Thursday, August 17, 2017

Acts 25:13-22

Acts 25:13-22
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Stories will occasionally surface of cults who get carried away by a charismatic leader.  Sometimes the results are tragic, often they fizzle out when the hypocrisy of the leader is exposed.  The end result is delusion and frustration, and there is usually a good amount of collateral damage caused in terms of broken relationships and damaged finances.
  What every church should encourage its members to do is read the Bible for themselves.  They should listen to the pastor and his/her interpretation of Scripture, but they should be reading it for themselves and asking questions if they don't understand something.  In reading it for themselves, they are better able to spot errors in leadership.  It's a good thing to trust in leadership, but it's the role of a responsible member to be actively paying attention to hold the leadership accountable.  Leadership should welcome tough questions, because they should see it as an opportunity to grow together, and if the leader is failing in a direction or struggling with an issue, the members should compassionately join together to encourage the leader.
  It's hard to be a community together.  But we all have to be active -- we can't be free riders, blindly trusting that things will work out.  Read Scriptures so that you know for yourself what the source documents say.  Ask questions.  Listen attentively.  And may we grow together, each of us stronger in faith today than we were yesterday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Acts 25:6-12

Acts 25:6-12
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What's best about Paul's trial is that he doesn't doubt himself -- he's lived in such a way that he has no reason to doubt himself, no reason to wonder if he has lived well.  Think about his journey -- he went from persecuting Christians to proclaiming their Gospel, and he's entirely confidant and comfortable with his identity.  He knows he has been saved by grace, and he's proclaimed that message, and he has nothing to fear.  There is no doubt within Paul.
  It's hard to imagine living this way.  Each of us has things in our past that we'd love to pile dirt over and let disappear.  We have things that shame us, things that concern us, things that wake us in the middle of the night and leave us wondering if we're good enough.
  The message of grace is a hard one to hear -- we are so busy trying to earn God's love that we often forget that God loves us unconditionally.  Our path is not to be caught up in fear, but rather to be caught up in God's grace.  We shouldn't spend our lives looking back at what has happened, but rather should invest our energy in looking to the unlimited grace and unmerited favor that is poured out upon us.
  Paul isn't afraid to go on trial, because he knows he is innocent.
  In the same way, we shouldn't be afraid to stand before the throne of God, because we know that we are covered in Christ and completely forgiven washed clean by the blood of the lamb and born again to eternal life.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acts 25:1-5

Acts 25:1-5
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The human story has been one of slowly grabbing control.  Think about it -- we grabbed control of fire, and soon we could control when it was dark and when it was light.  We began to cultivate crops, and we were in control, no longer at the whims of hunting and gathering.  We built houses, now able to control how the weather affected us.  We soon built machines to do work for us, controlling how much effort we had to contribute.  We continue to gain control, over travel and DNA and medicine, bringing so much of life under our control.  It's easy to forget that we're not in ultimate control -- it's easy to forget that the universe doesn't revolve around us.
  God is the center and author of life.  In Him, and in Him alone, is light and life and truth.  He is the one who grants us life, and our lives are meant to be about worshiping Him.  If we think our lives are about being in control, we'd panic in situations like the one Paul is in, where it seems like we're small and out of control and unable to know what is coming next.
  But if we trust God, we learn to relax and trust that whatever our circumstances may be, God will use them for his glory.  It's hard for us to relax, but God is at work, and our job is to trust in Him -- He is control and can use every situation for his glory.  Trust in Him -- our life is not meant to be about us, and he is at work for us.  He loves us and will not forsake us, so trusting in Him is a step of faith on the path to eternal life.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nehemiah 5:6-11

Nehemiah 5:6-11
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We'll get back to Acts shortly, but given everything that has gone on over the weekend, this is a worthwhile diversion.
  I'd recommend going back and reading the whole chapter/book, but in summary, the rich in Nehemiah's time are oppressing the poor, forcing them to sell off everything (including their children) in order to pay the punitive amount required for grain in a time of famine.  The country is divided, and strong leadership is needed.
  Here, Nehemiah steps up.  He recognizes the evil that is at work, the way that some people are caring for themselves over the needs of their neighbors, and he clearly declares the evil in their actions.  But he goes a step beyond simply talking about it -- he leads the way into a solution.  He gives what he doesn't need, and he invites others to dine at his table in his own expense.  He forgoes his salary.  The people react beautifully -- they admit their sin and change their ways, and the community is able to heal.
  This weekend has revealed some open wounds in this country.  Our communities are often divided, and it's easy to live in blissful ignorance of this if we are not directly affected by it.  In such a time as this, God often uses events to open our eyes to see the pain of our neighbors and friends.  Having opened our eyes, we are then called to be agents of reconciliation.  We are called to be a people who love selflessly, who sacrifice willingly, who reach out to the stranger and the enemy so that they might come to know what boundless love looks like.
  I don't have easy solutions to the cauldron of fear and hatred that can drive people to certain actions.  I don't know what it takes to bring the country together and work through the many things that divide us, but I believe in my heart that the church is called to stand in the gap and love each and every person in this world, to not only tell them that there is grace for them but to show them the same love that compelled Christ to die for the unworthy.  And since the church is called to this, you and I are called to it, because it's not someone else's job -- it's the job of every churchmember, to love the people around us and to go to those who have not yet heard the Good News.  I am often so very comfortable that I don't breach the corners of the world in which I live, but I pray for the wisdom to allow God to send me and use me so that I might somehow do my small part to promote peace and grace in times of pain and heartache.