Holy Asides
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February 24, 2015, 12:00 PM

Go and Do- a Reflection on the Book of Acts


Go and Do. 

 

Our Bible Reading Plan has had us reading the book of Acts this month. This book could be summarized by two short words: go and do. The Apostles are called to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They are called to go to the Gentiles. They are called to go where there is strife and difficulty. They are called to go to public places and to go into private homes. They are called to do the work of the Holy Spirit. They do meet and live in community. They do perform healings. They do proclaim the Kingdom of God. In fact, all that takes place in the Acts of the Apostles could be used as a helpful guide for us today in the ways the we are invited to go and do.

 

Go. I believe that we are called to go to our neighbors, to our community and to the world. We see the apostles go to one another’s homes to meet and to break bread and to pray. They gather with one another in community and encouragement and care. They go to the Temple to proclaim the new Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ to the Jewish community. They go and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah to the crowds and to the religious authorities. Finally, they go to the world, to the Gentiles, to wherever it is that God is leading them—indeed to the very ends of the earth. They go to where people have never heard the message of salvation and proclaim it with boldness. This is our invitation to go—to go to our own friends and family, to go to those who have some semblance of knowledge of the faith, and to go to those who have none whatsoever. The option that is not available is to stay put, and wait for people to come to us. We must go!

 

Do. There are a lot of actions/acts in this book, but let’s narrow it down into broad categories for ourselves:

 

Be obedient to God’s call.

Take risks.

Anticipate “failure.”

Expect opposition.

 

These four aspects of doing are rampant throughout this book. The apostles are obedient to God’s call. Again and again they respond in faith. Philip speaks to the Ethiopian Eunuch; Peter heads to the house of Cornelius; Barnabas and Paul sail off as missionaries. It may or may not be redundant to state taking a risk as the next category. Some would always categorize being obedient to God as taking a risk, for it means giving up control. However, there are extra risks that are being taken here—stepping out into the complete unknown and risking their own health and safety to name just a couple. The third aspect is that doing does not signify success. Paul gave an amazing sermon in Athens, but it had very little impact. This signifies why being obedient to God’s call takes precedence over every other aspect. Sometimes being obedient is what we are called to do, which leads to the final aspect of expecting opposition. Just because we are obedient to God does not mean everything will be joyous. The apostles were persecuted, chased down, imprisoned, tortured, stoned, and killed. This abuse happened from those both inside and outside the community. As we seek to serve Christ, these aspects are vital for us to keep in mind. Above all else, be obedient to God’s call, be willing to take risks, understand that we might fail, and that we almost always will face critics and opposition when we are obedient to God. As Jesus said, “The world will hate you, because it hated me first.”

 

One final caution about “doing.” Do not confuse doing, with harvest. At the end of a couple chapters, almost as an afterthought, is “and they stayed there for two years.” Many ministries and visions take time. “Doing” is cultivating the soil; it’s sowing seed; it’s watering and weeding; and finally it’s harvesting. As we go and do—let’s keep that in mind. Remember that when we answer God’s voice—that is the doing that is most important.

 




February 12, 2015, 9:00 AM

Fasting is Feasting


“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting…” This passage is always read on Ash Wednesday immediately prior to the whole congregation coming forward to receive ashes on their forehead, thus seemingly counteracting and contradicting everything Jesus just said about fasting and appearances.  But that actually just reveals how disconnected we (and society, including the Church, as a whole) are from the spiritual discipline of fasting. 

 

There are two major types of fasting: corporate and individual. A corporate fast, like Ash Wednesday, is one where a large community or the whole body is undertaking a fast to hear God, repent from sins, or to offer prayerful intercession. Biblical examples of this can be found throughout the scriptures. One example is in the book of Esther where the Jewish people fast as Esther seeks wisdom and courage in order to reveal Haman’s plot of genocide to King Xerxes. Another is found in Jonah, where the King of Ninevah orders everyone to repent and fast, dressing in sackcloth and ashes—down to the cattle. These examples show solidarity, encouragement and community. When Christians display ashes on the forehead, they are saying to one another—“we are in this together, for the glory of God.” 

 

An individual fast is one where a person has chosen to fast as a spiritual practice or for a specific purpose. While the goal of fasting is still to hear God, repent, or offer intercession, one does this at the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus is talking about. You are fasting for God’s glory, not for the respect and admiration of people. When you fast, no one should know you are fasting—at least not outwardly. The bigger obstacle staring us in the face is “When you fast…” There is an expectation that we will fast. This is something that we have gotten away from, even in the Church. We encourage prayer, tithing, Bible Study, and outreach. We even talk about evangelism more than we talk about fasting. 

 

“Fasting is Feasting,” is a quote from Richard Foster, and has been the one that has stuck with me. During those times when I fast, I spend the time that I would normally be eating in prayer. I am reminded of Jesus' response in the wilderness, “man does not live on bread alone, but on the very Word of God.” When my stomach growls, I offer thanks and praise. I become more alert, more aware of how much food, rather than God, can become the center of my life. Before lunch is finished, I am wondering what’s for dinner? This is true of anything, actually. Fast from “screens,” TV, cell phone, computer. Or fast from driving. We quickly realize that our life needs to be reordered, and in that reordering, God claims His rightful place at the forefront. Fasting is feasting, because we are drawn nearer to the life-giving presence of God. We come using different senses and a new alertness when we fast from those aspects and areas which have become part of our essence and very being. This Lent I pray that you might heed those words of Jesus, “when you fast…”




February 2, 2015, 11:00 AM

Our most important role as the Church: Compassion


It has been very hard to write a reflection on this past month’s spiritual discipline: compassion. This is not because of the difficulty in describing the ways in which I have received or provided compassion throughout the past month. Rather, it’s the insight that I have received that compassion may just be the single most important element to being a healthy Christian community.  Not Bible Study.  Or incredible Sunday Worship, with great preaching. Not a strategic vision plan and a healthy budget. Not even a powerful prayer and pastoral care ministry. Having compassion for one another, in the church and in the world, might be the way that we most fully live into the Christian life. 

 

This is largely due to the fact that compassion and competition cannot coexist. Jesus demonstrated compassion through emptying himself and becoming a servant. Never did Jesus worry about being in competition with us, because there is no comparison between us and God. Jesus demonstrated a new way of living in relationship with God and each other. He did not come to this world to pull us out of slavery, rather he became a slave with us. In everything Jesus did, he met people where they were. If they were hungry, he fed them. If they were sick, he healed them. But his healing and feeding were never about satisfying physical needs or improving someone’s station in life, but about revealing the Kingdom of God. Jesus said to everyone he encountered, “I love you as you are.” Not, “I will love you when you become more spiritually aware, or get a job, or pray better.” 

 

How does this translate to us? Our churches? Our communities?  We are called to love people where they are, to minister to people in need, not because we expect to rescue them from themselves and bring them up to “our level”, but because they are broken and in desire of receiving God’s compassion through us. We are called to see, truly, that we are all walking the same path. We might have different struggles, but none of us is perfect, and each of us is in need of God’s compassion. Which then leads to embracing that our unique spiritual gifts all benefit the body, and one is not greater than the other. We are not in competition with each other, but together striving to bring God’s love and compassion to a hurting and broken world. 

 

It’s this aspect of compassion that I believe people are desperately searching for. No longer are people just wanting the correct answers to who God is. Or what the church is. Or what are the proper and appropriate behaviors a Christian should have. The people in this world long for a God who will love them for who they are. They long for a community who will embrace them in their brokenness and welcome them as brothers and sisters. They long for an opportunity to share their gifts and feel that they are contributing to the body. This all begins with compassion. For it is in compassion that we can point beyond ourselves to the glory of the living God and the new life found through Jesus Christ.




January 13, 2015, 7:00 PM

Claiming the Authority of Jesus (Reflections on Mark 4-5)


It is my hope to occasionally offer my reflections of the Bible-in-a-Year readings in this space. Chapters 4 and 5 of the Gospel of Mark are two of the most action-packed and insightful chapters concerning the mission and person of Jesus in the whole Bible. Chapter 4 begins with a series of parables concerning the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a sower; like rich soil; like a lamp on a stand; like a mustard seed. In these parables we see that the Kingdom of God grows exponentially, is something to be proclaimed, and a marvelous blessing from God. 

 

Toward the end of chapter 4 and throughout chapter 5, we are given a clear picture of who Jesus, this Kingdom-bringer, is. Our first scene is a huge storm that comes upon Jesus and the disciples as they are in a boat. The disciples rush hurriedly around, trying desperately to stay afloat, to stay alive. And Jesus is asleep!!! “Do you not care that we’re going to die?” they ask him. And Jesus wakes up, and commands the storm “to be still.” And the storm ceases. The disciples are then filled with a whole different type of fear, than a moment ago. Not a fear of dying, but a fear of who this person is before them.

 

When they reach the shore, Jesus casts out a legion of demons from a man who has been so oppressed that he has been chained in the tombs for everyone’s protection, including his. After this, he heals a woman who has had a discharge of blood for 13 years—simply because of her faith in reaching out to touch him. And finally, Jesus brings a 13 year old teenage girl back to life. These passages show us that Jesus has power and authority not only over nature, but demons, and sickness, and even death.

 

What does this mean for us, especially in regard to Jesus sharing his power and authority with us? How do we take claim of that authority? How do we proclaim the Kingdom of God? It is no accident that in the next few verses Jesus sends his disciples out to minister and proclaim with next to nothing, except his authority. For it is in this authority that we have a voice, have power, have a message. It is quite easy for the Church to get bogged down with fancy buildings, lavish outreach programs, and near-perfect worship services. But all we need is to claim the authority that’s been given to us, not to exert power, but to proclaim, “Peace, be still.” And in doing so, we calm the storms of the world, which allows us to shine all the more brightly in his Kingdom Power like a lamp on a stand. 




December 16, 2014, 9:29 AM

Waiting for Peace


Advent is a time of waiting: waiting for Jesus to return; waiting for Christmas to come; waiting in airports, check-out lines, and traffic jams; waiting for students to finish finals and come home; waiting for packages to arrive in the mail. Generally speaking, there is nothing very peaceful about waiting. Waiting is stress-filled and anxiety-laden. Will my package arrive in time? Will the kids catch their flight? Will I get done all the things I need to before it’s too late? And yet it is in waiting that God offers “peace.”

 

I am not referring to the sort of “waiting” that occurs in quiet, stilled prayer (although that certainly brings peace as well) but the “waiting” of active anticipation. While we wait for our friends and neighbors to arrive at a dinner party, we are not simply sitting on the couch watching out the window. We are finishing our preparations: the table is being set; the dinner is cooking; the music is playing at the right volume in the background. Even in this often hectic rush, we feel a great sense of joy when the doorbell rings—the waiting is over.

 

There are a myriad of times throughout our lives where we are overwhelmed, over-burdened, and flat-out confused about the events that are taking place. Why am I sick? Why did I lose my job? Why did this break-up happen? We cry out to God for answers, and yet there often seems only an echo of our own voice in reply. We “wait” for God’s voice. We “wait” for the answer. It often seems like it takes forever. And yet, it is in daily life—living our lives in faithfulness, in trust, in hope—where we are “waiting” for God. And in this “waiting” comes peace; peace which surpasses all of our understanding. Because often those life events have not changed. The only thing that has changed is ourselves, who are now filled with the “peace” that comes through God alone. 

 

May we be filled with the peace of God, who sent the “Prince of Peace” to us this Advent and Christmas season.


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