“The Ideal”

June 10, 2022

Acts 2:42-47

Luke now gives his friend Theophilus, a bird’s eye summary of those early Christians.  After the mountain-top experience of Pentecost we get a peek at Christianity at its best.  Some churches today try to duplicate this model but I read it as a summary before we now enter into the challenges that faced early Christians, and ourselves.  One of the complicating truths is that we at some point come down from the emotional highs of spiritual experiences to applications in real life.  We will see trials and challenges begin to unfold as we go through Acts. 

         Lest I sound sour, though, let me look at those early characteristics of faith we hope to grow into.  Those first Christians fellowshipped together, ate together and prayed together.  Wonders were performed and there was communal ownership of goods.  They were generous with each other.  They lived a life of praise and many more people came to believe.  To me it speaks of community where we have identity and belonging and are valued.

         Interestingly, very similar stories are coming out about the Christians experiencing the horrors of war in Ukraine.  Generosity, sharing, prayer, music, and a sense of being together in the struggle characterize trauma.  Perhaps support groups pick up this flavor without faith.  For Christians, faith will be core to the story. 

         So the question is how do I measure up in my relationships with my communities I participate in.  Reflect on your level of fellowship – a habit or lifegiving?, of communion – tradition or soul cleansing? Of prayer – occasional or personal? And of generosity – skimming the surplus or meaningful?  We all need to take a moment and take an inventory of our faith life.  Perhaps we need to tweak something or maybe we have allowed the business of life to slow down spiritual discipline.  Pray for a moment and see what God brings to mind.  Blessings.

“What shall we do?”

June 9, 2022

Acts 2:37-41

Pentecost started “suddenly” with an experience that let people know they were standing on holy ground: violent winds, tongues of fire on heads, and people speaking languages they had never known and others hearing a message in their own heart language.  All extraordinary.  We realize we have come into the presence of the Holy.  Then we see an expression of gifts formerly undeveloped, Peter steps forward as a preacher, explaining Jewish history and putting the recent events in perspective.  The one God worshipped by the Jews was also the Jesus who lived among them, living the character of God, claiming to be God but who was crucified by them to fulfill prophecy.  Pentecost was the Holy Spirit was appearing as prophesied centuries before.  This whole scenario seems like one of those crisis moments when people make choices.

         “Suddenly” events of life appear in a new light that challenges my actions and understanding. The truth given me demands a response.  For Peter this meant not denial but telling the crowds the truth as he understood it.  When people asked him if he was a follower the night of the trial, he denied and fled.  Now he steps forward and preaches.  For many in the crowd this meant dealing with their guilt over participating in the crucifixion.  Others were called into praise. 

         Not all of us are called to be preachers like Peter nor is our pastor necessarily gifted like Peter but we are blessed with God’s word that speaks to us.  Sometimes we are challenged to use our gifts in new ways and sometimes we are convicted about our misuse of our gifts.  Sometimes the Spirit moves us to praise or to prayer but it is hard to be neutral in the presence of God.

     So let’s spend a moment listening to the Spirit speaking to our hearts today.  It could be conviction about mouth-in-motion but it could also be we need to be quiet to hear the whisper of love and desire to be more involved in our lives, developing our talents.  Spend a moment centering yourself in God’s Word.  Perhaps like in the passage, our prayer today is, “ what shall we do? (v.37)”  Blessings.

Out of the Comfort Zone

June 8, 2022

Acts 2:14-41, Part 2

Pentecost, the birth of the Christian church, is an enormous change for the followers of the Jesus faith community.  On Easter Sunday the followers are cowering behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.  On Pentecost, shortly later, we see that “suddenly” a violent wind, tongues of fire, and speaking of languages of all people present signals the presence of the Holy Spirit in a new, surprising way. The outside people are confused about what is happening.  Are the followers drunk?  A new explanation of the nature of God is about to be shared.

         Peter speaks to the Jewish monotheistic (one God) people.  Peter starts explaining.  Jesus has lived a life revealing the character of this God they believe in and claimed to be that God, was crucified by them and rose again.  Jesus is alive and is God.  Now this, the Holy Spirit.  This experience was predicted in Jewish history of the Spirit of God inspiring Jewish believers. Their knowledge of God is expanding to what we now call Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Three in One  He also explains the people’s role in crucifying Jesus and many are convicted of their error and repent.

         The idea that intrigues me about this is not the putting together of history but the spiritual growth of Peter.  I pondered if the Holy Spirit just overwhelmed Peter and used him to speak truth or are we seeing an example of genuine spiritual growth?  Traditionally we put the question as whether we have inborn gifts when we become believers or does God gift us for special tasks?  In the Gospels, Peter has often been the first to speak but often putting his foot in his mouth. Now he begins to emerge as a gifted leader of the group of followers, no longer denying Jesus, but openly explaining what has happened.  He is growing spiritually.  He is no longer in his comfort zone because of his speaking to a mass of people but he is using own personality in new and more powerful ways.

         So as we look back over our lives, can we identify arenas where God has helped us grow?  I do note that the passage focuses on growing in Peter’s ability to bring glory to God, not himself, and a growth in being more integrated within himself and with others.  Perhaps your love for drawing has grown into an ability to make cards to encourage others, or scrapbooking of memories.  Our cousin used his woodworking skills to raise all the furniture my husband sits on just that bit higher so my husband can stand up easier.  We are not all speakers like Peter but we all do have the Holy Spirit in us and can bring glory to God in our own unique way and setting.  The saying, God don’t make junk!  Blessings as you use your gift.

Promise Fulfilled, first half

June 7, 2022

Acts 2:1-13

         The Day of Pentecost, the followers were gathered together when “suddenly.”  After waiting from Ascension to Pentecost, celebrated by 40 days in our Christian calendar, the followers experienced the promised Holy Spirit. 

         We understand waiting.  We wait for the baby, about 9 months.  We wait for the war in Ukraine to end.  We wait for Christmas.  We wait to see if the chemo is going to work.  Suddenly something happens that changes everything.  On Pentecost, suddenly there was the blowing of a violent wind, the appearance of what looked like tongues of fire on heads, and the followers were somehow enabled to speak languages previously foreign to them.  Suddenly something happens that makes us aware that our waiting is over.  Perhaps the contractions begin.  Perhaps the organist starts playing the chosen wedding song.  Perhaps the doctor enters into the waiting room.  The unexpected signals we are about to enter an “experience.”

         Many theologians through the centuries have written about the meaning of the wind, the flames, and the languages.  But as I read this passage as a spiritual formation experience that is meaningful to me, here, today, I ponder what are the signals to my soul that I am in the presence of the Holy, that I am standing on holy ground?  Few of us have seen flames on heads but we have felt the tingle of our nerves, the sudden rush of warmth, the catch of our breath as we observe a sunrise or a sunset.  We realize we are standing in a special four dimensional moment and are experiencing something special.

     The crowd was confused.  Some thought the followers were drunk.  Some were totally amazed to be hearing their own language, to feel like God was speaking personally to them.  Even so today.  We have a spiritual experience and some people’s eyes glaze over and think we’ve drunk too much.  It makes no sense.  For some of us, we feel a deep sense of being understood as if God is speaking in our heart language.  The door opens to something new that is about to happen in our lives.

         So what primes your pump, clues you in, that you are in the presence of the holy?  Ideas might enter that you know are not your own?  Music moves you deep in your gut?  A verse in a passage jumps off the page into your attention?  The pastor seems to be speaking just to you..

Spend a moment reflecting on special  moments in your life identifying the special details.  Thank God that the Holy Spirit visits even us today.


June 6, 2022

Acts 1

Yesterday we wore red to church and celebrated Pentecost, the birth of the Christian church.  Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke, writes a second epistle, the book of Acts, that continues to tell the story of how that group of early disciples had to reorganize their whole world of faith after the shock of the crucifixion.  Between Easter Sunday and Pentecost we remembered the different people who saw Jesus and saw how he was orienting his followers from seeing him in person, listening to his teaching, and observing his miracles to a bigger vision.  Their understanding of God and the reality of God’s kingdom was growing. 

         At Pentecost we see the beginning understanding of a Triune God, one God but three expressions or persons.  A mystery.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned at creation, hovering over the waters, but Pentecost expands our understanding.  Often the book of Acts is studied to look at how the church grew.  Some even idealize it as the model we should follow.  I would like to go through Acts as a “faith formation” study.  I am fascinated that those early followers who understood so little, really, grew to be the fathers of the faith who changed their world and helped define ours.  What lessons were they learning?

         In Acts, Luke is writing to his friend Theophilus (possibly a pseudonym for theo-godly, philus– friend).  The Gospel of Luke told the story of the incarnation of Christ.  Acts talks about the planting of the early church and the early formulating of faith expressions.  Chapter 1 offers two promises that undergirded those early followers.  Jesus had promised the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and he had promised to return.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)”

         Jesus predicted the baptism of the Holy Spirit to come in Jerusalem.  John the Baptists had hinted at this but Jesus says it is within a few days.  The followers though were still not really understanding and thought he was talking about his return.  Actually we have two promises, the promise of an Advocate that gives power and the eventual return of Christ.  The first promise was fulfilled in chapter 2 and we wait for Christ’s return.

         So what promises undergird our faith?  I battle fear of many things but interestingly, my confirmation verse given me by a pastor who knew me little was Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  I am always encouraged and look forward to seeing God’s presence in a situation.  What promises do you stand on?  Name it and read it again with anticipation!  Blessings!

“They that Wait Upon the Lord’

June 4, 2022

My confirmation verse in 8th grade was Isaiah 41:10.  It has followed me through my life and been quoted to me at trying times by strangers.  Just a few verses earlier in Isaiah 40: 28 we read the following verse that was quoted in the sermon by Eric Liddell when he preached on the Sunday he chose not to run at the Olympics for religious reasons.

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

 He will not grow tired or weary,

And his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

And increases the power of the weak.

Even youth grow tired and weary,

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength,

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary

They will walk and not faint.

Our hymn today came from these verses.  We focused on waiting this week.  To wait challenges us. Waiting on God’s promises and waiting for him to act on our behalf is always a good choice.  Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday and we switch our focus.  Blessings as you wait on the Lord.

“Wait, …”

June 3, 2022

Psalm 130  A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

When I looked up “wait” in a word search of the Bible, 17 quotes appeared from the book of Psalms.  It is the book that talks most about waiting on God. I am surprised that Psalm 130 is a psalm of ascents because I think of waiting as a maintaining time, not an ascending time.  The author is unknown but it was sung as pilgrims climbed the hill to Jerusalem.  It focuses on repentance. 

         My kids love to recall stories like when “Mom mushed Molly.”  I drove over our dog who weaved infront of our car as I drove in the driveway with all the kids who felt the car go thunk, thunk.  I would love to erase that story!  Verse 4 rejoices in the Lord’s forgiveness.  Our past will not be thrown up in our faces as we wait..

         The author waits “more than a watchman waits for the morning.” That is an interesting image.  As a chaplain I pulled night shifts or was on-call.  Do watchmen wait for dawn so they can see clearly if the enemy is sneaking up?  That line is quoted twice!  After a long night of worry, perhaps bad dreams, of anticipation of an upcoming operation or celebration, it is indeed a relief for the daytime to arrive and the process to start.  Waiting is finished.

         What are you waiting for?  Jot it down.  We are all journeying to our own Jerusalem, our own destination.  Let’s read this psalm one more time and allow its promises to soak into our souls.  Blessings as you wait on the Lord.

“The request as we wait”

June 2, 2022

Psalm 27:9-14

Have you ever felt unseen, invisible, insignificant, or unimportant?  Some times people talk over you, around you, past you and it feels like you don’t matter.  My husband is progressing with dementia and is becoming more and more silent and it is so easy to forget that he listens and perhaps at some level understands.  Often we assume young children don’t understand.  Our youngest son at age two would put his hands on both sides of our face, turn us towards him and ask what a word meant.  He was listening.

         King David is pleading with the Lord.  Psalm 27 is a song of lament, a psalm that expresses genuine dismay as David faces enemies.  He calls on God as his potential light, salvation, and stronghold but he also sees his enemies surrounding him.  The last verses of the Psalm are often quoted.  “Do not hide,” “do not turn away,” “do not forsake me,” teach me,” and “lead me.”  Those are the cries from the gut of a person who needs help.  I know those cries and I bet you do to.  David continues, though, “13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  David is not thinking about resolution by going to heaven.  He realizes God acts now in the reality of our everyday lives.  His conclusion, “wait for the Lord,” “be strong,” “take heart,” and “wait.”

         Waiting is not easy but God does act.  Resurrection is not just an event but a reality that affects our lives.  And God’s answer is so much better than our thrown together solutions emerging from the stress of the moment.  May God bless you as you wait on him.  He sees the big picture.  He cares for all parties.  And he acts.  Blessings.

Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger;
         you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my   Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my        oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
          I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

“Wait for it…”

June 1, 2022

Psalm 27: 4-6

Waiting between Easter and Ascension, between Ascension and Pentecost must have been fascinating for the fly on the wall.  In modern language, one fly might have said “Wait for it…” as the story unfolds.  These early followers had been following Jesus around the countryside, listening to his teaching, watching him heal, and basking in his presence.  Suddenly he is crucified and resurrects and they are told to wait for him in Jerusalem.  I cannot imagine the emotional, spiritual and social reorientation those early believers were going through.

         Yesterday we looked at Psalm 27 written by David who himself knew a lot about waiting fo God to fulfill promises.  He was anointed as the next king when a youth caring for his flocks but the whole reign of Saul occurred before that promise was fulfilled.  Psalm 27 speaks to that waiting process.

         First David focuses on images that he associates with his knowledge of God.  God is a light that brings revelation to the waiting time.  God is his salvation, the only one who can fulfill that which he seeks.  God is his stronghold, the focus he occupies his mind with, kind of like picking your thought for Lamaz.  But “wait for it…”  what is David waiting for?  The next verses that we look at today share that David seeks to “dwell  in the house of the Lord.”  David looks beyond the enemies seeking to defeat him, the sins that plagued his life, and all the politics of his day.  He looks to the peace and security of dwelling in the house of the Lord and being able to feel that safety.

     So I must ask what we focus on when we are struggling.  Are we just asking God to relieve the pain of our situation – heal our loved one, defeat an enemy, resolve the chaos or is there a greater picture we can focus on?  Lamaz convinced me that the mind can only focus on one thing so focusing on a fond memory, a Bible verse, or even a spot on the wall, will lessen the pain that is only “labor.”  I do know that when I “chew that bone”, as my husband says, of some dilemma I’m facing that the problem grows larger and larger.  Where is your “sweet spot” that helps you cope?  For David it was thinking about being in God’s dwelling place.  Where is it for you?  Spend some moments now resting there with God who dwells with you.  Blessings.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
         that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
         to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
         he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
         at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.