Weekly Reflections

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For June 19, 2022

ISAIAH 65:1-9

THE BACKGROUND

This part of Isaiah was written after the Israelites had returned home from their captivity in Babylon. In the years that followed, God’s people had divided into two camps.  One group closely followed the Laws of Moses.  Others embraced parts of the Canaanite culture and religious practices. There was a lot of polarity and tension, much like we have today.

THE DETAIL

  • The Lord declares that He is ready for His people to seek him out, but they do not ask or call for Him.  Sadly, He calls out “Here I am, here I am”, but nobody calls on Him.  (v. 1)
  • He calls out to them, but they are busy doing other things.  They are involving themselves in Canaanite rituals.  A list of activities follow, many of which are forbidden by Jewish law.  It is an impure act, for example to frequent the tombs of the dead.  Eating pork and “abominable things” is also forbidden. (vv. 2-4)
  • They even have the audacity to claim that they are “too holy” to associate with the Lord! They must have thought their gods superior to Him.  (v. 5a)
  • This does not set well with our Lord.  He will remember this, and fix it in His own time.  (vv. 5b-7)
  • But here is the loving grace of God.  He calls His people “a cluster of grapes”.  Sure, there are some bad ones in the cluster.  But to destroy the cluster would mean destroying the good ones, too. His beloved will not have to pay for the transgressions of the bad ones.  (vv. 8-9) 

THE TAKEAWAY

God has high expectations for us, His people.  Many around us see God through different lenses than we do.  All think they are the holiest group.  God’s job is to sort this out, which He will in His own time. Our job is to strive to live godly lives as defined by the bible.  Meanwhile, we must try to get along with all those other groups, in spite of our differences.

 

GALATIANS 3:23-29

THE BACKGROUND

The church in Galatia was mainly comprised of Gentiles.  Apparently, some Jewish Christians became involved after Paul’s departure.  They not only believed in Jesus, but also believed that it was important to comply with all the Jewish laws, especially those pertaining to circumcision and diet.  In this section of his letter to this church, Paul is very angry.  He wants to set the record straight as to what is important and what is not.

THE DETAIL

  • Paul says that before we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior, we were “imprisoned” by the [Jewish] law.  (v. 23)
  • He calls the law our “disciplinarian”.  This was in effect until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith [and not by works of the law].  (v. 24)
  • With the coming of Christ, we no longer need a disciplinarian—we are now children of God through faith!  (vv. 25-26)
  • All of us who have been baptized, wear Jesus’ saving act like a beautiful robe.  (v. 27)
  • Next, Paul wipes out all types of potentially separating factors.  It doesn’t matter who you are—we are all one in Jesus.  And if we belong to Jesus, then we are all sons (and daughters) of Abraham.  [Jewish, in a way.]  (vv. 28-29)

THE TAKEAWAY

Elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that the law has not been obliterated.  It still stands as a guide to the abundant life.  But our salvation is not linked to works of the law, but to faith in Jesus.  This is the good news for all!

 

LUKE 8:26-39

THE BACKGROUND

In the verses preceding today’s passage, Jesus and his disciples hopped onto a boat, and sailed across the Sea of Galilee.  A storm kicked up, and they almost drowned.  But to their amazement, Jesus calmed the storm. 

THE DETAIL

  • They now come to the Gentile side of the lake, the eastern shore.  There was no invitation to come here, and there was no crowd waiting for him.  (v. 26)
  • Instead of a crowd, they are met by a naked, crazy man who is possessed with many demons.  He is an outcast from society.  (v. 27)
  • The demons recognize Jesus straightaway.  They beg Jesus not to disturb them, but it is not to be. (vv. 28-29)
  • Jesus asks the demons what their name is.   They reply “Legion”.  It is good to know that a Roman legion consists of about 5,000 soldiers, so there were a lot of demons tormenting this poor soul.  (v. 30)
  • A deal is struck. Instead of sending them into “the abyss” (Hell?), Jesus agrees to send them into a herd of nearby pigs.  The pigs destroy themselves!  (vv. 31-33)
  • The swine shepherds saw this, and ran into town to report it.  The remarkable thing to me is that Jesus did not get in trouble for destroying livestock.  No! Everybody was focused on the formerly possessed man.  (vv. 34-36)
  • Apparently, this was too much for these Gentiles to take.  They were not ready for the awesome power that Jesus possessed.  They asked him to leave!  (v. 37)
  • So, Jesus left. Interestingly, the cured man wanted to follow Jesus. But Jesus asked him to stay behind and witness to this community to the miracle that had been performed.  (vv. 38-39)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus’ saving grace is available to everyone—even naked, crazy people!  But some people are not ready for the Good News.  Our task is to witness and share our faith experiences with everyone.  They may fall on many a deaf ear.  But there will always be some who want and need to hear the Good News.

 

For June 12, 2022

NOTE: This Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday.  It is the time that we set aside to reflect on the concept of the Holy Trinity.  Our beliefs about the Holy Trinity were not firmly established until 325 AD at the Council of Nicea, many years after the bible was written.  In between these times, various explanations arose which attempted to explain the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The purpose of this council was to clear the air, once and for all.  The words of the Nicean Creed are found here, after the study of the gospel lesson.

 

PROVERBS 8:1-4, 22-31

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Proverbs is a compilation of wisdom literature.  Every culture has wise sayings to guide them on correct paths in life. From Poor Richard’s Almanac we get “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  A Japanese proverb is “Even monkeys fall from trees.”  Proverbs is the book of wisdom compiled to guide God’s people in living a godly life.  Sometimes, as in today’s reading, wisdom is personified—given human form. 

THE DETAIL

  • Our passage begins with Lady Wisdom beckoning us to listen to her.  She calls us from every place where we might gather.  Note that in Old Testament times, all the important business was conducted at the city’s gates.  Marital matches were arranged there.  Grievances and trials conducted there, as well as business of all kinds. It is fitting that Widsom would go there to call us to her.  (vv. 1-4)
  • Here is the key to this passage.  The very first thing that God did was create wisdom.  He did this before God created our world.  (vv. 22-23)
  • In Genesis 1 is the creation story that most of us are familiar with.  (Genesis 2 is another different one.)  In Genesis 1:2, creation begins with “the deep”.  In the beginning, there was just water.  Wisdom tells us that she was created even before “the depths” were created. Then, in great detail, she describes how she was present when God created the other parts of our world. (vv. 25-29)
  • She concludes this section by telling us that she was by God’s side when he created all this, and with Him delighted in His creation of it and the human race.  (vv. 30-31) 

THE TAKEAWAY

When someone builds a house, they begin by laying a good foundation.  Before God created our world, His foundation was creating Lady Wisdom. We should look to her for guidance in living lives that are pleasing to our Creator.  In these latter days, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Perhaps Lady Wisdom was the Holy Spirit’s predecessor.

 

ROMANS 5:1-5

THE BACKGROUND

This passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is rich.  Many points can be made from studying it.  Since we are studying the Holy Trinity today, we will focus our study to the concept of the Holy Trinity presented here.  Remember that this was written nearly 300 years before the word “trinity” was used to describe God.  You will not find that word anywhere in our bible.

THE DETAIL

  • In the opening verse of this passage, we learn of how Jesus has affected our relationship with God. By dying on the cross for our sins, he has justified us, made us clean, and opened the door.  Because of this saving act, we now have access to God’s abounding grace.  The free-flowing gift of God’s love.  (vv. 1-2a)
  • So, if we can brag about anything, it is about God’s free gift of grace to us.  (v. 2b)
  • OK, if you still want to brag, you can brag about your sufferings!  He goes on to explain why we might actually brag about suffering for our faith.  (vv. 3-5a)
  • Because of our faith-hope, the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts!  (v. 5b) 

THE TAKEAWAY

In this passage we see all three—God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit acting in unity and in love to draw us close to God.  The Son clears the pathway which is cluttered by our sin.  The Holy Spirit follows close behind, pouring God’s love into our hearts.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Close your eyes, and try to visualize the Holy Spirit holding a five gallon bucket of God’s love and grace. The Spirit now pours this love all over us.  
 

JOHN 16:12-15

THE BACKGROUND

Today’s gospel reading is again from Jesus’ final discourse in the upper room.  It is part of his last instructions to his close friends and followers.  If you stop to think about it, the entire discourse, chapters 13-17, are all about God’s love for us.

THE DETAIL

  • Even though this discourse is five chapters long, Jesus says that there is so much more that he’d love to tell them.  But he holds back, knowing that they can’t handle any more at that moment.  (v. 12)
  • The good news is that they will get all of it later, when the “Spirit of truth” comes.  The Holy Spirit.  (v. 13a)
  • Jesus then explains that this spirit isn’t acting on its own, but declares what Jesus and God the Father want us to know.  Jesus cleverly knits the wills of God Father and Son together.  He tells them that the message that the Holy Spirit will give them comes directly from both Father and Son.  (vv. 13b-15)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus gives us a very good description of how the Holy Spirit works in unity with the Father and Son to help us on our faith journey.  We can look to the Holy Spirit to continue to provide us with guidance flowing from God to us through this Spirit.


 

 

THE NICEAN CREED

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

English translation from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 edition.

 

For June 5, 2022

PENTECOST

NOTE: This week, we will study the scriptures in a different order, putting the reading from Acts as our final reading. This is because this day is all about the Holy Spirit, and the giving of that Spirit on the day of Pentecost. That story occurs in the book of Acts, today’s last reading.

ROMANS 8:14-17

THE BACKGROUND

These four verses are jam-packed with goodness!  But to understand them, it is important to understand the cultural lay of the land.  At the time Paul wrote this, about a third of the community was comprised of slaves. They were owned and traded much like they were here in the USA before the Civil War.  Very few were dark-skinned.  The important thing to know that is in a household of a slave owner, the slaves had no rights of inheritance.  Only the owner’s family was heirs to his fortune.  In the event of the death of the owner, the slaves either became the property of the children, or they were sold off.  In the early part of this chapter and in chapter 7, Paul talks about how people are either slaves to sin or free in the Holy Spirit.

THE DETAIL

  • All of us who love and follow the teachings of Jesus are led by the Spirit of God.  And, since we are led by the Spirit, we are now God’s children!  (v. 14)
  • We’re no longer slaves to our sinful ways, but freed by the blood of Jesus. Since we are thus freed, we have been adopted by God as his very children.  (v. 15a)
  • “Abba” is what a Hebrew child would call his father.  It is sort of like our “Dada”, “Daddy”, or “Dad”.  Apparently, these early Christians addressed God the Father by calling him “Daddy”.  This is sweet, and it is sad that we do not do this any longer.  Paul says that when we call God by this familiar name, it is the Holy Spirit working us into a closer relationship with our Father, thus proving that we are indeed His children.  (vv. 15b-16)
  • Finally, Paul reminds us that since we are now God’s children, we are joint heirs in the kingdom, along with our brother Jesus.  Our sufferings for our faith draw us even closer, when this occurs. (v. 17)

THE TAKEAWAY

My brother-in-law goes to a different sort of church than I do.  When he prays, he prays to the Father, and says “father” many times during his prayers. This is a good start, but maybe there is more.  Maybe we should start being less formal and more familiar in our prayers.  Maybe we should start calling God “Dad” or “Daddy”, like our brothers and sisters did many years ago. After all, we are indeed family members.  Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us with this one! 
 

JOHN 14:8-17

THE BACKGROUND

This discussion is part of the long discussion that took place in the upper room during the last supper.  In the verses just prior to these, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away to prepare dwelling places for them.  Thomas wants to know where he’s going.  Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life.  You can’t get to the father except through him. Then he tells them that they have already seen the father, which is puzzling to Phillip.

THE DETAIL

  • Quite logically, then, Phillip asks Jesus to show them the Father, and they’ll be happy.  (He didn’t know that he had just stepped on a land mine!)  (v. 8)
  • Jesus gives him a lot of grief for asking this question, but we learn a lot because of it.  Jesus basically states that since they have seen Jesus, they’ve seen the Father.  Our understanding of the Holy Trinity helps us comprehend this concept, but the disciples were pretty clueless at this point. Jesus makes his point very clear—he and the Father are one.  If you’ve seen one, you seen both of them.  (vv. 9-11)
  • Next, Jesus states that if we believe in him, we are capable of doing everything that he does.  And if we ask for anything in his name, he will grant it.  (vv. 12-14)
  • Here is a key verse:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Basically, the only commandment that Jesus gave us was to love one another, including our enemies.  When someone told him that the two most important commandments were to love God and love our neighbor, Jesus replied “On these hang all the other laws”.  Jesus broke many of his Father’s laws, but it was always done out of love. Love is number one.  That’s why he came to earth, to make this very clear. (v. 15)
  • Jesus promises that once he leaves, “the Advocate” will come, the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Truth is being sent to us his believers.  The “world” (non-believers) won’t see this spirit, only us.  (vv. 16-17)

THE TAKEAWAY

With the coming of Jesus to earth, we now get a clear picture of God the Father.  Jesus lived his life as an example of the perfect life—a life full of love for everyone around him.  The only time he was angry was when seemingly pious people clung to the Law of Moses and ignored the Law of Love.  That’s what it takes to make Jesus angry!

He also tells us that although he is leaving, the Holy Spirit is coming.  The Holy Spirit will be with us forever. 

 

ACTS 2:1-21

THE BACKGROUND

This scene takes place in Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish festival called Pentecost.  It was a harvest festival, similar to our Thanksgiving.  Jesus has ascended into heaven.  The disciples are in Jerusalem for this festival, along with a large group of Jews from foreign lands.  That’s when it all happened.

THE DETAIL

  • In the first paragraph, Luke is doing his best to describe this supernatural scene. It was like a wind.  There were these tongues as of fire flying around the room, and resting on the disciples.  It is always difficult to describe supernatural events in everyday language.   The Holy Spirit filled them, and they spoke in “other languages”.  (vv. 1-4)
  • There were Jews from all over the Roman Empire, present for the festival. They were astonished to hear these Galileans (“hicks”, in other words) speaking in their foreign languages.  Who taught them these languages???  They certainly did not learn them in Galilee! (vv. 5-11)
  • Some were perplexed, while others thought the disciples were simply drunk. (vv. 12-13)
  • Peter stands up and begins a beautiful, long sermon.  We only get the beginning of it in today’s passage, but I will give you a peek at the rest.  You can read it for yourself.  It is Acts 2:22-42.  He goes on to explain the life and work of Jesus, his death, and resurrection.  He invites those present to believe in Jesus. Many were baptized that day and in the days following.  (vv. 14-21)

THE TAKEAWAY

The Holy Spirit made a dramatic entrance on that first Christian Pentecost!  The same Peter who denied Jesus during his trial is now full of wisdom and courage, preaching the Good News to everyone who has ears.  This same Spirit is there for us.  This Spirit guides us and urges us in our faith-walk.  The Spirit provides the words for us to do the work of the Lord.  The Spirit gives us strength when we need it.  All we need to do to get this, is ask and listen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How has the Holy Spirit made itself known to you? How has it helped you along your faith journey?  Share the experience with those around you. 

 

 

FOR MAY 29, 2022

ACTS 16:16-34

THE BACKGROUND

In last week’s first lesson, we learned about Paul going to Macedonia, and baptizing the household of Lydia.  Today’s passage picks up right where we left off.  

THE DETAIL

  • It looks like Paul and Silas are continuing to go down to the river where they met Lydia.  They do this “for many days”.  On their way, they regularly pass a female slave, who is a fortune teller.  (Fortune tellers are forbidden by Jewish law.)  She makes a lot of money for her owners.  She, or rather the spirit inside her, recognizes Paul’s group for what they truly are—“slaves of the Most High God”.  She shouts this out every time they pass.  (vv. 16-18a)
  • Finally, Paul has had enough.  He exorcizes the spirit out of the woman.  Now that this spirit is gone, the woman no longer has the power to foretell the future. She has lost her value to her owners, and they are angry.  They drag them before the authorities.  (vv. 18b-19)
  • They twist their story to upset the magistrate.  Others chime in.  Perhaps they were her customers, and were also angry at what had happened.  Paul and Silas are flogged, and thrown in jail—in the innermost cell, with their legs in stocks.  (vv. 20-24)
  • Paul and Silas are singing hymns and praying.  An earthquake occurs at midnight, bursting the prison doors open, and unlocking the stocks.  The jailer awakes, and supposes that everybody probably escaped while he was sleeping.  (They did not have lights back then, and everything was dark and dank.)  Knowing that he failed his duty, he is about to take his own life.  Paul shouts out to stop him.  Lights are called for, and everybody is there!   (vv. 25-29)
  • That’s all it took for the jailer.  He was ready to follow Jesus.  Maybe the hymns and prayers were good witness, as well as Paul and Silas’ honesty. After all, they saved his life. (vv. 30-31)
  • It gets even more strange.  The jailer takes them to his home, where he bathes them, and tends to their wounds. His entire household is baptized! Paul and Silas are fed.  There is much rejoicing over their new faith. (vv. 32-34)

THE TAKEAWAY

This is not the end of the story.  It continues through to the end of the chapter, verse 40.  But this is the end of the passage for us, which is OK, because it is a pretty long one already. 

What I take from this story is the true conviction of Paul and Silas to their missionary work, and how the Holy Spirit works to win the hearts of some very unlikely people.  It is true that Paul and Silas suffer for their conviction.  But it is also true that this didn’t stop them from their mission.  Roman prisons were like caves, and Paul and Silas were in the very back of this cave, in stocks, in the pitch black darkness. What were they doing?  Praying and singing hymns!  This would not be the last time that they would suffer for their convictions. 

How lucky we are that we do not normally get confronted with this sort of injustice and violence because of our faith.  Yet, all too often, we pay a price for our convictions.  Let’s be like Paul and Silas, singing hymns in the darkest of situations.  God’s love and care is ever at hand.

 

REVELATION 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

THE BACKGROUND

To us, the book of Revelation is a weirdly written book.  But John was not a weirdo.  The vision set down in Revelation by John was written in a very familiar style of writing, which we call apocalyptic literature.  There are other examples of this in our bible, notably in Daniel and Ezekiel.  Many other examples of apocalyptic literature were also written.  They are just not found in our bible.  In John’s time, people of faith were very accustomed to this style of writing, and they knew how to interpret it.  These days, there is much confusion, with people interpreting it one way and others another way.  But to the people of John’s day, the message was clear—In spite of what is going on around us, God is in control.  God will prevail.  Keep the faith.  God’s got this! 

Today’s passage is the final verses of this vision.  These are the concluding sentences.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus is speaking, assuring us that he is coming soon.  He reminds us that he is the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end. He was there at the beginning of creation, and he is here at the end.  (vv. 12-13)
  • He tells us that we are blessed, we who have washed our robes.  This is a reference to 7:11-14, which we read two weeks ago. Our white robes are washed in his blood (not literally, but figuratively, of course).  Since we are baptized believers, we have the right to see and eat from the tree of life we heard about last week.  Most importantly, we are free to enter the gates of the new Jerusalem.  (v. 14)
  • The heavenly band pleads for us to “come”.  Come home to Jesus and take the water of life.  It is a gift!  (vv. 16-17)
  • In conclusion, Jesus promises to come soon, to which we all say AMEN!  (v. 20)
  • The book ends in a benediction.  (v. 21)

THE TAKEAWAY

Occasionally, I find it troubling for Jesus to say that he is coming “soon”.  2,000 years have passed since he said this!  For one thing, if he said “Keep the faith, I’m coming back in 2,000 years”, I’m not sure many would have kept the faith!  But more importantly, I remind myself that it is much more likely that I will be going to Jesus before he comes back to earth.  The end result is the same—I see Jesus! 

What do I take away from the reading of this book overall?  That my orders are to be steadfast in the faith, regardless of what might be happening in my world.  I have seen the Big Picture.  In the end, God wins, and the faithful live happily ever after.

 

JOHN 17:20-26

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus has been eating his last meal with his disciples in the upper room.  He has been giving them some last minute teachings and instructions. Today’s passage is his concluding prayer.  After this, he goes out to the garden where he is arrested.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus is praying to his Father.  He makes it clear that he is not only praying for the disciples present in the room, but for all of us believers as well.  This prayer is for all of us, not just his inner circle.  (v. 20)
  • He is praying this so that we “may all be one”.  This is the main theme of his prayer.  It does not mean that Jesus wants us all to think alike.  We will take a closer look, as Jesus continues his prayer.  (v. 21a.)
  • Jesus asks his Father for us to be in a close a relationship with them, as tightly-knit as they are with each other.  He wants us to believe  and trust that he was sent by the Father.  (v. 21b)
  • Verse 22 begins with the word “glory”.  The Father has given Jesus glory, which he has given to us “so that we may be one”. Please refer to the footnote below regarding the word glory. A recent commentary I’ve read states that within the context of Jesus’ prayer, this glory he’s talking about is “the essence of God”.  What is this essence?    It is clear in Jesus’ prayer that the essence of God is love.  (vv. 22-23)
  • Now, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter.  His desire is that we may be with him, so that we can see and feel this love-bond that exists between God Father and Son.  This is the love they have for us.  They want us to feel this love.  (v. 24)
  • These last verses summarize Jesus’ mission.  The world did not really know God, or at least God’s essence.  Jesus came to make that known.  Jesus came to show us how much God loves us, and to show us how to live our lives as God’s loving people.  (vv. 25-26)

THE TAKEAWAY

In this final prayer before his ordeal, Jesus prays to his Father that we may all be united in the same love that he and his Father have for one another.  Jesus’ wish is for us to be one in love. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How are we doing at being one in love?  Is our love so obvious that people can recognize our Christianity, simply based upon the outpouring of love we demonstrate for others?  I think we have a long way to go.  How do we begin?

GLORY

This word is used so often by us believers that I think it has lost its meaning.  So, when Jesus prays to his Father for him to give us some glory, I find myself asking what is this stuff???  Merriam-Webster defines glory in this way:


1a: praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent RENOWN

b: worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving//giving glory to God

2a: something that secures praise or renown//the glory of a brilliant career

b: a distinguished quality or asset//The glory of the city is its Gothic cathedral.

3a: a state of great gratification or exaltation//When she's acting she's in her glory.

b: a height of prosperity or achievement//ancient Rome in its glory

4a(1): great beauty and splendor MAGNIFICENCE//… the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.— E. A. Poe

(2): something marked by beauty or resplendence//a perfect glory of a day

b: the splendor and beatific happiness of heaven//broadly ETERNITY

5: a ring or spot of light: such as

a: AUREOLE

b: a halo appearing around the shadow of an object

Look at all those different meanings.  No wonder I’m confused.  The commentary I’ve read recently states that within the context of Jesus’ prayer, the glory he’s talking about is definition 2b: “a distinguished quality or asset”, or the essence of God. 

For May 22, 2022

ACTS 16:9-15

THE BACKGROUND

In the few verses preceding this passage, Paul and his group are heading off in this direction or that, only to have “the Spirit of Jesus” clearly tell them “no”.  They want to preach the Good News, but don’t know where to go.  They are at a standstill.

THE DETAIL

  • Finally, Paul has a dream in which a man tells him to “come over to Macedonia”. Macedonia is just north and east of present day Greece.  (v. 9)
  • They set sail from Troas (which is located in northwestern Turkey), and head for the seaport city of Neapolis, in Macedonia.  They have chosen Philippi as their destination.  Philippi is the capital of Macedonia.  It is on the main highway connecting Rome with its colonies to the east.  Many retired Roman soldiers live here.  It has been developed to be a model Roman city, to show others what the ideal life looks like under Roman rule.  (vv. 10-12a)
  • They rested “some days” from their journey.  On the Sabbath (Saturday), they went to the place where they thought there would be a meeting of the Jewish inhabitants of Philippi.  It takes a certain number of people to establish a synagogue; less than that, and you simply find a place to meet for prayer.  (vv. 12b-13a)
  • They start chatting with some women there, and meet a woman named Lydia.  Oddly enough, she is from Thyatira, which is one of the places that Paul was told not to go to.  She is a businesswoman dealing in expensive purple cloth.  Apparently, she was well to do.  The Lord opens her heart to the Good News.  (vv. 13b-14)
  • She accepts Jesus as the Messiah, and her whole household is baptized.  She urges Paul and his companions to stay with her, and continue teaching.  (v. 15)

THE TAKEAWAY

Paul and his followers are much attuned to the direction of the Holy Spirit.  They await orders, and obey them when they are conferred.  Most of the action in this story is not Paul, but the Holy Spirit.  It is even the Spirit that opens Lydia’s heart to hear the Word.  Paul provides a good model for our spiritual lives—listening for and obeying the Holy Spirit’s direction.
 

REVELATION 21:10, 22-22:5

THE BACKGROUND

Remember that this book is a vision given to John to strengthen the faith of Christians under his spiritual care.  This book offers a big-picture perspective of how God will bring an end to evil and injustice, and provide a comfortable home for the faithful. 

THE DETAIL

  • An angel carries John away to a high mountain, where he can view the new holy city Jerusalem. John gets a birds-eye view of the city. (v. 10)
  • In the verses that have been omitted from this selection, the city is described in great detail.  It is interesting to note that there is not one set of pearly gates, but twelve. There are three gates on each face of the city walls, which face north, south, east, and west.  Yes, these gates are made of pearl, but St. Peter is not peeking out from them; they are all wide open, for us the faithful to freely enter! (vv. 11-21)
  • The city does not have a temple representing God’s presence, because God (Father and Son) are the temple!  (v. 22)
  • This place is so special, that the source of daylight the glory of God.  (v. 23)
  • All the nations of the earth walk here, including rulers and everyday people.  And those pearly gates are always open.  (vv. 24-26)
  • This is a pure place, where nothing imperfect exists.  Only we believers live there, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  It is a perfect world.  (v. 27)
  • Wait! There’s more!  A beautiful crystal river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb right through the heart of town.  There are trees along the river which continually provide the inhabitants with fruit. (vv. 1-3)
  • As was said earlier, there will be nothing bad in this city.  There is no night, because God’s brightness shines continually.  God reigns forever!  (v. 3-6)

THE TAKEAWAY

I find comfort in this passage, knowing that the gates to heaven are open wide to believers from the whole world.  God dwells with us.  We are home.


 

 

JOHN 14:23-29

THE BACKGROUND

This reading is taken from Jesus’ long discourse in the upper room, the night before his crucifixion. He has just told his disciples that he is leaving them.  He has reassured them that they will see him again, even though others will not. Judas (not Iscariot) asks Jesus “How does this happen?”  Jesus does not directly answer the question, but the answer is there.  Let’s look for that, and see what else he says. 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus’ first words (answer?) is that there are those who love him and his father, and keep his word.  They have the ability to see him, whereas “the world” is blind.  Jesus and his Father will come to them, and make their home with them.  This is the answer to Judas’ question.  Love God and keep his word, and they will come.  (v. 23)
  • The next statement is a sort of opposite of the first.  Jesus says that if you following other’s teachings, then you’re not keeping his words.  “It’s the message of the Father…” was a little confusing to me at first.  Jesus is saying that the message he has been sharing is from the Father, and other messages are not.  (v. 24)
  • Then, Jesus tells them to be at peace.  Don’t be worried.  He is sending “The Friend” (in this translation), the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will make everything plain.  (vv. 25-27)
  • They must have still seemed sad, because he tells them that they should be happy! I’m sure that was hard advice for them to take.  (v. 28)
  • Finally, he tells them why he’s told them all of this ahead of time—so they’ll believe even better when it all happens.  (v. 29) 

THE TAKEAWAY

It is nice that we already know the end of the story.  We know of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  We know that the Holy Spirit did come as promised.  We must put our trust in Jesus and his teachings.  By trusting and keeping them, we will see him!

 

For May 8, 2022

ACTS 9:36-43

THE BACKGROUND

Our first readings continue to be taken from the book of Acts.  Jesus has ascended into heaven, and left his apostles to carry on his work.  We see the new church in action.  One thing needs to be brought to mind.  Palestine, 2,000 years ago, was a very male-dominated society.  The role of women was very limited.  It was nearly impossible to “make it on your own” as a woman.  Women were almost always under the care or charge of a male, whether it was a husband, a father, or a brother.  This is why Jesus “handed off” the responsibility of caring for his mother Mary to “the disciple whom he loved” in John 19:25b-27.  What with all the wars and sickness, many men died early, leaving families behind.  Widows and orphans were one of the big social problems of that time.  There was no way for most of them to make ends meet.  In fact, in Acts 6:1-6, seven Christian men were assigned to this ministry.

THE DETAIL

  • This story takes place in the seaside city of Joppa.  A woman lived there, whose name we are given in both Greek and Aramaic. She is a disciple of Jesus, and has devoted her life to doing good works and acts of charity.  (v. 36)
  • Long story short—she gets sick and dies.  (v. 37)
  • Peter is nearby in Lydda, and Tabitha’s friends hear about this.  Two of them go there, and ask him to come quickly to Joppa.  (v. 38)
  • As they enter the room where her body lay, they show Peter some of the clothing that she had been making for the poor.  (v. 39)
  • The scene is reminiscent of the story in Luke 8:40-56, where Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter.  Peter empties the room, and calls to Tabitha to get up.  She does!  (v. 40)
  • Peter helps her up, and shows her to the saints (the Christian believers) and the widows.  Word spreads of this miracle, and many come to believe.  (vv. 41-42)
  • Peter stays on a few days, presumably to preach and teach to the new believers. (v. 43)

THE TAKEAWAY

Tabitha is not one of the seven men officially assigned to caring for widows and orphans.  In spite of this, she sees an opportunity to serve Jesus by caring for those in need.  In verse 41, Peter shows Tabitha to “the saints and to the widows”.  “The saints” means the believers in Jesus.  Since the widows are listed separately, it indicates to me that not all the widows are necessarily believers.  Tabitha’s clothing ministry is open to all.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What is Jesus calling us to do in our world? What are the needs of those around us? Are we open to serving everyone, regardless of belief or ethnicity? 

 

REVELATION 7:9-17

THE BACKGROUND

As we read through these passages from Revelation, keep in mind that these words were written to strengthen the faith of those suffering for believing in Jesus.  They should not evoke fear, but confidence that God is in control, and will triumph in the end.

Last week’s throne room scene continues.  Six of the seven seals have been opened by Jesus the Lamb. The suspense builds, knowing that the seventh seal will wreak havoc on earth.  A key to understanding why all this is happening is found in 5:9-11.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’  They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.”

The people of John’s day were suffering and dying for their faith, and were wondering when God would even the score.  John’ answer is for them to have patient endurance.

THE DETAIL

  • John looks, and sees  multitude of people dressed in white robes, praising God the Father and Son.  The robes signify victory.  Victory (nike in Greek) is a prized trait in Roman society.  They join in singing the praise-song that the creatures and elders have been singing.  (vv. 9-12)
  • I’d like to paraphrase verse 13-14a in this way:  “One of the elders asked me ‘Do you know who these people are, who are robed in white?’  I told him ‘You tell me!  You’re the one who knows.’”
  • The elder supplies the answer—they are those who have come out of the “great ordeal”.  Their robes have become white because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. It makes no practical sense, if we take this verse literally.  Don’t try to take a stain out of a white garment by washing it in blood!  But, the symbolism is crystal clear—salvation comes from being faithful to Jesus the Lamb.  (v. 14b)
  • Their faithfulness in the face of adversity is why they are here in God’s throne room.  They are safe now.  They will suffer no more.  These words of comfort are much needed to John’s churches.  They are also great news for us in times of trouble.

THE TAKEAWAY

A friend of mine had an expression.  When we would get mired into some sort of problem at work, we couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  He would tell us to “zoom out to 30,000 feet”.  If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, the view from up there gives you a completely different perspective. 

In our troubled times, it is helpful to stand back and look at life from God’s perspective.  At times, it may appear that God is nowhere to be found.  But if we stand back, especially if we read Revelation, we see that God is in control.  God’s got this!
 

JOHN 10:22-30

NOTE: In this study, I am going to use the word “church” incorrectly.   I will use it to describe the established religion of the people around Jesus, the Jewish people.  I am using this word in this way for a reason that will become clear in the Takeaway.

THE BACKGROUND

 Jesus’ ministry has been causing problems for the “church” of Jesus’ day.  Jesus’ teachings and actions challenged their views of how a man of God should act.  Some thought Jesus was a man of God, but other devout people thought that he was demon-possessed.  “He was obviously a sinner, because he healed on the Sabbath—he did not obey God’s law.” Some even tried to stone him because they felt that he was a blasphemer.  (10:31) 

THE DETAIL

  • It is Hanukkah, and Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem.  He is confronted by some members of the “church”, who want him to just say it—“Are you the Messiah or not?” (vv. 22-24)
  • Jesus didn’t buy into their game.  He knew that it was a trap.  He had already told and shown them enough for them to know.  But they already had it all figured out.  They already knew who and what the Messiah would be like. Jesus’ words and actions didn’t fit into their mold.  They were out to get him.  In the end, he simply states that they are not part of his group; his “sheep”.  (vv. 25-26)
  • Using the sheep/shepherd analogy, he tells them that his people know his voice [and they do not].  I recently learned that sheep actually do know their shepherd’s voice, and follow him. (v. 27)
  • Now, Jesus takes the discussion further, telling them that those who follow him will have eternal life, and they will never be separated.    (v. 28)
  • Jesus concludes by stating that he and the Father are inseparable; of one mind. (vv. 29-30)

THE TAKEAWAY

In the previous chapter, we are told the story about Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. There is bitter irony in this story, because many of the onlookers couldn’t “see” that Jesus was the Messiah at work.  They couldn’t see past the fact that he did this on the Sabbath, which violated a Law of Moses.  Jesus must have also seen the irony in the situation, because in 9:39 he says “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

These days, we are so bent on having answers for everything, I am concerned that we will fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. We could be looking for Jesus to return exactly like this or like that, and totally miss the entire event.  Now that would mean being truly left behind!  The key here is in knowing the shepherd’s voice.  For me, this comes from reading the gospels, listening to Jesus’ words, observing his actions, and doing my best to emulate him in my actions. This is not easy, and I fail almost constantly!  But to my way of thinking, I’ve seen far too many “shepherds” out there who are more like Pharisees than my Lord. 

For May 1, 2022

ACTS 9:1-20

THE BACKGROUND

A young man named Saul is first mentioned in Acts 7:58.  Steven is stoned to death for preaching the gospel, & Saul takes care of the coats of those doing the dirty work.  Saul then goes on to enter houses of worship, and drags women and men off to prison. (Acts 8:1-3) 

THE DETAIL

  • Saul’s story picks back up in chapter 9.  He has asked for approval from the high priest to arrest those belonging to the Way. This is what the Christians were called at that time.  (vv. 1-2)
  • As he approached the city of Damascus, Saul receives a supernatural confrontation.  There is a flash of light.  Jesus speaks to him, asking him why Saul is persecuting him. Jesus gives him directions to go to Damascus and await further instruction.  (vv. 3-6)
  • Saul has been blinded by the flash of light.  Those with him take Saul to Damascus.  He was so shook up that he did not eat or drink for three days.  (vv. 7-9)
  • There is a Christian in Damascus named Ananias.  The Lord comes to him in a vision, and tells him to care for Saul.  But Ananias has heard of this man, and the nasty things he has done to followers of the Way.  (vv. 10-14)
  • The Lord answers that Ananias should “…go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen…”  (v. 15)
  • Ananias obeys. He meets Saul, and cares for him. When he lays his hands on Saul, he regains his sight.  Saul is baptized.  Afterward, Saul begins preaching in the synagogues, proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.  (vv. 16-20)

THE TAKEAWAY

Later in the story, Saul’s name is changed to Paul, the famous evangelizer of Gentiles.  But the words we should focus on are those in verse 15. Jesus tells Ananias that Saul is Jesus’ instrument.  We are all called to be Jesus’ instruments, serving Jesus by loving those around us.  
 

REVELATION 5:11-14

THE BACKGROUND

Today’s excerpt is a small segment of a vision that was given to John in order to assure and strengthen the faith of the churches he was caring for.  They had undergone various forms of strife.  All were in danger of losing touch with the gospel message.  After the introduction we studied last week, there are three chapters of instructions to the seven churches John was responsible for. 

Beginning in chapter four, a voice tells John “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  You and I might expect to see something cataclysmic, such as a war or a plague. Instead, John is taken to heaven to witness a worship scene.   After all, this is where we should begin. 

For the sake of brevity, much of the scene has been cut from today’s reading.  Allow me to reconstruct the missing beginning.  John attempts to describe God and His throne in 4:2-6. But how do you describe such a thing?!? Around the throne are four living creatures, all different, but all having three pairs of wings.  They fly around the throne and continually praise God with their singing.  Twenty-four elders follow the creatures, also singing praises to God.  In God’s hand is a scroll that no one can open.  A Lamb appears, who is described as “a Lamb as if it has been slaughtered”.  The Lamb (Jesus) takes the scroll.  He alone is able to break the seals.   The creatures and the elders sing “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.” 

 

THE DETAIL

  • All the creatures, elders, and saints in heaven join in, directing their praise to the Lamb. “Worthy is the Lamb!”  In my church, we use these same words as a hymn of praise to our Lord.  It is one of my favorite parts of worship.  (vv. 11-12)
  • As if this weren’t enough, heaven AND earth (including the oceans’ contents), join in this hymn of praise to God and the Lamb.  (v. 13)
  • In conclusion, our worship leaders, the four creatures, say a big amen.  Then, all the elders, fell down and worshipped.  (v. 14)

THE TAKEAWAY

In Roman times, a common way to flatter the emperor was to call him your Lord and God.  In 4:11, the four living creatures tell God on His throne “YOU are our Lord and God”. It would have been clear to the first readers of this book exactly who was and who was not their true Lord and God. 

Some nasty things are about to happen, as the Lamb breaks the seals on the scroll.  But it is very important that the entire vision begins in heaven and in worship to the true Lord and God.  The vision that is about to be revealed requires a solid foundation. That foundation is to be found in God’s heavenly throne.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Life has a way of throwing us some very difficult challenges, from time to time.  If our eyes are firmly fixed on the throne of God and on the Lamb, we will have the strength to endure these hardships.

JOHN 21:1-19

THE BACKGROUND

This is Jesus’ final appearance to his disciples in the book of John.  In the previous story, which we studied last week, Jesus appears in the room where the disciples have locked themselves out of fear.  He breathes the spirit on his chosen, and tells them to continue his work after he’s gone.

THE DETAIL

  • The story begins on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Peter says “I’m going fishing!” The others join him.  They do some night fishing, but catch nothing.  (vv. 1-3)
  • At dawn, someone on the shore (Jesus) tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. (Like that’ll make a difference.) Well, why not?  So, they do, and they catch more fish than they can handle. 
  • Immediately, Peter realizes who is calling from the shore.  He puts on some clothes (!), and swims ashore to greet him.  (vv. 4-7)
  • The rest haul the catch and the boat ashore.  They have breakfast with Jesus, who has fish and bread for them.  They knew it was him, but no one dared ask.  (vv. 8-14)
  • Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  When Peter replies with an emphatic yes, Jesus gives Peter orders to feed and care for his “lambs” or “sheep”.  (vv. 15-17)
  • Finally, Jesus tells Peter that because of this love and devotion to him, Peter will indeed die a similar death to Jesus.  (vv. 18-19)

THE TAKEAWAY

Back in chapter 13, verse 37, Peter vowed to lay down his life for Jesus.  Shortly afterward, he would deny Jesus three times out of fear. Jesus renamed Simon, calling him Peter (the Rock).  Peter has not yet demonstrated rock-like characteristics, and Jesus is challenging him on this.  As we are reading in the book of Acts, Peter does answer the call.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How do we get the strength to face life’s challenges?  I believe that we must first commit ourselves to the task, as Peter does in this discussion with Jesus.  But after that, we can trust in the help of the Holy Spirit, just as Peter did. 

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