Saturday, September 12, 2009

Looking Beyond Farewell

“And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:22-24

Transition often means saying good by to the old and hello to the new. It often involves trials, hardship, grief, and broken hearts.

Paul had to say goodbye to people he knew and loved.  He also faced an unknown future of "chains and afflictions."

Did Paul worry about what would happen to his friends and loved ones? Did he worry about what he would encounter in the future?

Did his friends and loved ones worry about what would happen to Paul? Did they worry about what they would encounter in the future?

The only thing Paul saw in his future was chains and afflictions. Yet, he stayed the course and pressed on.

Lord, transitions are hard! When we must say goodbye to the old and hello to the new, help us place the movement into the framework of your grace. When the future holds chains and afflictions, and the past holds grief and hardship, help us to look beyond the farewell and see the guiding light of your loving spirit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking Beyond Financial Hardship

When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost the whole province of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods!” Acts 19:25-26

The gospel was changing lives all over the place.

In this account demonism was defeated in Ephesus. Many became believers and turned away from their old ways and placed their faith in Christ.  Those that practiced magic, collected their own magic books and burned them in front of everyone. The books were valued at 50,000 pieces of silver!  This represents financial hardship.

The silversmiths in Ephesus, who made silver shrines for the goddess Artemis, heard all the news reports. They were afraid of losing their livelihood.  Paul was preaching against idol worship and people were being persuaded.  This represents financial hardship.

One group was able to look beyond financial hardship and welcomed change.

The other group was blinded by financial hardship and turned away from change.

Lord, we know that change often involves financial hardship. When you lead us in a new direction, give us spiritual eyes to look beyond financial hardship.  Give us courage to take the necessary steps. Help us to rely on your faithfulness as we navigate through the change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Looking Beyond Responsibility

But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his clothes and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6

Paul took his responsibility too far when he violently persecuted Christians.

In this account, Paul knows when to stop and wash his hands of responsibility.

Responsibility is a heavy burden, especially when it involves the lives of other people.

We need a clear vision of our purpose. We need to know when to push. We need to know when to let go. And, we need to know that it’s okay to walk away.

This holds true for church ministry and daily living. It’s true in every relationship.

Lord, give us the wisdom to look beyond the burden of responsibility. Help us to know when to push, when to let go, and when to walk away.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Looking Beyond Church Walls

For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an alter on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. Acts 17:23

Lord, this spoke to me about learning to recognize you in every aspect of life.

It's easy to be present with you while performing the rituals of church life. When we depart through the double doors of the church building, we often leave you upon the altar as if you were an impersonal God on a pedestal.

Lord, you are present throughout all creation! Your prints are all over the place!

Teach us to be present with you during worship and prayer.

Teach us to be present with you during every aspect of living: through pleasure and pain, through drought and rain.

Help us to recognize your presence in every face in every place!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Looking Beyond Captivity

Suddenly there was a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. Acts 16:26

Paul selected Timothy to help evangelize Europe. Lydia and her household were converted. Paul and Silas drove out a “spirit of prediction” from a slave girl. The owners of the girl become angry because their profits were taken away and they caused a commotion with the authorities. Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten, thrown in jail, and secured in stocks under heavy guard.

While they prayed and sang hymns, their chains came loose.

They remained in the jail to offer solace to the jailer who threatened to kill himself because he thought Paul and Silas had escaped. The jailer was saved with his entire household.

Paul and Silas refused to be released secretly. The Magistrate offered an official apology and sent a public escort. Paul and Silas dropped by Lydia’s house, offered encouragement and left the city.

Paul and Silas chose to remain for a short time within their place of captivity. This opened doors for greater opportunity.

I've experienced captivity in many different forms. When healing and relief comes, my first response is to put distance between myself and the situation. I want to move away from the place of captivity and the memory - as if nothing ever happened!

How many opportunities have I missed to help somebody through the same situation? How many opportunities am I missing now?

Lord, grant us discernment to know when to go, when to stay, or when to return to our place of captivity. Give us the courage to be used as instruments for your opportunity.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Looking Beyond Flesh

He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Acts 15:9

Some were teaching that gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Others said they did not need to be circumcised. Peter and Barnabas argued that they had received salvation through hearing and believing. They also argued that the new converts were filled with the Holy Spirit which was proof of their changed hearts.

The traditional lesson in this account centers on judging the salvation of others. I think this goes deeper than that.

It speaks to me about accepting and loving others as they are.

We are prewired by society to stereotype others and place them in different categories. We do this by using criteria like the color of skin, gender, or socioeconomic status. We assess people by their outward appearance (flesh) and often fail to look deeper (heart) and accept them for who they are.

It's possible that those who were arguing for circumcision were struggling more with accepting the gentiles because they were different, rather than making sure they were saved.

Lord, help us to see others through your eyes. Teach us to look past the flesh and straight to the heart. Use us as faithful instruments of your love.