“What You Know” vs “Who You Are”

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S (Scripture): Acts 15:22 The apostles and the elders, along with the entire church, agreed to send some delegates chosen from among themselves to Antioch, together with Paul and Barnabas. They selected Judas Barsabbas and Silas, who were leaders among the brothers and sisters. 23 They were to carry this letter:

The apostles and the elders, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings! 24 We’ve heard that some of our number have disturbed you with unsettling words we didn’t authorize. 25 We reached a united decision to select some delegates and send them to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul. 26 These people have devoted their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore, we are sending Judas and Silas. They will confirm what we have written. 28 The Holy Spirit has led us to the decision that no burden should be placed on you other than these essentials: 29 refuse food offered to idols, blood, the meat from strangled animals, and sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid such things. Farewell.

O (Observation): The Jerusalem Council has met, discussed, and decided that Gentiles need only to follow a few basic life rules to set them apart as God’s people. This decision was written as a letter to several churches and was carried and read aloud by some of Jesus’ followers.

The letter points to a significant change in “church policy.” The situation was that a male would need to be baptized in order to be a part of God’s Kingdom. The church – in Peter and Paul’s time – decided that forcing Gentiles who believe in God and Jesus to be circumcised was a tradition out of its time and context. The sign was important to the Jews and their customs for eons. However, to new believers without a connection to the Jewish customs, circumcision became a stumbling block to their faith.

So, it was decided, and the news spread: one does not need to be baptized to be a follower of Christ. Yet, some identity markers would still be in place: “refuse food offered to idols, blood, the meat from strangled animals, and sexual immorality.”

So the Jerusalem Council decided that what one knew was not as important as who one was. Circumcision is not the identification marker; rather, an upright life (“who you are”) is most important.

A (Application): My mantra over these last several years has become: “Being a Christian is much more about who you are, rather than what you believe.”

If I’m only concerned about what I believe, but don’t let that belief change me, what is the transformation in that? I can argue all day long about my beliefs, but if that doesn’t change my character into Jesus’ character, then my actions do little to reflect my belief in Jesus.

Rather, when we live from our Christian beliefs, and our beliefs causes us to change who we are, then you have a faithful life lived out. That is why the Jerusalem Council focused more on “who you are” rather than what you believe (circumcision is the only way).

And yet, even in listing out the rules in that letter could become a new “Law” to define Christians. As soon as we set down a new set of rules to live by, we make THAT LIST into the new law, when all along, we were trying simply to extend grace. Thus, the conclusion: being a follower of Christ is much more about who you are rather than what you believe.

How does your faith in Christ affect your beliefs and your actions?

P (Prayer): Lord, shape me, make me. Amen.


Do We Get a Cheat Sheet?

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S (Scripture): Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter [of circumcision]. 7 After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and come to believe. 8 God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. 10 Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

12 The entire assembly fell quiet as they listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God did among the Gentiles through their activity. 13 When Barnabas and Paul also fell silent, James responded, “Fellow believers, listen to me. 14 Simon reported how, in his kindness, God came to the Gentiles in the first place, to raise up from them a people of God. 15 The prophets’ words agree with this; as it is written,


After this I will return,

        and I will rebuild David’s fallen tent;

        I will rebuild what has been torn down.

            I will restore it


            so that the rest of humanity will seek the Lord,

                even all the Gentiles who belong to me.

O (Observation): The leadership of the Church fathers in Jerusalem for what becomes known as The Jerusalem Council. At the council, circumcision is discussed.Is it necessary – or not – for one to be circumcised before one can become a Christian?

For those who never ventured out to foreign lands nor turned their attention to any wisdom other than their own teachings, OF COURSE one must be circumcised FIRST!

Yet to folks like Peter and Paul and Barnabbas, who remained open to God’s movement and actually paid attention to the Gentile population, they witnessed God inviting ALL people into the fold. So for the disciples and Paul, of course we welcome in all who accept Jesus Christ without the need for circumcision.

What matters are two things: 1.) in the quote from Amos we see above, God has already, from time immemorial, welcomed who all seek to call on God’s name – Jew and Gentile; and, 2.) as Peter claims, we are saved by grace and no work from the Law of Moses.

A (Application): Where do we spend our time? Is it looking only at our own teachings and customs? Or do we spend time in places we aren’t comfortable and learning about religions and customs other than our own?

Seems to me that this text is really, really challenging us to open our eyes to the new thing God has done, is doing, and will do.

When do we ever stop thinking and just get a list of rules to live by as Christians? The answer is: never.

So, we must be ready to listen. How do we do that? With practice.

We listen and share what God has spoken to us. We share with other Christians to confer with other disciples and we move forward in grace.

Most of all, we remember how we got to where we are as Christians: through grace.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of our humble nature as Christians. Help us to listen to your voice. Amen.


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S (Scripture): 1 Chronicles 17:1 When David was settled into his palace, he said to the prophet Nathan, “I’m living in a cedar palace while the chest containing the Lord’s covenant is under curtains.”

2 Nathan replied, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because God is with you.”

3 But that very night God’s word came to Nathan: 4 “Go to my servant David and tell him, This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in…

10a “As for a dynasty, the Lord will build one for you! 11 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up a descendant of yours after you, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingship. 12 He is the one who will build me a temple, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will become his father and he will become my son, and I’ll never withdraw my faithful love from him as I did from the one before you. 14 I’ll install him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne will be established forever.

O (Observation): God was up to something. God’s people had been wandering for over 40 years in the wilderness and have now settled in the Promised Land. God’s presence was in the tent / tabernacle inside the ark. The ark held the stone tablets (for the 10 Commandments). God’s place on earth was mobile.

David wanted to honor God, because he thought his house was better than God’s.

Yet, God promises David to build out of David a “house” of sorts…a dynasty. God will claim David’s offspring and claim him and call him God’s own. Through that particular descendant, God will establish that descendant’s throne forever.

A (Application): We are challenged with the brevity of life. We come and we go. We learn along the way. David’s life was committed to God, but he erred. God saw David though it all.

And in the end, God establishes David’s throne not because of what David did, or because of David’s character. God establishes David’s lineage to make sure that Jesus’ throne will be established.

God claimed David. God claimed Jesus. God claims me and you. We are adopted by a loving and caring God.

So the hardships we face, the guilt for worshipping or not, reading Scripture or not, is unfounded worry. For God carries us through, like God carried David and others through. Like God carried Jesus through death and resurrection.

New life awaits us in adoption. Life that still has ups and downs, but this is a life established by God forever. That security brings us peace this week and next.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope for today and tomorrow. Amen.

“Worthy of God’s Grace?” (Is that Even the Right Question???)

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S (Scripture): Acts 12:44 On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city [of Antioch] gathered to hear the Lord’s word. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him. 46 Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. 47 This is what the Lord commanded us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”

O (Observation): Paul faces the Jews who doubt that Jesus is connected to God’s plan. They doubt that their rituals and customs should be overturned, because they cannot go along with this message that in Jesus all sins may be forgiven for those who believe. It just cannot be that simple! They have time-tested customs and Scripture to support their view.

So, Paul reminds them that Isaiah once told God’s people that they would be blinded by their own lack of acceptance for bringing Gentiles along. Thus, Israel would be a light for the Gentiles. If Jews didn’t accept God’s grace, perhaps the Gentiles would!

A (Application): God ALWAYS has in mind a welcome for people of the whole earth! Yet we continually find ways to push others out. We find ways to keep others from taking our God, as if there wasn’t enough room at the table for all of us.

Or maybe we have an idea of who God should accept, who God should (or shouldn’t) associate with. And when you see a situation going against your ideas…you get frustrated, or angry.

God doesn’t get even with you and I when we get angry at God’s grace for others. God simply points to you and I and says, “I’ve shown much grace to those folks. They may not deserve it, but I give it. Would you like to know my grace? Take up your cross and follow me. I’ll help you through it.”

May we be open to the Spirit’s movement in our lives and accept it as God’s grace for us all.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften our hearts for your will to be done in and through us this day. Amen.

The Wounded Healer

(A nod to Henri Nouwen for today’s use of the phrase “Wounded Healer.” Thank you for the gift, Nouwen, of this concept. My reference to this work is implied in today’s post.)

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S (Scripture): Acts 13:26 [Paul said:] “Brothers, children of Abraham’s family, and you Gentile God-worshippers, the message about this salvation has been sent to us. 27 The people in Jerusalem and their leaders didn’t recognize Jesus. By condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Even though they didn’t find a single legal basis for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they finished doing everything that had been written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead! 31 He appeared over many days to those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people.

32 “We proclaim to you the good news. What God promised to our ancestors, 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it was written in the second psalm, You are my son; today I have become your father.

O (Observation): Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch, and Paul is describing to the God-followers there God’s salvation for the world. Paul hopes to convey to Jews and Gentiles (“children of Abraham’s family, and you Gentile God-worshippers“) that the salvation we all seek – and that God promised Israel – has come to fruition in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection matters as a fulfillment of what God promised and establishes hope for all people.

A (Application): Even when all the world rejects Jesus, God embraces him. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to think that God embraces us in our time of need. Anyone who turns to God in time of need can expect some sort of response – directly, indirectly, a sign…something.

Practicing listening to God’s voice and training your eyes to see what God is up to can take a lifetime. The people of Antioch need Paul to help them see what God was up to.

Now, you and I are to help others receive the Good News: hope for the hopeless, healing for the wounded.

P (Prayer): Lord, Heal us…that we might become wounded healers. Amen.

Theology of the Cross (Part 2)

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S (Scripture): Psalm 10


Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.

    You steady their hearts;

you listen closely to them,


    to establish justice

        for the orphan and the oppressed,

    so that people of the land

        will never again be terrified.

O (Observation): God’s presence in the midst of suffering is never in doubt. God hears the cries of those who suffer…of those who have no one else to listen.

God’s concern will be to bring justice…at least, that is the hope of those who follow God.

Jesus would one day find himself suffering, too. With no powerful people on earth to defend him. He would rely fully on God, and no one else. And God would see him through. And the Spirit would burst forth!

A (Application): Our hope rests not in commanding God to come to our aid or by outsmarting or out-resourcing our enemies. Rather, we will lean solely upon God’s version of justice.

For if we seek justice on our terms, and we get it wrong…then what? We can still act, but we do so humbly and with prayer. We submit to God getting things right. We submit to listening to God’s voice. We submit to taking action based on what God speaks to us. We submit to the Spirit’s guidance.

May our response be God’s will and not our own.

P (Prayer): Lord, hear us. You will. Amen.

Theology of the Cross

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S (Scripture): Psalm 10


The wicked think to themselves:

    God has forgotten.

    God has hidden his face.

    God never sees anything!

O (Observation): The psalmist abhors the wicked, but sees through their naïveté. God knows the deeds of the good and of the wicked.

A (Application): Simply put, when the wicked enact evil, I lean on these kinds of verses to remind me that God is up to meting out justice in this world on behalf of all those struck down by the oppressors of this world.

This is known as a theology of the cross. God is always on the side of the oppressed and downtrodden. God is on the cross. And the victory is somehow still God’s.

P (Prayer): God, save us. You will. Amen.