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“A Lion’s Heart” by Fred Smith

 

Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s wonderful blog post this morning and I thought I’d spend some time with you about it. With all due respect to Fred and his copyright on this material, I’d like to copy and paste parts of his blog that struck me and then talk with you about them. 

It wasn’t a simple disagreement but a showdown that resulted in both men, once fast friends, turning away from each other for the balance of their lives.

The opening sentence had me. Assuming this would be a Bible story, I knew the reference immediately. How sad to have a relationship defined this way 2,000 years later. And I’m certain Paul must have regretted this break between them after Barnabas was dead. How horrible. I’m sure both of them would look back and think that they took this moment much too seriously. And maybe Paul was right and Mark needed tough love. And maybe Barnabas was right and he needed mercy and instruction. Maybe they were both right and maybe they were both wrong. But Satan loves to divide us from each other. Hopefully, you were able to take this break and spread your gospel wider because of it. 

Speaking of Satan dividing us, while I was making my breakfast this morning, I felt different feelings of residual anger towards different people in my life. After a couple of minutes it was almost as if the Holy Spirit would whisper to me that Satan was attacking me and trying to cause divisions, so I would give mercy and move on. Then it would happen again with someone else. I would just be standing alone in the kitchen and start to feel anger towards someone for things done to me years ago. Pitiful. But it’s a good plan of attack on Satan’s part. bitterness feeds those selfish parts of our hearts and tears us apart from each other and you. Thank you for helping me to be aware of what was happening to me. I am sorry to you that I still apparently carry so much bitterness around with me. 

As a young man John Mark was surrounded by the apostles and leaders of the movement coming to his home. His mother, Mary, was wealthy and influential. With access to relationships and rare advantages a young man could not have had more exposure to courage, miracles, heroic figures and the first days of the greatest events in the history of the world.

Still, Mark was weak and afraid. He ran naked from Gethsemane. He quit Paul and Barnabas when conditions were difficult. He disappointed the ones who took a risk on him.

Did Mark have too many advantages? Was he not tough enough because he had been raised in privilege? I was watching one of the episodes in the 10-part series about the Chicago Bulls called The Last Dance. There was a story about two Bulls players on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team who decided they had a score to settle with a player on the Croatia team because their general manager was negotiating to give him more money than one of their current key players. This player hadn’t done anything to them personally, but they decided to teach their GM a lesson by humiliating this kid. And in the first game they did, but one of the people they interviewed made a comment about the Croatian kid’s resilience. He said that the NBA players didn’t understand what a kid from Croatia had overcome in the 80s and early 90s. He was tougher than that and he came back in the second game, played well, and earned their respect. 

John Mark was going to have to suffer some setbacks if he was going to be ready to really serve with the new church. I’m sure this rift between Paul and Barnabas was used by you to help prepare him for future work.

It would be logical to predict he would fade away and self-destruct as a child of privilege who failed to launch.

But we would be wrong for after the decade had passed Paul says to Timothy, “Be sure to bring Mark with you because he will be so helpful to my ministry. Everyone else has deserted me.”

Mark spent over 10 years developing into someone who would be useful to those around him. He recorded Peter’s memories of Jesus and gave us a powerful gospel that we still read today. And he ministered to Paul at the end of his life. 

Ten years. It’s important for us to not be so impatient. It’s important for me to not be so impatient. I’ve said it many times before, but we tend to measure time in days, weeks, and months, and you measure it in years, decades and centuries. As a parent, as a son, as a husband, and a parishioner, and as a friend, it is important for me to give you (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the time you need to do your work in all of us, including me.

What happened? In those silent 10 years, Mark had attached himself to the sole person in his life – Simon Peter – who could relate completely to one who had deserted and failed his friends while betraying others. In Peter, he finds a father, a fellow sinner and a friend.

Peter doesn’t lead Mark and the rest of us through how powerful he is. Instead, he leads us and teaches us through his flaws and failures. In the same way, I can’t teach people through the stuff I do well. Oh sure, I can pass on some advice, but my real impact comes when I share my weaknesses and failings. In this case, I don’t think Mark would have benefitted as much from sitting at John’s feet for 10 years–or even Paul’s. No, I’m sure he learned resilience, repentance, and rebounding from regret through your grace from Peter.

What did Mark discover as he wrote the Gospel? He discovered himself and a Jesus that changed his life. Peter’s flaws were the same as his and Peter’s Christ became his. In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mr. Rogers figure I had met in Sunday School. He was the undomesticated Lion of Judah.”

I think Mark also learned some humility from Peter. I’ve always noticed that the stories we get where Peter is the most humiliated in front of Jesus are told to us in Mark. Peter doesn’t pull any punches when telling Mark his own story, and, in return, Mark communicates to us a unique version of Jesus. Lest I sound judgmental about the other gospels, I’ll say that we get the worst stories about John from his gospel as well. But in this case, it’s the example that Peter is setting for Mark that I think is important. 

Sent by Peter to Egypt as the first bishop of the Coptic church, Mark – the former coward, deserter and weakling – is horribly martyred by being dragged for two days behind a horse until his skin is torn off his body.

So that’s how it ends? A horrible death for someone who left us so much in Mark’s Gospel? A comfort to Paul in prison? Well, not exactly. There is also the legacy of transformation and courage. So much so that we get this:

Many years later it is said that the founders of the city of Venice in Italy, wanted a saint’s relics, so they stole his head and took it back to Venice. There it becomes the precious relic of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world – St. Mark’s. The deserter becomes the patron saint of Venice.

But here is what I love. Something he would have never believed and we could have not predicted when we first met him. The early church gave him the symbol of the winged lion, and it is the flag of Venice still today. It is a symbol of power, authority and strength. The Lion holds the scroll because he is the author of the earliest gospel and the inscription reads, “Peace to thee, Mark, my evangelist.” Peace and courage – not fear and running away. It is the same boy who fled and then became a lion – just like the Lion of Judah in his gospel.

Father, help me to see people for more than their failings. Help me to see them with your eyes. And help me to see myself for more than just my own failings. Help me to be patient and faithful as I strive to simply worship and serve you. 

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Acts 20:24

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Dear God, I’ve never thought about this verse in terms of Memorial Day before, but it’s the verse of the day on Bible Gateway so perhaps someone there did. It is still so tragic to me that for thousands and thousands of years, what I’m sure numbers into the billions, people have died fighting each other. You’re born, your parents put uncountable hours into caring for you, you spend uncountable hours learning and growing, and then your life is gone. Just gone.

So many people have died nobly for their country or a cause. In the case of what we honor with this day, women and men of our country saw their earthly lives end to fight for whatever we felt was right at the time. The sacrifice they gave, and that their families gave, is immeasurable. I’ve said before that I tend to have a guilty feeling on days like this because I never served in the military. I admire veterans so much for even the sacrifice they made to take time from a civilian life to serve so that I could live my civilian life.

Of course, there is a spiritual aspect to this passage because that is what Paul was talking about. He knew that he was going to put himself at risk for his faith and what you were calling him to do. As it turned out, he was right. He was arrested. He was imprisoned for years. He ultimately died. But that sacrifice of his life ended up being the catalyst for the spread of Christianity to the West. He considered his life worth nothing to him. Had he considered it worth something–had he given in to the temptation those around him were making to him and not gone to Jerusalem, I might not be sitting here praying to you today.

Father, help me to consider my own life worth nothing to me. Help me to only consider the call you have given me. Help me to hear your still small voice. Help me to not let the sacrifice of Paul, the veterans who died, or even Jesus be in vain. Do it all so that your kingdom will come and your will will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2019 in Acts

 

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Acts 20:35

Acts 20:35
35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Dear God, this is another Fred Smith-inspired blog today. Fred talked about acts of charity as being “penance for trivial sins.” His premise left me uneasy so I started to examine my heart and try to figure out why. I thought I’d spend some time with you about it this morning.

As I thought about it, I came back to this supposed quote from Jesus (I say supposed because it doesn’t appear in the Gospels, but must have come from another source that Paul used). Why? Why is it more blessed to give than to receive? What is it about giving that blesses us? Is it this notion that it helps to absolve us from our sin? Does it put some lipstick on the “pig” that is the fruit of our human flesh and make us feel better about it? Frankly, I don’t think that is it.

One of the things I learned about faith in studying Job is that the ultimate goal of faith is to get to where I literally do not see my own desires or goals as worth anything, but I get to a point that I can truly give thanks in all things, even suffering. My fortune or my suffering is not necessarily tied to my behavior, but what you happen to need of me and the role I have to play in your kingdom.

Working from that philosophy, I believe there is a blessing of peace that you impart when we die to ourselves and turn loose. I think that learning to give of our time and resources gets us one step closer to that ultimate level of faith. I think that the balm we feel on our souls from performing charity isn’t as much penance and absolution as much as it is that one step we just took into living out the kind of faith you call us to.

In studying Job, one thing that occurred to me is that Paul got to that level of faith remarkably quickly. He was able to suffer greatly and never portray to others any semblance of self-pity. He said in Acts 20:24 that he considered his life worth nothing to him, and then he backed it up with the attitude he took in all of those years of prison.

Father, I’ll be honest and say that I tend to have a little bit of pride in the fact that I live a life that is sacrificial when I compare it to my neighbor. But the truth is that it is not nearly sacrificial enough. I know that because there are time when I still feel very sorry for myself and even greedy. The best way to combat that is to be sensitive to needs and then give generously. That is what will move me one step closer to the perspective on my life that you want me to have. Help me to get there.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2019 in Acts

 

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Colossians 1:27-28

Colossians 1:27-28

For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

Dear God, what are the “riches and glory of Christ” we are supposed to know and share? What are we selling when we talk about Jesus.

I’ve heard some of other religions, and even different denominations of Christianity, accuse some Christians of believing in a salvation that is too easy and cheap. After all, of our salvation isn’t works based then why ever try to be good at all?

But what I’m selling isn’t cheap salvation. To start with, I recognize that it wasn’t cheap for you. What I’m selling is selfless surrender and relationship. I know Paul says in one of his letters that if this isn’t all about ending up with you after we die then Christians are to be pitied, but I don’t totally agree with that. I don’t know where the “cut line” is for Heaven admission, but I have a much better idea of where the cut line is for relationship with you and the fruits of the Spirit that come from that. I can even see it in me as I vary in my levels of worship and prayer. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about my “fire insurance,” but I do wake up thinking that if I’m going to experience love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, and self control them I better spend some time with my God. And even in dark, scary times, your rod and your staff comfort me.

Father, help me to live in your presence today. Help me to submit to you in all areas. Help me to be what my nieces and nephew need when I see them later. Help my life to be what you need it to be–for me and for others.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2019 in Colossians

 

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Romans 14:10-14

Romans 14:10-14 [NLT]
10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’”

12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

 

Dear God, to answer Paul’s questions in verse 10, it’s so that we can feel better about ourselves. I love to judge others because it make me feel smarter than I am, holier than I am–just better than I am. But Paul reminds us in verse 12 that one day I will be standing before you and you won’t be grading on a curve. You won’t put us on a scale of how I compared with this person or that person. No, it will be you and me and I will have to give you an account of my life and my actions.

If all of that is true, then why do so many of us live our lives comparing ourselves to others? I still remember being at a retreat in the late 90’s and hearing a man give his life story. My dad did his introduction, and I was fooled a little. My dad talked about everything this guy had accomplished by the time he was the age I happened to be at that moment. Before the man even talked, I felt like a loser. Then within five minutes the man explained how he had been in federal prison for embezzlement, had lost his wife and his kids, and now he was trying to rebuild his life. I immediately repented to you for looking at the outside of a man instead of looking deeper and considering what else might be a reality in his life.

Of course, now we all get to see each other’s best parts on social media. And we get to judge each other as well. We judge people if we see them posting pictures of partying too much. We judge them if we see them with the new family for which they left their first family. We allow ourselves to feel inferior to the person who seems to have it all.

Father, help me to take my eyes off of the world and to turn them to you. Help me to stop trying to make my own case through comparison to others, and to simply live faithfully. Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. And please forgive me for failing you so often. I am sorry.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2019 in Romans

 

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Peter & John — 1 John 5:1-5

1 John 5:1-5 (NLT)
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. 2 We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. 3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. 5 And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

Dear God, reading this letter, I can see where I have lived most of my life thinking of John as the promoter of love. I guess that’s why it caught me so off guard when I isolated the stories about him in the gospels and found that he was actually not very loving at all. There was something that Jesus saw in him that made him one of the “Big Three” in terms of the 12 disciples, but it’s never apparent what that was. Perhaps Jesus could see beyond what John was and look forward into what a redeemed John would look like.

It’s a little like Paul. As Saul, no one would have foreseen who he became as Paul, but your redemption turned his zealousness for you as a Jew to the truth of your oneness with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I wonder how much of our greatest strengths as Christians are the things that defined the evil part of our nature pre-Christ. That’s an interesting thesis to consider.

As for me, how do I consider who I was before your redemption and who I am now? I guess, a lot like John and less like Paul, the thing you seem to be hammering out of me is judgmentalism. Not that I don’t still judge people. But I used to really judge people for not being who I thought they should be and not acting the way I thought they should act. Now, the more I learn from you about myself the more I am willing to extend mercy and love to others instead of judging them. I am better at looking for what they see as their righteous motivations in the moment instead of judging them as having sinister motives that are meant for my detriment.

That leads to how I evaluate others. Do I see someone’s sin, or do I see a character trait that can be redeemed and used for your glory? Do I take the time to see them with your eyes, or do I just judge them and cast them off?

Father, to quote a song, give me your eyes for just one second. Give me your eyes so I can see everything that I’ve been missing. Give me your love for humanity.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2019 in 1 John, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — 2 Peter 3:11-18

2 Peter 3:11-18 NIV
[11] Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives [12] as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. [13] But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. [14] So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. [15] Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. [16] He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. [17] Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. [18] But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Dear God, the reference to Paul here caught me off guard. I had forgotten that was there. I wonder what Peter and Paul thought of each other. I get the feeling that Paul was a little more cerebral than Peter was, and that kind of comes through in Peter’s comment in verse 16: “His letters contain some things which are hard to understand.” I wonder if Peter on one level appreciated Pauls depth and insights, and on the other hand thought he might overthink things a little.

As for the thesis of this chapter, it seems to be to be careful of false teachers and keep yourself pure. It reminds me of something I heard the Christian singer, Rich Mullins, say back in the 90s: “The world’s going to go the way the world’s going to go. So keep yourself pure and love everyone you can.”

Last weekend, I was praying through something and the word I got from you was that the answer was love, love, love, and love. This situation is tricky and it would be easy to get in my trench and just try to both defend myself and shell the other side. But what if, instead, I just showed love that is selfless and ultimately blameless? Isn’t that part of what you are calling me to do? Isn’t that basically what Peter is saying here?

Father, help me to worship you well and to let that flow through me. I visited with a friend yesterday who is struggling. I kind of presented your Gospel to her, but I felt very inadequate to do it. I don’t know if I was effective or not. But please use what I said for your glory in her life. Please give her the freedom, the peace, the hope, and the joy that you have for her through repentance and relationship. Show me the role I have to play in her life, and raise up a good woman who can also be your person for her.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2019 in 2 Peter, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Galatians 2:11-13

Galatians 2:11-13
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Dear God, it’s interesting to see Peter give into peer pressure and Paul chastise him for it. It must have been tricky for Peter to lead in this environment. I wonder if there was a part of him that just had a hard time being certain that it was okay to eat what Gentiles ate. Did he believe, but Paul had to help his unbelief?

It makes me think about some of the issues that Christians currently differ about. Abortion is one issue where there are a lot of people who love you, but think it’s okay, while others who love you believe it is murder and it is the political issue that makes up 90% of their decision for whom to vote during an election. Homosexuality is another one. Is it okay or isn’t it?

I have a friend who is an associate pastor at a large church in a small town in another state. I asked him over lunch while he was in town recently how his church (it could be considered an evangelical Bible church) deals with this issue. He said that while they don’t condone it, they don’t call it out. He said that they are free to worship there, but cannot have any leadership roles. He also said that they would not be able to join as members. In retrospect, this feels to me a little like Peter in this story. Are you going to draw the line or aren’t you? At the same time, I can appreciate their dilemma because I am not 100% sure about this issue myself. I have homosexual people in my life whom I love and adore. I feel no compulsion to make them change to be in relationship with me. At the same time, I am not completely comfortable with their lifestyles, but I cannot tell if that is your conviction or the teaching I learned growing up.

Father, I don’t want to be a hypocrite, which is what Paul accuse Peter of in this passage. I don’t want to accept someone to their face and reject them to others. I suppose that is the most important thing I can do in situations such as what I described above. At the end of the day, I love these people and I am not in a position to judge or convict them. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. My job is to encourage them in their relationships with you and then count on the Holy Spirit to work with them in the various aspects of their lives the same as how the Holy Spirit works on me. I confess that I have grieved you as much sexually at different times in my life as much as any homosexual might have, and it has nothing to do with preferring the same or opposite sex. It goes back to the sexual immorality that Peter mentioned to the church back in Acts 15:28-29. It takes all forms, and it is important that I not use judgment of others to make me feel better about my own failings in this area.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2018 in Galatians, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Acts 15:1-35

Acts 15:1-33,35 NIV
[1] Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” [2] This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. [3] The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. [4] When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. [5] Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” [6] The apostles and elders met to consider this question. [7] After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. [8] God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. [9] He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. [10] Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? [11] No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” [12] The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. [13] When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. [14] Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. [15] The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: [16] “ ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, [17] that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— [18] things known from long ago. [19] “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. [20] Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. [21] For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” [22] Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. [23] With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. [24] We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. [25] So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— [26] men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [27] Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. [28] It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: [29] You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. [30] So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. [31] The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. [32] Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. [33] After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. [35] But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Dear God, I’m kind of surprised that this is where we see the last of Peter and John in Acts. Peter gets to be the authority that settles this dispute about circumcision and then the book becomes about Paul’s travels.

Before starting to attend Catholic Church with my wife nearly eight years ago, I never realized that They consider Peter to be the first Pope. That makes sense, I suppose. I would imagine that his life and the evolution of his beliefs and what you taught him ended up surprising him. I’m sure he didn’t expect to be the head of a church and entire movement, and I’m certain he didn’t expect that one day he would be advocating for the acceptance of Gentiles into The Way.

I guess we all evolve over time as the Holy Spirit works on us. I’ve certainly evolved. I wonder, though, how much my evolution has been tainted by the teaching of men (and I’m not just referring to males), whether they be influencers from the church or from the world. Do I have the wisdom of Peter, Paul, Judas, and Silas? Am I hearing the Holy Spirit when I make decisions based on whom I should accept and whom I should reproach?

Father, my confession is that, until I get a good, clear word from you otherwise, I will default to love and encouraging people to pursue and embrace you. We are not even close to understanding your ways. I admit that. You are too great for me to comprehend. But you have proven your love to me so I will start there and then see if I can hear your voice and let your Holy Spirit guide me from there.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John

 

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The Prison Epistles – Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians

Ephesians

  • Ephesians 1:3,11-12 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
  • Ephesians 6:19-20 – Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly. Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

Philippians

  • Philippians 1:7, 12-14, 18b-26 – It is right for me to feel this way about all o you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me…Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly…Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live in Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you gain your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
  • Philippians 4:10-13 – I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Colossians

  • Colossians 1:22-29 – No I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
  • Colossians 4:2-4, 10-11 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim it clearly, as I should…My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.

Dear God, I had a bit of a revelation a few weeks ago. This might sound silly to some, but I saw it in a new way: Paul had a very mature faith.

In my study of Job, I came across commentary that discussed The Stages of Faith by James Fowler. Here they are as described by him:

  1. Intuitive – Projective Faith: Associated with the child’s faith, based upon fantasy and imagination.
  2. Mythical-Literal Faith: The family faith of the early school years, which is sustained by moral rules and either/or thinking.
  3. Synthetic-Conventional Faith: Adolescent phase that conforms to the tradition of the community and creates the “kind” of person of faith it models or rejects.
  4. Individuative-Reflective Faith: The faith of the young adult who is capable of critical thinking, independent reflection, and comparative reasoning.
  5. Conjunctive Faith: A mid-life and old-age faith that integrates self-identity with a comprehensive world view to see the order, coherence, and meaning of life in order to serve and be served.
  6. Universalizing Faith: The rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.
    (source: James W. Fowler, The Stages of Faith (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), chap. 14.)

He talked about how Job grew through his experience to the ultimate faith–Universalizing Faith. As I looked into it and thought about other biblical characters who had reached this faith, I came up with a few New Testament examples. Jesus was obviously one. But Paul was one of the others.

The passages above actually start with Acts 20:24 when Paul is on his way to certain arrest in Jerusalem and people warning him to not go. Paul’s answer is, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the goal and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me. The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” The remarkable thing is that these are not just words. While Peter only thought he knew what he was getting into when he told Jesus at the Last Supper that he would follow him to death, Paul actually lived up to his boldness recorded in Acts. How do I know this? Because of what he wrote while he was in prison.

That’s what I’ve recorded from three of the four letters he wrote while in prison (the fourth was a personal letter to Philemon about a slave). He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t try to figure out a way out of incarceration. He has enough perspective to use the incarceration to finish the goal and complete the task the Lord Jesus gave to him.

Imagine if he sat around and complained. Imagine if his letters had started out, “You people need to be grateful you aren’t where I am and you need to be getting about spreading the gospel because I can’t.” Or, “Why is God doing this to me? I was just trying to follow Him and do what is right, and now look where I am. Where is God is all of this?” That would have left us all a completely different example.

But Paul had “the rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.” And he applied that faith to everyone else around him. He didn’t look at them and judge them by their outward circumstances. He evaluated them based on their motivations. He is quick to both praise and criticize in his letters, but he judges motivations and actions only.

Father, I am about to teach all of this to a Sunday school class this morning. Most are seniors who have lived lives longer than mine. They have seen more than I have, and goodness knows I am still learning these lessons. I still evaluate relationships based on what I am getting out of the instead of looking at what the other person needs that I can provide. That doesn’t mean I should allow myself to just be abused and have one-way, co-dependent relationships, but I can conduct myself in a way that considers my life worth nothing to me, if only I can finish the goal and complete the task you have given me. The task of testifying to the gospel of your grace.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2018 in Acts, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians

 

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