Friday, April 30, 2010

retelling his conversion

Good morning friends,
As Paul continues his defense to the Jewish people who had tried to beat him to death, he tells the story of his conversion, since it is the basis for his ministry after that. Even hearing this story for the third time like we are it is still amazing. God chose a man who was rabidly persecuting the church to be the greatest evangelist, and an evangelist to the gentiles at that. God directed each part of the story as Paul saw the light, was led into Damascus, instructed and baptized by Ananias and began his ministry. God used Paul's gifts in a new way: he used his extensive knowledge of scripture and tradition to be convincing in the synagogues and to those who didn't know anything about God, and he used his knowledge of Greek language and culture to spread the message further than it had gone before.

It's worth noting that Paul, like the other apostles, has this direct experience of the risen Christ. Paul never knew Jesus before his death and he didn't see him before his ascension like the others had. But Paul heard Jesus on the road to Damascus, in prayer later in Jerusalem and throughout his ministry. As Ananias says, Paul was chosen to see the Righteous One and hear his voice. Our experiences with Christ now can be as real as Paul's even though we were not there to see him walking on the earth. We see Christ in prayer and in our ministry to others. That experience of knowing Christ forms the basis for our own witness in the world.

May God use your gifts in an exciting way today,

Acts 22:6-21
6“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ 9Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ 11Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.

12“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, 13came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. 14Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; 15for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. 16And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’

17“After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20And while the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him.’ 21Then he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

defense in Jerusalem

Good morning all,
This morning we get a great example of Paul's ability to speak clearly and with integrity to different audiences. We saw yesterday that he was attacked by a large Jewish mob who wanted to kill him. He was rescued by being arrested by the Roman forces. Today Paul begins by addressing the Roman tribune in Greek. Paul's fluent Greek and comfort addressing this gentile official opens the tribune's ears to what Paul says, and shows that he is someone comfortable in Roman society. He also mentions his citizenship here, which has been important before and will be again as our story develops.

Paul then addresses the crowd to make his defense to them, and he does so in Hebrew. In Hebrew he points to his own credentials as an observant and serious Jew. His Hebrew language emphasizes the point he is trying to make: "I am one of you." Paul then begins to tell the story of how he moved from being an ardent persecutor of the church to a radical evangelist for Christ. Regardless of who he addresses Paul understands his audience and seeks to connect the gospel to their experience. While he is flexible and creative in his presentation he always sticks to the truth of God's love and calling even when this will be unpopular, as we'll see tomorrow.

May God give you courage and creativity in your day today,

Acts 21:37-22:5

37Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” The tribune replied, “Do you know Greek? 38Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” 39Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.” 40When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

22:1”Brothers and fathers, listen to the defense that I now make before you.” 2When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet. Then he said:

3”I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. 4I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, 5as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

protective custody

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Despite the smart plan of the elders to have Paul demonstrate his faithfulness to the Law, Jewish opposition to Paul quickly leads to his arrest. Notice that his arrest by the Romans actually saves him from being beaten to death by the mob. Jewish leaders from Asia (Turkey) stir up the mob by claiming that Paul is teaching against the Law and the temple and that he has brought gentiles into the temple. These claims aren't true, but they do get people stirred up.

Since the Romans intervene we will see how Paul presents his case in the coming days. Already we see Paul bound as the prophet in Caesarea predicted he would be. From here on to the end we'll see how the conflict between Paul and the Jewish leaders unfolds and how God uses these difficult circumstances to further the gospel.


Acts 21:27-36
27When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, 28shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

30Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. 34Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

arrival in Jerusalem

Good morning all,
After much anticipation Paul arrives in Jerusalem. His arrival begins like in the many cities he has recently visited; he and his companions are warmly welcomed by the local Christians. He makes a point in going to see James and the other leaders of the church right away. We don't get a good sense for it in Acts, but in Paul's letters we see that there was often tension within the church around the place of gentiles in the faith. It seems that even though the church council in chapter 15 settled the question of whether gentiles had to obey the Law of Moses it continued to be an area of some controversy, and Paul and James had some arguments over issues of inclusion.

Paul made a conscious effort to make it clear that his ministry was part of the church; immediately going to see James is part of that effort. When they meet, the elders rejoice at the fruits of Paul's ministry among the gentiles. They also warn him that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem have been hearing rumors that Paul is trying to throw out the Law of Moses and the traditions they grew up with. To counter that false impression they find a way for Paul to take part in a public Jewish ritual to show that he is an observant Jew who supports and follows the traditions. Good ministry requires smart strategic choices and teamwork as well as faithfulness.

God bless,

Acts 21:15-26
15After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. 16Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay. 17When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20When they heard it, they praised God.

Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.

23So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. 25But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

more warnings and farewell's

Good morning friends,
Today Paul and his companions continue their journey stopping to change ships and to see friends. We meet Philip again, one of the original deacons and the evangelist to the Ethiopian eunuch among others. More than once believers speaking by the Holy Spirit tell Paul that he will come to harm in Jerusalem, but he persists on his course.

It’s interesting that several times earlier in his ministry he has been warned either by God or by others to avoid and even flee from some kinds of danger. Now similar warnings don’t deter him. It seems God has told him his time has come. If we remember back to Paul’s conversion God told Ananias, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for my name” and that Paul would bring Jesus’ name before kings and rulers. Now is the time for that prophecy to come true.

God bless,

Acts 21:1-14
When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. 3We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed 6and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. 7When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day.

8The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. 10While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” 12When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

planning for the future

Good morning friends,
Today Paul finishes his visit with the Ephesian elders reminding them again of his example and warning them that their community will face trials as well as he will. He warns them especially of false teachers, disciples who don’t hold the truth. We don’t know if he had some particular teaching in mind or if he is speaking in general, but the warning is clear. The love and fellowship Paul and these leaders have for each other is touching. They have worked hard together to spread God’s word, so naturally they are sorry to imagine that they might not see each other again. Blessed be the ties that bind.

In our second reading we see the crowd of faithful Christians in front of God’s throne. We’re told that they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. We’re also told that they have come out of the great ordeal. That seems to suggest they have been delivered from persecution. I suspect they left that persecution by going through it, witnessing to their faith even to death. Now they are sheltered by God’s throne where no more evil can harm them. Truly in life and in death we belong to God; no matter what comes in the end we are safe in him.

God bless,

Acts 20:29-38
29I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears.

32And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. 35In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

36When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. 37There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.


Revelation 7:9-17
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Spirit's warnings

Good evening friends,
Sorry for getting this out so late today; I just forgot to do it before I left the house this morning. This reading continues Paul’s conversation with the elders from Ephesus. Here his sense of the future comes into focus clearly. He faces uncertainty, but by the Spirit he expects to face persecution and imprisonment. He faces the situation with faith, hoping that God will keep him faithful in the trials he will face.

He uses his visit not only to remind them of his example but also to tell them that since his race is almost run it is time for them to step up in leadership. He reminds them of their commission to oversee Christ’s flock that has been committed to their care. I pray when God sends us trials we would face them with the courage and faith Paul shows here.

God bless,

Acts 20:22-28

22And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 24But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

25“And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. 26Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Friday, April 23, 2010

moving towards the end

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Here we see Paul at his most open as he feels his ministry and work are drawing to a close. He wants to make good time in his journey to Jerusalem, hoping to be there for Pentecost, but he also wants to pass on word to the communities he has worked in. As a compromise he asks the elders of Ephesus to meet him in port so he can see them without stopping his journey.

Paul has a real urge to explain himself, probably because so much of his life must have been spent facing opposition from all kinds of people, even from within the church. It must be hard to live like that, facing challenges from every side. I pray our community would be one where people always give each other the benefit of the doubt so everyone can feel at home. I think we do a good job of that.


Acts 20:12-21
13We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. 14When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. 16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

17From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. 18When they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. 20I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

falling asleep in church

Good morning all,
Today Paul continues his travels on his way to Jerusalem. He has to perform a miracle to save the life of a believer named Eutychus who fell from a third story window after dozing off during Paul’s speech. Undeterred, Paul keeps talking until dawn and then continues on his way. This almost feels like comic relief in the midst of difficult travel and persecution.


Acts 20:1-12
After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia. 2When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, 3where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. 4He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. 5They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; 6but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

7On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. 9A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. 12Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

almost a riot

Good morning friends,

Today we see that Demetrius is successful in stirring up a crowd beginning with other craftsmen who felt Christianity threatened their livelihood. I received a great comment on how the opposition here seemed to be much more focused on money than on real religious concerns. That certainly seems to be the case. I think Demetrius is also using patriotic/city pride arguments to stir people up as well. In both cases the goal is to use emotional appeals to protect against a perceived threat to his business, generally without thinking much about whether Christianity is really a threat to the city or its faith.

From there the crowd builds with many people apparently along for the excitement without knowing what was really going on. Paul is kept out of harm’s way, but his companions are dragged into the assembly. Fortunately for them, good order prevails. The town clerk calms the crowd and tells Demetrius that any complaint they have should be brought in court where it will be dealt with. As we’ve often seen in Acts, Roman rule could be a benefit for Christians as well as a danger.



Acts 19:28-41

28When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions. 30Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; 31even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater. 32Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.

33Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people. 34But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? 36Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.

37You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. 39If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. 40For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Artemis and commerce

Good morning everyone
So far most of the opposition Paul and the other apostles have faced has been from Jewish leaders who opposed the Christian movement because they saw it as a distortion of their faith. Today we see opposition of a very different kind. Here a silversmith opposes Paul because he worries the spread of Christianity will hurt his business making statues of the local goddess and will generally weaken the civic pride their faith in Artemis produces.

This is often what got Christians in trouble with the Roman Empire. The general line of thinking was that the gods and goddesses protected their various cities and gave them prosperity in exchange for faithful worship and sacrifice. When Christianity spread people worried that this would take away from the worship of other gods and thus cause those gods to stop looking after the city or even bring disaster on it. As Christianity became more important in the religious landscape its interaction with pagan society became as important as the tensions it caused within Judaism.

Acts 19:21-27
21Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, “After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.” 22So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia.
23About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. 24A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. 25These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. 26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

handling opposition

Good morning all,
This morning’s reading shows Paul continuing his ministry in Ephesus and elsewhere in Asia. When Acts talks about Asia they are referring to the Roman province of that name, which took up a good portion of the western coast of modern day Turkey. Paul’s model continues to be to start out with the synagogue and then to move on from their if he faced opposition or saw a better opportunity. In this case much of his preaching was in a secular lecture hall. Paul’s thinking is sound: if people don’t want to hear the good news they aren’t going to listen and our energies are better spent elsewhere.

We’re told that God worked powerfully through Paul and that’s clear from the stories. Not only did he perform many miracles and have power over spirits, he was also very effective in spreading the good news of God’s love. Many people who had been pagan and some who had been sorcerers came to faith in Christ. Truly God can do amazing things with us if we commit ourselves to his work.

God bless,

Acts 19:8-20
8He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord. 11God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.
13Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.
18Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jesus calls and commissions, Apollos preaches

Good morning friends,
Our first reading introduces us to an important figure in Paul's letters to the Corinthians, Apollos. Apollos, like Paul, seems to have been a charismatic, traveling teacher. We also meet a group in Ephesus who had been baptized by John but never met Jesus or heard about the Holy Spirit. Paul explains that John's ministry was to prepare for Jesus and the people are baptized in Jesus' name. Immediately they are filled with the Spirit's power to confirm that this is what God wanted.

Our second reading shows us the third appearance of the risen Jesus to his chief disciples. It's sort of a weird story with funny details we wouldn't expect (they counted 153 fish in the net)? I guess they were fishermen after all.

The part that holds my attention most is Jesus and Peter's conversation. Peter is hurt that Jesus keeps asking him if he loves him. A number of people have argued that Jesus asks three times to match and thus cancel out the three times Peter denied him. The text doesn't say for sure but that seems like a pretty good theory. Jesus calls Peter to feed his sheep and tells him he will be "led where he doesn't want to go." Assuming Peter understands this, Jesus is telling him how he will die as a witness to his faith. Jesus finishes the conversation to follow, which Peter does faithfully and powerfully. Truly he is restored as the leader of the apostles for the next stage of ministry. I pray that whenever we fall short in our discipleship we would feel restored and full of love to take those next steps forward as well.


Acts 18:24-19:7
24Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. 27And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7altogether there were about twelve of them.

John 21:1-19
1After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

another trial under Roman law

Good morning everyone,
We've seen both Paul and his opponents try to use Roman power to strengthen their position. Here we see a new angle on the issue. Gallio really doesn't care about who's right or wrong and he fairly contemptuous of his Jewish subjects. Judaism was a tolerated religion in the Roman Empire, but many Romans still held strong prejudices against Jews for being different. Those feelings come out here when Gallio says, "If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews..." While it still may be good strategy for Christians or Jews to bring Rome into the fight, they are making common cause with someone who doesn't care much about them.

As a new and growing faith Christianity has interesting terrain to navigate. Rome can be a friend or foe but mostly comes into the picture at this stage only because the Roman infrastructure made travel and thus evangelism much easier and safer than it would have been. As it happens, the evangelism among the gentiles leads to such growth that within another 50-100 years Rome will start to see Christianity as a threat and will take measures against it. Christianity today has interesting terrain to navigate as well and our mission will take creativity and faith to accomplish. We will succeed in sharing God's good news because God is with us.


Acts 18:12-23
12But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. 13They said, “This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.” 14Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; 15but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters.” 16And he dismissed them from the tribunal. 17Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.

18After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow. 19When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, but first he himself went into the synagogue and had a discussion with the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay longer, he declined; 21but on taking leave of them, he said, “I will return to you, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Paul in Corinth

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This passage may be familiar from our time with First Corninthians, since this is the account of Paul's ministry in Corinth. It seems like one of the reasons Paul settled in Corinth at first was because he met up with a Christian couple in his trade. Pricilla and Aquila were important leaders in the church and we hear their names several times in Paul's letters. It's a good reminder how much the early church was a personal network in a lot of ways. We also see how Paul's trade was an important part of our ministry, which may help us think about how our work and our ministry fit together.

God tells Paul to work bravely in Corinth because there are many people who will be part of God's family there. It must have been hard to face as much opposition as Paul and his companions did, but at the same time all the new people coming to faith would have been very encouraging. Since Acts moves along at such a quick pace it's hard to have a sense for how much time is passing. We don't know how long Paul spent in most places. Still, Corinth seems to have been the exception with Paul spending a year and a half there teaching. I wonder if Paul found it refreshing to spend more time somewhere of if he preferred the frequent travel.

God bless your work this Friday,

Acts 18:1-11
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. 4Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks. 5When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. 6When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

7Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. 8Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. 9One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; 10for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” 11He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

preaching to the philosophers

Good morning all,
Yesterday's reading left Paul alone in Athens. Today he beings his mission in Athens as well, both in the synagogues and in the philosopher's square. Paul's strategy is astute here. He has seen a temple to an unknown god, and even though the text tells us he was distressed about all the idols, he begins his presentation in a positive light. Instead of railing against idolatry, Paul rightly calls it a sign of a strong religious instinct. He connects the good news of God's love in Jesus with something the Athenians already understands so that it will make sense to them.

Notice that some people believe right away, some scoff and many say, "We will hear you again on this subject." When we share the gospel we can expect the same responses: some people will latch on right away, others will laugh or ignore us and many will not be ready to believe but will be open to hearing more. Evangelism is a patient work; the point is giving people an opportunity to hear about God and in that way to start to get to know him. Much of the process is out of our hands, but our gentle and loving presentation can open the door.

Blessings on your ministry today,

Acts 17:16-34
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.)

19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

seeking eagerly

Good morning friends,
After the uproar in Thessalonica Paul and the others move on to Beroea, where they find a warmer welcome. One of the lines that sticks out to me here is that the good reception for them is that their hearers "Searched the scriptures to see if these things were true." In other words, a good first response to the good news is to examine and see if it fits the scriptures, not "blind" faith. After that diligent search, many Jewish and Greek people did believe.

Unfortunately, even though the reception was friendly and open, opposition followed from the leaders of Thessalonica. Paul is hurried out of the city and taken on to Athens. He waits there for the rest of his team, but as we'll see tomorrow, he doesn't wait passively. I pray the eagerness of the Beroeans for the scripture would touch us as well.


Acts 17:10-15
10That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 14Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

God and Caesar

Good morning all,
Our reading this morning continues Paul's travels and his proclamation in the face of resistance. Yesterday we saw Paul refer to his status as a citizen, basically calling Rome in on his side of the debate. Here we see the Jewish leaders try to use the Roman authorities against the apostles. In the same way the Jerusalem leadership argued to Pilate that Jesus was a threat to Rome because he claimed to be a king, the leaders in Thessalonica tell the city officials that the Christians are a threat to Rome because they follow a different king.

Of course, in some ways that's a legitimate accusation. Christians do follow a king named Jesus and that means that no other power can control us completely. Christianity has pretty consistently taught that we ought to be good citizens wherever we live, obeying the laws and supporting the government. At the same time any time a government or leader tries to take God's place we are called to stand for God. There can be both a Lord of heaven and earth and a Roman Emperor and Christians can obey both. But if the emperor claims our allegiance as god or orders us to do what God leads us to believe is wrong, we have to refuse because ultimately for us there is only one Lord.

God bless,

Acts 17:1-9
17:1After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.

While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” 8The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.

Monday, April 12, 2010

release and resistance

Good morning brothers and sisters,
In yesterday's reading Paul and the others were arrested, beaten and imprisoned for their ministry, in particular for casting a spirit out of a slave. Their imprisonment led the jailer to faith. Now the authorities decide to release them from prison, but Paul isn't going to make it easy on them. Instead he tells them he is a Roman citizen, which worries them since they haven't observed his rights. We will see Paul using his rights as a Roman citizen several times in Acts.

For the most part in Acts Rome isn't the oppressor, but a mostly neutral outside power. Most of the opposition to the apostles comes from religious leaders and both sides of the conflict at times try to use Roman power to their advantage. We also see that, even though at times the apostles defy the rules and human rulers to proclaim the gospel, they also generally obey the law. When asked to leave Philippi, the apostles do. The blend of courage, defiance, obedience and strategic thinking the early church used to spread the message can teach us a lot about adapting to different situations while remaining true to our faith and seeking opportunities to share.

Blessings on the new week,

Acts 16:35-40
35When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.”

38The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; 39so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

preaching in jail, doubt and faith

Good morning all,
Our reading from Acts today picks up on yesterday's story. Paul and his companions had been followed by a young slave who had a spirit of divination, in other words she could see things other people couldn't. Paul cast out that spirit in the name of Jesus. The trouble in today's passage starts when her owners find out, because they made big bucks through her fortune telling.

At any rate, the apostles end up in prison where it sounds like they lead some of their fellow prisoners to faith. They certainly lead the jailer and his family to faith. Amazing things happen when we trust God to being ministry out of trouble.

Our reading from John is the reading I'll be preaching on in a few hours. The most familiar part of the story is Thomas's doubt that Christ is risen. It's easy to forget that once he has seen Jesus he is filled with faith. Tradition tells us that Thomas took the gospel all the way to India. The other part of this passage that's easy to miss is that Jesus gives the disciples the Holy Spirit and sends them out in mission to the world. We continue that same mission, empowered by the same Spirit today. Praise the Lord!

See you soon,

Acts 16:19-34
19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

travel and proclamation

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's travels bring Paul and his companions to Philippi, where they spend some time preaching the good news. You may notice that the narrator's voice has changed. Most of Acts is written in third person, talking about how "they" did this or that to spread the message. Today's passage is all in first person plural: "We remained in the city for some days." The switch happened suddenly in the passage from yesterday, but there's nothing in the story to tell us why. We know Paul was traveling with Silas and Timothy, but neither one of them was thought to have anything to do with the writing of Acts. Instead Acts was written by Luke, who has up 'til now told everything from a distance. Some believe that Luke must have also joined the group at this point, but he doesn't say so clearly. There are several sections of Acts that are told this way, but each time the voice changes abruptly and then changes back to third person just as quickly.

More importantly we see how Paul and his companions worked in Philippi. They went to a place of prayer to share their message, probably because they might expect to be well received there. In this case their message takes root with a woman named Lydia who invites the travelers to stay with her family while they are in Philippi. We see that it is God's work to open her heart to hear the word eagerly, and we pray now and each time we come to scripture that God would open our hearts to hear the word eagerly.
weekend blessings,

Acts 16:11-18
11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Traveling with Timothy

Good morning all,
This morning we meet Timothy, a young leader in the early church to whom Paul wrote two of the letters that ended up in the Bible. We're reading the first of those letters in session as our opening devotion. It's fascinating that after receiving the official word from the leaders in Jerusalem that people don't have to be circumcised to follow Jesus Paul had Timothy circumcised anyway. It seems to have been a strategic decision because Timothy's mother was Jewish (and a follower of Jesus) and his father wasn't, and Paul wanted it clear where Timothy's allegiance lay. I guess the lesson is that sometimes we do what we don't need to do because it will help us achieve our goals more effectively.

Paul and Timothy travel together to spread the gospel and to share the council's decision about gentile believers. Twice we're told that God kept them from going somewhere they had planned to go. We don't know how God communicated this to them, but it's a good reminder that the church's agenda is never its own. This vision of a man calling for Paul's help has been an important image in world mission since that vision. God always calls us to take the word of hope to new places. For many of us that won't be around the world but will be right in our back yard.


Acts 16:1-10
1 Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 2He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

6They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

more travels and some disagreements

Good morning everyone,
The council in Jerusalem doesn't just send a letter to the gentile believers to encourage and welcome them. They also send Paul and Barnabas along with representatives from Jerusalem: Silas and Judas. It's great to see the enthusiasm with which the word of welcome is received. After some time in Antioch Paul and Barnabas decide to continue the journey to encourage other churches as well.

Unfortunately, the two disagree on who should go with them. In the end Paul takes Silas with him while Barnabas and John/Mark go there own way. We don't know a lot about why John/Mark had left Paul and Barnabas earlier. What we know comes from Acts 13:13 which just says that John returned to Jerusalem. It's interesting that these simple sentences could refer to conflicts that were at that point pretty significant. The good news is that both Paul and Barnabas continue their ministries, though now apart. In the maps the travels beginning with today's reading is called Paul's second missionary journey.

May God bless you in your journey today,

Acts 15:30-41
30So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. 32Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them. 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.

36After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

a decision and a letter

Good morning all,
Today we bring the council in Jerusalem to a close with a letter to the gentile believers summarizing what was decided. By doing this the leaders of the church chose to welcome gentiles fully into the faith without setting up rules that made evangelism more difficult. The church made this decision on the basis of testimony from Peter, Paul and Barnabas about the work God was doing in their ministry to the gentiles. It was to the clear to the council that God was leading the church in a new and inclusive direction.

Today it's hard to imagine the church telling people what to eat or do. Our society is so used to total independence where we are only responsible for ourselves and are free to do exactly what we want. Our faith teaches something different: we are responsible to and for each other. There is meant to be diversity and variation in our church, but we are also meant to make decisions together and to think about others even when we make choices our culture thinks of as "personal."

One quick note: tonight in Supper and Scripture we'll be starting the New Testament Letter of James. It's a short letter and one many Protestants aren't very familiar with, but it is really a gem. Come share a tasty meal and some great discussion starting at 5:30 in Christler Hall.

God bless,

Acts 15: 22-29
22Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, 23with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

a compromise

Good morning friends,
Yesterday we heard Peter (here called Simeon) tell the church council about how God showed him that the gentiles were called to Christ. Today Paul and Barnabas bring a report from the field, sharing how God is working in their ministry with the gentiles. At the close of this presentation James concludes that the gentiles should not have to fulfill the Law of Moses.

He does suggest that they should follow some basic principles that fit with the Law and with faith: No fornicating, no food sacrificed to idols, no animals that have been strangled or animals killed improperly (with the blood in them). This seems like a good compromise. As we see in Paul's letters, there was some diversity as to how these ideas were applied, but for now the matter is settled.

May we always have the wisdom to discern where God calls us to change while staying faithful to the God's calling.

God bless,

Acts 15:12-21
12The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. 14Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18known from long ago.’

19Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. 21For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

controversy strikes again

Good morning all,
It was such a joy to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord with many of you yesterday. Fortunately, in the church Easter is a season, not just a day. So the next six weeks we try to be especially intentional about seeing life in the light of Christ's resurrection. In our daily readings we return to the Book of Acts, which follows naturally from the resurrection. In our Sunday readings we'll see some selections from Acts as well, so having read them in context before in the daily readings will give them even more meaning for us.

Today brings us the first church council, and it was called to decide perhaps the first controversy in the church. That controversy was the place of gentile believers in the church. Some people believed that, since Christianity was a movement within Judaism, new converts had to observe Jewish Law. There were some good reasons for this opinion. The Law helped preserve identity and faith for Jews in a difficult situation where they were in the minority. The Law also came from God and had been an important part of the faith since God first led Israel out of Egypt. On the other side were those like Peter and Paul who had seen God calling Gentiles without any regard to the Law or tradition.

It seems like the church approached the question with prayer and then listened to people stating both sides of the argument before making a decision. That's always a good model for handling controversy, and we do well to remember that the controversies in the church now are neither the first nor the last we will face.
Blessings on your new week,

Acts 15:1-11
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers.

4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”6The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.

7After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Christ is Risen!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

This morning at our computers and in church together we hear the amazing news that Christ is risen. The women saw Jesus buried in the tomb. Right up to the last minute on Friday they worked to get the anointing spices ready and then rested on the Sabbath. As soon as they could see, they went to the tomb on Sunday to anoint the body. But there was no body to anoint. Instead, angels tell them that Christ has risen, and remind them that Jesus had promised just that before his death.

The women return to the others with this amazing news and find that no one believes them. Soon the disciples will learn that Jesus doesn't have to be predictable. With those first women at the tomb and with believers across the centuries, we affirm today that Christ is risen! Death cannot stop our Lord.

May the risen Lord touch your heart this morning,

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Good morning brothers and sisters,
Someone once told me that Saturday of Holy week was his favorite day of the church year because it parallels our life. Our life is spent in that in between space, waiting for the new life of the resurrection to bloom into the complete redemption of all creation. For the disciples it must have been a hard day. The raw pain and frantic pace of the day before had probably felt surreal. The Sabbath left them "resting according to the commandment," to dwell on their grief and their thoughts.

Today's reading completes the story of the passion begun yesterday and takes us into Saturday. Jesus commends his spirit to God and dies on the cross. He's buried by a secret disciple and mourned by the women who see where his tomb is. Then creation takes a breath and waits.
May waiting deepen our spiritual lives.

Luke 23:44-56

44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

50Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Good morning sisters and brothers,
This Good Friday morning brings us right to the cross. Jesus has been tried and found guilty; now he is led out to be crucified. As the women of Jerusalem meet him weeping, Jesus replies that they should weep for themselves and their children. His prediction of worse things to come is haunting and indeed for Jerusalem will come true. About thirty years later a Jewish revolt will lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

When we actually come to the cross we see Jesus nailed to it with a prayer of forgiveness for others on his lips. The religious leaders savor their victory by mocking him while the soldiers enjoy the sport as well. In a great illustration that we choose what kind of people we will be right up to the end of our lives one thief mocks Jesus and the other one seeks mercy. It's never too late to seek Christ's kingdom.

As you know, today we'll be walking with Christians from all over the city from 9-11 to remember the victims of violence and to witness to the hope that persistently sprouts up when we look to God. The walk starts and ends at Covenant United Methodist (1124 Culver Rd.) At noon we'll gather at Laurelton to worship at the foot of the cross.

May today's darkness bring you blessings and build your trust in the Lord,

Luke 23:26-43

26As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

betrayal and sacrifice

Good morning all,
Our reading for this morning doesn't have much April Fool's Day humor in it, but Judas has clearly been fooled by the devil. The Bible doesn't offer any reason for Judas's decision other than the devil's influence. Jesus Christ Superstar suggests it was because Judas didn't think, Jesus was fulfilling his role appropriately. That's as good a reason as any and in the end we just don't know. All we know is that the religious leaders needed an opportunity to find Jesus away from the crowds and Judas provided just that.

It's haunting that one of the twelve, someone who had been closest to Jesus for three years, would betray him. Imagine Jesus washing the disciples' feet and relaxing over supper with them knowing that one of them was going to hand him over to death. So the Passover lamb was slaughtered, and Jesus and his disciples shared a last meal together before his arrest. Come and remember that meal and the costly love Jesus has for us. The darkness gathers and God brings salvation out of betrayal. Today and tomorrow invite us to look closely at what God's love cost God; may we look and be changed.
God bless,

Luke 22:1-13

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. 2The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. 3Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; 4he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. 5They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. 6So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” 9They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” 10“Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 12He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” 13So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.