Cleansing Power

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Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, October 17-23, 2011

Monday Morning

Luke 7:1-10   Peter will encounter a Roman centurion named Cornelius in Sunday’s text. Jesus had also met a commander of 100 Roman soldiers in this morning’s reflection. The centurion whom Jesus met had a sick servant and sent some Jewish elders to Jesus, asking him to heal the servant, who was near death. Jesus went with the elders to see the servant. As he grew near the centurion’s residence, the centurion sent some friends to Jesus to tell him that he needn’t have come. He could have just said the word and the servant would be well. Indeed, by the time the friends got back to the centurion’s house, the servant was healed.

Here was a man who knew the power of God’s word. Just as Jesus spoke all things into creation (John 1:3), he could say the word and the servant would be made well again.

Monday Evening

Romans 2:11-13   “In Caesarea there was a certain man…” God is having Peter leave his comfort zone. Peter will have to leave the security of Jewish Joppa for the city bustling with Greeks, or in Peter’s case, to put a fine edge to it, a city full of Gentiles. He would have to learn that here that God puts no restrictions on who he calls righteous. Peter will encounter God’s people, even in the Greek cities.

Tuesday Morning

Romans 3:21-26   Everyone is a sinner. We are born into sin. We are by nature and definition born in sin. Luther insisted that this is the chief and overarching sin of our nature. “All who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin.” (Concordia. Second ed.  [Concordia, St. Louis, 2006], 31.) To deny this brings about the notion that one might actually be able to cooperate with God through good works and personal righteousness, and find justification by “his own strength and reason.” (Ibid. 32)

Church people and other religious people are no better in this regard than anyone else. We are not merely inclined to sin; we are sinners in need of a Savior. There is no natural or original righteousness in any person. The result is ignorance of and contempt for God, a lack of fear of God and a hatred of his judgment, or any confidence in him on the other hand, and putting our trust in the things of the world instead of in the grace of God. Karl Barth said, “Our disposition to [God] is hostile.” (Dogmatics. 515.)

This is not just the Gentile mindset; it is a religious mindset, as is evidenced by our tendency to say things like, “He was a good man.” Thanks be to God that though no man is good, he has sent a Savior for all.

Tuesday Evening

Daniel 9:20-23   God uses prayer to open us up to his leading. Daniel is keeping a regular time of prayer, as is Cornelius, when God sends them each his message. It is when we regularly turn our faces to the Lord (Dan 9:3) that we, in effect, see his. Too often, we get charged up about knowing God’s will and go to him in one or two spurts of prayer. Here we see that the way God usually communicates with us is when we have been regularly coming to him. God talked with Adam in the same way, when he showed up each day for a walk in the garden.

Wednesday Morning

Revelation 8:1-5   The prayers of God’s people are sweet and effective. It is as if they are mingled with incense; they have an effect on God. Our collective prayers toward heaven are cast back on earth with great effect. The more continuously (Acts 10:2; 1Th 5:17) one prays, the more effective her prayers will be.

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Sunday Morning

An audio reflection on my translation of Acts 10:1-8

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Rise Up!

Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, October 9-16, 2011

Monday Morning

Acts 8:14-25   Our journey through Acts has been dealing with Saul of Tarsus. We last encountered Peter in these verses. Peter had dealt with Simon the magician and his desire to pay for the gift of the Holy Spirit. He had a basic misunderstanding of the gospel. He thought that he could do something, pay something for God’s grace. But God’s grace in salvation and the sanctifying power that comes through his Holy Spirit is a free gift. (Rom 6:23)

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Sunday Morning

An audio reflection on my translation of Acts 9:32-43:

9:32 And then, as Peter traveled throughout the area, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 9:33 And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, laying on his bed for eight years who was paralyzed. 9:34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you: stand up and make your bed.” And immediately he stood up. 9:35 And all the residents at Lydda and at the Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 9:36 Now there was in Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which interpreted means Dorcas. She was was full of good works and acts of charity. 9:37 And in those days, she became sick and died. And when they had bathed her, they laid her in an upper room. 9:38 And as Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Come to us without delay.” 9:39 And Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they brought him into the upper room, and all the widows stood by him weeping and displaying clothing and garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 9:40 But Peter sent them all outside and knelt down and prayed. Then turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, live again!” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 9:41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 9:42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 9:43 And it came to pass, that he abode many days in Joppa with one Simon, a tanner.

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Undaunted Peace

Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, October 10-16, 2011

Sunday Morning

An audio reflection on my translation of Acts 9:23-31:

9:23 And when many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him. 9:24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they also guarded the gates day and night so that they might kill him. 9:25 But his followers took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. 9:26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and informed them how he had seen the Lord on the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 9:28 And then he was with them, moving about Jerusalem, 9:29 preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Grecian Jews, but they were trying to kill him. 9:30 And when the brothers found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 9:31 So the church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being strengthened. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it grew.

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Immediate Proclamation

Galatians 2:20
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Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, September 26 – October 2, 2011

Monday Morning

Psalm 145:1   One mistake that some Christians make is in their assumption that our task is to fill the pews or get people saved. Of course, the latter is important but it is a by-product of a greater aim. King David knew his role well, as did Paul the apostle. The goal of the church, and therefore of the Christian, is to extol and bless the name of the Lord.

“The chief topic of Christian doctrine…illuminates and amplifies Christ’s honor.” (Article IV of The Apology of the Augsburg Confession) Therefore, the proclamation of justification whereby “people obtain forgiveness of sins not because of their own merits, but freely for Christ’s sake, through faith in Christ” (ibid) is the surest way to extol the glory of God. In doing so, it is God’s great work in us that receives the attention, and not the good works we do.

Monday Evening

Psalm 75:1-2   Timothy Keller wrote, “On the cross, Jesus is getting what we deserve so we can get what he deserves.” ( The Reason for God, Penguin: New York, 2009, 196) When Paul understood that great in-breaking of light, he was compelled to recount such a wondrous deed — even to those he had believed deserved it less than he.

Tuesday Morning

1 John 5:1   How sorry Paul must have felt, what a crushing weight of guilt had to have lain upon him when he realized he had murdered those whom his Lord had died to save. The only consolation could have been that, though dying, they had died in the arms of the Lord who loved them, and that in dying such a death, they were now born to an everlasting life of glory.

Tuesday Evening

1 John 5:5   We do not overcome the world and its inherent sin by the deeds we do. We conquer the world by one simple non-act: belief. Yet our belief is specific. We may not believe just anything and expect anything but defeat. Our triumph over all that would otherwise conquer us is accomplished by believing Christ has conquered sin and death for us. He is our Victor and by following him into the battle that is this world, we become more than conquerors too. (Rom 8:37) This is the message that resonated in the heart of Paul, that was so overwhelming that he felt compelled to proclaim it immediately.

Wednesday Morning

Galatians 2:20   Paul got it; he understood. He was a dead man; but that made him alive because of how he died. He had been crucified along with Christ and as such, he was also resurrected to a new life with Christ. He could rightly consider himself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. (Rom 6:11) He was a changed man, a new man because he no longer lived. Now Christ lived in him. (Gal 2:20) Saul of Tarsus had been buried with Christ and now, even like Jesus had been raised from the dead, Paul was raised too, to walk in a newness of life for the glory of God. (Rom 6:4)

Wednesday Evening

Galatians 1:13   How many of us can truly speak of a “former life”? Sometimes people remain the same; they just go to church now. Such people often lament how they do not have a dynamic testimony — they did not abuse drugs, sell their bodies, or murder Christians. They think that they were basically good people who just go to church now.

Yet the scriptures teach us that no one is good. (Psa 14:2-3, Luke 18:18-19, Rom 3:10) That means that everyone must change and that all could have a testimony. It means that each Christian should have a “former life” but some have not figured out yet how God wants them to change.

Thursday Morning

Galatians 1:23-24   Paul thought that he was being a good person by persecuting the faith of others. When you realize just how bad you really were and are, and allow God to actually change your life, people will glorify God because of you. They will be inspired to believe that God could change them too. 

Thursday Evening

1 Timothy 1:12   What a wonder it must have been to Paul that God could take a man such as himself and use him in his kingdom. “He judged me faithful.” But did God judge Paul as faithful due to his history of persecution and murder? Certainly not, so it must be some other criteria by which God judges. Augustine said, “God does not choose a person who is worthy, but by the act of choosing him he makes him worthy.” (trans: T.D. Lea) Therefore, Paul is simply worthy in God’s sight and God strengthened him for the work of ministry. That God chose someone so undeserving must have been empowering to Paul all in itself.

Friday Morning

2 Corinthians 3:5-6   What a statement this is. Paul used to be completely confident in himself. He was the Hebrew of Hebrews and in all things excelled. (Phil 3:5-6) Yet now, he placed no confidence in himself. His Hebrew heritage, training in the law as a Pharisee, and devotion to religion are all filthy rags (Isa 64:6) or rubbish. (Phil 3:8-9) Now Paul puts his entire confidence in God. It is God alone who makes Paul both righteous and competent for ministry.

Friday Evening

Ephesians 3:7-12

Saturday Morning

Ephesians 1:1

Saturday Evening

Colossians 2:1-3

Sunday Morning

Acts 9:19b-22  My translation:

19b For some days, he was with the disciples in Damascus. 9:20 And immediately, he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, that he is Son of God. 9:21 And all who heard him were amazed, and said, “Is not this the man who attacked those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for this intent, to bring them bound before the chief priests.” 9:22 But Saul increased even more in strength, and confounded the Jews that lived at Damascus, proving that he is the Christ.

Sunday Evening

1 Corinthians 1:1-2

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Rise Up and Go!

Acts 9:11
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Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, September 19-25, 2011

Monday Morning

Psalm 27:12-14  G. K. Chesterton once answered a London Times query that was put to a number of authors: “What’s wrong with the world?” Replies of a variety of lengths were offered but none so brief or profound as Chesterton’s. His answer was simply, “I am.”

This fine, English gentleman had cut to the quick of the human condition. With all of the evil so apparent in the world, the worst thing he could see was himself. The world would perhaps be a better place if we all thought of self so perceptibly and honestly. But it is difficult to see so clearly when wickedness so abundantly surrounds us. And this wickedness often comes from the religious camp.

In today’s world we see it as clearly as ever: no one is more cruel than a religious fanatic bent on the physical destruction of those who do not think like himself. And no zealot was more murderous than Saul of Tarsus, by his own later admission. (1Tim 1:15) Yet God can and does call the wicked to righteousness. Thank God for Paul’s sake — as well as yours and mine.

Gratitude comes effortlessly when one realizes oneself is what is wrong with our world. Only then may one be used of God to help others see the truth. Until then, our efforts at changing the world will be thwarted because it is not the world that is in desperate need of changing.

Monday Evening

Luke 12:11-12   Who had more reason to fear opening his mouth than Ananias of Damascus? We all fear sharing our love of and faith in Jesus Christ, at least one time or another. Yet few of us who ever read this will be asked of God to witness to someone who would murder us for our words. Ananias was told by God to do exactly that, go and share with Saul of Tarsus the love of Jesus. Ananias went and called the murderer, “brother,” and became God’s avenue of healing for Saul’s blindness. I take this to be both physical and spiritual healing.

Our fear today is not so much to whom we might be speaking but instead, what in the world we would say to them. Indeed, this has become a chronic and paralyzing fear. This points to two factors in the modern Western Church. One, our faith is so mediocre that we know our witness is inadequate. Two, we really do not have faith that God will keep up his end of the faith-sharing bargain.

Whenever God would have you testify before others, he only asks two things of you. First, open your mouth. Second, trust me for the words to say. I contend that if we would do the first, we would find God doing the second.

Tuesday Morning

Luke 21:10-19   We do not want God to speak through us. What we really want is for God to protect us from whatever words we might say. God does not make that promise. In fact, he promises otherwise. If you rise up and go and speak for the Name, you will become a hated and persecuted person. Oh! that there were more hated Christians in America.

Tuesday Evening

Ezekiel 3:22   Some folks never get anything more out of the Christian life than they did when they went to the altar. They get saved but they never grow into their faith; they fail to work out the salvation that was put into them. (Phil 2:12) In order to grow in the Christian faith, one must get up and head out into the desert valley. There, in the trial of life, is where the Lord speaks more. One must go a little further with God, even when it does not make sense. Arise and go when and where he speaks. It is on the plain, not the mountain top, that one receives Spirit power.

Wednesday Morning

Daniel 10:1-9   When God gave his visions to Daniel and to Saul, he gave each vision to them and not to the others accompanying them. God’s visions are always to the person. He has something he wants that individual to do. Only that one person was chosen by God to work out the vision. The danger of a group vision would be to form a committee and decide what God really meant and what should be done about it. As is the risk with group decisions, two things are almost bound to happen. Either the vision will be indefinitely put on hold since the group will not be able to determine what to do with the vision that was meant for the one person, or because the understanding of the vision is given to the recipient of the vision, the group will respond wrongly.

If God tells you to do something, you are the one who must be sure to do it, whether the group “sees” or not.

Wednesday Evening

John 12:27-30   If you know what God wants you to do, you need no conforming voice. For example, the voice of Scripture is sufficient. If the word says to rise up and go into all the world, the next step is not to wait for a messenger with news of what country you should go to as a missionary. You might do well to listen for such a word but the next step is to rise up and go to your neighbor next door.

Thursday Morning

Genesis 22:1   Oh! the testing of Abraham was especially difficult. The old man had waited a long life to have a child by his beloved Sarah. Finally, Isaac is born after a century of waiting. And then God commands him to sacrifice the child. We might well claim that this is what the pagans do and far be it from us to be so unholy. Instead, Abraham recognizes the holy voice of God in the command to rise up and go. He leaves the rest to God.

Thursday Evening

Isaiah 6:8   When one is in the presence of God, as Isaiah was, it should impossible to deny God. Moses had a similar experience but stammered about why he could not do what God asked. (Exo 6:12) Jeremiah also deferred, claiming that no one listen to a lad. (Jer 1:6) Isaiah did not see himself, as Moses and Jeremiah did; he saw God. The result was that he cried out, “Send me!”

Friday Morning

Mark 5:21-23   Ananias was told to go and lay his hands on the murderer, Saul. (Acts 9:12) In that instance, he must have thought of how Jesus healed the centurion’s servant with a word from a distance. (Luke 7:1-10) Indeed, that was a way that Jesus himself could work. But we must go. If the gospel is to have an effect through us, it is always because we have laid our hands to the task.

Friday Evening

Romans 15:25-26   The early church was concerned for the welfare of the saints in Jerusalem. That is where the church had begun and thus, there were many Christians there. Additionally, the Jerusalem Christians were persecuted and poor. Paul and the other apostles were concerned that their physical needs be met. Ananias is concerned about their emotional needs. How would they deal with him going to help the man who had murdered so many of them? And with that thought, he may have given some thought to his own well-being. Yet, his response was to rise and go assist the murderer.

Saturday Morning

Romans 1:1   If Paul thought he had made the church suffer, he had seen nothing yet. He was chosen to go to the non-Jewish world with the gospel. There he would suffer much at everyone’s hands — Jews, Gentiles, and Christians alike. (Acts 9:15-16)

Saturday Evening

Galatians 2:7-9   Paul was entrusted with the gospel to the non-Jew. That word entrusted is compelling. It is from the Greek word “pisteuo.” The noun in this word family is “pistis” and means faith or belief. It may be extended that when God entrusted the gospel to Paul, he believed that Paul would actually rise up and go.

Sunday Morning

Time to Die,” an audio Reflection based on my translation of Acts 9:1-19a:

9:1 But Saul, still making strong threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 9:2 and demanded of him letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any in the Christian way of life, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 9:3 And as he traveled, he drew near to Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 9:4 And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 9:5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 9:6 but stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.” 9:7 And the men traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but observing no one. 9:8 And Saul got up from the ground and his eyes were opened. He saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9:9 And he was without sight and neither ate nor drank for three days. 9:10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 9:11 And the Lord said to him, “Stand up and go to the street that is named Straight and look in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying. 9:12 And he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he will be able to see.” 9:13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 9:14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name.” 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Depart, for he is a chosen person for me, the bearer of my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 9:16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 9:17 And Ananias departed and entered into the house, and laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you in the way by which you came has sent me so that you may find your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 9:18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he found his sight. And he arose and was baptized, 9:19 and receiving food, he was strengthened.

Sunday Evening

Ephesians 3:7-8   Picking up on Saturday evening’s Reflection, God had faith (pistis) in Paul. And his faith was well-grounded. He did not simply expect a fallen man to bear his name to the rest of the world; he graced and empowered him to do so. Though Paul was the least worthy, and the last one we would entrust to do it, “grace was given” to him by God to accomplish the task. We may expect to less favor or faith.

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Hitting the Road

Sunday's text in Logos 4.0 on the Droid X

Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, September 12-18, 2011

Monday Morning

Judges 6:12   I have never had an angel of the Lord speak to me. I bet you have also never had this experience. Or have we? The English word comes from the Greek, (angelos); it is simply a transliteration of a word that really means messenger. In that light, I havehad messengers of God tell me things — and you have too. Sometimes we listen; sometimes we do not. Or worse, we attribute to a divine messenger something that is not of God at all. God’s angels always have God’s purposes in their messages. Often, we think of our own interests as those things God must surely wish to reveal to us. Jobs, relationships, money, property: these are the things we listen for when it comes to divine disclosures. But in scripture, God’s messengers seem to focus on his central message. Go here or there and speak the good news. Philip was told to take a trip. He had no idea of the purpose of the trip but he went. And his obedience probably changed more than the single life of an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip’s obedience likely spawned the church in Ethiopia (now the second-most populous nation in Africa with 82-million people). The consequences of listening to the messengers of God are far reaching. We may never know their impact but we may be certain that if God has sent us a message to go here or there, he means to make much of it. Has God sent someone to tell you to go to the Philippines? Are you traveling there or running away? Is God telling you to hit the road with his gospel, to go to such and such a street in order to speak with a person you do not know? What are you doing with his message?

Monday Evening

Judges 13:3   Often the messengers of God are here so we can be part of his work in another. The mother of Samson and the mother of Jesus are good examples, as is the example of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. All are examples of delivering a message to someone who is to help another that God will use for his purposes. Samson was to become a Judge of Israel but needed his Momma to know how to start him off right. Jesus was to become the Savior of the world but that his mission began with a Mother who needed to understand who her son would become so she could play her own part in God’s plan (Luke 1:27-38). The Church in Ethiopia would come into being if Philip, a Greek-speaking Christian, would go and speak with him as the angel told him. God’s messengers played vital roles in these stories and in our own stories that intersect with the lives of others. Are you listening?

Tuesday Morning

Psalm 68:31   How would Ethiopia stretch out her hands to God if no one told her about God? How would anyone know to go and tell them unless a messenger went to them from God? How would that person become also become God’s messenger unless they listened and were obedient? People do not come to God by magic; they do so because someone else who knew God was first obedient to his message. Are you listening? Will you go?

Tuesday Evening

Jeremiah 38:7-10   The point of bringing this passage into view this morning is not to discuss whether a bilical eunuch is one who is castrated or simply one in charge of matters of great importance, if only the king’s harem (a discussion of ‘eunouchos” or the Aramaic ‘saris’). The thing to notice here is that even when life throws one into the pits, God is in control. Ebed-melech (a name that means servant of the king), a eunuch, becomes a servant of the King of kings and rescues the prophet Jeremiah. Philip, a servant of the Savior, rescues an Ethiopian eunuch from his ignorance of the scriptures. God was in control. When we hit the road with the gospel, we will encounter the “wisdom of the world” and the recriminations of hurting people, those in pits of ignorance, and those who simply do not care one wit about God. Yet we are told to go and leave the rest to God. He is in control today as he was in Philip’s and Jeremiah’s days. We are servants of the King of kings and we must do his bidding.

Wednesday Morning

1 Kings 8:41-42   How will the foreigner stretch out his hands in praise to God if we do not tell them the good news? God loves the world and has come into this world and satisfied the wrathful demands of sin and death. He loves us! Hallelujah! Thank God that Philip “opened his mouth, and … told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35) The gospel spread that day from Jerusalem and Antioch to Ethiopia. And today, people there still lift their hands and shout Hallelujah!

Wednesday Evening

John 12:20   People visit a church for a variety of reasons. They show up because of a sense guilt. The Law is working on their conscience, as is its purpose, and they seek relief. Or they may have hit a new place in life — a baby has been born, they have gotten married, or divorced, someone they love is very sick or may have died — and they seek a connection with the One or some ones who might assist. They may or may not be religious people but they are exploring. Perhaps, God has even drawn these persons to himself. Sometimes these seekers ask for assistance. This was the case with Philip. “Show us Jesus,” they said. (John 12:21) Now, the question is, why do they want to see Jesus. Do they seek a miracle, cheap fix to their problem? Or do they want to know Jesus simply because they have been drawn out of love? Another reason people come to church is because it is the time of year that they go to church. It is Christmas or Easter. This is the case in Sunday’s reading. The Ethiopian eunuch had come to Jerusalem to visit the temple. He was a God-fearer, one who believed in the God of Israel but had not become a convert to Judaism. He was searching but had not yet found the personal God behind the religion. When these folks come to your church, be sure to show them Jesus.

Thursday Morning

 Romans 10:17   Faith is stirred when people hear the message of the gospel. This is documented, yet people who believe it still hesitate to share their faith in Christ. These same people lament that the pews in the church are not filled. The answer is to go stir the pot. Give people the gospel. Speak it to them and leave the rest to God.

Thursday Evening

Isaiah 53:6-8

Friday Morning

Philippians 2:8

Friday Evening

Luke 24:27

Saturday Morning

Jeremiah 11:19

Saturday Evening

1 Peter 2:23-25

Sunday Morning

“He Who Hesitates” is an audio reflection on my translation of Acts 8:26-40:

8:26 And then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Stand up and go toward the south on the road going down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a wilderness.” 8:27 And he stood up and went, and there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her possessions. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 8:28 and was returning and seated on his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 8:29 And the Spirit spoke to Philip, “Go and join this chariot.” 8:30 So Philip ran over and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 8:31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him. 8:32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this,

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before his shearer is dumb,
So he does not open his mouth.
8:33 In his humiliation justice was withdrawn.
Who will declare this to his descendents
Since his life is removed from the earth?

8:34 And the eunuch answered Philip, “I beg you, of whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about some other?” 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture, told him the good news of Jesus. 8:36 And as they were going along the way, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?” 8:37 (…is not in the earliest MSS and may be a scribal addition.) And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stop and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 8:39 And when they came up from the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away and the eunuch saw him no longer, for he went on his way rejoicing. 8:40 But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing through, he announced the good news to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.

Sunday Evening

1 Kings 18:12

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Do You Believe in Magic?

Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, September 5-11, 2011

Monday Morning

Galatians 3:1   Simon the magician or sorcerer believed in Jesus, it seems, because he thought Jesus was a magician who imparted to his students a stronger magic than they might already possess. This approach to Christianity is religious; it is following for what one gains. Christianity however, if it is true Christianity, exists for one, primary reason: to gain Christ himself — not what he might impart.

Monday Evening

Ezekiel 13:4-7   You’ve heard people pray, “In Jesus’ name.” Many use it as a magical incantation. Simply because they claim it the name of the Lord, they expect it to be. This sorcery is largely based upon John 14:13-14. There can be no doubt that Jesus will keep his promise. But what exactly was that promise? Was it that one may ask for anything at all and that God will cause it to pop out of a hat? It sounds preposterous because it is.

Jesus’ name is treated like a charm but that is not how he expects us to use his name. If we come to the Father with a request, we must do so in the name of Jesus if we want results. Imagine going before the throne of God and saying, “Give me that woman in marriage,” or “Give me success in business,” or even something as seemingly unselfish as, “Heal that man of his cancer,” and then throwing in at the end of the request, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” We think that now God just has to give us a positive answer. Yet when he does not, we tell ourselves that we did not have enough faith. Closer to the truth is this: we did not act in good faith.

When one goes before God in prayer, he must be careful to ask “in the name.” What this actually means is that what he asks for is what Jesus wants and not what the person praying desires. Imagine yourself an envoy of Jesus, sent to the Father with a request. Can you honestly pray, “Father, your Son requests such and so”? This is the prayer asked in his name since you are asking in his place.

Anything else is Christian magic.

Tuesday Morning

Ezekiel 13:8-12    We are made in God’s image, not he in ours. God is who he is, not who we want him to be. Therefore, God acts how he will, not according to our will. It is we who must change. Instead, we try to change God. Still, people make God in their own image. We hear this daily, if our ears are open. “I don’t care what the Bible says; I could never believe in a God like that!” Things like that are spoken by people who want nothing more than to feel good, even if the feeling is based on a lie. They want to feel peaceful when there is not peace. They want to feel protected when the invader is at their door.

Many false prophets offer such peace. They sell millions of books that offer formulas for success and lies about the nature of God. People buy them and promote them. But God is still God and the storm of reality is still coming. Ultimately, we pay the price for our wickedness, no matter what “christian” fortune-tellers proclaim.

Tuesday Evening

Isaiah 47:8-10   I don’t need God; I just want what he offers. This is a long held position of people who should know better. It is much like children who think they do not need their parents but take advantage of all of their blessings, only to squander the relationship. But it is also worse, in some cases. Some think they are wiser and more powerful than God as well. They have been lulled into this delusion because God is slow to anger. He gives them time to repent, to turn to him instead of self.

The consequences of their actions, though delayed, is coming, nonetheless. Loss of human relationship is the least of these consequences and itself only a kindness of God. Through “the loss of children and widowhood,” God turns hearts back to his own heart. Yet when this does not happen the most serious of consequences occurs. Having lost all other meaningful relationships, they lose God too and remain in the end alone. And this was the goal of such people all along — people who proclaimed, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”

Wednesday Morning

Revelation 21:5-8   Simon the sorcerer, as well as you and I, are offered refreshment “from the spring of the water of life without payment.” Jesus has paid the price for our renewal. When we refuse his kindness and seek revival in self, our portion will be a place of perpetual death instead of eternal renewal.

Wednesday Evening

Deut 18:10-14   The world offers bizarre solutions to its problems. Its exacting demands only make matters worse. But as for God’s people, no such measures need be taken. He offers the only solution: himself.

Thursday Morning

John 2:23-25   As in the case of Simon the sorcerer, some believe God is only useful for what he provides. People believe in Jesus because of the signs he did. Come to Jesus because of his great love and the great sign he will perform is a transformed and thankful life.

Thursday Evening

Luke 9:51-56   The gospel is not for any one person or group of people. The great news of salvation for all is free for all to know. Some just do not want to hear about it because of prejudice, pride, or preconception.

Friday Morning

John 2:18-22   “Solus Christus.” Christ. Alone. Not signs and proofs first and then belief in Christ. Not Christ’s gifts and miracles first and then reception of Christ himself. Not understanding first and then acceptance of Christ. Not Christ, if you will let me do this or have this as well. Not Christ as long as I get all of the other contenders to divinity too. Christ and Christ alone.

Friday Evening

John 2:23-25

Saturday Morning

John 4:39-42

Saturday Evening

Romans 10:1-11

Sunday Morning

And audio reflection based on my translation of Acts 8:9-25:

8:9 But there was a man named Simon practicing sorcery in the city and amazing the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 8:10 They all believed him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God which is called Great.” 8:11 And they paid attention to him because he had amazed them with his magic for a long time. 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 8:13 Even Simon himself believed, and being baptized, he stayed close to Philip. Beholding both signs and great miracles happen, he was amazed. 8:14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 8:15 who came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 8:16 For he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 8:17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 8:18 Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 8:19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone whom I lay my hands upon may receive the Holy Spirit.” 8:20 But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you since you thought to obtain the gift of God with money. 8:21 You have neither part nor share in this word, for your heart is not right before God. 8:22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 8:23 For I see that you are in the gall of  envy and in the bond of iniquity.” 8:24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things that you have said may come upon me.” 8:25 And so, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem and preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Sunday Evening

John 20:21-2

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A Scattered Church

Reflections on the Expository Lectionary, August 29 – September 4, 2011

Monday Morning

Matthew 10:23   Here is a job that is never finished: evangelism. Even sharing the good news with Israel is a never-ending task. Everywhere one goes in the Name of Jesus, there will be someone to send you packing. Bold testimony will always bring persecution. The upside of this phenomenon is that the church will go to lands far and wide.

Monday Evening

James 1:1   The Greek word for “dispersion” is diaspora. One can see in it the English word for a reproductive cell: “spore.” The Greek spora simply means “seed.” The dia in diaspora means “through.” Suddenly the word “dispersion” makes perfect sense, as does the reason God allowed such a far-spread scattering of his people. This was a sowing of the gospel seed throughout the lands.

Tuesday Morning

1 Corinthians 15:9   The church grew from things we would never plan. Modern church growth schemes never include suffering or even hardships. Yet these are what God used — and uses. One should remember this when all seems to be going from bad to worse in ministry. Saul persecuted the church. Saul was struck blind. Saul, now Paul, is harassed by legalists. His longtime dream of preaching the gospel to Rome was dashed and he had to move on to Spain. All of these would have seemed setbacks or even ministry killers but God used each incident to move the gospel forward and grow his church.

Tuesday Evening

Galatians 1:13   People get word of our past (and present!) life. Thank God that the gospel does not proceed or stall out because of our words and actions. To be sure, we should endeavor to be good and faithful witnesses for our Lord. But when we are not — even if it is simply because someone misunderstands us or disagrees with us — we may take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit works all to God’s good purposes. Our best efforts and our worst will all be used effectively by God. It is the gospel itself that powers the gospel. The apostle (indeed, each of the apostles) is testimony enough of this divine activity in our lives.

Wednesday Morning

John 4:39   Imagine the Samaritan woman going back into town and not sharing her story. No one would have benefited or been changed by belief in the Living Word. Now imagine that you have gone about your business and not shared your encounter with Jesus. Again, no one would be changed — especially you.

Wednesday Evening

Romans 10:8   When I was about 10-years old, a girl from my neighborhood used to ride her bicycle back and forth in front of my house. One day my parents observed this activity and asked me if I had a girlfriend. As she rode back by, I yelled out to her, “Aren’t you dizzy yet?” That was the last time Gaylene ever rode by me. Years later, when I admitted that girls were worth noticing, I saw her at the movie theater; she was all grown up and gorgeous. I spoke to her but she did not notice me at all. I had blown my opportunity.

The opportunities for relationship with God are afforded us every day. Do we ignore them? Do we yell them away? Eventually, perhaps to our eternal regret, we may become numb to these wondrous offers. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6)

In Sunday’s reading (Acts 8:6), we see the crowds paying attention to what Philip was saying about the Living Word. The result was that there was “much joy in that city.” (Acts 8:8) Are we paying attention? And if so, are we saying anything and doing anything so that others may know the joy of the Lord? These too, are opportunities to draw near to the Lord as we draw others with us.

Thursday Morning

Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret's, "The Last Supper"

1 Corinthians 11:26   It really is a simple instruction. Receive. Eat. Drink. In so doing, we not only remember, we proclaim. The sacrament is not merely personal. In our remembering, we also make a statement: We will never forget what Jesus did for the world. This statement is the seed of the gospel. Remember. Proclaim!

Thursday Evening

2 Corinthians 4:5   We are scattered throughout the world so that the world may know Christ and him crucified. (1Cor 2:2) Life has blown us here and there. It is up to us to grow, bloom, and produce more seed of the gospel. In this scattering of gospel seed, we do not proclaim church, pastor, or programs. We proclaim Christ as Lord.

Friday Morning

Galatians 2:1-2    The apostles saw their task clearly. It was all about the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. John even saw it in his vision: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (Rev 14:6) This angel might not be viewed as we see angels. The original Greek simply means “messenger” (angelos). John saw a messenger of the gospel, proclaiming the good news of Jesus to everyone.

Paul, the ultra-devout Jew, understood this to mean that the good news must also be preached to non-Jews, to Gentiles — “to every nation and tribe and language and people.”  He took the Christian vocation seriously. Paul knew he was a Christian for a high purpose. He was part of an elect group of people who were to proclaim in a dark world the excellencies of the Light of the World. (1Pt 2:9)

Friday Evening

Mark 16:17-18   I can’t tell you the last time I saw someone handle a snake, or for that matter, cast out demons; speak in new tongues, or drink deadly poison. Yet, I have been seen people healed of cancer through prayer. God is still powerfully at work in the lives of believers. There are few, however, who make themselves available to his power.

Saturday Morning

John 16:22   Christians are scattered throughout the world. Joy comes to their cities when they work within the will of God, asking him to do powerful things. He answers such prayers in the Name.

Saturday Evening

Psalm 33:1      The only appropriate response to the gospel is joyous praise. It “befits” those who have been transformed by its benefits.

Sunday Morning

An audio reflection based on my translation of Acts 8:1-8:

8:1 And Saul was consenting to his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all—except the apostles—scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. 8:2 And devout men buried Stephen and made a great lament over him. 8:3 But Saul was causing the church great harm, entering every house and dragging off men and women, putting them in prison. 8:4 So then, those who were scattered abroad, went about preaching the word. 8:5 And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 8:6 And with one mind the crowds paid attention to the things spoken by Philip, when they heard and saw the signs he did. 8:7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of those who bore them; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8:8 Then there was great joy in that city.

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 66:14   Now we see through a foggy glass (1Co 13:12) yet we wait in hope (Rom 8:25) for the hope of glory (Col 1:27). One day, we, along with Stephen, will see clearly and our world-weary bones will rejoice and flourish in glory.

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Shapes in the Grass

I saw this broken paver while on outreach Thursday night. For some reason, it made me think of Ohio.

And then at a beginning of the year party for where Susan works…

…broken sidewalk at this old Duke family mansion:

The Greystone Inn, Durham, NC

Here are some more photos from that party. It was a gathering of five departments in the Friedl Building where Susan works.

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God’s Own Field

Click for larger image.

I took this photograph on Route 33, south of Columbus, Ohio. It reminded me of Henry Alford’s hymn (1844). If you’d like to sing along, here is the midi of St. George’s Windsor by George J. Elvey (1858) from The Cyber Hymnal.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take the harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Giving angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In the garner evermore.

Then, thou Church triumphant come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All be safely gathered in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In God’s garner to abide;
Come, ten thousand angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home!

Lyrics in Public Domain

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