Sunday, June 30, 2013

proclaiming beyond boundaries

Good afternoon friends,
I hope you can get out and enjoy this lovely afternoon. Today's reading continues the story of the aftermath of Cornelius's conversion. We see a lot of attention to the first gentile conversion. In our passage today we see that Cornelius is the first of many, so the church's previously imagined limits are totally changed. Who might God be calling us to reach now?

God bless,

Acts 11:19-24
19Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

sharing change

Good afternoon friends,
I hope you have a chance to enjoy this beautiful and fresh afternoon. Summer is such a great gift. Today we see the follow up on Peter's meeting with Cornelius. Peter's behavior was shocking to other people in the community, and they let him know. At the same time, the Spirit's fingerprints are all over this, so as soon as they hear his story he can see that it is from God. That's really the key to change in the church: we need to discern where God is calling us. It's not always as clear as it is in this case, but we are disciples, so our job is to follow. That means not being so excited about doing something different that we forget to listen to God, and not so attached to the way we did things before or do things now that we forget to listen.

God bless,

Acts 11:1-18
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’

15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Friday, June 28, 2013

preaching and hearing

Good morning sisters and brothers,
First, a reminder that Sunday in worship we'll be celebrating graduates, so if you're graduating from any program, we'd love to have you to celebrate with us on Sunday.

God has clearly brought Peter and Cornelius together, despite many religious and cultural barrier. So today we see what God does now that they are together.

God bless,

Acts 10:34-48
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

following even if we don't know where we're going

Good morning friends,
Yesterday we read about Peter's vision of a sheet full of animals lowered from heaven and a voice telling him to kill and eat. Peter is shocked because many of the animals are off limits for Jews, but a voice from heaven tells Peter that we should never call something unclean if God made it clean. As soon as the vision is over, men sent by Cornelius appear at the door and the voice tells Peter to go with them. We see where the story goes from there.

I love that throughout the story people really listen, even if they have no idea what is happening. Peter sets off on a two day journey because God told him to go. Cornelius has assembled all his friends and family to hear a message, even though he doesn't know what the message is or even if Peter will show up. God is full of surprises, and I am so grateful for that. I pray that I would listen to God's voice too.

God bless,

Acts 10:21-33
21So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.

24The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

30Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

another vision

Good afternoon friends,
We read yesterday about Cornelius, a Roman military officer who worshiped God. An angel sent Cornelius to see PEter so he could hear the gospel. We now see the work God did on the other end to make Peter receptive. Notice the role clean and unclean food play, since Peter was an observant Jew.

God bless,

Acts 10:10-20
9About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there.19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

a rightous gentile

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Yesterday we read a sample of the biblical purity law. That's to give us a sense for some of the divisions that kept Jews and gentiles separate in the first century. It's important to appreciate what a divide there was because we are starting the story of how the gospel came to gentiles for the first time. This is a favorite passage of mine. Notice that while Cornelius is a gentile, he worships the God of Israel. There seems to have been a significant number of gentiles who were attracted to Israel's faith; this group was important in the spread of the gospel.

God bless,

 Acts 10:1-9
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.

3One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

Monday, June 24, 2013

what to eat

Good afternoon friends,
We don't think much about clean and unclean foods in the church, but for our Jewish forebears these rules were, and still are, a big deal. The church began as a movement within Judaism, so food and who was part of the community were a big part of what the church needed to navigate as the gospel spread. For Jews in the first century, their faithfulness to God's law was what helped them maintain their identity despite Roman occupation. So, here are some of the basic rules of what observant Jews could and couldn't eat.

God bless,

Leviticus 11:1-8. 13-18, 45-47
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them: 2Speak to the people of Israel, saying: From among all the land animals, these are the creatures that you may eat. 3Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed and chews the cud—such you may eat. 4But among those that chew the cud or have divided hoofs, you shall not eat the following: the camel, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. 5The rock badger, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. 6The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. 7The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you…

13These you shall regard as detestable among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, 14the buzzard, the kite of any kind; 15every raven of any kind; 16the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; 17the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18the water hen, the desert owl, the carrion vulture, 19the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat…

45For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy. 46This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, 47to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

raise the dead

Good morning friends,
This morning's reading continues the story of Peter. As we think about the growth of the church, the ministry of original apostles, like Peter, continues to be important, even as new apostles, especially Paul, move to the center of the story. This story also paves the way for one of my favorite stories in the whole book.

God bless,

Acts 9:36-43
36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs.

All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

another healing

Good afternoon friends,
I'd like to remind you that tomorrow in worship Rev. Pauline Braggins will be helping lead worship as a celebration of her 28th ordination anniversary. Fittingly, we'll also be ordaining and installing new elders to lead our congregation. It will be a joyful day, so I hope you'll be there.

Today's reading is a short one, and the focus shifts back to Peter. It's a simple healing story, that reminds us that God cares about our physical as well as spiritual well being.
Blessings on your day,

Acts 9:32-35
32Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. 35And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

Friday, June 21, 2013

vouching for someone

Good morning friends,
After Saul escaped from Damascus, he went to Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, the disciples there don't trust him, since they knew he was part of the persecution that drove many of their friends away. Fortunately, Barnabas (we read chapters ago about how he sold a field and gave the proceeds to the church) speaks up for Saul. It's amazing that God turned a violent persecutor into one of the most effective evangelists for Christ. Along the way, many lesser known characters have a role to play. We never learn our full potential unless we're willing to take some risks, in this case, the risk of trusting a former enemy.

God bless,

Acts 9:26-31
26When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

the persecutor persecuted

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterday we read how Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and how God spoke to Ananias to minister to Saul so he could receive his sight. Ananias was shocked to get an order like that, since he knew how Saul had persecuted the church, but God told him that Saul would be an important instrument for evangelism and that he would suffer for the name of Jesus. Faithfully, Ananias goes. It doesn't take long for Saul to start living up to his promise, and to receive persecution himself. It blows me away how faithful these folks are to their call. I always come away from Acts convicted because my own faith is meek and lukewarm in comparison. How can you stir up the Spirit within you and follow your calling today?

God bless,

Acts 9:17-25
17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

21All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. 23After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

joining the community, part 1

Good afternoon friends,
We read yesterday about Saul meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Today we see how God leads Saul to discipleship and what troubles that future might hold. The Lord says to Ananias that Saul is a chosen instrument to bring the name of the Lord to gentiles and rulers. God also says that Saul will suffer. The calling is not easy, but on the way, we receive everything we need and blessings besides.

God bless,

Acts 9:10-16
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

a change of plans

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We read earlier about how Saul approved of the execution of Stephen and was very active in the persecution of the church. Today we see how his life was changed. The story is familiar to many of us, but think how shocking it would have been to Saul and to his friends and to the Christians who knew him as a persecutor. God can do amazing things with surprising people; think what he can do with you.

God bless,

Acts 9:1-9
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Monday, June 17, 2013

starting a conversation

Good evening friends,
We continue the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Yesterday we saw an angel send Philip to a wilderness road between Gaza and Jerusalem. Then the Holy Spirit told Philip to go up to a chariot he saw there, with the eunuch inside. What happens next humbles me and, tradition says, gave birth to the Ethiopian Church, which is still active today.

God bless,

Acts 8:32-40
32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

follow the leader

Happy Fathers' Day to all the dads out there. Since I have an awesome dad of my own, I know what a difference you guys make. I hope you're enjoying the day. Our reading for today is part of the reading in worship today. We read over the last couple days how persecution drove the church away from Jerusalem, but God used that scattering to spread the gospel. Today we see where the Spirit leads Philip next. There's more on this story in today's sermon, which will soon be posted on our website.

Blessings on your evening,

Acts 8:26-31
26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

bloom where you're planted (or uprooted)

Good morning friends,
Today's passage is in some ways a microcosm of the whole book of Acts. God uses everything, including persecution and escape from danger to spread the gospel. When the church is persecuted, they protect themselves by escaping. They also risk themselves by continuing to spread the message of God's love. When running from danger leads them to surprising places, they keep opening their mouths and God uses that to bring more people into the shelter of the gospel. In the same way today, wherever we go we can bear witness to God's love with our words and actions.

God bless,

Acts 8:1-13
And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

4Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. 8So there was great joy in that city.

9Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

Friday, June 14, 2013

rejecting repentance

Good morning brothers and sisters,
We see today the result of Stephen's proclamation. Anytime we hear a message like Stephen's, a message that confronts us with an image of ourself that we don't want to see, we can choose to listen or to reject it. I hope we will each choose differently than these religious leaders. Of course, the bigger story here is God's faithfulness and Stephen's faithfulness. How can we be more like Stephen in our courage and faith.

God bless,

Acts 7:54-60
54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

call to repent

Good afternoon friends,
In today's reading Stephen moves to make his point: Israel's resistance to God is nothing new. He's already talked about resistance to Moses in Egypt and in the wilderness. He's also talked about God's constant presence with the people of Israel through commandments, prophets and a house of worship. He starts this passage by remembering the construction of the temple.

This is an important part of his case because the leaders have accused him of speaking against the law and the temple. He responds by going back to what the Bible says when the first temple was built: God doesn't live in temples. God commanded the tent of meeting to be build for worship, but God has never been confined there. When we choose a place to worship and a way to listen to God, that strengthens our faith, but we should never imagine that God is limited by how or where we worship. God's closeness to Israel and to the church is a gift, but it's a gift that challenges us to greater faithfulness, not one that gives us special privilege. Our closeness means we need to listen more closely when God calls us to repent. Stephen claims that the leaders have used their closeness to God to close their ears, first to prophets and then to Jesus. That's a call to repentance that we need to hear today too. God is still speaking; are we still listening?

God bless,

Acts 7:47-53
47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 49‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50Did not my hand make all these things?’

51”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

turning back

Good evening friends,
Stephen has been reviewing Israel's story. Now he starts getting to a main point: Israel has often turned away from God and God's messengers. Moses provided faithful leadership, and God saved the people from slavery, but the people got scared and build a golden calf. The thing to remember as we read this part (and most of Acts) is that we Christians are just as bed at listening to God. It's often helpful to think about Israel or the Jewish leaders as Christian religious leaders or as you and me. Do the criticisms still fit? More often than I want to admit it, they fit me.

God bless,

Acts 7:39-46
39Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ 41At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.

42But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43No; you took along the tent of Moloch, and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; so I will remove you beyond Babylon.’

44“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Good morning friends,
In yesterday's reading Stephen told the first part of the story of Moses, from his birth to his flight from Egypt. In today's reading he reminds his audience of the calling of Moses and Moses' critical role in God's covenant with us. God's words through Moses are still part of what defines our faith. Stephen honors Moses, in contrast to what his accusers say.

God bless,

Acts 7:30-38
30“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. 33Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.’

35“It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’ 38He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us.

Monday, June 10, 2013

a good story needs a good foundation

Good morning friends,
I hope it was a great weekend for you and that the week is off to a good start. Today we continue the story of Stephen on trial. He left off the last paragraph talking about how God brought Joseph and then all of Israel to Egypt to avoid a famine. In our reading for today we see that the initial welcome in Egypt didn't last.

 We know the story, but Stephen's technique is helpful. He's really talking about Jesus, but he lays the groundwork carefully. The story of Jesus doesn't start with Jesus; it starts with the God's relationship with God's people from the beginning. Jesus is the next step in the story of Abraham, Moses, prophets, freedom and exile. Stephen is making the story clear by laying the foundation in events that his audience know well.

God bless,

Acts 7:17-29
17“But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied 18until another king who had not known Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19He dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die. 20At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; 21and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.

23“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. 24When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25He supposed that his kinsfolk would understand that God through him was rescuing them, but they did not understand. 26The next day he came to some of them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you wrong each other?’ 27But the man who was wronging his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29When he heard this, Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

telling the story

Good evening friends,
As we read yesterday, Stephen's faith got him into trouble with the religious leaders. They accused him of blaspheming against God and of speaking badly about the traditions of his religion. In response, Stephen starts his story with the root of that religions, which is the call of Abraham. Everything Stephen says shows how well he understands scripture and the story of his faith. The better our own understanding of our faith is, the better we are able to see the world and our faith together.

God bless,

Acts 7:1-16
Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.

After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. 5He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. 6And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. 7‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

9“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, 10and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. 12But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. 13On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; 15so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, 16and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

service and trouble

Good morning brothers and sisters,
First, I'm out of town this weekend and my phone will not work. In an emergency you can reach me at my hotel in Toronto: 416-977-0502, room 1009. I'll be back Sunday night. We read about how the church elected seven leaders to oversee the care of widows in the church. Today we'll learn more about one of those leaders, Stephen. We'll see that while the specific ministry to which he was elected was about caring for people in need, his calling as a Christian led him to preach about Jesus. You never know where your calling might take you.

God bless,

Acts 6:8-15
8Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.

11Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Friday, June 7, 2013

choosing leaders

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterday we read about how the disciples prayed for boldness and faith continued to grow. Today we see how as the community of faith expanded, so did the need for leadership. In particular, this story is about how the church chose new leaders to ensure effective care for those in need. In every age we need good leaders, and all of us have gifts to share.

God bless,

Acts 6:1-7
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”

5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

preaching boldly

Good morning friends,
Tuesday we read about how Peter and John healed a man in Christ's name and then proceeded to preach to the crowd about Jesus. Today we see what happens next in the story.
May God give you boldness in your faith today,

Acts 4:1-20, 23-24, 29-31
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

5The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another.

16They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

23After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “…29And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

times of refreshing

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterday we read how Peter and John healed a man in the temple through the name of Jesus Christ. That quickly drew a crowd, and Peter loses no opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. Notice how he connects the story of Jesus with a familiar story for his hearers: the story of Israel and the prophets. I also love that he talks about faith in Christ as bringing "times of refreshing." Too often we think about faith and church as obligations, when really, they can be a joy.

Blessings on your day,

Acts 3:12-25
12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.

22Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

healing in the temple

Good afternoon friends,
As promised yesterday, we're focusing on Acts in our Daily Readings. In this case I'm skipping the first two chapters, which tell the story of Jesus' ascension into heaven, the apostles electing Matthias to replace Judas as the 12th apostle and the coming of the Holy Spirit with Peter's Pentecost sermon, since we've read that together recently. We pick up right after that sermon with Peter and John going to the temple. We now get to see the Spirit in action.

God bless,

Acts 3:1-11
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.

6But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

a great prayer

Good morning brothers and sisters,
First two quick announcements/reminders: today from 2-4 is Laurelton's Big Lunch chicken barbecue. Not only will we serve free chicken and fixins from 2-4 (or so, we may go through the food earlier if lots of people show up), we'll also be hosting The Mighty High and Dry for some awesome live music. It would be great to see you. If you can come a little early (anytime from 11 on) to help with food prep and set up, that would be great. If you have a large cooler you can bring, that would also be great.

The second announcement is about Sunday. We'll be starting what I hope will be an exciting series on the early church and the Book of Acts so Sunday is an introduction to the book. We'll also be electing officers for the church, so if you're an active member, your vote is very important tomorrow.

Today's reading is the beginning of what Bible scholars call Jesus' "Great High Priestly prayer." Jesus talks to God on behalf of the disciples, including us. He asks God to bless and protect these folks as they prepare to continue Jesus' work. The prayer is a little challenging to read, but it's beautiful and inspiring. It's pretty cool to have this extended prayer of Jesus to his Father.

I hope the prayer and the weekend are a blessing to you,

John 17:1-10
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

Sam Picard
Pastor, Laurelton United Presbyterian Church
Daily Bible readings in interactive format: