Thursday, May 25, 2017

Acts 15:1-5

Acts 15
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What a timely section for us to come to, as our nation seems to grow a little more divided each and every day.  We seem to spend a lot of time and energy trying to find labels for each other, especially when people often end up defying the stereotype we have attached to certain labels.  We start to think we understand one another, and then people have this habit of surprising us.  It's exhausting, right?
  In the early church, there was division.  There was debate.  And people inevitably divided into two camps about things.  But what is beautiful is that they gathered together to discuss it.  They were deeply divided over whether the Jewish laws and customs would apply to new believers.  Remember, the early church believed they were being faithful Jews and worshiping the long-awaited Messiah.  They didn't see their beliefs as a radical departure from the expectation.  They thought that others who wanted to follow Jesus should accommodate to the historical traditions of the faith -- they didn't completely comprehend all the new that God was doing.
  So the church debated.  And it wasn't always neat and tidy, and I'm sure there wasn't always perfect resolution where everyone got along and sang hymns together at the end of the debate.  But the important thing is that the church continued to be the church.  The church has debated various things over the centuries, but it has always remained, and there is always room for debate within the church.  We don't have to agree on every little detail -- we can welcome and love one another even while we debate some things.  The important thing is to remember to be humble, to love one another as Christ loves each of us, and to remember that we are part of a community that stretches back thousands of years.  Whatever storms the church is in, it will survive, and it will thrive, because Christ is our Head and nothing shall ever defeat him.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Acts 14:24-28

Acts 14:24-28
English Standard Version (ESV)

  So if you want to learn something, how do you approach it?  Some years ago, I started to learn how to play the piano.  Rather than pound away on the keys on my own, I spent time with an expert, someone who could lead me and teach me and show me the way.  The more time I spent with him, the better I got.  I would practice on my own after lessons, but I always needed to return to follow-up.  The deeper I wanted to go, the more I needed to listen, to learn.
  So often, however, when it comes to matters of spirituality we seem to believe that we can do it on our own.  We don't seek out community, we don't seek out tutors, we just stubbornly try and do it all on our own.  A lot of the time we guilt ourselves, convincing ourselves that we 'should' be better at this, as though we come out of the womb with fully formed spiritual lives.
  If you want to learn how to pray, if you want to grow spiritually, ensure you are spending time with people who have a deeper faith maturity than you do.  There is a lot of time where you'll need to practice on your own, but it's vital to be in community with people who have more spiritual discipline, because they can teach you.
  And if you have spiritual maturity, whatever level you feel like you are at, spend time with people who are still growing, who are younger in the faith.  It's vital that we practice our faith together, that we may benefit from the strength of one another, that we might grow together and encourage each other.  It's how the Lord works through us, one by one and all together, to build his Kingdom here on earth.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Acts 14:19-23

Acts 14:19-23
English Standard Version (ESV)

  If I was Paul, this first verse would occupy the vast majority of the book of Acts.  I'd want everyone to know what I've gone through, so they'd know how much I suffered and how dedicated I was.
  Also, I wouldn't go back into the city.  At all.  If I managed to survive such an event, I would go in the exact opposite direction after the disciples dragged me out from underneath the rockpile.  I don't think I'd have very nice things to say about my enemies, either.
  But for Paul, it was all for the sake of the Gospel.  No matter what he had to endure, he took these burdens on so that the Gospel could be proclaimed.  He risked everything for the sake of Christ, so that others might hear of the wondrous goodness of the King of Glory.  He wanted the name of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed, and even if it meant his own death, he was willing to take that risk.
  Valuing the name of Christ that highly means treasuring the relationship, seeking to deepen it above every other thing in life, and recognizing that only that relationship endures beyond the grave.
  May we hold so dearly to Christ that we shape everything else around it, and may we love one another enough to want to share this life-changing Gospel with them.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Acts 14:8-18

Acts 14:8-18
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We've been elevating our religious leaders above the status they rightfully deserve for thousands of years.  It's easier to do this, to assume they are perfect and to worship them, then to deal with the messy reality that even the best of our leaders are broken and flawed.  We aren't called to worship our leaders -- we are called to worship our Lord and Savior.  Only he is perfect, and only he can save.
  When we worship our leaders, we set them up for failure by giving them unrealistic expectations and inflating their egos.  They will disappoint us, they will let us down, because they can't live up to the standards of perfection.
  This doesn't mean you need to call your pastor and tell them they are a terrible person.  But remember that they are a sinner seeking a Savior, just as the rest of us are, and that they need companions for the journey.  It's not easier for them, and they aren't closer to God than anyone else is.  God has given them certain gifts, and they are called to use those for leadership, but they are to remember their place as well.
  So let us pray for our pastors, that they are empowered and blessed and have the presence of the Spirit to walk with them every step of the way, that they may remain humble and let the Word of God speak to them and through them.