"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)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Foto Friday (on Wednesday) - Remembering Mom

I came across this photograph a few weeks ago when I was working on cataloging our family photos and I thought to myself, "I remember this moment like it was yesterday." 

The thing is, the baby Mom is cuddling started middle school last week.

Oh, how quickly time seems to be passing me by. That is why I treasure good photographs like this one. It preserves a moment that I will never forget, no matter how much time passes.

I am struck by three things in particular:
  1. How much my Mom's wig looks exactly like her hair before the cancer treatments. Her stylist trimmed the wig precisely that way and Mom was so pleased with the result. It made Mom, and all of us for that matter, feel a little bit better about what was happening to her.
  2. How I will never tire of the sight of my children sleeping.
  3. Finally, and this is by far the most important of all - how this is one of the most beautiful and tender moments I was privileged to observe between Mom and Gabrielle. While I am so grateful that Mom was able to bond this way with my favorite firstborn, it is heartbreaking (and more than a little unfair) that she was unable to share moments like this with her grandchildren who have been born since.
So today, on my Mom's 64th birthday, I am honoring her memory with this special edition of Foto Friday. 
Happy birthday, Mom! I love and miss you so very much.
P.S. - I sincerely hope that you are enjoying watching the grandchild in this picture repay me in full for all that I put you through as a kid.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 10

Do I belong here?

Am I "in" or "out"?

If you're like me, you have asked yourself such questions before. And, as we turn now to Acts chapter 10, it is appropriate for us to consider a somewhat similar question that Will Willimon asks in his commentary:
"How did the church arrive at a turning point where insiders were willing to include outsiders?" (Interpretation, p. 95)
As Peter discovered in the drama that is Cornelius's story, this is a challenging question. 

For the Jewish people, there was never any question as to whether or not God would save Israel. It was always a matter of faith. They prayed without ceasing for salvation, never wondering if salvation would come but how and when. Throughout Acts, the task set before Peter and the apostles was their tireless proclamation of the gospel in the streets and the synagogues, so that the Jewish people would know that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah, that through His saving work Israel (God's chosen people...a.k.a - the "insiders") had already been redeemed. 

When we look closely at the first nine chapters of Acts, the spread of this gospel message was nothing short of spectacular: 
  • Thousands at a time being converted in Jerusalem.  
  • Conversions as far as Samaria and Ethiopia. 
  • The conversion of Saul (zealous persecutor of the followers of The Way) to Paul (God's chosen agent).  
In chapter 10, the message spreads further still...to the gentiles. The story of Peter and Cornelius is, in a word, amazing. It was "unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile" (v. 28) but that is precisely what God used for Peter to "truly understand that God shows no partiality" (v. 34). Will Willimon captures well the meaning of their exchange :
"Through the dialogue of Peter and Cornelius Luke creates a scene in which old divisions are broken down and these who once were at odds - Jew and gentile - chat amiably within the home that had been off limits to Peter. Placed here, and treated in this fashion, the scene serves a warm, touching hint of the joyous new possibilities for community toward which God is leading both Jew and gentile. As with Jesus, who was criticized for the company he kept at the table, so Peter could claim that 'there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance' (Luke 15:7)." (Interpretation, p. 97)
The world in which we live is filled with old divisions that need to be broken down, like those we have seen in Ferguson, in Iraq, and in Israel to name only a few.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on our communities and our world. Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapters 8 and 9

Regrettably, I fell behind on blogging the Luke/Acts reading plan for last week. So, for this week I decided to combine chapters 8 and 9. Well, it isn't really much of a combination since I am only including the first verse of chapter 8:
"Saul was in full agreement with Stephen's murder." (Acts 8:1, CEB)
Saul doesn't appear again until chapter 9, but he appears in what is arguably the most dramatic conversion story in all of Acts. Over the summer, I preached a sermon at Trinity UMC on Acts 9:1-18, which I have decided to use as a video blog this week.

Next week, Peter is back on the scene in chapter 10.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 7

I said at the end of last week's blog on chapter 6 that this week would highlight another "turning point" in the still unfolding drama being told in the Acts of the Apostles with the story of Stephen.

The apostles had been proclaiming in earnest that "Jesus is Lord." And, as the numbers being added to the followers of The Way demonstrated, many were in fact changing their hearts and lives by turning from their idols (success, money, possessions, insert your favorite idol here ______ ) to the Lordship of Christ. However, not everyone had ears to hear the truth...especially the religious leaders.

Now, the apostles had routinely met opposition by the priests and religious leaders and had themselves already been arrested (and let go). But with Stephen's arrest things would prove different. Stephen was a newly commissioned minister appointed to help the apostles in ministry "who stood out among the believers for the way God's grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power." 

In other words, Stephen was a threat.

So, false witnesses were brought in and Stephen was arrested to answer to the council for trumped up charges of blasphemy. When asked to respond, Stephen proceeded to give the longest speech yet recorded in Acts (verses 2-53) which he used to outline Israel's long history of idolatry and disobedience against God. Ultimately, Stephen concludes his great testimony with a countercharge that the religious council is itself guilty of the accusations being leveled against him. As you might imagine, this did not sit well with the council...at all. 

Herein lies the turning point. The opposition escalates to violence not yet seen by the followers of The Way and here's how it happened:
"Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, 'Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!' At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, accept my life!' Falling to his knees, he shouted, 'Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!' Then he died." (Acts 7:54-60, CEB)
Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He willingly died for his faith in Jesus Christ, his own last words echoing some of those from Jesus on the cross:
"Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing." (Luke 23:34, CEB)
"Father, into your hands I entrust my life." (Luke 23:46, CEB)
As I read this story, I could not help but think of the Christian persecution happening in Iraq and how people are being forced to choose between denying Christ and converting to Islam, facing a hefty fine that is impossible for them to pay, or to die a martyr's death. 

Pray with me:
God, you know
The plight of people far away
Oppressed by governments and vigilantes
In places
Where Christianity is an unpopular choice.

God, you knew
That the day would come here
When truth-telling would be despised
And siding with the oppressed
Part of the road less traveled.

Have mercy, O God,
Upon persecuted Christians there and here
Who are willing to suffer consequences
For speaking your Name
In word or in deed
In defiance or in advocacy.
Grant courage and strength
To all who would dare
To live their convictions out loud. Amen. 

(Source: http://www.gbod.org/resources/a-prayer-for-persecuted-christians)
Like Stephen, and those being persecuted still today, may we all have the courage to live our convictions out loud.