“Plans Change”

June 30, 2022

Acts 7:17-34

Sometimes, just when things begin to look up, people encounter another set back.  We visited the dentist this week.  We are dealing with my husband’s Parkinson’s and he has had two good weeks.  He was due for his annual check up to get his annual cleaning.  We had seen the dentist last October and I knew he needed one more crown repair on a molar.  Instead the dentist saw the proof that the Parkinson’s that was not firmly diagnosed last October is undermining his ability to brush due to tremors and loss of balance.  He is recommending pulling teeth and doing a bridge.  Suddenly we were faced with the reality of the decline he is facing.

         Stephen is building his case as he is confronted by the Sanhedrin for false charges, misinformation, about his respect for the Temple and Mosaic Law, the heart of Judaism.  Stephen goes back to Abraham and builds to Moses.  Moses was born in Egypt but hidden in the Nile, found by the Pharaoh’s sister and raised as royalty.  Life is good but then he defends his birth people thinking he is being brave.  He kills an Egyptian beating a slave and buries the body.  The slaves turn on him and “plans change.”  He reestablishes life in the desert, marries, and has two sons, but one day while herding the sheep meets a burning bush that talks!  “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Plans change again.  He is sent back to Egypt with his famous message from God, “Let my people go!”

         Plans change.  We do not get the college of our choice and settle for second best, or so we think.  We do not marry the man of our dreams.  We do not get the job raise we had hoped for.  Today we say, “Life happens.”

It appears that life is taking a turn in a direction that is not anticipated and perhaps seems dangerous or scary.  How do we cope with surprises? Perhaps like Moses we argue with God – send someone else.  Perhaps like Dorothy standing in dull, drab Kansas we dolefully sing, “Somewhere over the rainbow.”  Too many people turn to violence to deal with the injustices of life.  Hiding in video games or shopping sprees or alcohol or pornography is no better.

         How do you cope when plans change?  Think of a time when plans suddenly changed for you.  What were you hoping for?  Was there a benefit as you look back from the perspective of time?  What helped you to cope?  Prayer, music, scripture, nature, poetry, friends all help.  Make your list but look for God’s hand in the series of events.  Blessings as you recognize and thank Him.

“Looking back”

June 29, 2022

Acts 7:1-16

Stephen, one of the first deacons, is accused, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us. (v.13)”  Stephen is accused of spreading misinformation about the Temple and about the Mosaic law, both key to the Jewish identity.  Stephen’s testimony traces his awareness of the Jewish history from Abraham through the patriarchs to Moses and the formation of Israel.  At the same time he traces next to God’s leading, people resisting leadership seen in the selling of Joseph to Egypt and deeds like with the golden calf. The patriarch Jacob, father of Joseph, and ancestor of Moses, asks to have his body returned and buried with Abraham in Israel.  Stephen is laying the foundation for the core issues to religious identity as well as stating the controversy around them.  Most of this does not touch us that personally as our religious identity follows a different historical trajectory.  The telling and retelling of the Jewish Egyptian phase in their faith formation is a common story repeated throughout the Bible.

         So what are the stories, the narratives, from your faith tradition that you go back to and that lay a foundation for your life?  It may be the conversion or commitment time that we talked about yesterday.  Perhaps there has been an important person who appears at significant times in your life to speak into the direction you take.  A man took my husband and me out for lunch and listened to our story of applying to be a missionary.  Twenty years later he was my advisor for a master’s program and I received the first graduation award in his name!  Thirdly I have found certain Bible verses that have appeared at crucial times in my life.  They may appear in a reading, a sermon, shared by a friend but somehow they continue to speak into our lives and guide us.  How about that song that seems to come on the radio just at that moment when you need it?

         Stephen is laying a foundation historically by tracing those themes that have brought him to this point of conflict.  Sit back and think of some of the themes in your life.  It is so easy to trace our grumps but lets trace blessings today and say a prayer of thanks  to a God who works over time to build our faith story.  Blessings.

Stephen speaks, “Introduction”

June 28, 2022

Acts 7: 1-3

Stephen, one of the first “deacons” in the early fellowship, was chosen for his wisdom.  He was to help make sure the distribution of food to widows was fair.  He was respected and was known for his good deeds and speech.  Opposition arose and false accusations were made and he was brought to trial in front of the Sanhedrin.  He stood up and started a long speech that is recorded for us.  Where did he start to tell his story?  Where do we start to tell our story?  Learning to tell our story of faith is an important part of our spiritual growth!

         The believers were meeting in the Temple as they still saw themselves as Jews.  Jews saw them as Jews spreading misinformation.  It feels a bit like our January 6 reports going on now except it is Stephen, the accused’s chance to speak.  He starts on common ground, not on accusations, not on defenses.  He starts with Jewish history that they all agree on.  Don’t forget he is being charged with disrespecting Moses. Stephen goes back to Abraham, though, being called by God to leave his home country and to travel to a promised land.  He does not start with law.  He starts with God speaking and calling.  He paints a bigger picture, bigger than himself.

         If you were accused of being a Christian, how would you start your story?  Many start with the word, “I,” “I decided to believe….  Others might start with a narrative of how their mother led them to believe as a child kneeling by the bed.  Some start with their baptism as a baby in their parent’s arms followed by a life of growing awareness of what that meant.  I have also heard many share about claiming Christian status because it was confirmation and that’s what you did but then one day….  I continually amazed at the variety of ways people came into relationship with Jesus.  Zaccheus climbed a tree.  A woman having bled for 12 years desperately hoped by touching the hem of his cloak, she would be healed.  A Canaanite woman was willing to be likened to a dog to receive grace for her sick daughter.  The blind, those with leprosy, and even the dead son of the woman of Nain are brought to Jesus.  Jesus does not seem to be tied to one story or one way of being approached. 

      So how do you start your faith story?  Take a few minutes now to reflect on your journey and how you would explain yourself – perhaps not to a Jewish Sanhedrin – but to a crew of people who doubted your genuineness.  Where would your story start?  Step back, reflect, and thank God for his hand in your history.

“Foundation for Martyrdom”

June 27, 2022

Acts 6: 8-15

We ended last week with factions developing within the early fellowship when different groups felt they were not being treated fairly.  Oh my, we know this story.  The evening news is full of reports, demonstrations, and groups forming to defend their interest.  Our faith is challenged and grows in the presence of injustice and discrimination!  But today we see that those same feelings of opposition were brewing in the larger context.  Remember our young believers are still meeting within the Jewish Temple.

         The believers see Stephen, one of the men chosen to help distribute food more fairly among the widows, as being full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit.  Factions within the Temple that start stirring the pot of jealousy now target him.  Gossip spreads and the stories grow.  Most of us played that game as children where the first person in the circle whispers to the next etc. and by the time the words get around, the original message is all distorted.  It appears that this antagonism against Stephen is traveling along ethnic groupings but then it escalates to outright accusations based on lies.  Stephen is taken before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court and accused of defaming Mosaic teachings.  Interestingly the chapter ends saying, “his face was like the face of an angel.”

         I can remember my mother questioning me and somehow she would look at me and know, “It is written all over your face!”  Lying did not work for me.  So what is written all over our face today?  As I think about our text in terms of spiritual growth, it seems that one of the marks of maturity is a continuity or integrity between our core self and our social presence.  We are not “two-faced,” pretending to be something we aren’t.  We walk the talk.  This is not a question of beauty but more asking if our faith is transparent in our countenance, in the way we live our lives. Let us spend a few minutes this morning asking the Holy Spirit to shine light on our lives and reveal to us areas where we are not being consistent, congruent.  Lord, we long to walk the walk and talk the talk so others may see and hear about the hope that is within us, even during tough times when truth is distorted.  Blessings as you grow in integrity.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

June 26, 2022

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

15Then the Lord said to [Elijah,] “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
19So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Psalm: Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
  I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”
2All my delight is in the godly that are in the land,
  upon those who are noble among the people.
3But those who run after other gods
  shall have their troubles multiplied.
4I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods,
  never take their names upon my lips. 
5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
  it is you who uphold my lot.
6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
  indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
  my heart teaches me night after night.
8I have set the Lord always before me;
  because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 
9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
  my body also shall rest in hope.
10For you will not abandon me to the grave,
  nor let your holy one see the pit.
11You will show me the path of life;
  in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are     pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

51When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


A common gesture that is popular today is to point two fingers at someone’s eyes, back to our eyes, and back to theirs.  Turn to your neighbor and make the motion.  What are you communicating in this gesture do you think?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


Last week we started to dig in to our journey of Pentecost.  We faced the reality that while we have mountaintop experiences like Pentecost when the Triune God seems so real and powerfully working in our lives even beyond our expectations, the truth is that evil also is working in our world.  Last week we visited the healing of the demoniac who ran to Jesus.  But we also saw the demons who only bargained with Jesus about their demise and the towns people that flat out refused to engage with Jesus.  The journey of faith and transformation into our better selves, the person God created us to be, is just that, a journey and we make choices.  Last week we saw the choices being made about submitting to the authority of Jesus and trusting him for our future. Today we look from a different perspective.  We see the challenges of faith to our priorities.  We are challenged to FOCUS.

          Our text from Luke occurs as Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and his crucifixion.  Jesus passed from Galilee in northern Israel through Samaria to get to Jerusalem.  He was not received well in Samaria and the disciples were furious.  They wanted to call down fire from heaven.  Jesus looked at them and said “FOCUS!” Today we would use the gesture of pointing our two fingers at another’s eyes and then wave them back to ours and then back to theirs.  The implied message is “Focus!”, “Are we on the same page?”, or “Are we agreed on this?”

Where to lay my head?

Back on the road, Jesus is met by three people that present three challenges to following Jesus.  The first person wants to follow Jesus anywhere. Today’s movies would have Jesus pointing his two fingers at the man’s eyes and saying, “Focus.”  To follow Jesus is to be homeless.  His followers have no den like a fox and no nest like a bird.  Are we up for that kind of homelessness? 

         St. Augustine in his book Confessions is famously quoted for writing, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  To enter the Pentecost journey is to shift our focus from place to person.  As a person who has spent her life moving, much like military people, I often say, “My home is where my suitcase is!”  The question, “Where are you from?” is very difficult because I automatically search my memory banks to evaluate which of the many places I’ve lived, I most identify with.  Now people ask me, “Does you house feel like home yet?”

         Jesus says that foxes have holes, places to hide, and birds have nests, places above danger.  Both my parents died when we were in Kenya.  The next furlough I had a big argument with my husband, probably about a small issue, stomped out, got in the car and suddenly realized I now had no where to go.  I sat in my car in the library lot crying.  Home is a place where we are known, where we are loved hopefully, and where there are people who hold your story, who know you.  I know that is not true for all people because many carry scars of abuse, abandonment, and rejection.  Jesus is saying that “home” is no longer something we strive to find or create here on earth because like the reception in Samaria, the journey of faith often puts us at odds with the world and the values of the world.  Family is no longer biological and even in churches people are forgiven sinners and hurt each other.  “Home” becomes a spiritual definition and not a social definition.

     Similarly birds can fly away.  In the movie  “Forest Gump”, one of the scenes that always comes to mind is when young Forest runs to Jenny’s house and Jenny is evading her father who is abusing her.  They run into the cornfield and she has him kneel and pray with her, “Lord make me a bird so I can fly away.”  Birds can fly away from trouble but Christians are often known for facing into problems.  Bethany Gardens is of course the obvious example.  We do not fly away from the problems whether that is the war in Ukraine where relief is pouring in or whether it is the hunger in our own neighborhood.  Hospitals, social services, orphanages, schools and learning institutions all have sprung up from not flying away.  It is true the efforts are marred with human problems but the truth is that to be a follower of Jesus is to face the dramas of evil and to have restless hearts til our hearts rest in God.

         So where do you rest your head today?  When worry, fears, bad memories plague you, where do you focus?  Jesus says, “Focus.” (do the finger motion).  We are called to look Jesus eye to eye and agree with him.  We do that through Scripture, through music, through prayer, through fellowship and perhaps through a walk.  We are called to look at Jesus eye to eye wherever we go.  Is there an area you need to gaze into his eyes today?

“first let me go and bury my father”

Our first person is challenged to redefine “home.”  Our second person is challenged to redefine “priorities.”  Jesus calls this person to follow and the person replies, “first let me….”   Ooops, the response shows priority issues.  Jesus points his fingers at this person and again says, “FOCUS.”  We know that Jesus is not arguing about the burial of the person’s father for other places in Scripture tell us to care for our families.  Jesus reprimands religious leaders who got around helping parents by saying something was promised to God.  He also says that he who does not care for parents is worse than a heathen.  Jesus must not be opposed to family but to that word “first.”  How often do we prioritize our obedience to God and beg, first let me… fill in the blank?

         We share our money or resources after we pay our bills.  That of course is easy to point to with so many voices begging us to share our resources for the worthy cause they are supporting.  Starving, emaciated people’s faces cover letters and magazine.  So we make decisions on how to share our blessings with these many causes that call to us.  Are we giving to assuage guilt and earn credit with God or friends?  Jesus wants us to put him first.  For others, the challenge is getting to church if they are not too tired from Friday and Saturday activities.  Our world is over run with activities and noise.  Sunday morning is an opportunity for family and self.  Jesus challenges us to make God our “first” choice, however that looks.

         Jesus response is enlightening, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Perhaps the question is not if we give money or time, but more a question of who we associate with.  Who we associate with says something about our priorities.   Dead people don’t bury dead people but that idiom challenges the man’s request to let him first bury his father.  We might throw back our idiom, “Birds of a feather flock together,” to challenge someone about loyalties and priorities.   The important point is that in whatever we do and with whomever we associate, we be living out our focus on the kingdom of God.  I don’t think Jesus is wanting us to feel guilty about watching a movie with family, going fishing, or socializing.  He wants us to do things that build community, build our souls, and enjoy the creation he made for us but the challenge is to not loose focus on what is our first love, God.  So perhaps we ask ourselves with this follower, Is what I am doing drawing me closer to God or drawing me away from God?  That’s something to think about.

“But let me first say farewell to those at my home”

Jesus challenges the first person to realize the faith journey brings a restlessness and a focus that feels like not having a den or a nest, a place to rest our head.  He challenges the second person about his priorities and what is first.  Are the tasks that come “first” in our life drawing us into relationship with God or distracting us.  The third challenge is similar.  The person requests to bid farewell to family, but notice that the person starts with “but.”  This person’s request is more conditional than a matter of priorities.  It reminds me of our demons last week who when ordered to leave the man but they bargain with Jesus, yes, but..send us into the pigs. 

         The “buts” in life are the fears and doubts that slow down our journey.  I want to be a Christian but…God might ask me to be a missionary and I’m afraid of snakes, but God might ask me to be single and not follow the cultural norms of dating, but God might ask me to give up partying on Saturday and so the excuses go. I can hear that little voice whispering in my ear about the potential hazards and prices I might pay for living life God’s way.

         Can you envision Jesus taking his fingers and pointing them at this person’s eyes, FOCUS, and listen. 

  • “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)”   
  • Again we read “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)” 

God goes before us to guide us, behind us to protect us and beside us to partner with us.  Those are serious promises.

Jesus ends, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Unlike modern evangelists who tell us, “Try Jesus, you’ll like him,” Jesus points his finger at our eyes and calls us to focus on him.  The faith journey is not easy and he does not deceive us.  We will have to do battle with evil in all its guises.  We will have to make choices.

  • We will have no place to rest our head except in him. “28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)”
  • We will have to examine our priorities. “seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)”
  • We will be tempted to fear and doubt the consequences of our choice.  But God is faithful to travel with us.

May we not be guilty of loosing focus this week as we journey with our Savior. 

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

“Hello, my name is…”

June 25, 2022

We  basically looked at Chapter 5 of Acts this week.  It opened with a tough lesson about integrity.  Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and agreed together to lie to Peter.  I bet they regretted that decision.  They died and “great fear seized the whole church.”  The followers were still meeting at the Temple after prayers and hashing over events.  Healings were common and tension was building.  The apostles were arrested and put in jail over night. An angel led them out to continue preaching in the Temple.  Leaders were angry enough to kill.  Gamaliel stood and convinced the crowd they did not want to be fighting God.  Rather than feeling defeated the apostles counted it joy to suffer like Jesus.  Praise in the face of persecution challenges my thinking and so this song speaks into my doubts.

         The modern song below sings about the temptation to be despairing when we encounter trials and persecutions but like the apostles, the singer focuses on his identity in Christ and is able to move beyond his mistakes.  It has a catchy tune and I share it with you as it encourages me to understand my challenges.

Hello, my name is regret, I’m pretty sure we have met, Every single day of your life, I’m the whisper inside, That won’t let you forget.

Hello, my name is defeat, I know you recognize me, Just when you think you can win. I’ll drag you right back down again. Till you’ve lost all belief.

Oh, these are the voices, oh these are the lies. And I have believed them, for the very last time.

Hello, my name is child of the One true King, I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free, Amazing grace is the song I sing,  Hello, my name is child of the One true King. 

I am no longer defined, By all the wreckage behind. The One who makes all things new.  Has proven it’s true, Just take a look at my life.

Hello, my name is child of the One true King,  I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free,  Amazing grace is the song I sing,  Hello, my name is child of the one true King. 

What love the Father Has lavished upon us,  That we should be called His children.  I am a child of the One true King.  What love the Father Has lavished upon us.  That we should be called His children.

Hello, my name is child of the One true King,  I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free,  Amazing grace is the song I sing,  Hello, my name is child of the One true King, yeah, 

I am a child of the One true King, 

“Struggles with Success”

June 24, 2022

Acts 6:1-7

The Pentecost mountain top experience has gradually come to deal with the reality of every day life.  The followers of Jesus who see themselves as Jews, following Jesus, who died and is alive, are creating waves with the establishment.  Peter and John have been jailed twice now and severely warned about preaching.  Challenges meet the group from another front.  Those 3000 converts on Pentecost came from many language groups and Jerusalem is an international city.  Their original tactic of sharing and supporting each other is causing problems.  Factions are growing within the group.  The group seems to be divided between the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews. Food distribution to widows does not seem to be fair.  Success creates new problems that have to be confronted.

         As we look at the splintering of modern Christian churches in the USA, we know the dynamic.  An English Lutheran church can be in the same block as a German Lutheran church or a Norwegian Lutheran church.  Organizational structure challenges was the byproduct of success.  Leadership did not splinter but they did meet.  The leaders gathered and decided to divide the tasks and appointed “deacons” to assist while the apostles focused on “ministry of the word and prayer” and selected men for ministries of service.  Thus began the seeds of “gifting.”  They realized that people, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, were gifted to do different tasks for the functioning of any fellowship.

         So if you were a fly on the wall back then, which group would you have wanted to be part of?  Choir, kitchen crew, worship team, education or perhaps ushering?  Spiritual growth is not just an academic awareness of the things we believe but it is also a growth in awareness of just how we fit into the body, the bigger picture.  We are not all preachers but we are all important to a fellowship.  I Corinthians 12 talks about spiritual gifts.  People debate whether we are gifted to do a job or if the gifts grows out of natural talents but the presence of God’s Spirit and wisdom seems to identify gift from natural talent.  We might ask ourselves today what brings us genuine joy when we go to church.  Spend a moment thanking God that you are important and your contribution is important.  Pray also for the leadership in your local gathering and for the church universal as it deals with all the challenges in our world today.  Blessings.


June 23, 2022

Acts 5:33-42

“if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail;

39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—

in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’

Gamaliel, a Pharisee who believes in the afterlife, stands up and speaks into the tempest raging in the Sanhedrin, as the Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection or life after death argue about what to do with Peter and the apostles.  The differences between the Jews and the Followers of Jesus is coming to a head.  The Temple crowd is angry enough to kill.  Gamaliel speaks up and gives the above advice.  “I advise you to leave these men alone.”  He reasons that plans rising from human reasoning will die out but if the apostles are God inspired and empowered, then the leaders would be fighting God.

     How do we determine if something is of God or mere human thinking?  That is a good question.  I think Gamaliel’s response is patience, give it the test of time.  We might say, “Count to ten!”  Note that Gamaliel traces back over Jewish history and over a largish piece of time.  He is stepping back and looking at the big picture.

     As I ponder his advice and whether it is good spiritual growth advice, I keep coming up with questions.  As missionaries, we were not allowed to mention money because the philosophy was that if the Lord wanted us on the field, He would make it happen.  And indeed, before we were even accepted, our support was pledged.  It is also true, though, that just because a program is successful and popular, it does not mean it is of the Lord.  Many cults have followers and advocate things we would not approve of.  Success does not mean God is on your side or you are doing his will.  Time has taught us that lesson too.

         So today’s reading leaves us pondering and perhaps that is not a bad place to be.  Gamaliel slowed down the crowd from killing the apostles with the word “if.”  The followers rejoiced at “being found worthy of disgrace for the Name.”  Some days the way forward is not so obvious and feels like a big “if.”  That does not mean that God is absent or that we are in the wrong.  Stepping back and trying to understand the big picture and the driving principles in a situation and committing it to prayer is always wise.  Lord, we need your perspective and your wisdom in the challenges we face today!  

“Tempestuous Times”

June 22, 2022

Acts 5: 17-34

Yesterday we could see the mounting tensions between Temple leaders and the Followers’ leaders.  The new believer can be a real irritant to the establishment or the foreigner believer even if they have the same basic religious beliefs.  Interestingly Luke gives jealousy as the basic root cause of the conflict.  The Sadducees (who were sad…you…see, because they did not believe in resurrection) were deeply challenged at the core of their beliefs but the “other group” that was becoming so popular and contrary to their core tenant.  Two churches in one building is hard.  Jealousy enters.

         Peter and John are arrested and jailed again.  This time an angel of the Lord frees them, takes them outside and tells them to go to the Temple and preach!  We might not buy the “an angel did it” story but the next morning the jail doors were locked, the apostles missing and found in the Temple preaching.  Now the Temple leaders are angry enough to kill.  As we look at the wars raging today, the court trials destroying people’s lives, and the massive violence even against children, we know it is possible for people to become angry enough to kill.  A new key person appears now, Gamaliel.  Gamaliel a Pharisee and teacher of the law, stands and speaks.  Note he is a Pharisee.  That is like a Republican standing up and speaking to a group of riled up Democrats.     Tomorrow we will ponder what he says but let us not race past this part of the story.

         Jealousy so often undermines relationships and spiritual growth.  When we are in the grips of jealousy, we are not growing spiritually.  We can be jealous for many reasons.  In this story one side is jealous of the popularity of the other side.  People can be jealous because the other is more talented, richer, more beautiful, or more loved.  Perhaps there is a relationship that is a bit tense in your life. Could the problem be jealousy?  Just ask-in.

         The other thing I am challenged by is how Gamaliel in the midst of the tempest, has the courage to engage with the opposite side and talk.  We call it a “cut off” when we become upset and walk away from someone because they are living life in a way we strongly disagree with. We cut them off.  Gamaliel listened to the Sadducees with whom he was philosophically different from but was courageous to stand and engage with them.  It is so easy to convince ourselves that we are being tolerant, keeping the peace, letting by-gones be by-gones and we turn our back on issues rather than go through the pain of working it through with tough conversations.  We throw labels like “liberal” or “conservative.”  We dehumanize the other into a title.

         This part of Acts challenges me to consider if jealousy is impacting any of my relationships and if I hide behind labels.  Hmmm.  Holy Spirit, shine your light of truth in my heart that I might grow and not make rash judgments.  And please help all the parties in our country who are fighting with each other.  We need your healing and guidance to find peace!

“Tempest in a Tea Pot”

June 21, 2022

Acts 5:12-17

When my sister and I would have our arguments, I can remember my mother coming in and saying, “Little birdies in a nest!”  or “What is this “tempest in a teapot?”  Our reading today talks about the followers of Jesus continuing on like usual, going to Temple to pray, and then meeting in one of the major gathering areas to debrief.  This was laying the foundation for later tensions, for a  tempest in the Jerusalem teapot.  Perhaps their meetings were not unlike the Adult Forum or the coffee hour after the service in our churches today.  I cannot imagine that Peter was particularly silent in his understanding of Scripture and I guess he waxed eloquent often.  The group of believers was growing and the Temple authorities were noticing.  Not only was Peter speaking up about his beliefs, people were being healed and many were bringing their person to be healed.  The paragraph ended, “and all of them were healed.”  I imagine there must have been more than one “praise the Lord” shouted.  It was a lot of noise in a small teapot.

         How about today?  Few of us have the gift of healing.  There are hospitals today.  But as I read this passage I wonder if today we go to church with anticipation of the after-meeting where we can really dig into conversation with others about a spiritual topic.  I suspect for many of us there is little anticipation of a miracle.  So I ask myself, what excites me about my faith and meeting with other Christians? We are all different and for some the walk in the woods refreshes our spirits while others enjoy a rousing debate and still others are content to just listen.  But what helps us go deeper? 

         We are part of the body of Christ and we need each other for many reasons.  When we are down we need the love and affirmation of the community.  When we are sick we need those care meals.  When we are cold we need the quilts the women make.  Sometimes we need a mechanic.  My church had a chili lunch and the proceeds helped buy a new car for our family returning to Kenya.  A prayer group raised money for a goat after a famine that wiped out herds in Kenya.  Healing comes in many forms.

         Think today of a time when people came along side you and encouraged you in some challenge you faced.  Thank God.  Now think if there is someone you could come along side and encourage.  Blessings as you practice and experience body life together.  Regular spiritual exercise and good nutrition is as important to growth of our spirits as food and exercise is to our bodies.