Keep Your Eyes Open!

I am back in the saddle, folks. Around this time, I typically take a few weeks off from my publication of blog posts to focus on my family and my pastoral work. The blog centers me, but a break from the publications helps me to focus on other areas. Here we go…

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking (to Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion), the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

O (Observation): So a group of rule-following / circumcised Jews witness the Spirit coming upon a group of uncircumcised folks who believe in God. They see proof that these folks (who did not follow Jewish customs) are being welcomed into God’s body of believers.

And Peter questions his fellow believers: What is to stop us from baptizing these folks?

A (Application): While at Publix the other day, the young lady bringing the groceries out to my car noticed that I had made a tax-exempt purchase. As such, she inquired about our church. She asked me what was different about the Lutheran Church, what made it stand out from other churches.

Trusting that the Spirit would give me the right words, I said, “Well, we start with grace. And we follow up with grace. We want all to feel welcome to be a part of God’s family.” I know that sounds real “loosey-goosey” to some, but I believe we all have to start there. Help people to know that they belong. As people become a part of the body of Christ – through the movement of the spirit and in baptism – they will be challenged in many and various ways by God and by fellow disciples.

But we always start and end with grace.

Kind of like the message that Peter received from God (Acts 10:15): don’t consider anything unclean that God has made clean. If someone inquires about God’s grace, we give it and help them to see that they, too, have a role in God’s Kingdom. The centurion realized this. The crowd realized this. May we all realize that we all have a place.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep my eyes open to those who enter the path you have laid out for me. Amen.


Shake It Off (yeah, I went there)

S (Scripture): Acts 18:5 Now when Silas and Timothy arrived (in Corinth) from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 When they opposed him and reviled him, he protested by shaking out his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am guiltless! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!”

O (Observation):  As Paul shakes out his clothes, he seems to be making the same statement as if he were to shake the dust off his feet.  Paul senses that he is called to preach of Jesus as the Christ to all people. Yet several in the synagogue – mostly Jews – oppose him. Not only oppose him, but revile him. 

Now, Paul’s done trying to help the Jewish people in Corinth see that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He says it is time to move on and speak to the Gentiles who will listen and believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.
A (Application):  Folks, sometimes you just got to move on to those who will hear.   I feel like Paul when I’m on Facebook : ) I know I’m not always right, but I feel like some people refuse to hear or agree with the way I see God working in the world.  

Maybe it’s me…maybe I’m the one who needs to repent more and seek wisdom.  

The funny thing is, I feel like I know what Paul’s going through.   I do my best to teach the way Christ wants us to live. And on Facebook, I’m seeing fewer and fewer people of the (universal) Church agree with these thoughts, and more and more people who are not of the faith or maybe who aren’t strong church attenders agreeing with some of my insights. 

I’m beginning to see the issues I’m concerned about transcending beyond Christian vs. non-Christian.  I’m seeing issues that concern the world less and less in terms of Christian (or non-Christian) viewpoints…and more and more from a simple “humanitarian” viewpoint.   

I believe God wants me to be more concerned with doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God, than with making sure I have the exact right interpretation of Scripture.  That loving my neighbor is more important than having the “right” set of beliefs.   If I’m living as Jesus wants me to live – loving God and loving neighbor – then the other stuff (yes, even doctrine itself) is secondary.  

If you can’t get on board with that, watch me shake the dust off my coat…and go care for my neighbor in need.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me make good use of my time and always preach Christ, and him crucified.  Amen.  

It’s Mine! All Mine!

S (Scripture): Acts 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

O (Observation):  Jealousy takes over for the Jews gathered at the local synagogue in which Paul is preaching (in Antioch).  They don’t like all of the Gentiles hanging around “messing up their things.”  These Gentiles are being welcomed in because they are starting to believe this message of hope provided by Paul and Barnabas.

Paul’s words cut deep here. Not only is he claiming that these Jews are rejecting the word of God, he takes another step in claiming that the Jews simply don’t see themselves as worthy of eternal life. Because of this, Paul says he turns to the Gentiles. As he does this, he shares some words from Isaiah. Paul is acting on the prophetic words from that prophet years ago.

According to Isaiah, the Jews were responsible for being a light to the Gentiles…indeed to the whole world.  Doing so would bring salvation to the whole earth.  Yet God’s people got off track.  Even with the Law and Prophets, they couldn’t do it for themselves.  Instead, Jesus had come to fulfill the purpose of the Law and Prophets.  To remind the world that salvation was always meant for ALL people, lived out first in the Jews, then to the whole world.  

Paul and Barnabas were doing their part to live out this hoped-for future.  

A (Application):  Mine, Mine, Mine!  That’s the cry of a child who is jealous.    That’s the cry of an immature person who likes what he/she sees and craves it…to the exclusion of others.  This goes against the purpose God has for us.  

We think that the world is a zero-sum game.   The more I give away, the less I have.   But I have  found that when I actually accomplish living out the Gospel and give away my time, talent, treasures, I somehow feel enriched.  Like somehow, 2 + 2 = 5.   Like I receive, even though I’m giving.  That is NOT a zero-sum game.  

The Gospel message works this way, too – as we give, we receive.  When we share the message of Jesus, especially with those who don’t look or act like “us,” we receive blessing.  It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you do it.   

That’s my challenge for you today.  Share God’s love with someone, even if you don’t think they deserve it.  You just might be amazed…or disappointed.   I can’t guarantee your success rate.  Remember, Paul also received hateful responses from those with whom he shared the Gospel.  But many more received the message and took the hope he was sharing to heart.  

What shall you do today with what you have?   With your finances?  With your time?  With the Gospel message?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know you are a God of abundance.  Amen.  

So Who’s Getting In?

S (Scripture): John 10:27 [Jesus replied to the Jewish leaders:] “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

O (Observation):  Jesus was discussing salvation with the Jewish leaders.  They seemed to want only those who followed the Law to be given salvation.  Jesus wants anyone who will hear his voice and recognize his voice.  That means Jew and Gentile alike.  Not so good for business, huh?

A (Application):  Who do we want in?  Into salvation, I mean.   Seems like Christians spend more time talking about who’s getting in, rather than the reason why any of us is getting in at all!   The Gospel is our hope and stay.   That’s the Good News!

Jesus calls all of us to be a part of the Kingdom.  Listen for his voice.  He calls. 

Can you tell me a time when you’ve heard God’s voice?  

(My most recent experience of God calling was at a racism workshop at Lutheridge, a conference center in Arden, NC.)

P (Prayer): Lord, help us all to see that you call all to listen to your voice.  Amen.