Friday, July 21, 2017

Acts 21:27-36

Acts 21:27-36
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We see here that there often isn't room for nuanced debate in the midst of a passionate crowd.  Paul didn't have the chance to explain why the crowd was wrong and that he was teaching the fulfillment of the Law -- he's lucky to have escaped with his life!
  We have to remember that the forward movement of the Gospel isn't dependent on us coming up with the perfect words to win over an individual or a crowd.  It's dependent upon God.  Paul could have considered himself a failure because of this escapade, but instead he trusted that God would lead him forward.  A failure like this didn't crush his confidence, because his confidence wasn't rooted in his ability, but rather in God's.  He was willing to trust that God would continue to lead him and use him, and the opposition wasn't directed at Paul, but at the truth of the Gospel message that many were resistant to.  Paul didn't take it personally, but continued to focus on Christ.
  So let us not lose heart and feel discouraged -- the Gospel is bigger than us, and resistance to the Gospel isn't necessarily directed at us or our words.  When things go terribly wrong, as they sometimes will, may we remember that God is a God of new beginnings, of resurrections, and that the most terrible day of all became the first Easter Sunday.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Acts 21:17-26

Acts 21:17-26
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Think of all the things you talk about on a given day.  Many of these may be logistical details about when and where and how.  You probably have many surface-level conversations with colleagues and acquaintances.  You may have deeper conversations with closer friends, and I hope there are people in your life with whom you can discuss your deepest fears and your most closely-held hopes.
  As the people of God, we should be ready to talk about what God is doing in our own lives and in the community.  Of course, this means that we need to pray for Holy Spirit-led hearts to see things through the lens of what God is doing, and then it means we need to talk about these things.  We need to share the news, that others may hear and glorify God, just as the church in Jerusalem does when they hear Paul's report.
  One good practice for us is to ensure we are receiving news from international and evangelistic mission bodies.  These groups are on the front line of sharing the Gospel, and their stories of transformation will encourage us and lead us to glorify God.  My personal favorite is the Outreach Foundation, but there are countless organizations that offer stories of encouragement.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Acts 21:7-16

Acts 21:7-16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's a different worldview that allows Paul to believe this way.  Paul is so deeply committed to the central truth of the Gospel -- that real life is in Christ alone, and that any price the world exacts for pursuing this life is a trifle compared to the eternal peace and joy that we find in Christ is worth paying a thousand times over.  Paul has seen both sides -- he has pursued status in the world and has seen where that leads, and he has pursued Christ and recognized the abundant life that is available only there.  He has made his choice, and nothing in the world will make him go back.
  I am certainly no Paul, and not many of us are.  We are caught up in the world and our lives and countless distractions, some worthy of our time and others less so.  We have probably not experienced the voice of God calling us on our own road to Damascus, and we have experienced a very different church than the one Paul did.
  But we are confronted with the same choice -- will we pursue life in Christ at any cost, or will we not?  It's not that simple, but in a way it is an easier choice than we often make it out to be.  The benefits offered to us are the same offered to Paul, and so is the price -- it is a free gift, but to pursue it costs something, and we are often reluctant to give up anything in order to follow Christ.
  And so today, I think the challenge for us in our lives of prayer is to seek what the next step is -- how do we go deeper?  How do we eliminate the distractions and single-mindedly follow Christ, wherever that may lead?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Acts 21:1-6

Acts 21:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We live in very transient times.  If you decided this morning to travel to Europe, you could reasonably expect to be there within 24 hours, no matter where on the earth you were, assuming you had a credit card with a generous limit and some flexibility.  Also, there wouldn't be a lot of uncertainty about your travels -- you can post pictures of your adventures to social media from Venice just as easily as you can from Venice Beach, and we can track your progress (with jealousy, most likely!) as you leapfrog from Venice to Milan to Rome and back.  The likelihood of calamity is rare, and most troubles encountered while traveling can be easily surmounted.
  Obviously, life was a little different in Paul's time.  Travel wasn't easy or quick or as reliable, and news certainly traveled much less frequently.  Paul's status updates might take months or years, and he wasn't constantly checking with the nearest courier to see how many likes his latest update received.
  There is something grand that is lost in all of our progress.  We aren't as emotionally tied in to one another.  We're accustomed to various comings and goings, and we're often so wrapped up in our own little corner of the world that we tend to forget about whomever has left until they're back.
  So what does it look like for us to invest ourselves in the lives of another, to pray with them on the beach and entrust them to God, not knowing what to expect in the future?  That's a hard thing to translate, but there's something beautiful about the idea of blessing one another as we go out.  In doing so, we both offer our best wishes and entrust one another to the hands of God, where we all reside anyway.  Also, in blessing another, we are praying for a fruitfulness upon their arrival -- it's more than just wishes for a safe journey, but a hope that their journey will be filled with abundance, and their arrival will be the beginning of something new, no matter what it may be.
  So may we intertwine ourselves in the lives of our faith community, to the point that we are truly paying attention to the journeys we are taking, that we might not be so wrapped up in our own that we forget what the others are doing.  May we journey together, hand in hand, praying blessings upon the footsteps of others.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Acts 20:28-37

Acts 20:28-37
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  In this day and age, I think this is a helpful passage.  We are reminded that Christianity has never been, and is not intended to be, easy.  The church of God was obtained through the blood of Christ.  Here, the listeners are warned of fierce wolves that will attack the flock, and others will come to deceive the flock.  There is much danger that abounds, and there is still danger for the church.  While in the West, we may not face the physical threats that many in the early church did, there is still much that threatens to pull us away from the church, forces that vie for our attention and our hearts, and if we are not careful we will fall away from the Gospel and seek other, lessor gods.
  So Paul notes this danger, but he doesn't linger on it or use it as motivation.  He tells them to be alert, but no more.  It is a danger and it is real, but let it not keep us from doing the work of the church.
  It is to this that Paul turns with his final words.  We are charged to work hard and remember the weak, to give rather than build up.
  There are many threats, and there always will be.  The church will persist.  At some points, it may appear as though the future of the church is in jeopardy.  It is not.  When time concludes and the universe is folded up, only the church will remain.  So let us not be a people defined by fear, but rather by hope, by hard work and by service, that others may be invited in to the joy and boldness of the Gospel.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Acts 20:17-27

Acts 20:17-27
English Standard Version (ESV)

  In business school, we talked a lot about adding value.  Some people add value to conversations by being in them, some companies add value to your experience by the way they approach their field.  In marketing, its vital to communicate the value of a certain product or brand, and when it comes to data you're trying to distill what the real value is among all the noise.
  When Paul is talking about his approach, he looks at everything through the lens of communicating the Gospel.  He says that the only value he wants to bring to life and his relationships is the value of Christ, and that if he's not communicating Christ, then he doesn't add any value and all is lost.
  Think about that for a second -- strip away everything in your life that isn't done with the sole end of bringing glory to God and communicating the love of Christ to loved ones, friends, strangers and enemies.
  It's a challenging exercise, but a good one, I think, because it forces me to think about what I do and why I do it.  I operate mindlessly often, staying in a routine or getting things done simply because they need to be done.  I often lose sight of what truly matters, and here Paul is reminding us that what truly matters is all that truly matters -- if he's not doing it for the sake of the Gospel, then he doesn't want to be doing it.
  Paul's worldview is rooted in the deep waters of discipleship, and it takes a long time to get there.  This doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly doesn't happen without the leadership of the Holy Spirit  So be bold and courageous in pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ, that all else may be stripped away and his love is all that is left, sustaining you and leading you to love and serve others.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Acts 20:7-16

Acts 20:7-16
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  We're a pretty scheduled people.  I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who has a calendar that runs my life, framing up how I'm going to spend my days, allocating blocks of time to this project or that interest.  Some things, I'm just checking off the list to move forward, while others I will linger over for a little while longer.  What I love is when something catches my interest so deeply that it runs over its allocated time slot, and I find myself wrapped up in it, barely noticing as the hours slide by.
  When you think about your relationship with God, what kind of place does it hold for you?  Is it something that you give some time to every day, doing your duty and then moving on, able to check that box? Perhaps it's not even on your daily schedule, but maybe you just set some time aside for God each Sunday and then move on to other things.  Or do you find yourself getting lost in God, unable to confine your passion for God by a time slot, as you find yourself lost in wonder and praise, wrapped up in the mystery and love of God?  That's the kind of relationship I long for.  I don't have it, but I'd love to sit in worship of God and stay there beyond an hour or two, caught up in love for the One who came to save me before I even knew I needed saving!
 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Acts 20:1-6

Acts 20:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Over and over again, there are highlights of the Biblical journeys that sum up what the disciples were doing by describing their actions as showing up to encourage others.  I'm sure they were busy doing other things as well, but they spent a lot of time encouraging one another.
  Rightly or not, the modern world often pictures the church as a group of people opposed to lots of things.  The church doesn't always deserve this label, but we sometimes get very caught up in what other people shouldn't be doing.  Now, I'm not at all saying that there isn't a time and place for the church to name sin and to define things as dishonoring God and damaging our relationship with Him.  What I am saying is that the vast majority of our lives should be spent encouraging one another, our friends and neighbors, and our enemies, in love.  We should be so busy encouraging, with our words and our deeds, that other people give thanks for our presence in their lives, because we're reaching out to lift people up.  Even our admonishments of one another can be encouraging, if done in love.
  We forget to encourage one another, or we just take it for granted, and so we often end up skipping it, thinking that maybe it's frivolous or a waste of time.  I promise, it's not --thousands of years later, we still have tales of how Paul and others stopped to encourage other Christians on their walk with Christ.  May we endeavor to serve with the same love.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Acts 19:35-41

Acts 19:35-41
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  When we go out into the world, I think we find an important lesson here.  Paul didn't rush into Ephesus eager to tear down society, eager to condemn and berate the people for the way that they were living.  Paul instead showed up and tried to open the people's eyes to the presence of God that was already around them -- he didn't want them to turn their backs on everything they knew, rather to open their hearts to the presence of the Holy Spirit that was already calling out to them.
  When we rush in and condemn and tear down, people are defensive, rightfully so.  When we instead rush in and are quick to love, offering forgiveness and hope, there is a different reaction, I believe, one of curiosity that allows for trust to be built.
  This doesn't mean we have to shrink back from naming evil.  What it simply means is that we are called to do so with grace and humility, unafraid to put forth our own weaknesses and willing to trust that God can use broken vessels as ourselves to proclaim a message of love and hope.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Acts 19:28-34

Acts 19:28-34
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's fascinating to read this tale from 2,000 years ago and realize how little has changed.  Today's culture is filled with people who rush to conclusions by reading the headlines, who storm into arguments and debates without first coming to a full understanding of the issue.  We speak and live in soundbytes, hoping for something to go viral without worrying about context.  As a society, we are often a mile wide and an inch deep.
  This is why I appreciate Tim Keller's preaching so deeply.  He tackles the biggest issues of the day, and he does so with great intellectual depth.  His preaching is robust and unafraid, but it is also informed -- primarily by Scripture, but also by culture.
  In my mind, there are two ways to win an argument.  The first is to rush in head first, gathering a crowd and a head of steam and overwhelming the opponent by brute force.  This seems to be the preferred method in today's social media landscape.  The second is perform deep analysis of both sides of an issue, grasping the nuances and then entering into a two-sided conversation with humility and boldness.
  When we speak of faith, when we tell the story of Christ, when we invite our friends and neighbors into discipleship, it is my hope that we would do with humility, having a deep knowledge of Scripture and an awareness of how it intersects with the lives of our loved ones and colleagues, that we may speak with hearts immersed in the love of God and the condition of the world, that our witness may be informed and authentic, and that our neighbors may see us as willing to lay down our lives in love rather than overtake them by force.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Acts 19:23-27

Acts 19:23-27
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's easy to be a follower without a cost.  That's why I find the numbers of people who sign online petitions somewhat misleading -- people talk about how many people have signed such-and-such petition at various petition websites, but it doesn't cost them anything.  You don't have to give up much to sign that petition -- you just click a few buttons and you've signed it.  There's no cost, no follow-up, no commitment to anything.  What if they charged you $1 to sign it?  What about $5?  Then we'd only sign the petitions we really cared about, right?
  Here, Demetrius the silversmith gets upset when the disciples come along and threaten his business model.  He makes shrines of Artemis, and when the worship of Artemis is threatened, he comes to her defense.  He dresses it up as though he's defending Artemis, but it's really about his business -- he's worried about his bottom line.
  So what we have to decide is straightforward.  How committed are we to the cross of Christ, and when it starts to cost us, how much are we willing to pay?  When we look at what Christ sacrificed for us, are we willing to be selfless, to bear any price, to pour ourselves out?
  Or when discipleship starts to cost something, will we shrink back?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Acts 19:11-22

Acts 19:11-22
New International Version (NIV)

  If God was still active in this way, would you live differently?  If you heard a modern telling of aprons touched by disciples curing the sick, would you make different choices?  Spend more time in prayer?  If you heard of sorcerers voluntarily throwing away their manuscripts, might you offer up more of your own treasure to the service of God?
  It's tempting to tell ourselves that we're waiting on God, that we'll act when God makes it clear what we should do.  In doing so, however, we train our hearts in a certain way -- we train ourselves to always be waiting, never acting.  At a certain point, we stop looking for the evidence, and we tell ourselves that we're just waiting on God.
  God is already on the move.  In Jesus Christ, God reached out to you before you could even think to ask for a Savior.  God offered forgiveness before you realized you needed it.  God moved, and then our call is to respond.  If we simply wait for some definitive moment before pouring ourselves into the deep waters of discipleship, we train ourselves to passively wait and never to act.  So let us seek God first, actively pursuing his will for our lives, reaching out in love and service, trusting that God will guide us and reveal his will to us as we go.