matters to the people in our lives. We find out how they think, what is important to them. We seek to understand their symbols, what they believe, what they think about the world and the things that are going on around us.
And then once we have bathed everything in prayer, once you know and understand them, and they trust you. Once you are a part of their lives, are in relationship with them. When in the course of your friendship, over dinner, or a share cup of coffee, or through the course of a conversation you can find away to share the truth of Jesus Christ with them.
And lets be honest, working to understand how people around us think, what they care about, and what matter to them is easy. Being in relationship with other people is fulfilling. We like making connections, we like having friends. It is not difficult, over the course of time, coming to know and understand someone, to truly care about what they care about. To be friends.
The hard part is to find the right time the right words and boldly sharing about Jesus Christ. This is why we pray, this is why we prepare, so that when the opportunity comes, we do not miss it; when the conversation turns a certain direction we are able to sense it and know what needs to be said; or even be able to seamlessly guide a discussion toward spiritual matters, so that we are able to share about our faith in Jesus, our belief in how he can transform our lives, to invite someone to come to Church or other religious activity or even know when someone is ready to hear and accept Jesus as savior.
Pray, connect, find common ground and then share the gospel this is the pattern we see in Paul and is a good pattern to follow throughout our lives.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Where the People Are: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - April 28, 2018

Where the People Are
Acts 16:11-15 
Key Verse: “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there (Acts 16:13 NIV).”
When Paul came to a new City he looked for the place where people gathered and went to them. Paul never set up in a place and invited people to find him. He never built a building and waited for people to get curious and come in. He never held a big event, advertised and prayed for them to come. He surveyed the situation. He paid attention to the culture and figured out where the people were and he went to them. He found them, found out what mattered to them and worked to figure out how was the best way to talk to them. He paid attention, looked, listened, and then he went to them and spoke to them about Jesus Christ. He made the effort, took the time and figured out the best way to go about the work God had set him out to do. When it comes to sharing the Gospel with people in our world, Paul's example is a good one to follow. We need to go where the people are and work to find the best ways to speak to them about what truly matters.

God, there are people all around me who need to know who you are. Help me to learn how to talk to them, how to talk to them, how best to approach them, so that they can hear what I have to say. Help me to never expect people to come to me, help to not wait for them to approach me. Help me to build the bridges, the connections, friendships that need to be built. Help me to be willing to do the work, and listen to the Spirit's guidance so that those around me may come to know you. Amen

Direction of the Spirit: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - April 27, 2018

Direction of the Spirit
Acts 16:6-10
Key Verse: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (Acts 16:6 NIV)”

Sometimes when I come to the stop light at the end of my street it directs me to “go.” Sometimes its instruction is to, “stop.” Still other times it tells me to slow down. We are never surprised by this. Yet, when the Spirit does the same thing, we have a harder time understanding or feel is arbitrary. At times the Spirit prompts us forward, or encourages us to stay where we are. There are times when , the Spirit tell us to, “go slow, be careful.” But at different times the message is very different. This is not mixed messages, nor should it be puzzling to us. Each time we come to the end of the street depending on what is going on in front of me I am told to go or stop, or slow down. The guidance of Spirit is much smarter and more intuitive than the light. It will show us the way to go, which direction in which we are to travel. The Spirit will guide and teach, instruct and encourage and show us the path down which to travel. Listening to the voice of the Spirit is vital to our life in Christ.

Lord Jesus. Help me to listen to the guidance of the Spirit. Help me to trust the guidance, instruction and encouragement I receive. Hearing and understanding the Spirit may not always seem easy or make sense to me. But teach me to see how the Spirit is directing me, to feel the Spirit's guidance and hear the Spirit's voice, so that I may never blunder forward into on coming traffic. Amen

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Oh to be Like Timothy; Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - April 26, 2018

Oh to be Like Timothy
Acts 16:1-5 
Key Verse: “The churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (Acts 16:5 NIV)”

As Christians we are called to be a part of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is the Church. We are all parts of the body, working together to be the embodiment of Christ in the world. We do this by loving God, and loving the people around us. We begin by loving others in the church. Timothy was positive member of his Church. Acts tells us, all spoke well of him, a good member of the Church community. He loved those in his community. When he and Paul went out into the world as members of the body to strengthen, develop and grow the body, they were successful. He loved and encouraged those within the Church and when we reached out to share the love of Christ with those in the world around him, he was able to draw them into relationship with Christ because of his sincere love and care for everyone. This passage says so much about Timothy, his love for Jesus, his place in the Church and his love for the people around him, without saying much at all, showing us through his example what the life of a true believer looks like.

Lord, help me to be a positive member of the body, the Church in which you have placed me. Help me to be a loving, caring active and supportive member within my own faith community. Show me how to take the love I have for you and share it with everyone, those within the Church, as well as those without. It is my desire that in and through the love and kindness I share, that everyone will see your loving kindness. May the love and kindness draw them to you. Teach me to be more like Timothy. Amen

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why Do We Make it So Hard?: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 15:12-21 - April 25, 2018

Why Do We Make It So Hard?
Acts 15:12-21 
Key Verse: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God (Acts 15:19 NIV)
Jesus said, that we are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Earlier in this same chapter Peter said that it is through faith in Jesus Christ we are saved. So then why do we try to make it so hard. Believe in Jesus and then live out that belief by living a life that is marked by loving God and loving others. Sure it is deeper and wider than that, but that is the sum of it. Love God, Love Jesus, love the people in the world around us. We make lists of rules, rules with lists. We work to live by them, check all the boxes, so others can see how Holy we are. We hold others to these same standards, ask them to jump through the difficult hoops we have made for ourselves. We are struggling they should struggle too. Yes, living as Christ called us to live is sometimes a difficult road to walk, so then why do we try to make it harder? Why do we add to what Jesus said? To what the the council of the early Church agreed is the basis of what marks a life lived in Christ. Believe in Jesus Christ, love God, love Jesus and love those around us. Start there, see where it leads. What happens when we love everyone the same way we love God? What if we all treated each person we encountered as if they were Jesus. I think that is hard enough. And would radically change the way we all lived our lives.

Lord, why do I make what you have made simple so hard? Why do take you have made clear so hard to see? Show me your love. Help me to live in your love, and learn daily what it truly means to love you in return. Help me to then take that love into the place I go, to the people I see, share it with those around me. Help me to love Jesus, to love you and to love all those around me. Amen

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Holiness Then and Now: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 15:1-11 - April 24, 2018

Holiness Then and Now
Acts 15:1-11 
Key Verse: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are (Acts 15:10-11 NIV).”

I was once lectured about the evil of playing Hearts because we were using playing cards. Christians have always been concerned about what a good and holy Christian does. Before cards it was the showing of ankles, whether or not one should go to the barber. In their time and culture these rules made sense, but things changes and the rules don’t make sense anymore.  The adult me can look back and understand the gentleman and his problem with my cards, but  as a teenager, sitting at a picnic table at Church camp, the reasons behind his aversion to the cards was lost and in fact null and void. Holiness of heart and life looks different from generation to generation. One generation it is collar and sleeve length, for the next it is skirt and hair length. But a life lived wholly and completely given over to God, always looks the same. It is a life marked by the fruits of the Spirit; a life that is lived for others, for the edification of the Church, a life that is continually reaching into this world with the love of Jesus, seeking to draw others into relationship with God.
Lord God, I sometimes get caught up fussing over the wrong things when it comes to living my life for you. Teach me to love as you love. Give me a heart of compassion that reaches out to mend the brokenness in the world and set my heart ablaze with the desire to show people what it means to be in relationship with you. This is the kind of holiness you show me, in the life of Christ; make it the kind of holiness I live out. Amen

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"My Chains Fell Off": Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts16:16-34 - April 22, 2018

Acts 16:16-34

Key Verse: “Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. (Acts 16:19 NLT)

When we sing “my chains fell off,” from How Great Thou Art, we are referencing this story. When we think of prisoners being set free, we think of all the times when followers of Christ were in prison and were literally set free. But the true prisoners in this passage are not Paul and Silas. First there is the slave girl who was set free. She was a slave to her masters, a slave to the spirit inside her and a slave to the task of giving fortunes day and day out. She was released from her bondage to the latter two, making her useless to the former. But she is not the only one set free, the jailer is set free as well. Because of the miracles occurring all around him, he seeks to know how to be saved. He is also set free from bondage to sin. Being set free comes in many shapes and forms. Whatever it is that is enslaving us, Jesus is about setting us free, so we can be free to worship him and live in relationship with him, so that we are free to be the people he is calling us to be.

There are so many things that entrap and enslave in this world. I can see so many people around me who need to be set free. Lord, help me to see those around me who need me to help free them, as Paul and Silas worked to free the people in this passage. Also, Lord, help me to see the ways in which I am enslaved by the demons of this world. Help me to turn to you so that I too might be saved, that I too might be set free. Amen

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hanging with Strange Birds: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 10:23b-33 - April 21, 2018

Hanging with Strange Birds
Acts 10:23b-33

Key Verse: “Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28 NLT)

Birds of a feather flock together, bad character corrupts good character. These were the things I was told when I was young. I only had Christian friends. I only did things with people from my church. I never did anything with non-church people. My parents did not have friends from work or from the neighborhood with whom they spent time. It is easy to think this is how God calls us to live but God calls us out into the world. God calls us to go to Cornelius; to people outside the Church, who do not know Jesus. We care called, like Peter, to hang with strange birds, to speak the message of God to the people in our lives. God does not merely call the called, God seeks to bring the people of our neighborhoods, the people we meet each day, into relationship. God tells us to go. We cannot simply hang out with each other and simply expect people to come to know our God. Many times we are the only Jesus the people around us know. We have to go to them, listen to them and speak to them.

Lord, God help me to go to different birds. I want my good character to corrupt their bad character. I want you in me to rub off on them. Draw me into friendship, in to relationship with people who do not know you, so they can get to know you through me, so that they may know who you and how you can change their lives. Amen

Going Instead of Puzzling: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 10:17-23a - April 20, 2018

Going instead of Puzzling
Acts 10:17-23a
Key Verse: “Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, 'Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them (Acts 10:19-20 NLT).'”

Jesus sent out the disciple two by two, before he left to be with the Father, he told them to go. “Go into all the world.” Sometimes, all we want is to stay and ponder and puzzle through what God is teaching us. But God is sending us out into the world to go, be and make disciples. It feels safer to stay and puzzle. It is easier to read our Bibles and ponder our relationship with God, but God is continually sending us out, forcing us into action. We might want to hold back to wait and figure things out but most of the time obedience means learning and growing on the fly, while we are out being disciples in the world. It would be easier if everything could be learned in a Bible Study or from a sermon, but so much of what it means to be a disciple; a child of God, is learned by being and doing. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a way of living that requires us to go, to be with people, among people, in relationship with people. So, “get up, go downstairs, and go without hesitation.”

God it is easy to sit, to ponder and to puzzle over what it is you are calling me to do. It is always easier to think about than it is to go. Help me to go, even if all I want to do is stay. Help me to not only learn with my brain to be the Christian you are calling me to be but also help me move and do the things you are calling me to do. Help me to see the world around me, the people in my life and desire to get to know them. To be their friend, so that in me they can see you, so that through me they can become friends with you Amen


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Moving Fences: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 10:1-16

Moving Fences
Acts 10:1-16
Key Verse: “The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean (Acts 10:15).”

We like to divide ourselves up. It makes us feel good to do this because it tells us who we are. When there are fences we clearly see who is on the inside and who is on the outside. Peter thought he knew where the fence was, he defined himself by gauging where that fence . He thought he understood who was on the inside and who was on the outside. The fence may have defined who he was, but what God showed him that it did not define who could become a member of the body of Christ. Peter had set one fence and God had set another. Suddenly people who were not Jews, could become Christians too and that felt incorrect, that felt wrong. Throughout the gospels and the New Testament we find time and time again, nobody is beyond the reach of God. Nobody is excluded from becoming Christian. Anyone can become a Christian, everyone is welcome in be become a believer. There is no one who can not become a part of the family of God. It is our call as Christians to be as loving and accepting as God.

Jesus, you love everybody. You want to accept everyone into your Church into your family. Teach me to love like you love, show me how to be as accepting as you. I do not want to call unclean, what you have called clean. Do not let me see anyone as beyond the reach of your love. Do not let me decide that there is anyone who can not come to know you. Help me to love and accept anyone who comes to love and believe in you. Amen

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What People Say: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - April 18, 2018

What People Say
Acts 9:36-43 
Key Verse: “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor (Acts 9:36 NIV).”

That is Janine, she is the nicest person you will ever meet.” I was a new Mom in a mom's group and the lady across from me was pointing out the other Mom's in the group and telling me about each of them. As soon as she described Janine, I thought, “That is is the kind of thing I would want someone to say about me.” Here were hear about Tabitha, “she was always doing good and helping the poor.” That is also not a bad thing for someone to say about a person. What would someone say about me? Who do people say I am? When you are describing me to others. Who do I want to be? What kind of Christian witness do I give people? What do they say about me, what does that say about Jesus Christ? With my words and actions am I telling a true story about who Jesus is? Am I the nicest Christian, others in my life have met? Who am I to them? Am I the most forgiving, most loving, most kind? Or do they say something else about me that would speak less about who Jesus is.

Lord, Jesus what do the things I do and say to the people around me, say about you. I want to tell a true story with my words, and with my actions. Help me to show people who you are in all that I do. Guide me in all that I do, so that the things they say about me reflect well upon who you are. I want to be a person whom people speak well of, so that when they know I am a Christian it will speak well of who you are and how you work in the lives of your followers. Help me to be a good witness to the people in my life. Amen

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Being the Church: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 9:23-31

Being the Church
Acts 9:23-31 
Key Verse: The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers (Acts 9:30-31 NLT).”

It was slow going at first. There were some bumps in the road. There was some distrust and even some rejection. The early Church worked hard at becoming the people God was calling them to be. It was not always easy. It did not come naturally. God accepted everyone, the rich and the poor, the sick and the needy, Jews and Gentiles, even people who persecuted and helped kill early believers. God accepted them all. God gathered all these differing people together and then they had to figure out how to work together, how to love one another, care for one another, to accept each other and trust each other. It was hard work, but through prayer, and hard work and the grace only the Spirit of God can provide they were able to have peace, believers became stronger in their faith and the Church grew. Being the people of God is not always easy, but through prayer, hard work and the Spirit we can be who God is calling us to be together.

Oh God, help us to be the church, together, working to do your will in this world. Sometimes there are people in my local Church or in the Church at large, that are different than me. I don't understand them. I have difficulty seeing how they fit into your Church, how they can be called alongside of me. Help me to love everyone whom you love and to accept as a part of the Church all those whom you accept. I want there to be peace in your Church, for all believers to be strengthened and for your people to grow in numbers. Teach me to do my part so we can be that kind of Church together. Amen

Monday, April 16, 2018

Changed: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 9:19b-22

Acts 9:19b-22 
Key Verse: “All those who heard him were astonished and asked, 'Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?'”

Saul had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ, it completely changed who he was. Our faith in Jesus Christ changes everything. It changes what we say, what we do, and how we act. We become people who reflect the love, grace and mercy of Jesus to the world around us. We all become ambassadors for Christ in our neighborhoods and communities. Who we were before hardly matters, what matters now is who we are. How we treat people today, the words we use the attitudes we present, today, is what people will see. Because we are believers, our lives should be as completely changed as that of Saul. People who see us should see Christ. When we speak they should hear the words of Christ. When they encounter us they should encounter the love of Christ. When we interact with them, it should be as if they have spent time with Christ, because Jesus lives in us. Let us cast off who we once were as cleanly as Saul and become new people reflecting Jesus in all things at all times.

Let me be changed. Let the people who see me see you in me. Let those to whom I speak hear your voice in all I say. Let it be as if those I touch were touch by you, Lord Jesus. Let your living in me be who people encounter when they encounter me. Your kindness, your grace, your forgiveness, your love, lived out in me each day. This is my desire for today and everyday. Please guide me and direct me, to make this so. Amen

Sunday, April 15, 2018

When God Speaks: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - April 15, 2018

 When God Speaks
Acts 9:1-19a
Key Verse: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me Acts 9:4?'”

Have you ever hear God speaking to you? Sometimes, God speaks in a way that can be heard with the ears as much as the heart, sometimes God even speaks loudly with a shining light. It is more common to hear God in a still small voice that we can hear when we are quiet and listening to God, or to simply feel the gentle prod of the Spirit guiding and directing us through our day. God speaks to us, God leads us and guides us, on rare ocassions that is a voice and a light that can not be missed. We hear God and know that none other than God has spoken to us. But God does not commonly use this method, it is usually quiet and subtle. As Christians we spend time reading the scriptures, in prayer and listening quietly seeking God's guidance in our lives. As we go about our lives we need to make space for God to speak to us. Throughout our day we are to be seeking God in all we do, listening to hear God's voice. God is speaking, God is leading, we need to be listening and ready to hear it.

I am here. I am listening. I am ready to hear your voice. Help me to be still enough to hear. Help me to be quiet enough to listen and ready to respond to your call however it may come. Amen 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Being Forgiving People: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - April 14, 2018

Being Forgiving People
Acts 7:54–8:1 
Key Verse: As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died (Acts 7:59-60 NLT).

To forgive and to be forgiven. This is one of the many things that it means to be Christian. On the night of his resurrection Jesus appeared among the disciples and one of the things he did was grant them the power to forgive. Earlier in his ministry Jesus told us that the measure we use on others will be used on us. Stephen understood the power of forgiveness. He knew the forgiveness of Christ and he forgives those who are in the process of killing him and in doing so bears witness to the forgiveness that can be found in God. Saul, who would later become a great missionary of the Church, was there and witnesses these events. Those around us, such as Saul here in this passage, see and know the forgiveness of God in and through us first. The people in our lives will know the love and forgiveness of God when they first experience love and forgiveness in us. We forgive because we are forgiven by God. We show people who God is and the way God loves and forgives them, when we forgive. Let us be people of forgiveness in all things.

Oh, Lord God, Forgiving is hard. No one is trying to kill me, but sometimes, I find it easy to hold onto the wrongs others have committed against me. Give me the spirit of Stephen and not only be willing to forgives those who wrong me, but let me plead with you to forgive them as well. Help me to not merely offer my own forgiveness, but to desire they be forgiven in deeper ways than I could offer or hope to give. Let me seek the good of those who wrong me, even as they wrong me. Amen

Friday, April 13, 2018

My Desires vs God's Desire: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 7:44-53

My Desires vs God's Desire
Acts 7:44-53
Key Verse: “'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?' asks the Lord. 'Could you build me such a resting place (Acts 7:49 NLT)?'”

Stephen continues, again showing when our focus is on something it should not be, that it is not on God. He recounts how desperately the people, David and Solomon included wanted to build a temple for God. God did not need a temple. The Heavens, the earth and all that God had created was temple enough for God. God dwelt in all creation, God did not need a dwelling place. But they wanted to do this thing for God but it was not really what God wanted or needed. Those who persecuted the prophets and even those who killed Jesus thought they were doing what God wanted and needed, but they are called stubborn for this. How many times have we worked contrary to what God wants or needs, while convincing ourselves that what we are doing is what God wants. It is easy sometimes to conflate our desires with those of God. We must seek God prayerfully ready to hear the answer whatever it might be to discern that we are not putting our wants and desires in God's mouth and in stead carefully seek God's will above our own in all things.

Lord, I seek your will in all things. It is my deepest desire to do the things you are calling me to do. I come looking for your guidance. Help me to never take my wants, and my desires and convince myself they are what you are asking of me. Help me to never build temples with actions, with ministries, or with my words convincing myself they are what you want and need when they are nothing more than my own thoughts and ideas. Help me to hear your voice and to do your will in all things. Amen

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Our Focus and Our God: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 7:23-43

Our Focus and Our God
Acts 7:23-43

Key Verse: “They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. (Acts 7:40-41a NIV)

Stephen is continuing his speech before the Sanhedrin, reminding them of the first time the Israelite turned from God to worship something else. The Jewish leaders, here, know the warning of history and would never do such a thing. But Stephen is letting them know that they indeed have. Anytime we look to to something of our own making, our careers, our reputation, our position, even our children or our spouse and make that the central focus of our lives, where we find meaning, that thing becomes what we worship. We are replacing with God with that thing. In a world that is continually drawing our attention and wanting our central attention to be on their thing, it is easier than ever to make golden calves, sometimes unknowingly. Our central focus is always to be on God, all the other things in our lives come after God. Whenever we find that the other things squish out God, that we have no time for the things God asks of us that is when we need to pause and check ourselves to see where we have created golden calves. It is a constant struggle and none of us are above it.

Lord God, I know this in my heart and in my head, but sometimes, my actions fall short of what I know. I find that instead of my focus being on you, my focus is on a myriad of other things which society encourages to be my focus. Help me to see when my eyes have shifted off of you and help me to once again find my center in you. You are my God and I desire to worship you and you alone in all things, help me make that desire a reality in my daily life. Amen

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hearing it Again: Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 7:1-22

Hearing it Again
Acts 7:1-22 
Key Verse: “To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran 7:1-22 NIV)

Why did Stephen tell this story to the members of the Sanhedrin? This would not have been a story they did not know. This would have been a story they had heard over and over again throughout their lives. It is one of the foundational narratives of the Jewish people and as leaders in the Jewish community; they would have known the story of Abraham, pretty well. They would have pointed to Abraham as one of the founders of their faith. When these men thought about what faith looked like, they would have looked to the life of Abraham as a model. When Stephen chose this story, as part of his speech to the council, he was retelling a story they knew well. The story of Abraham’s faith is not like your grandfather’s story about his bum knee. You can never hear it too much. We can always look to Abraham when we want to see what kind of people God wants us to be. Here Stephen highlights Abraham’s unbridled faith when he simply went where God called him to go and took God at God’s word. Walking in the faith footsteps of Abraham is something to which we should all strive.

Lord, sometimes it is hard to come to passages of scripture I know well. Each time I come to scripture I am coming hoping to hear your voice. Help me to always come to scripture with fresh eyes and to hear your message with fresh ears. Help my heart to never become callused to the scriptures I have heard before. Each day, each scripture has something new to teach me. I always want to learn and grow. Speak to me every time I hear or read your word. Amen

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Dirt : Daily Devotions for the Easter Season - Acts 6:8-15

Acts 6:8-15 
Key Verse: “None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke. (6:10 NLT).”
If someone tried, what kind of “dirt” could they dig up on you? What do your daily actions, the things you say to your friends, family, co-workers say about who you are? What do that say about the God you worship? Even when people were looking for something to hold against Stephen they could find nothing. Nothing he said implicated him or his God. The only thing they could say about him was that he was a man of integrity, in whose words people only found wisdom and whose actions showed that he was continually guided by the Spirit. When it comes to big things this is easy, but in small things, the little things we say to those closest to us, our actions with those we work and live, it is the hardest. As followers of Christ it is our hope that our actions and words give this kind of testimony, that if someone was looking for something to hold against us, that they would have to rely on falsehoods in order to bring anything against us. Each day, we should work to allow our actions and our words indite as as people of wisdom and the Spirit.
Lord, I pray, in all things that I may be found to be a person of integrity. Help me to seek you in all parts of my life. Guide the all words of my mouth, whether spoken publicly or to those who live in my home, that they may speak of your wisdom in all things. May your Spirit guide my actions, may everything I do and do not do speak of who you are at all times. May my words and my actions reflect your character each and every day. Amen

Monday, April 9, 2018

Receiving the Spirit - John 20:18-31

           It has been a long day. So much has happened. Even though the day was not over, who could have imagined that it was not yet finished surprising them with unimaginably amazing happenings. It is the evening of the day the resurrection. Early that morning Mary had gone to Jesus' tomb. But then came back fairly quickly, telling them that the tomb was empty, “Come and see! What can it mean?” Peter and John had run to the tomb and and returned telling the other that the tomb was indeed empty, Jesus' body was gone. Only Mary stayed at the tomb to morn this new loss. When she finally returned she carried with her some far fetched tale about meeting a gardener who turn out to be Jesus. He was is not dead, she kept repeating. He is alive; he has risen from the grave, she insisted.
Now it is evening and the believers are locked behind closed doors. The group which has gathered is made up of more than just the twelve. Among those who were there that evening were the women has consistently remained with Jesus during his ministry and several other prominent believers, such as Lazarus. The group may have even been as big as the 120, who are said to have been in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. The group is hiding behind locked doors.
What was going on behind this locked door? Are they afraid? Is there still a possibility they are in danger? Could those who plotted to have Jesus killed, be even now plotting to come after them now?
What are they doing as they are huddled together up in that room? Are they discussing the story with which Mary came back from the tomb? Do they believe her? Do they dare trust her words? Have they merely just dismissed her words as “idle women's prattle?” Do they dare hope that what she has said is true? What if she is telling the truth? What if Jesus is alive? What if the Messiah capable of conquering even death? What are they thinking? What are they discussing? “If Jesus is really alive, where is he?”
As they are trying to process the events of the past three days, the events of the past week, their minds must be dark and stormy seas of confusion. So much has happened since they arrived in Jerusalem a week ago. So many conflicting emotions. Everything must be swirling around inside of them threatening to overcome them. And then add Mary's impossible tale. They must be nearly drowning in the whirlpool of emotions as they try to make heads or tails of it all.
And then suddenly he is, right there in the room with them. He is standing right there. What are they thinking in that moment? Their dead, but now alive Messiah, has just appeared among them.
Didn't we lock that door?”
How did he get in here?”
Whoa, wait he is really alive, Mary isn't crazy!”
Well, that's a relief.”
He is alive. He is here. I mean right here.”
And all Jesus says is “Peace be with you.” And then gives them proof that he is whom he appears to be, whom he seems to be, whom they dare wish that he is. He allows them to see the holes in his hands and the cut in his side. He is the Jesus who died on the cross, which means he is the Jesus who has risen from the dead. They can see beyond a shadow of a doubt, through undeniable proof that the man who stands among them, is Jesus Christ himself, raised from the dead, just as Mary had told them he was.
Then he says it again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus' words and Jesus' presence is there to give them relief, to calm their spirits, to allow them to be still within themselves and know, truly know that he is indeed alive. This is not supposed to send them into a tailspin; this is not to bring chaos into the turmoil within them. What he does here does not bring fear. Jesus has returned and appeared among them to Jesus bring them peace, peace which only the God of universe, the creator of all things can bring to them. The peace that only the resurrected Savior can impart.
And with these words not only are the turmoils and tempests within them calmed, but they become a sent people. For John, THIS is when the Church becomes the Church. This band of disciples and believers gathered in that locked room are no longer simply followers and disciples of Christ, they are the people sent by Christ. In this moment of sending, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you send,” they become the Church.
The meaning of what it means to be the Church is here, it is to be a people sent into the world by Christ. In the Gospel of John, this is the “great commission,” “Go therefore . . .” They are sent into the world to teach what Christ taught, to live as Christ lived, to proclaim the risen Savior. In this moment they become the image of God in Christ for the world; reflecting the Savior and their God in a world who truly knows neither.
At this point it would be so easy to just jump to Thomas, skip the next bit and get to the “good stuff.” After all this evening which involves Thomas, is this evening; the evening of the Sunday, a week after the resurrection. It would be fun to compare and contrast these two evenings; to look at the signs the Disciples were given on the evening of the resurrection and see how they match up with the signs requested by and then given to Thomas later.
I love Thomas. In fact MOST of the time that this passage comes up I preach about Thomas. I like bringing Thomas out of the shade, which is usually cast upon him, into the light. He is believing-Thomas, sane and reasonable Thomas, Thomas who simply requests for the same signs and proof of the Risen Savior, as received by all the others. But I digress, because I am not preaching THAT sermon today. Today, I am going to skip Thomas, don't worry, I am sure you will get to hear me preach a sermon about him some other week. I am going to stick to the first part of passage and plow right into the part that is easy for us preachers to skip, because sometimes it is hard to deal with the fact that John tells the story of Christ differently than the rest of the Gospels, most importantly differently than Luke, and how he recorded events in his gospel and in Acts. And we really like the way Acts tells it. And that's OK. What John has to say and his representation of the events is no less true and valuable to the Church.
So here we go. After Jesus has calmed their fears, brought them peace, and declares them to be a Sent People, he breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. The newly resurrected Lord instills the Spirit of God within his followers, the newly declared Church. Although this is not the traditional way we are used to hearing about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, which in Acts happens on the Day of Pentecost, John relates the story “slightly” differently; with Jesus giving the disciples the Spirit on the day of his resurrection.
So Resurrection Sunday is a big day, in John's gospel. It is the day of the resurrection, the day when Christians become Christians. The day changes every thing forever. But it is also the day the Church become the Church, by being sent on Easter evening, and it is also when the Church receives the gift of the Spirit, and the Church becomes the Spirit filled community we all know today.
John truncates the events. The day of the Resurrection is THE DAY for John. It is the day that changes everything. So when John tells the story of the Resurrection, he puts all the most important things there on Resurrection day. This is the day when it ALL happens for him. This is a day that really and truly matters.
So, Jesus breathes on the disciples. The newly declared, sent, Church receives the Spirit. The words, which describe these events, are the words of creation. On the final day of creation God reached down into the dust and formed a human and once God had finished creating the human, God leans over and breaths into the human, bringing the human to life. It is through God breathing God's own breath into humanity that all humans gained life.
The language John uses here on the first day of the resurrection of the Christ is the language creation. This is the first day of the new creation and Jesus Christ breathes life into his followers, into the Church, life. Here on the evening of the resurrection new creation has begun, this day marks a new beginning not only for Jesus Christ, and for Church, but for all creation. Just as was done on the day humanity was created, life is given. This time, new life is breathed into the Church, reconnecting us all to who we were at creation. Filling us once again, in a new way, with the breath of God. Jesus is giving us a chance to begin anew, in him. Through Jesus, we are brought close to God in a way we have not known since the Garden. When Jesus breaths on them, are filled with the very breath of God, the Spirit of God flows within them. It is God's own breath which gives the believers in the resurrected Christ life. Through infilling of the breath the resurrected savior humanity is able to regain the hope, lost in the Fall.
The new life we find in Jesus Christ is found in the life giving Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, our relationship with God is renewed and strengthened; we get a new start, a fresh life, a new beginning. We are re-created, we gain all that was lost in the Fall, we gain relationship with our God, we gain the ability to be God breathed people, who are inhabited by the very Spirit of God; living our lives reflecting the love of God and sharing that love with all those around us. We are able to live as we were created to live.
As God breathed people we gain the power of God's own infilling, the power of the re-created life. The breath of God gives us the power to gain proper relationship with God, but as a Wiseman once said to a Spiderman, “with great power comes great power comes great responsibility.” The power gained in the God-breathed life has responsibilities as well.
The responsibility of the power is the power to forgive. Jesus tells us that whatever sins we forgive on earth will be forgiven. We are given the power to forgive; to see the faults in those around us, and forgive them. To turn to others and extend to them the forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.
There is a flip side to every coin. Jesus also says that any sins we retained will be retained. This is a warning, a caution. We are to be people of forgiveness but not retention. Jesus gives us the power to forgive and to not forgive. But we must know that when we do not forgive it means just as much as when we forgive.
We can choose not to forgive but what we retain, will be retained. We are called to forgive as freely and generously as God forgives. Our forgiveness of other is a direct reflection of the forgives we know in God. Others will first know the love and forgiveness of God in how we love and how we forgive. When we choose not to forgive we are reflecting to those around us that God does not forgive.
And where ever we do not forgive others, that kind of un-forgiveness will be shown to us. God will retain what we retain. The measure which we use will be used on us. So we are to forgive as freely and unboundlessly as we know God forgives, retaining nothing against others, as God has done with us.
So our first response must always be forgiveness. We are to forgive because we have the power and the responsibility to forgive as Christ forgives. This is an extension of God’s love which God has been shown to us. We, as Christ’s life breath, still living and moving on this earth, are to be Christ’s love and forgiveness here on earth. We love where Christ loves, and we forgive where Christ forgives. It is through us that those around not only know the love of God, but it also through us that they know of the forgiveness of God.
It is here, we, as followers of Christ receive the Spirit. It is here we become the Church. It is here that we learn what means to BE the Church. It means that we are a sent people. A people sent into the world by Christ, by God; sent into the world to love AND to forgive.