Monthly Archives: May 2019

God Makes Straight with a Crooked Line

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[a] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  (Acts 16:9-15 NRSV)

Imagine Paul and Silas and Timothy, perhaps even Luke, relaxing after a long day’s journey. They discuss the events of the day. One thing leads to another and they begin reminiscing.

“Remember when we attended the Jerusalem Council?”

“Boy, that was some debate, wasn’t it?  Thank God the right decision was made to attend to the Gentiles and not require circumcision.”

“And then we decided to journey through Asia Minor.  We had such a grand plan, didn’t we?”

“If memory serves me, we planned to first visit the new churches in the south and then travel north and plant new churches up there.”

“That’s when we met you, Timothy.  You joined with us for the church planting.  And we kept running into dead ends.”

“I remember it well.  I couldn’t figure out what kept stopping us from entering those towns and attending the synagogues.  You helped me understand that God moves in mysterious ways.”

“And then Paul had that dream.  A man from Macedonia was calling to Paul to come spread the word in Europe.  That was strange!”

“Remember when Paul got us up in the middle of the night?  He hustled us out the door and on to that boat before our first coffee!  We knew this had to be God’s call, though, when we arrived on Samothrace a day later instead of three or four.”

And that’s how the three men arrived in Philippi.  They had tried to spread the word in new parts of Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit kept saying, “No.  Not there.”  Philippi became the first new church plant in Europe.

They stayed in Phillipi a few days becoming familiar with it.  One of the things they discovered was that there was no synagogue.  No problem, they’ll go outside the city gates by the river.  They’d be sure to find some Jews worshiping there.

This had been a strange journey and it continued in that vein.  They don’t find any men praying by the river as they had anticipated.  Instead, they discover a group of women praying.

Paul and Silas and Timothy joined them.  Then Paul sat down to teach them.

The leader of the group was Lydia.  A businesswoman, she was a dealer in rich purple cloth only available to the wealthy.  She was her own woman in a patriarchal society; strong and astute.  She was a successful businesswoman with a home and servants of her own.

Lydia wasn’t Jewish, but she was a  gentile God worshiper.  Paul’s words fell on a hungry heart and she gave her heart to Christ. She and her whole household were baptized.

Then she insisted that they stay with her.  Did I mention she was a strong woman?  Lydia would continue to support the Philippian church.

When have you looked back and seen the hand of God at work?  Did that journey take many twists and turns?  Did you have false starts and road blocks and closed doors?  Yet, looking back, doesn’t the road appear straight.  God made straight with a crooked line.

Life is like that.  We have a well-thought-out plan.  We’ve gathered the resources we’ll need and we’re out the door, so to speak.  It falls flat and we wonder, “what happened?”

It’s disorientating.  Isn’t that what God wanted us to do?, we ask.  It was a good plan!  A perfect plan!  Do we need to work harder?  Pray harder?  Plan better?

Probably not.  The plan could have been perfect, and God may put it to use some day.  But not today.  Today God has a vision that needs your attention.  Right now.

But we have no resources to do that!  We have no money.  Not enough people.  The energy will run out.

That’s God’s problem.  Just move forward.

But, we’ve never been there.  It means crossing boundaries.  As much as I want to be a Christ-like presence for people, how can speak to people who aren’t like me?  How can I relate.

Let go and allow God’s words to be your words.  Just move forward.

Yes, you’ll feel as if you’re out on a limb.  That’s where God does his best work.  When we’re not so sure about the outcome or the roadmap is a bit vague, we tend to look up and out.  We listen better to the Holy Spirit’s whispers when we feeling our most vulnerable.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important.  You may never know what results come from your action.  But if  you do nothing, there will be no result.”

When have stepped out and made a difference?  Was it that time you paused in the produce section to visit with a stranger and you spoke words that seemed to feed her hungry heart?”

Maybe it was the time when you felt a compunction to shop at a store you hadn’t been to before.  Outside the door of the shop you ran into an old friend you hadn’t seen in years.  Thirty minutes later, you walked to the parking lot together and your friend admitted that he, too, had felt the same compunction to come to this place.  As you drove away you realized that you had received a word of encouragement that only God new you needed.

That delay in traffic that sent you to a new place; that answered prayer that turned out vastly different from your expectations; the risk you took to use scripture to comfort someone.  Each time you acted, you crossed a boundary.

The Holy Spirit lives, moves and has its being, not by our wants and desires, but its own vision.  We try, God says, “No, not there.”  Then we receive a message and the world of ministry opens up to us.  It’s scary.  it’s exhilarating.  It’s exciting.

That’s how God’s kingdom works.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Easter Reverberations

21 I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.

3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

6-8 Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty.

(Revelation 21:1-6  The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

“I am making all things new.”

How many times do we hear God say those words in scripture.  We saw God in action when he spoke creation into being.  We saw them in the many covenants God made with God’s people.  God freed God’s people people, provided in the wilderness, brought us back from exile.  God continually works to make all things new.

The ultimate, so far in history, is a child born to a poor family, revealed to the most reviled in society (shepherds) while heaven’s messengers announced “tidings of great joy.”  That child grew to bring us the same message, but this time he put feet on those words.

When he died, he was risen again to defeat death.  We would think that we’d have nothing further to worry about.

And God continues to be at work.  So today we read in Revelation these words, one more time:  “I’m making all things new.”  God continues to redeem and provide and liberate.  The promise is that God is at work in God’s creation because in the end, God will bring it to conclusion.

Not with destruction, but with a new heaven and earth.  The old will pass away and the new world order will be ushered in by none other than God.

What have we to fear?  God has a plan and God will continue to work that plan.  Our place in creation is set.  What have we fear?

Well, war, poverty, immigration, food insecurity, illness. To name a few.

Daily we see a backdrop of evil, hurting and injustice.

The hope is this: God really does continue to be at work.  God really does continue to make all things new.  Our world is getting better because people like you refuse to ignore the issues and get involved.  Whether writing a check or hands one.

We help make the difference through prayer and discernment.  We allow God to use our gifts and talents and our passion to move forward.

God will dry every tear.  God is making all things new.  God will break down the chasms and walls that keep us separated.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


A Promise We Can Trust

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

Psalm 23 (NRSV)

The Shepherd’s Psalm.  Many of us memorized it as children.  We carry its words with us in dark times.  Perhaps we don’t remember it word for word.  Yet, we know the phrases that hold meaning for us.

“I shall not want.”  What would you want for if it wasn’t for the shepherd?

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (KJV)  We need those words when a friend or loved one dies.  There are also times in our life when we feel as if death’s dark shadow will overwhelm us at any moment.  The Psalmist reminds us that even in these moments, the shepherd won’t abandon.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…”  Follow me.  Lead me.  Cover me.  Goodness and mercy is everywhere we can possibly be, because the shepherd never abandons.

What phrases stand out for you?  Read the Psalm again, slowly.  Read it out loud and listen to the phrases.  What stands out for you?  Close your eyes for a few moments and consider those particular words.  Why do they hold meaning for you at this time and in this place?

Read through it again.  Slowly.  What is the Shepherd saying to you?  Sit quietly for a few minutes.  Allow the words to speak to you.

Now, one more time.  One more reading.

If you were able to go deep, you’ve experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit speaking to you words you probably needed to hear.  Were they comforting words? Guiding words?  Stirring words?

What will you do with what you’ve discerned?  How will you respond?  Write it down and carry it with you this week.

The 23rd Psalm provides peace and comfort, even serenity.  It’s words can be trusted and believed.  The Shepherd doesn’t let us down, but provides for our needs and gives us rest when we need it.  Believe these words.  Rest in them.  Feel their comfort.  And when you’re ready, go out to live your faith, knowing the shepherd won’t let you down.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Faith Inferiority

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”  (Acts 9:1-20 NRSV)

How did you become a Christian?

Perhaps you had a dramatic experience on your own road to Damascus.  Perhaps you had a specific date and time when you gave your life to Christ.  Or you may not remember a time when you weren’t a Christian and since your infant baptism you have steadily grown in your knowledge and faith.

Whatever you’ve experienced, I suggest you’ve had many moments in your life when you experienced the eye-opening.

One of the surprises in this text is the person God calls.  While the disciple Steven was stoned for professing Jesus as Lord, people laid their coats at the feet of the very person who had organized the stoning, Saul.  There’s no question what kind of man he was, “breathing threats and murder” (v. 1).  He was a first century terrorist.

And that’s who God chose to spread the Good News.  Out of all of the people of the day, it was Saul that God chose.  Saul had been pursued by a God who never abandons anyone.

Does that make your calling from God inferior?  Is the lack of a burning bush or Damascus Road experience significant?

Not in the least.

If you did experience a major moment like Saul, what does it mean to you?

Ron sat in the choir loft one Sunday morning listening to the sermon.  When he happened to look up he noticed a shadow on the opposite wall that wasn’t usually there.  He knew that no one else saw what he did and he realized it was Jesus.

When he related the story to us later, he said, “I don’t see myself honored to have received this sighting.  Instead, I wonder if I had been running so long, that God had to get dramatic.  I respect others more who didn’t need a sighting to follow our Lord.”

God forgives betrayers and doubters and deniers and murderers.  God doesn’t call the worthy because no one is worthy.  We don’t earn it.  We are called into the experience and invited to say, “Here I am, Lord.”

The Good News is that our God is merciful.  God offers mercy and forgiveness to a wide variety of people.  We resist the Good News because we think we’re not good enough, that we have to earn it.

But, Christ hopes we will look at our own moments of conversion and how our own blindness has been lifted by a forgiving, merciful God.

What are your moments of conversion?  When have felt the peculiar presence of God come in and un-blind your eyes to truth?  That makes your experience with God just as important as anyone’s else’s experience, even Saul’s.  God pours out Godself in love and mercy.

We can’t begin to know the mind and heart of God.  What we know is that we have experiences of God more often than we may realize.  When you gained insight that changed your views on that heated topic; when God whispered your name; when you look back on a past experience only to realize that God was involved all along.

How you experienced Christ’s call doesn’t matter.  How you responded and answered the call does.  Saul could have said no.  Ananias could have said, “Are you kidding!? Not on your life!”  But both said yes.  And the world changed forever.

Every time you answer with, “Here I am, Lord,” you, too, respond to the life-changing grace of God.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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