"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, July 28, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 6

I think it is fair to say that Acts chapter 6 describes a turning point for the apostles and their burgeoning community. Like in the preceding chapters, we read that the numbers of disciples continued to increase. However, out of their growth rose a matter that demanded attention.

The community had grown to the point where caring for the poor among them had become challenging. As a result, a complaint was leveled at the apostles that some in their midst were being overlooked. The Twelve called a meeting and rightly determined that they needed to stay focused on their calling to proclaim God's word.  So, they asked the community to carefully choose seven men, well-respected and endowed by the Spirit, to lead and meet this need. We know that the manner in which this concern was handled found favor with God because we read in verse 7:
"God's word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith."
There is at least a two-fold lesson to be learned from this.

First, the apostles could have addressed the complaint by taking on the added work themselves but didn't. Instead, they recognized that the Spirit had gifted and empowered them to spread God's word and that was precisely the work to which they remained wholly committed. 

This leads to the second lesson. All are gifted, all are called. The apostles wisely turned to the community, made them aware of the need, and asked them to bring forward a group of their choosing to meet the need. And so, the community responded. 

The result of these lessons? The apostles stayed true to their calling and their work flourished. The community affirmed the calling of seven new leaders in their midst and their work flourished. God was glorified and the community grew larger still.

May this story be a powerful reminder for those of us who are privileged with ministry as a vocation, both clergy and laypeople alike. All are gifted, all are called. When needs arise, may we follow the apostles' example by praying to discern whether it is a need that demands our specific attention or if there might be someone in our midst waiting to be asked to use their gifts for ministry for the glory of God. I believe if we cultivate and nurture a "culture of ask" in our congregations, people would respond...maybe in droves. Join me this week in praying that we, in the United Methodist Church in particular, recover our identity as a movement - by the people, for the people.

Next week...another turning point and the story of Stephen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Foto Friday

I went on a Sabbath prayer walk on Trinity's campus again this morning, looking to try some photography techniques I've learned recently. The morning light was just okay...I think I was probably an hour too late. Even though I didn't get any really good shots, the walk itself was good for my soul.

The west driveway. First shot of the day.

The Trinity Tree. Favorite shot of the day.

Creek bridge on one of our walking trails.

The Trinity cupola...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 5

Before we get into Acts chapter 5, I think it is appropriate for us to revisit my favorite part of chapter 4 because of how it, in some ways, provides us with context for what we are about to read.
"The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, 'This is mine!' about any of their possessions, but held everything in common." (Acts 4:32)
From this verse through the end of chapter 4 we read about how those with property or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds to the apostles to share with those in need. As a result, "there were no needy persons among them."  It was community, koinonia, at its very best. This is the picture painted for us as we enter chapter 5, a picture which stands in stark contrast with the chilling story of Ananias and Sapphira.

Like Barnabas at the end of chapter 4, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property. Unlike Barnabas, they withheld some of the proceeds from the sale for themselves. Making matters worse, this withholding was veiled with deceit. Their actions, quite literally, broke the "circle of trust" with their fellow believers. Ananias and Sapphira's deception placed them outside the heart of the community...they could no longer be "one in heart and mind." For their disobedience to God, they paid the ultimate price. 

As Eugene Peterson paraphrased in verse 11, "everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with." 


Throughout chapter 5, from the story of Ananias and Sapphira to more healing in the name of Jesus (God-signs and wonders leading to the growth of their community) and yet another run-in with the High Council, there is a theme - obedience to God.

When Peter is challenged by the High Council for disregarding their "strict orders not to teach in Jesus' name," he famously responded, "It's necessary to obey God rather than men." This, of course, infuriated the council. However, there was one council member who wisely advised caution:
"'Here's my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won't be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!' The council was convinced by his reasoning." (Acts 5:38-39)
Of course, the life and work of the apostles totally originated with God and as Eugene Peterson paraphrased the final words of the chapter, "every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute." They were unstoppable and God's work of changing hearts and lives, in and through the apostles, reached the far ends of the world. 

Thanks be to God for the apostles' faithful obedience...and may it be so for the church today. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 4

Acts chapter 4 is told in three movements - Peter and John questioned, The believers pray, and Sharing among the believers.

First, after having healed a crippled man in chapter 3, Peter and John have to answer for the council, "By what power or in what name did you do this?" Their answer, of course, is the risen Lord Jesus. What stands out most about this movement is the council's reaction in verses 13 and 14:
"The council was caught by surprise by the confidence with which Peter and John spoke. After all, they understood that these apostles were uneducated and inexperienced. They also recognized that they had been followers of Jesus. However, since the healed man was standing before their own eyes, they had no rebuttal."
The fact that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead was unfathomable to the leaders, elders, and legal experts. They were still waiting for God to redeem Israel, not realizing that God had already done so through the saving work of Jesus Christ. It was also unfathomable that these followers of Jesus, who were far below their standards for education and religious leadership, were doing the very work the council themselves should have been doing - loving and healing people.

The council's response? 

They threatened the disciples and "demanded that they stop all speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus."

This leads to the next movement - Peter and John return to their community and tell them all that had happened. 

The disciples response? 

They "lifted their voices in unison to God" in prayer. They prayed for God to stretch out  his "hand to bring healing and enable signs and wonders to be performed through the name of Jesus."

God's response?

God filled the disciples with the Holy Spirit so that they would speak God's word with confidence.

This filling of the Holy Spirit brings us to the final movement of chapter 4, and my favorite part, in verses 32 and 33:
"The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, 'This is mine' about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all." (emphasis mine)
I see a pattern for ministry, a model if you will, emerging in this chapter. 
  1. God can use anyone He chooses for His good work in the world. 
  2. The apostles, God's chosen instruments, were healing the brokenhearted and teaching in the name of Jesus, to the point that people demanded an explanation for what they were doing. (Shouldn't that be our objective? Shouldn't the face of Christ be so visibly portrayed in our actions, that people ask, "Why do you do these things?" We should then want to explain, "The love of Christ compels us.")
  3. The apostles' ministry is rejected. However, does that deter them? Are they discouraged to the point that they stop bearing witness to the risen Lord Jesus? No. In fact...
  4. In the face of rejection, they turn to the "power source" of their ministry - God. 
  5. God is faithful to answer their prayer and fills them with the Holy Spirit.
  6. The apostles' powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus continues.
Put more simply, the model is: 
  1. Love God, love neighbor. 
  2. In the face of discouragement, pray for God to renew you, to fill you once again with the Holy Spirit. 
  3. Repeat. 
  4. All of the above are to be performed with perhaps the most important element: Always in community, never alone.
Tonight I was working on some music at the same time I was working on this blog. It is likely no coincidence that I was playing Holy Spirit, written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. Great song, with lyrics that will be my prayer this week:

Show Your power once again on earth
Cause your church to hunger for Your ways
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise
Lead us on the road of sacrifice
That in unity the face of Christ
May be clear for all the world to see. 


Enjoy this video of the Gettys performing this song.

Monday, July 7, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 3

At the end of chapter 2 last week, the disciples were enjoying the warmth of their community (koinonia) - shared meals, prayers, unity, and so on. In chapter 3, however, we read how they leave this coziness behind and go straight to work.

The narrative begins with Peter and John going to the temple for prayer. At the gate, they encounter a crippled man, begging for money. They don't have any money so they give him something far better...healing in the name of Jesus Christ. Having received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as well as the gift of a Spirit-filled community with which to live, Peter is now beginning to live more fully into Jesus' calling. In fact, throughout chapter 3, Peter's healing of the crippled man and preaching to those in the temple bears an incredibly strong resemblance to what we read about Jesus in the gospels.

The man is told to "rise up and walk"...and he does.

The people witness this healing...and are "filled with amazement and surprise." 

The people are called to, "Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away."

Sound familiar?

Peter might now be the one healing and preaching, but it is the saving power of Jesus Christ at work through him...not the work of his own hand. 

In the name of Jesus, we too are called to heal the brokenhearted and proclaim good news to the poor...which brings to mind these lyrics from David Crowder:
"Where there is pain
Let us bring grace
Where there is suffering
Bring serenity
For those afraid
Let us be brave
Where there is misery
Let us bring them relief
And surely we can change
Surely we can change
Oh surely we can change

Friday, July 4, 2014

Foto Friday

We went boating yesterday on the waters of the Treasure Coast and the skies were amazing! Our trip home became rather adventurous, however, when the blue skies and their gorgeous cloud formations turned stormy and dark. It was a great day…much needed family time!