A Reflection on Acts 1:6-14
When is life going to be normal again? God why don’t you just make this all go away? These are a couple of the questions that must swirl through our heads at a time like this. We don’t embrace terms like “new normal” and we are simply fatigued with our circumstance. However, God is not a static God, He is not like a bridge or a building, but rather God is active, God is moving, God is a dynamic force on the world, and the Church is called to be powerful, dynamic, and moving into the world.
Kingdoms of the world are generally static, and are defined by the buildings and structures that they have built. Egypt had it’s iconic pyramids, Rome had the Colosseum, China had its wall, throughout the world there are palaces and castles dedicated to the kingdoms throughout history. The followers of Christ sit in contrast to that, they focus upon a cross, an empty cross, a cross that reminds the church that God’s kingdom is on the move.
There is a temptation of the church to mimic the worldly kingdoms by building extravagant churches and edifices intended to honor Christ, as we can see throughout the world extraordinary cathedrals and churches. These churches and buildings, while dedicated to the service of God, are static, and only good if they promote the church to get up and go out and spread God’s message and kingdom.
The disciples of Christ still thought like much of the world that the kingdom was a static place, and that Israel would get its land back from Rome, and it prompted this interaction with Jesus just prior to His ascension, in Acts chapter 1.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Jesus opens up correcting the assumptions of the disciples, for they were thinking about a transformation that looked like the conquering kingdoms of the past. They still hoped that Jesus was going to lead an army into Jerusalem and take over, and yet Jesus patiently reminds them that their thinking is incorrect, and that they needed to rely upon the Father as He is the ultimate authority and provider of all things. They wanted to know the ending, but Jesus reminds them that the next step is the most important step, and that God is calling them to yield their thoughts and vision away from the physical and political, and toward the Spirit.
When we focus on the Spirit, our understanding shifts away from the world as geography, to the Kingdom of God as a spiritual kingdom that extends beyond geographical boundaries. Jesus tells the disciples that their power, and our power comes not from government, or money, or property, but it comes directly from the Holy Spirit. God’s Kingdom is spread by witness, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force, political intrigue, or violence. At the same time, when we reject the politics of the kingdom, we must avoid super-spiritualizing it, because God’s rule operates on Earth and not only in heaven.
Just as Jesus told the disciples that the ministry did not have boundaries like the kingdoms of the Earth, so too we must appreciate that our ministry must be focused outside our church buildings and out into the communities that we are called to serve. This requires us to release our attachments to the Earth and allow God to take everything and use us to our full capacity.
In order to operate at this capacity, we must allow our vision to synchronize with God’s plan for the world. We must take time to be in awe of all the things that God has done for us, but there also comes a time when we must fulfill and act upon the commission God has given to us. While we come up with ideas, and plans, if they do not have an understanding of the fullness of God’s mission in the world they are lacking and without vision.
The disciples needed a reminder from the people dressed in white, that Jesus is coming back, don’t be fixated upon when and where, but trust God and carry out His plan, and that we only need to be better at carrying out what God has planned for us. The vision God has planned for us is unique, and we must be adaptable to the circumstances that we find ourselves.
Unique times put us in unique circumstances that require the church to adapt. This adaptation requires us to be flexible in our vision, and try new things. Most of us have had to learn how to attend church via YouTube, Facebook, or Zoom, something that most of us had not even thought about before it became a necessity. However, the successes in this new way of church have shown us the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the negative, and continue to spread the message of hope, peace, and love in spite of physical distancing. This should encourage us to be able to move forward trusting that God’s vision for the church will succeed, no matter the circumstances.
To begin trusting this vision, we need to start in the same place as the disciples after Christ’s ascension, in prayer. Prayer is where we seek God’s vision, where we ask for the Holy Spirit to come and lead us, and we quiet our voice and vision and yield to what God desires for us. As we move forward may God’s blessings be upon us, His vision guide us, and the Holy Spirit power our mission in the world to spread God’s Kingdom beyond our walls, and all boundaries.
A Reflection on John 14:15-21
One of the scary parts of more than a month of staying at home is the feeling of isolation we often feel. There is a disconnect from our loved ones, our friends, our family, our co-workers, and our churches. This disconnect is dangerous as it leads us away from the connection that we have with one another, and leads to situations where many of us feel as if we are going to crack, and break apart. We become weary of not being able to have the social connection and are more prone to think less about others, and rely more on fulfilling our selfish desires.
The lack of physical connection opens up the door for the opportunity to only think about how this affects us personally, and we begin to feel alone. Even for the person that doesn’t enjoy much interpersonal interaction, still is feeling the loneliness that this brings upon us. As a world we have a mental health crisis on our hands as depression, anxiety, and other issues are on the rise. For a long time this has led us to further isolate ourselves, which amplifies and perpetuates the problem. As a church, we must be part of the solution, and not further exacerbate the problem, in a world that is isolating for the purpose of health, we must be aware and respond to the “side effects” of self-isolating, by ensuring that those isolated physically, are not isolated socially or spiritually.
The disciples had the same issue as they approached ministry after Christ had ascended to heaven. We saw how they responded after Jesus died, they went and “self-isolated”, as an act of fear of what comes next. Then Jesus came back to them, gave them assurance that what He had said before was true, and yet, they still needed further assurance. Jesus, during His time with the disciples taught them that they would not be alone, but rather Christ would ask the Father to provide the Spirit, the Spirit is a gift, a gift that we are never truly alone, and by the power of the Spirit we are the blessing to the world, and an embodiment of God’s promise that no one needs to be alone, even in quarantine.
Jesus instructs His disciples in John 14 about the promise that they need not be alone because the Holy Spirit is coming.
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”John 14:15-21 (NIV)
If you love me…
Jesus opens with these four words, not because they didn’t love Him, but rather He is appealing to them on the basis of love. Out of their love for Christ, they would listen to Him, and follow Him, and fulfill the command that He has over their lives. To help with fulfilling the charge to go out into the world Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth is present to ensure we are not alone.
Following God begins with love, first, God’s love for His people, and then our responding with love for God. From this love we act according to our faith, we follow God’s precepts, we act as God’s children, living upright lives, feeding the hungry, comforting the hurting, and living out God’s message for the world. Living in this manner may put us in situations where we feel powerless and alone, but God reminds us that we are not alone, we have the Spirit, and the closer our walk is to the Spirit, the closer we are to fulfilling God’s commands.
The world will not accept us, selfish thinking is contrary to the way of the Spirit. This is the ultimate irony, selfishness leads to isolation, but yet the world clamours to selfish thinking because they feel isolated. The Holy Spirit offers us all a different perspective, one that leads us to think of others, one that listens first and acts out of an understanding gained through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This ultimately leads us away from isolation, into a deeper understanding that God is always with us, and will always work on us, in us, and for us.
While this does not make us immune from negative results, because there is evil in the world that is resistant to God’s purpose. There is evil that presents us from acting out of our own reading of the Bible, there exists a selfishness deep inside that allows us to act out of our impulses rather than what God desires of us. There are lies that we end up believing that ultimately we see humanity as our enemy and fight our neighbors driving us into isolated thinking, instead of having compassion and earnestly caring for one another, we look at each other with animosity. This type of thinking breeds, and infects society, this is the type of thinking that leads to people hoarding supplies, the type of thinking that leadings to people arguing and belittling one another on the street corners and social media, the type of thinking that leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Selfishness and isolation have a chemical and biological effect on us, and we must work hard to prevent this type of thinking. Jesus promises His disciples that they will never be alone, that He will come back to them, but even those that were closest to Him did not understand that, because when things did not happen the way they anticipated, they scattered and isolated themselves. We must do better than that, because our health is at risk. We threaten the very bodies, in which the Holy Spirit inhabits, and leads us toward the Father, and toward the Son. We cannot rebel against God, but rather we must rebel against the forces of selfishness, greed, and isolation that lead us inward instead of outward.
Outward thinking leads us away from protecting our idols, our institutions, our sense of what is mine, and prompts us to follow God wherever God may lead us. We find it difficult that we cannot go and celebrate a birthday, or come to a building and worship together, or even get our hair done, but God prompts us to think more about what we can do, and more about what we should do. Our needs are going to be met, we do not need to worry about that, we need to listen to where God is leading us right now.
We have an opportunity and an advantage to think about church outside the building, which is what a living church is, a living church is a prayer chain, a living church is giving to people in need, a living church is showing it’s love and appreciation for God by going out from the comfort of our church building and giving to our world. When we do this we listen to the message that God has given to us and we go out and break the chains of isolation, and bring God’s grace to a world plagued by selfish thinking.
When we switch our thinking, we begin to realize that God is our Father, a good Father that seeks to show us His love through the teaching of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit breaks the chains of suffering, breaks the chains of isolation, and breaks the chains that we are alone in trying to carry out God’s mission in the world. The Holy Spirit breaks down the idea that we are in this world as orphans, but rather guides us into the understanding that we are members of the family of God. As brothers and sisters, and children, we must listen to how God wants us to act, and the Bible reminds us that these actions must be out of love and compassion, and away from self-centered action that does not think of others.
A Reflection on Acts 7:55-60
Death has become something that many people have had to face during this time of pandemic. While it has always been real, and something that we ultimately must contend with, we often choose to look at other things, think of other things, not allowing this to be our reality. However, we now all get the opportunity to understand this is a reality many of us have had to deal with, either our own mortality, or the suffering and death of a loved one or someone close to us. Another reality that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that we are a part of a dying world that is crying out for an answer to suffering and pain.
God reached out to a world that was dying, and gave His Only Son sacrificially to save the world, to save you and me. This Mother’s Day, I am reminded of many mothers that have given sacrificially to give their children, either biologically or not, love, joy, peace, and hope. Many have come beside us and loved us unconditionally, so that we have had opportunities far beyond our own abilities to succeed, and thrive, in spite of our own selfish actions. We have fallen and hurt ourselves, and the mothering love has picked us up and cleaned out our wounds, and allowed us to get up again. We also see the example in our world of so many mothers stepping up and providing the compassion and caring for a world that is suffering.
God is the author of this type of love, and God offers it to us in the darkness of the world. Stephen, in the Book of Acts, experienced this love, and when he faced his own death, he looked to the heavens and saw Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, and was as peace, and realized that even though his life on Earth was over, he had a reason for hope, and he could share that hope and peace right to his last breath.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”Acts 7:55-60 (NIV)
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Those that attacked Stephen were not open to hearing the message of hope that he was offering that they covered their ears and yelled trying to drown out this hope. Hope in the form of a conquering Savior, and a compassionate God, stand in stark contrast to the message of a dark and dying world, and that contrast creates friction that leads to an angry response. Stephen, however, through the power of the Holy Spirit, responds to this with a peaceful acceptance, and yielding to God. He didn’t raise his voice louder to try and speak over the screaming, but rather he allowed his actions to embody the peace that God offers.
This same peaceful response is the type of response that we as the Church must offer to the world. Right now, there is so much noise in the world, many have even resorted to screaming and yelling and covering their ears, just to drown out any message other than the one they believe. Unfortunately, many Christians have also been those trying to scream over the top of all this noise. When the church does this, it contributes to the chaos, which contradicts the peace God offers to us. Stephen understood this, and sought to allow his action to speak peace into the anger and rage of the crowd.
In the midst of getting stoned, the crowd’s attempt at squelching his voice, Stephen responds with a prayer to God to accept him and his sacrifice, and a prayer for his persecutors. Stephen’s last words were a prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of his murderers. It was this type of peace that spoke the truth of God’s salvific grace. In a world that has been plagued with protests, and counter-protests, and counter-counter-protests, the attempt to speak over one another does not lead to any dialogue. However, if the church looks at the world, the way that Stephen looked at his killers, with compassion, and offers up a prayer for the world, we can contribute to the solution, and embody God’s peace, compassion, and hope to a dying world facing an uncertain future. God has given us a reason to have hope, and a purpose to bring peace to our world.
A Reflection on 1 Kings 18:19-39
As we move into a new month, a quick look through the news and social media, most everything still revolves around the fallout from a pandemic that has had the country and much of the world in some state of lockdown for 6 weeks, or 6 months, or 6 years; I have lost count. Many parts of the state are beginning to discuss what re-emerging from our isolation is going to look like. This seemed to reignite the what is essential debate, and I perused just a few random comments about the Phase 1 reopening program ideas, and in them I found outrage that the churches are not included. I heard words like persecution being thrown around at will, and that we need to be able to meet together, so that we can pray together, because when God’s people get together to pray, then God acts, and miracles happen.
I absolutely agree with the sentiment that when the Church gathers to pray, mighty acts are possible, but what we need to be careful of is thinking that God won’t act while we are physically distant. We cannot allow ourselves to place “what we want” ahead of “what we are called to do”. We must be able to listen carefully to God’s call on our lives, while being careful to not to allow our thoughts to conflate our selfish desires with what God desires. There are too many stories of churches meeting against the orders of the state, and then members becoming infected with CoViD19. We want to meet, we want to be with one another again, and there will be a time when we can be with one another again, but for this time, God wants to show us just how great He is, and if we are willing to watch and listen, then we will see God work miracles now.
During a similar time, Elijah was a prophet of the Almighty God. During the reign of King Ahab, the people of Israel began to lose focus on what God’s call was on their life, and they began questioning whether Baal or Yahweh were God, or were they the same, or were they both God. The two began to bleed into each other, and the Israelites began worshipping both just to cover all their bases. This led to syncretism merging the new religion of the country, Baal worship with the faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Elijah refused to participate in this new faith, and focused his worship on God. This made him unpopular with the king and queen. Ahab thought he was being stubborn and that Elijah was the reason the country was suffering through a drought. The king appealed to the prophet to relent and to bow to and serve Baal along with the rest of the prophets that had turned to Baal worship in addition to their worship of Yahweh. As an attempt to quell these urgent pleadings from the King, Elijah responds to those that think they can serve both Baal and the true God of Israel, by proposing a contest to determine the one true God. We find the telling of this contest in the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings.
1 Kings 18:19-39
19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given to them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they prostrated and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
The people of Israel had become a people that looked for a sign, they looked for something upon which to put their faith. Comfort and safety was what Israel had focused their faith in. When Jezebel brought Baal worship into the royal worship of Israel, many of the people followed the new state religion. More specifically, the worship of their desired results replaced the worship of God, and this was something that Elijah was warning them against.
This worship sits on the fence, and tries to blend the worship of the one true God, with the worship of self. Baal represented luxury, materialism, and social power, while worshipping God requires letting go of self-centered thinking, letting go of what I want, and embracing a mission that belongs to God, something that seeks to help the helpless, bring joy to the sorrowful, and peace to the chaos. Elijah seeks to remind the people that the way they live represents the God that they serve.
We should remember this same thing about the way we represent God, especially during this time. We have heard a repeated desire to re-open, and that is a perfectly understandable position. The calls come from protesters on the beach, marching into statehouses, and civil disobedience, and when done well and for the right reasons, it can be respected, but when it flaunts and makes a spectacle of self it is less like the austere position of Elijah, and more like the loud and showy prophets of Baal.
The stark contrast was on display in this showdown on Mount Carmel. So confident in God, Elijah allowed the Baal prophets to set the terms of the showdown, he let them go first, and then “encouraged” them to change their tactic when they weren’t successful. The prophets of Baal, chanted loudly, took a majority of the day, and yet it did not result in fire. One could imagine this as a large group of prophets over 400, praying together, loudly, and because the god they were worshipping was not the One True God, their prayers were ineffective and fell on deaf ears, no matter how many of them there were, no matter how loudly they prayed.
It is this type of praying we need to guard ourselves against, loud ineffective prayers to ourselves. When we don’t get our way, when we don’t trust God, when we don’t stop to listen to what God is telling us, we make our gods look more like Baal, and less like Yahweh. We really want to see things like Disneyland, shopping malls, and even our churches reopen, but we must be mindful to do it in a safe way, with the well-being of everyone in mind. There will be a time when this will happen, and it will be relatively soon, but we must listen to what God wants us to do, and not just simply act out of what we personally want to do. Elijah teaches us how we pray for these items to happen with a focus on God and away from self.
With very little time left in the day, because the Baal worshippers had taken so much time, Elijah prayed a simple, direct, effective prayer, that was sourced from the deep sincere faith in God, and God responded. Even with the handicap of having doused the sacrifice in water, still God heard the prayer and acted upon that prayer. God hears our prayers, because He cares about His people, and acts upon those prayers. It does not matter if there is one of us praying, or a thousand, as long as we are praying out of a recognition that God is true, then He hears us.
God made us into people that were made for fellowship, and during this shutdown we have been reeling from those losses. However, when we start saying that it is essential to meet together physically to pray so that God will act, then we are not praying with the same faith that Elijah had. God answered Elijah’s prayers, not because Elijah had some secret canticle, but because Elijah was praying to the One True God, and God will answer our prayers, when we direct our prayers to Him.
Our worship, our order of prayers, they are not needed by God to answer the problems of the world. God didn’t need us to create the world, and He doesn’t need us to change it, but because God is all loving AND all powerful we are invited to worship, we are invited to pray, we are invited to be people that are willing to speak out against injustice, we are invited to be God’s messengers, God’s peacemakers, and God’s kingdom builders.
God will defeat COVID19, have no doubt. Just as Elijah had no doubt that God would act on that day, and may we offer up our prayers to God, that His answer to that prayer may be seen by the entire world, and that the world will respond to that answered prayer, by saying that God is true, God is powerful, God is loving, and that God’s servants are the servants of the One True God.
A Reflection on Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19
In our time of distress, and a dramatic loss of life and freedom in our world, we may feel afraid and ready to rebel and strike out against our leaders, and our God. We miss one another, we are missing our friends and family, and we may be getting stir crazy! We are more prone to making choices that are selfish and for our own good, rather than the good of God’s Kingdom.
Such is the debate going around now, as we see that some things and places are going to be starting to open up again soon, while other locations remain shut down. Our thought process is that if we aren’t getting what we want then we feel as if we are suffering a loss. God does not take our losses lightly, but rather His love for us is present for us, and wants us to thrive in all things.
We are all in danger, not just from disease and death, but we are in danger of losing our perspective about God’s control over the universe. This perspective must be firmly placed upon what God is capable of and upon the things that God has already done for us and for his people. Just as Israel was reminded that God had rescued them from slavery, from death, and from destruction, so too we need to be reminded that God has been with us and rescued us in times of danger and death.
The Psalmist uses this recollection of God’s salvation power and mercy as an important aspect of worship in the community. Psalm 116 is a recitation and recollection of God’s salvation of the Psalmist, and while this was a personal experience, it has become a part of the corporate worship experience. The joy and gratitude expressed in this Psalm reminds the hearer that we cannot thank God enough for what He has done.
In our current situation let us read the text of Psalm 116, and worship with the Psalmist.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”Psalm 116:1-4
What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord— in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.Psalm 116:12-19
The opening of this Psalm expresses the love for God, and although present in worship, is still rare in the Old Testament. This expression is a fulfillment of the call to love God with our whole selves, heart, mind, soul, and strength. We often entreat God with our admiration after God has come in and showed us that He hears us, He cares about our condition, and when we need God- God intervenes on our behalf.
Out of control, we too often grasp for something that we can control. Unfortunately, in the situation we find ourselves now, no protest, no yelling and screaming, nothing will give us any lasting comfort. Our circumstance reminds us how we cannot control life and death, even if we do everything we are told, we can still fall ill, we are still susceptible to death.
We need God, and thus we need to call out to God when we are in need. We must place our trust in God, we must fully submit to God’s grace, guidance, and guardianship in order to fully experience the benefits of that covenant relationship with the Almighty God. In the midst of trials, we must bind our heart and mind to God, and seek out God in that time. As we do that, we are breaking the bonds that death has over our life, and binding ourselves to God and God’s purpose for the world.
Even though we ask God to guide us in all things, we are not immune from the negativity and disease of sin in the world. Bad things still can happen, and we cannot ignore that, but we need to call out to God. As so many of us have been brought through some terrible experiences, sometimes they have even been worse than the situation we see in the world now. God is by our side, and delivers us from evil, and we worship God, because He never fails.
What could we possibly give to God to repay His love for us? Nothing. No offering, no sacrifice, no praise, no worship, no vow, nothing is enough to repay to God for the grace that has been poured out upon us. We cannot possibly give enough back to even the ledger with God, so we must give back the most we can, which is our very selves, all of ourselves must be given to worship. It is this that Paul writes about in Romans when we are asked to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
We do this to make sure we don’t take God’s blessing for granted. God doesn’t require our praise, but God loves receiving our prayers, as a loving Father loves the words of devotion from His children. As a loving Father, God does not expose us to the death lightly, as He looks upon us as His precious children. In this, His salvation for us, out of the darkest of darkness, shows how powerful, and how in control God is over all things.
God’s salvation comes as a response to the cruelty and injustice in the world. When we take up our cross and follow Christ, we submit ourselves to be God’s servants, and to submit ourselves to be a part of God’s salvation and kingdom coming to the world. God doesn’t want to see anyone suffer and die, and invites us to be an expression of God’s mercy to bring peace and love to those hurting, those suffering, those dying.
Because God has saved us, we bring His grace, His peace, and ultimately His salvation to a world facing an executioner. We practice and live out our faith so that the world can see life in the face of death, hope in the face of despair, and peace in the midst of chaos. We don’t do this alone, but if the church raises up to bring this, we practice our mutual faith, and it ultimately will stimulate the cultivation and environment that leads to godliness. This is ultimate freedom, freedom from death, freedom from despair, and freedom to live a life as a precious child of God.
A Reflection on 1 Peter 1:3-9
Unprecedented times have led to changes in our lifestyle. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we were not ready for the changes that have happened in our lives over the last month. So much of the world we had thought was secure, so many of the institutions in which we placed our faith have let us down, and we are left grasping the air.
Peter found himself thinking the same way after Christ was taken away. All that he thought was secure was nailed to the cross, and his sworn allegiance to Jesus was shaken because when pushed, Peter denied. With this lapse in faith and judgement Peter found himself in a situation where he needed a Savior, he needed a fresh faith.
We don’t need to give up on our faith because the fabric of life seems to be breaking apart at the seams. Through bitterness about our circumstance, we may be willing to give everything up and walk away from obedience to Christ. However, we have a lot to learn about ourselves, and about how Christ meets us in this temporary time. This same Christ met Peter after the resurrection, and even when Peter had denied Christ, God’s grace removed the disgrace, and reinstated Peter as the rock of foundation for the Church. It was in this grace-filled circumstance that Peter writes the following:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV
No failure of faith keeps us away from the salvation that Christ offers to us through His death and resurrection. No matter the things that we end up putting in front of God, we are not beyond redemption. No matter how hard we try to make things work for ourselves, we are reminded that none of the things we do for ourselves lead us toward salvation, not our job, our bank account, or even our government. Christ is our only Hope, He saves us from our own stubbornness, and our sin.
Salvation is God’s work and not our work, this is the Hope that comforts us in this current situation. The hope is not something that we do to cause an effect, like wearing a mask or washing our hands to keep from getting sick, but rather a knowledge that God has already done the work that leads to salvation. Our actions give us a better chance, but God’s actions are assured to be efficacious.
It was this Hope that led the Israelites out of Egypt, and into the promised land. God promised Israel a land that was flowing with milk and honey, which was their inheritance. Peter reminds us that our inheritance is the Hope in Christ Jesus, and our faith in God cannot be removed, does not expire, and will not spoil.
When we start walking in this faith is where we are able to begin our life with Christ. When we are obedient to God, we can more easily be identified as Christ’s disciples. Even in our struggles: like missing our friends, our jobs, sports, and our church, God provides us with the Holy Spirit to walk near us and lift us up when we need support. We need to lean into this support, as it is the same God that raised Jesus from the dead, can certainly support us in our limited darkness.
Our circumstances are temporary, these times will come to an end, and we need to allow our faith to instruct us at this time. Peter reminds us that at times of darkness and despair help refine our faith, like fire refines gold, and to God our faith is far more valuable than the most pure gold. When we lean into this faith, all things are put into their proper perspective, and joy is produced deep within our soul.
This joy is not a result of achievement, but a gift from the Almighty God, as it disconnects us from our dependence on good circumstances. We can have joy in our grief, we can grieve the pain so many are experiencing, we can grieve those that are dying, we can grieve in the midst of pain; but in grief God reminds us about that which is true – God loves us and saves us from death. In this, we have Hope that doesn’t fail, Faith that doesn’t spoil, because God loves us and grants us a beautiful and wonderful joy.
A Reflection on Matthew 28:1-10
On a silent morning, there were guards, there were women, there was an angel, and there was a stone rolled away. Jesus had been resurrected, so He wasn’t there. The women went to the grave with good intentions, they went to prepare the body, they went to finish what they could not do on Friday. They were unaware that God finished the work of salvation… Jesus has completed the work, sin is defeated and death is defeated, Grace has won, Hope has won, Love has won, and PEACE has won.
Our world needs this right now, chaos is around us. People are shouting at one another, physical distancing has put many people on edge, anxiety, depression, frustration at one another is on the rise. Selfishness is on the rise, Anger is on the rise, Sadness is on the rise. The world needs peace, the world needs hope, the world needs the Church to step up and do the work to bring God’s Kingdom to the world.
These are similar feelings that Christ’s followers had when they saw Jesus crucified. They went and isolated themselves, not because of a virus, or because the government had imposed any sort of orders, but because they didn’t know what to do. Sabbath came and they sat in sorrow and fear because they did not think this would happen.
28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
This victory happens in an instant, none of the disciples or followers were there to see and give us their eyewitness, but they encountered Christ and told us about their encounter. They did not give us a scientific explanation about how Christ was raised from the dead, but rather we are told how they encountered Christ. The importance was not on the how, but the who. Who Christ was, who Christ encountered, and who Christ loved enough to go the lengths that he did to shatter the power of darkness and bring forth the light.
Everyone in this story had a purpose. The guards had a purpose to keep Jesus in the grave. The women had a purpose to prepare the body of Christ. The angel had a purpose to deliver the message. Jesus had fulfilled His purpose, and now was bringing blessing to all of those He appeared to on that blessed Sunday. His light was snuffing out the darkness that sin had introduced into the world.
This darkness has grasped hold of our world. Fear and uncertainty surround us in an unprecedented way. Chaos grips the world, we do not know when there will be an end to these orders, we do not know when there will be an end to the fear that has grasped so much of the world that looks for answers to the end of a virus.
People look for answers, but the church needs to bring hope. The church needs to bring an answer to chaos, and that is peace. God’s love must pour through all of us and overwhelm the world with grace. In the light of this, now is the time for the church to rise up and fulfill their role within the world. Just as Esther was placed in her role to save the Hebrew people, for such a time as this, the Church must rise to the occasion to be the leaders in the world.
The role that the Church needs to fulfill is not one of radical disobedience to the authorities, or one of fear, but rather to lead the world by being the source of ingenuity, peacemaking, grace, mercy, hope, and love. It is this moment where we act out of the wisdom God has given to us, where we look out for the vulnerable and weak. The Church must lead in showing the world that God’s control is not in question even in the face of the many fears this virus may rise up in us. Rising up in this season will lead to revival, rejoicing, and reconciliation. This is that which Christ came to lead His Church!
Jesus along with the disciples were celebrating and practicing their custom, the meal that acknowledges the saving power of God, Passover. The meal that celebrates and acknowledges that God released the Hebrew people from bondage at the hands of the Egyptians. So too, we approach the table that Jesus establishes for us in remembrance that we have been released from bondage; the bondage of sin.
The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus celebrating this meal with His disciples.
Matthew 26:17-25 (ESV)
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Jesus turns this meal that had been a celebration about release into an acknowledgement of the current circumstance. Jesus was going to be betrayed, and it was coming from His close group of friends. Being friends with and having a relationship with Jesus does not preclude you from betraying and turning on Him. We sit and pray to the Lord, we ask for God’s blessing over our meal, we talk, we laugh, we enjoy one another. However, sometimes bad things happen, we are pressured to do something contrary to our faith, something akin to selling out our Lord and Savior. At times when the pressure mounts, we must lean further into the relationship with Christ, rather than flee from it; remembering that we must conform to Christ’s agenda, not try to conform Christ into our own agenda.
After speaking with the disciples and warning them of trouble to come, Jesus then stands up and expresses what He is about to do. The act that Christ is about to carry out is in continuity with history, it is an act of salvation. There is no better time to point this out than during a celebration about how God saved the people of Israel from enslavement in Egypt, because the people are no longer enslaved to their sin.
With the following words Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper:
Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The feast and celebration of the Passover is an opportunity for Israel to look back at how God had been present with them in their escape from Egypt, while simultaneously being comforted and assured that God is with them through the troubles that exist currently, and looking to the future with hope because God will continue to walk alongside them.
So too, as we approach The Lord’s Table, we recognize that God has been with us throughout our lives, bringing us salvation by dying for our sins, breaking us free from the bondage and death present in this separation from God. Also, God is with us currently, walking with us through all trials and temptations. He invites us to lean into our relationship with Him, and to give all our highs and lows to Christ, because through the power of God we can make it through our circumstances. When we take the bread and cup, we also do so in a community that is a foretaste of eternity in the Kingdom.
Even now, as we are separate, I invite you to join together in partaking in this foretaste of the glory awaiting us.
Matthew 26:1-16 (ESV)
26 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
The powers of the world have conspired to remove the power of Jesus, and they plan to carry out their plan as secretly as possible. The world does not want to incite action, but knock us down when we are not looking. By removing Jesus in secrecy, there is an attempt to remove the head for hope that the body would die off.
Little to the powers of the world know that on the other side of their conspiracy is a Divine Plan to restore that leads to resurrection, and these world leaders did not anticipate God’s action. Their fear was in what the crowds were going to do, so they avoided stirring the crowds, however their fear should firmly be directed at God, and God alone.
We ultimately know that Jesus doesn’t strike out against this conspiracy, but rather allows it to be used in Christ’s ultimate purpose to die for our sins, so too the Church should not be dismayed at those that seek to harm and destroy the church, but rather we look toward the disease, those that seek to hurt, and destroy the church the way that Jesus approached his death, without fear, and with the knowledge and understanding that the Holy Spirit is with us to comfort us, and that we are strengthened by the power of God.
Jesus knew His purpose, and is calling to us to fulfill His purpose for us even now in the face of darkness. Think about how you have been feeling during this pandemic. Anger, fear, frustration, boredom, anxiety, sorrow, sadness are legitimate expressions, and we need to bring these to God.
Pouring It Out For God
A woman, not even given a name in this passage, gave Jesus a great gift. A gift that most of Christ’s followers could not even comprehend. Many of them could only think about how the woman was doing something foolish with an expensive ointment by pouring it all upon Christ. It caused an upheaval among the followers of Christ.
Instead of looking to Christ for a response, they acted out of their own worldview. They chastised and sought to point out the foolishness of the woman. They thought of all the things that could have been done with the money that could have been made through the sale of the ointment. They saw the woman as a commodity, and did not stop to see her humanity. That is what Jesus saw.
Jesus saw a woman giving a gift of great expense. Pouring out the ointment as a service to God. She may not have understood just what she was doing, and the disciples were certainly clueless about what was happening, but Jesus was aware and obedient. Jesus saw this woman’s humanity, and the gift she was willing to give. She was obedient to God’s purpose, and Jesus commends her for her actions.
Jesus calls us to obedience even if it does not make sense to us. Rebellion comes in all types of activities, some of us point out where others are falling short, and others of us just act in open rebellion against God. While we may not see our rebellion as outright betrayal of Christ, or in Judas’ case, selling Him out, any time we act contrary to the Will of God we are His enemies.
We should think about how we give to God, and how we fulfill God’s call in our lives. God requires us to acknowledge the humanity in each other as CHRIST acknowledges the humanity in each one of us. Additionally, God calls us to unite with Him in joining in bringing God’s Kingdom into the world, against the powers of the world. In this way we are either joining the world in destroying Christ, or joining Christ in waging a battle against the powers of the world!