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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

September 2013

Acts 5:18-41: Rejoice!

Read today’s passage here

At this point it is probably becoming obvious to the religious leaders that these disciples of Christ aren’t going to shut up.  Based on the (very wise) advice of Gamaliel, the religious leaders let them off with another warning and a beating.  I love the way they respond to their beating in verse 41: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

I love it!  They rejoice for the opportunity to be marginalized for the name of Christ.  This theme continues later in the Book of James when James says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Can you imagine how disheartening this was to the people opposing the early church?  If you leave them alone, they rejoice.  If you take their property, they rejoice.  If you beat them, they rejoice. These Christians are bullet-proof!

How cool would it be if we were known as the church that rejoices?  Despite our circumstances, suffering, arguments in the church, work problems, unemployment or any other hardship.

Rejoice in all circumstances, we are redeemed!

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An MRI of the church

Acts 5:12-17

This short passage is truly fascinating! Luke, using a few words, captures the very essence of the early church. If you want it is a short check up list of the church.

Here are a few things that, Dr. Luke writes about the church:

1. Full of Signs and Wonders

2. Believers gathering on regular bases

3. The world around them held them in high esteem

4. People being healed

5. A place that attracted people from all places

6. A group of people that made the starchy religious leaders uncomfortable

WOW! That sounds quite the place! Maybe as you read the text you might be tempted to say: “if my church was like that, maybe …”

Dear reader, here is a questions that keeps me wondering at times: Did the church today is that different from the early church? The answer is not: Yes and No!

It’s true that today’s church sometimes looks more like an institution than a grassroots movement, it’s true that in many ways the church has failed at being a voice of mercy and agent of healing in this world. And I am sure that if we spend more time on this subject this list will be very long.

But we cannot stop there! We have to look deeper, under the surface, and maybe look through Luke’s eyes at the church today.

1. Full of signs and wonders – when we celebrate 50, 40, 30… 10 years of a marriage in our midst, that is a miracle. When we see a life that is turned from a path of destruction, that is a miracle. When a children  ask about heaven or they speak about being a friend to the kid that bullied them in school, that is a miracle. And this happens in our churches everyday, because as Christians we choose to stand for the impossible, for the things that seem crazy in this world. We choose to believe.

2. Believers gathering on regular bases. Here is something that might surprise you, no matter how connected we are in today’s word, there is a real sense of loneliness that looms in our culture. And then you have the church, that place where you can walk in as a stranger, an outcast and find a family, a group of people that will surround you and accept you. Because as Christians we recognize the power of God manifested when believers pray, gather and share life together.

3. The world around them held them in high esteem. And still does today. The church is still the go to place where the needy find help, the ones with no voice find voice. The church is still the place where orphans find love, children find a place to learn to write their first words. And this is because as Christians we choose to stand in this world and fight for a better tomorrow.

4. People being healed. Everyday the church is the place where lives are restored. Where someone that lost hope, finds enough faith to spark a new life. Where addictions and struggles are met with mercy and compassion, and faith in a better changed life. And this is because as Christians we choose to pray and believe that God can restore and heal someone to a full life.

5. A place that attracted people from all places. Where else can you find a more diverse, more interesting crowd than the church?Where else can you find people from all walks of life gathering and find, hope, fellowship, friendship, community? And why are people attracted to the church today? Because as Christians we choose to accept and show God’s love.

6. A group of people that made the starchy religious leaders uncomfortable. The church is still the place where people find passion for the things that are important in life,  is still that place that can stir up envy when the people of God are doing those things that define them. And this is because as Christians we choose to look for what God does and can do in our lives on daily bases.

So… Do yo see the church in the same way? Can you see the church that you love as the people gathering on Solomon’s Porch?

If not could you pray today that the church as the body of Christ, the church as the local body can be as the church that Luke writes about.

Bo M.

 

PS. Sorry for the long post.

 

Integrity on Display

Acts 4:32-5:11 (NRSV)

I can still remember my dad telling me that the only thing I have in life is my integrity – you can either have it lead your life or you can give it away and once you do, you cannot get it back.

Luke is insistent on two words used extensively since about chapter 2 of Acts: ALL and TOGETHER; “they were all together”, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”, “all things in common”, together they prayed, together they worshipped, together they broke bread…  And in the passage on Ananias and Sapphira, one cannot read 5:1-11 without including 4:32-37…why you ask?  Because 5:1 begins with a hugely important word, “but”.

Every time I lead a Bible study I talk about paying attention to context and grammar and regarding Ananias and Sapphira, this is especially true.  This ‘but’ says 5:1-11 is tied to something else – there is a contrast to be made.  Luke has made it clear from nearly the beginning that the hallmark of this group was that they were of “one heart and soul” and “great grace was upon them”.  None were in need because it was, to quote Alexandre Dumas’s 3 Muskateers, “all for one and one for all”.  This is why I included 4:32-37 as part of today’s material.

So, let’s get right to it…when most people read about Ananias and Sapphira, they see the words, ‘you lie, you die’.  Be honest, this is hard to avoid in this passage.  But Luke’s emphasis is not on the deaths of these two well-to-do members of the early community of faith.  The point of this passage comes in verse 11- “and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things”.  This, by the way is the first use of the word “church” in Acts and Luke makes it known that constructive fear  is what is important about Ananias and Sapphira regarding how easy it is for evil and dishonest to creep into  a community of faith – God’s people…the church.

How do you know this…look at how Luke writes 4:32-5:11…Luke contrasts the upstanding Barnabas against the sinful Ananias/Sapphira.  Luke makes it clear that Satan is at work in Ananias/Sapphira and not the Holy Spirit.  Luke makes effective and dramatic use of opposites in these verses:  life/death, Holy Spirit/satan, truth/deceit, need/freedom, harmony/fear.  Luke, of all the gospel writers provides the strongest words on the dangers wealth brings to the table regarding the sin of individuals involving material possessions.

Barnabas is a source of comfort we are told, (his name means “son of encouragement”) and later we will see all the good that Barnabas will do in Acts.  Ananais and Sapphira take us back by allusion to Achan in Joshua 7 or Nadab and Abihu, (Aaron’s sons) and by these Old Testament allusions I am reminded of the phrase that was tied to many a king – you know, the ones with wealth and power…that phrase?  “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”.  There is no getting around the fate of Ananias and Sapphira but remember, Luke is interested in the integrity of the individuals within the church.  We see Barnabas’s integrity on display…We see Ananias and Saphhira’s integrity on display.  Both Barnabas and Ananias are of the same social class – wealthy landowners.

Luke begins this passage with “those who believed were of one heart and soul” and here he challenges us by spotlighting our own integrity.  How do we value others and what they need?  Do we place a higher priority on our own possessions and what we want?  Or, do we think of what we own as common property?  Integrity…we can value it or we can “sell it”…each day our integrity is on display.

Acts 4:23-37 Courage, Worship, Grace by Craig Herr

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%204:23-37&version=NIV

God is at work in the courage and boldness of Peter and John and in their release and in the building up of the church.  Upon their release from the Sanhedrin they return to share what happened with the community of believers.

And immediately after hearing about what God had done in and through Peter and John the believers who had gathered worship God.  They pray acknowledging God as Sovereign Lord, Creator of all.  They quote Psalm 2:1-2, a Psalm that refers to God’s “Anointed One,” the Messiah.  The quote reminds us of the futility and foolishness of opposing what God has in mind, is about, and is doing.  “The Gentiles or Nations raged against Jesus in the person of the Romans and the peoples who imagined vain things were His Jewish adversaries” (F.F.Bruce, The Book of Acts).  Nonetheless, they were carrying out the plan of God.  God was at work in the crucifixion of Jesus, for Jesus is the obedient servant of God even unto death on the cross.

In prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, they ask for greater boldness, for healings, signs, and wonders through the name of God’s holy servant Jesus.  They want God to continue to use them even when they are threatened.  And the Holy Spirit reminiscent of what happened on the day of Pentecost is at work in the external sign of shaking the place where they were meeting and in their prayerful attitude and worship.

What a community of believers we see at this point in the life of the young church. Grace abounds in the community of the church and spills over to all who are in need. Love, generosity, and compassion abound.  What a church, what a people, what a moment of joy and wholeness.

Courage, boldness, a determination to share the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, love, grace and compassion were all alive in these Christ-Followers.  In this fertile soil the church grows, individual Christians grow, and the Kingdom of God grows.  Sovereign Lord, grow each one of us that we may serve you and others well, for the sake our Lord Jesus Christ.

And yet, it wasn’t a perfect church as we will see in the next chapter.

Acts 4:1-21

Blog Post Attempt 2.0.  Thanks to our early birds, Todd, Marvin and Tari, we found that I threw out a dead link last night in the email. This one should work. For the record, there’s 90 of us following the study and between 60-80 who visit the sight to do the reading.  May God’s continue to use His Word!

Read the passage here

It would have been pretty easy for Peter and John to downplay what had just happened to save their own skin (literally.. usually these confrontations ended in beatings)  They had every reason to fear; a good number of these men had put Jesus to death.  They could have said, “Well, we weren’t really trying to cause a fuss…”  or “We know you didn’t really understand who Jesus was…”  Instead when they’re questioned, Peter (filled with the Holy Spirit) says, “you want to know how we did this?  It was through Christ, who you murdered! But he’s alive and salvation is found in Him alone!”  There are about a hundred things about that sentence that the chiefs priests would have hated.

What’s funny, is that in my life I’m a little less vocal about the Gospel.  Paul said, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of trying to evangelize strangers, I firmly believe that we’re best equipped to witness to our friends and those we love (this assumes we have cultivated relationships with unbelievers) But sometimes, admittedly, I’m a little ashamed.  I serve a Jewish carpenter that no one’s seen in 2000 years.  Paul freely admits, the Gospel is foolishness to those without faith.  In fact its down right offensive, no one wants to hear they’re a sinner!  With all that in mind, I know I need to be more like Peter, not beating people over the head with a Bible, but loving them enough to give them the Gospel. The whole foolish, offensive, beautiful, amazing death and resurrection of Christ.

Acts 4:1-22 Unashamed Of The Gospel

Read the passage here

It would have been pretty easy for Peter and John to downplay what had just happened to save their own skin (literally.. usually these confrontations ended in beatings)  They had every reason to fear; a good number of these men had put Jesus to death.  They could have said, “Well, we weren’t really trying to cause a fuss…”  or “We know you didn’t really understand who Jesus was…”  Instead when they’re questioned, Peter (filled with the Holy Spirit) says, “you want to know how we did this?  It was through Christ, who you murdered! But he’s alive and salvation is found in Him alone!”  There are about a hundred things about that sentence that the chiefs priests would have hated.

What’s funny, is that in my life I’m a little less vocal about the Gospel.  Paul said, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of trying to evangelize strangers, I firmly believe that we’re best equipped to witness to our friends and those we love (this assumes we have cultivated relationships with unbelievers) But sometimes, admittedly, I’m a little ashamed.  I serve a Jewish carpenter that no one’s seen in 2000 years.  Paul freely admits, the Gospel is foolishness to those without faith.  In fact its down right offensive, no one wants to hear they’re a sinner!  With all that in mind, I know I need to be more like Peter, not beating people over the head with a Bible, but loving them enough to give them the Gospel. The whole foolish, offensive, beautiful, amazing death and resurrection of Christ.

Why do you wonder at this?

Acts 3:12-26

After the miracle occurred the first critics stepped up and expressed their opinions on what just happened. Some were filled with wonder, some were amazed at what just happened.

I can hear some of the people in the crowd saying: I know this man, I have seen him for many years at the gate asking for alms. Now I am wondering if he was a faker. And some on the other side of the court saying: It is by the power of God that this happened. Peter is the prophet!

Whatever their opinion, Peter takes the time and speaks to them about what’s important: The Son of God, Jesus that was crucified, and now risen and working through the Holy Spirit. So why do you doubt? Why do you wonder what is happening?

So here are a few questions i would like you to ponder:

Do you expect to see God at work?

Do you doubt that God will show up when you ask?

Do you ever question the results of your faith?

I would hope that we can all say with a sincere heart, that at no time we have a Peter type of faith, where God is more than head knowledge, more than i feel or not feel God right now, but rather a reality.

The God that Peter is preaching is real, is tangible, is present!

When our faith wobbles, do we wonder what caused that? Do we get a passing grade on trusting God?

Peter’s message to the people in the temple court is simple: you guys should know that this was going to happen, that the lame will walk when God is at work. You daughters and sons of Abraham should be able to recognize the times. So why don’t you expect God to work among you? Why do you doubt?

I pray that as you read Peter’s sermon your faith will be renewed, made strong by the reality of who God is, and in the days to come I pray that you can see that very faith at work in your life and touching those around you.

 

Bo M.

“You can’t always get what you want…”

Due to a minor snafu in scheduling, I am repeating thoughts on Acts 3:1-11.  Rather than throw off the entire schedule you get a “two-fer”.

Click here for today’s passage.

Recorded in the late 60’s, The Rolling Stones sang “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and while the context of this song is “somewhat different” lets say from our passage, it is one of the first things that popped into my mind – the tag line of the song that is.

There were a few things that really stand out in this passage:

  • Prayer at 3 p.m.
  • a lifelong lame man begging everyday
  • the word alms used in the NRSV translation

Healing – many look to the church for healing.  The lame man must have felt a great sense of hopelessness – day by day being carted to the temple looking for…here is where the word alms comes in…money?  A handout?  I’ve never really understood why this word pops up in many translations so I did a little digging.  Now promise not to screech too much but it is interesting to understand what the original Greek translation says about this very important word.  The word on a superficial level can mean pity but it’s intended use is meant to convey “emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else”.  It is about benevolent activity which I think is different than pity.  This lame man is looking for a HAND-out I think.

Peter and John – going to prayer (emphasis added) and this lame man was “expecting to get something from them”.  Think about it – how many days must he have been there and all he would get would be a few coins.  He was looking for the church to help him.  Peter’s response is so powerful – all I can give you is the ability to walk…IN THE NAME OF CHRIST!!  And do not miss the next point – together they go into the very temple where this lame man spent so much of his day.  The only ones not amazed were Peter and John – what they gave came from the grace of God.

Daily, there are people knocking on our doors – from within and without.  What will we give them?  Give them what they want?

Maybe we can give them what they want but…our ideas of what we want and what others want can’t come close to what God thinks we need.  Christ showed us that it is perfect health that interests him most.  Maybe we can include this in our prayers…at 3 p.m.

Peace and blessings to all as you continue to grow in God’s Word!

Acts 3:1-12 – The Power Of Christ

Read the passage Here

Peter and John go to the temple “…at the time of prayer.”  We see now in Peter’s life that he has a rhythm of prayer and action, or action and prayer depending on where you find him in the Book of Acts.  Peter and John are getting this right.  I think of Elizabeth O’Connor’s book “Journey Inward, Journey Outward.”  She describes the Christian life in those two Journeys.  We “Journey Inward” in prayer, Bible Study, worship, etc. and we “Journey Outward” in action, acts of love, ministry, mission, etc.  Peter and John are making these two “Journeys.”  We can ask, How well am I doing in these two “Journey’s.”

The lame beggar is expecting some money that afternoon to support him.  Peter doesn’t have any money to give and says, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.”  He has something better, the healing power of Christ Jesus at work in and through him.  Peter gives what he has.  We can only give what we have; but not what we have not experienced, practiced, or are about in our lives.  When we live in Christ Jesus as a follower we are equipped to serve others.  We will have something we can give, share or add to the life of another; just as Jesus has added to our life.  People are looking for meaning, wholeness, true joy, belonging, love, grace, purpose, and at times financial resources…which we already have in Christ Jesus.  It’s good to know what we have to give and offer.  We can ask each day, “Gracious God, what do I have to offer or give this day?”  I think this will help us move beyond ourselves.  I know, all too well, that it’s easy to become preoccupied with myself.

And wonder, amazement, and astonishment wash over the people when the lame beggar is healed.  They are surprised with joy.  Peter wants them to know the good things God has in store for those who follow Jesus.  Peter says, “…why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  He goes on to speak of Jesus’ power, person, and presence which are available to us all.

Good things, great things, healing things happen when we let the love, grace, and power of Christ live in and through us.  How will we live today?  Will Jesus live in and through who we are and what we pray?  Will Jesus be revealed in what we do, say, think, and long to be this new and fresh day?

Craig

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