Archive for January, 2006

Acts chapter 6 opens with a group of people complaining that the church was neglecting its duties. Imagine! I’m glad churches aren’t like that today.

A group of Greek-speaking Jews were upset because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. From the NET Bible Notes:

“The Greek-speaking Jews were the Hellenists, Jews who to a greater or lesser extent had adopted Greek thought, customs, and lifestyle, as well as the Greek language. The city of Alexandria in Egypt was a focal point for them, but they were scattered throughout the Roman Empire.”

The Bible makes it clear that we are to care for widows and orphans, so this was a serious matter. The disciples did not make light of this complain, nor did they leave off their primary duties of studying and teaching the Word. Instead, they told the church to “carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” to be in charge of the task.

Those chosen were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Gentile convert to Judaism from Antioch. As the NET Bible notes state, many of these names are Greek, suggested that the church selected men from the same group who had been doing the complaining!

I wonder, what issues in the church do we tend to complain about? Maybe we should be the ones stepping up to handle them.

In the second part of the chapter, we see that Stephen becomes the first follower outside of the original disciples to perform miracles. I find it interesting that even though the men in the Synagogue of Freedmen argued with Stephen, they “were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” When we witness to others through the power of the Spirit, and not ourselves, it is hard to resist! Yet, these men were so put off by Stephen that they conspired to have him arrested.

I love the chapter’s ending: “All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel.” Even they were not able to mistake the Holy Spirit in this man. My prayer is that everyone I witness to will see and hear the Holy Spirit, not me, and that they too will not be able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit.

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Regulations for the Sabbatical Year

25:1 The Lord spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai: 25:2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. 25:3 Six years you may sow your field, and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather the produce, 25:4 but in the seventh year the land must have a Sabbath of complete rest – a Sabbath to the Lord. You must not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 25:5 You must not gather in the aftergrowth of your harvest and you must not pick the grapes of your unpruned vines; the land must have a year of complete rest. 25:6 You may have the Sabbath produce of the land to eat – you, your male servant, your female servant, your hired worker, the resident foreigner who stays with you, 25:7 your cattle, and the wild animals that are in your land – all its produce will be for you to eat. – Leviticus 25:1-7

Something about God’s regulation concerning a sabbath year for the land have always made a lot of sense to me. Even with all of our modern day agricultural advancement, we still hear how over planting of the land has caused all of the nutrients to diminish. We are required to use greater amounts of fertilizer to get the same results. I am no expert on agriculture (though growing up in Iowa, you do learn somethings by osmosis), but I wonder if we went to a system of letting the land lay fallow every seven years would we actually be able to produce just as much or even more crops in six years as we did in seven. It seems to me that there might just be a nugget of eternal wisdom in these words written so many thousands of years ago.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for showing us your wisdom through your words. Help us to see what part of this wisdom we should still practice today and what part was for a particular time and place. I love you Lord. Amen.

DISCLAIMER: I woke up Sunday morning with a horrible pain in my neck. I am currently on a strong dose of prescription pain relievers and muscle relaxants. Any thinkg that makes sense in the following post chalk up to the Holy Spirit. Anything that does not make sense chalk up to the drugs.

Acts 5 can be divided into three basic sections. The first section is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They sold some land and gave only a portion of the proceeds for the work of the church. This in and of itself was not wrong, but their decision to lie and claim they were giving the full amount to God was. God literally struck them both dead for their deceit.

Section 2 tells us of the growing early church. People were so impressed with the God given power of the disciples that they would try to place sick people strategically so that the shadows of the disciples would fall on them and they would be healed. Interestingly, we do not find out if people were actually healed by the shadows of the disciples or not. The really truth of this section comes through when it tells us that people were daily becoming followers of Jesus Christ and the disciples were gaining respect as his followers.

Section 3 gives us further details of the persecution the disciples were experiencing at the hands of the Sanhedrin. The disciples were imprisoned for preaching about Jesus Christ. However, during the night an angel of the Lord set them free. They immediately went to the temple and began to preach again. I think this the power of the Holy Spirit in action. Once again the disciples are arrested and the high priest and some of the other religious leaders plan to kill the disciples. The disciples show no fear and directly preach the truth to the religious leaders. At this point they are even more intent on killing them, however, clearer heads prevail under the guise of Gamaliel. He suggest that if this Jesus thing is all a fake then the disciples would soon fade away, but if it is real than the religious leaders of Israel would literally be fighting against God.

I want to take a moment and focus on the story of Ananias and Sapphira. This story speaks to me because it is one of the few times under the New Testament/Covenant that we see God actually taking someones life. (This may actually be the only time, but if someone can think of others please put them in the comments.) I think Ananias and Sapphira could be called the first example of great hypocrites in the New Testament. They were not required to give every penny from the land sale to the disciples. They could give as much or as little as they wanted. So what was their motivation. Greed was my first thought, but that does not make sense because they could have just not sold the land in the first place. Then I began to think back to the second half of Acts 5:13, “…but the people held them in high honor.” I think Ananias and Saphira wanted the honor and privilege of being part of this new growing movement with out the real commitment that Jesus requires. The motivation was similar to that of the religious class. They wanted honor, glory and the associated power that came with it. This leads me to the question, “How often do we do ‘Kingdom’ work for ungodly reason?”

23:9 The Lord spoke to Moses: 23:10 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you enter the land that I am about to give to you and you gather in its harvest, then you must bring the sheaf of the first portion of your harvest to the priest, 23:11 and he must wave the sheaf before the Lord to be accepted for your benefit – on the day after the Sabbath the priest is to wave it. 23:12 On the day you wave the sheaf you must also offer a flawless yearling lamb for a burnt offering to the Lord, 23:13 along with its grain offering, two tenths of an ephah of choice wheat flour mixed with olive oil, as a gift to the Lord, a soothing aroma, and its drink offering, one fourth of a hin of wine. 23:14 You must not eat bread, roasted grain, or fresh grain until this very day, until you bring the offering of your God. This is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all the places where you live. – Leviticus 23:9-14

I had the opportunity on Saturday night to spend time with some friends who have recently been making great strides in finding their way back to God.  It has truly been a privilege to be used by God to be part of this.  They asked my wife and I what we felt about tithing.  They said they could never fathom giving 10% of their income to the church.  When Megan and I told them that we do exactly that, they were astounded.

This caused me to think once again about the Biblical concept of tithing and if it still applies to New Testament believers.  After carefully studying the scriptures, I have come to the conclusion that the 10% requirement is not contained in the New Testament.  In fact, the New Testament seems to teach that everything we have is Gods.  For some this may mean they use 95% for personal use.  For others it may me they use 80% for personal use.  I have know one person who is working toward a time will they will live off of 50%.  It seems that the amount does not matter as much as obeying God’s New Testament call to generosity.  Truthfully, I could not fathom only giving 10% of my income away to the church and other causes that expand the Kingdom.  I simply told my friends that they should pick an amount that they believe they can handle and let God work with them to expand that amount.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for teaching us to be generous beyond our wildest dream.  Thank you for being generous to us beyond our wildest dreams.  You ask for so little, but you created us and gave us the means of redemption through Jesus.  Help me to truly seek you in everything I do with money or otherwise.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

It didn’t take long before the religious leaders had the same problem with Jesus’ followers that they had encountered with Him. They thought they had dealt with ‘the problem’ but it resurfaced in another form;  I bet they wondered what it would take to get rid of this Jesus!  If so, they were right to be concerned.  The same day Peter and John were arrested, 5000 men had accepted this teaching of the new covenant – and that was just the men!  Imagine if they counted women and children! After one night in jail, the Jewish leaders summoned Peter and John and asked them by whose authority do they speak?  My translation,  “Who do you think you are?  These people don’t know any better than to listen to you and the crap you’re peddling!  WE know the scriptures and WE will tell the people what they need to know.” I love the answer that came from the Spirit through Peter:  “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead… this Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.” Surely the scribes and Pharisees thought they could intimidate these simple fishermen in a religious debate.  Not even one of them had been to an acredited seminary!  They in for a surprise.  These ordinary guys spoke a simple message of Jesus, and they spoke with the authority of the spirit of God Himself. Since the leaders could not argue with the miracle, they decided to do future damage control by insisting they stop using that name!!!  Peter and John said, “No,” and got released anyway.  It seems everyone was excited about this miracle and the religious establishment couldn’t figure out an appropriate punishment.  So they headed back and told the others about their incarceration experience and how they were released.  The assembled believers responded with a prayer of praise to God and a request that God listen to the threats and give them courage.  God gave them all the Holy Spirit, so they spoke courageously.  They shared their stuff.  They spoke of the resurrection of Jesus.  Grace was on all of them.  Everyone had everything they needed. 

What a great church!   

Leaving the Gleanings

19:9 “‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. 19:10 You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Dealing Honestly

19:11 “‘You must not steal, you must not tell lies, and you must not deal falsely with your fellow citizen. 19:12 You must not swear falsely in my name, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. 19:13 You must not oppress your neighbor or commit robbery against him. You must not withhold the wages of the hired laborer overnight until morning. 19:14 You must not curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of a blind person. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.

I think this is one of my favorite parts of Leviticus because it gives us such common sense instruction on how to treat others.  These words are sitting in the midst of instruction that don’t seem to make much sense to us today.  Not to much farther in Leviticus we find the regulation that two kinds of cloth are not to be mixed.  My guess is that it made a lot of sense at the time and God was just protecting his people.  However, the words in Leviticus 19:9-14 make a lot of sense even today.  I have already made it clear that I believe we are completely free from Old Testament law.  However, I have also made it clear that I believe we can still learn some very valuable lessons from these words.  I truly wish people would take the principles found in Exodus 19:9-10 and apply them today.  Most of us don’t work as farmers.  Leaving food behind in the field for the poor just does not fit with what we do for a living.  However, is there something we can still do?  One of the easiest answers is charitable giving.  Send regular donations to your local food pantry, Salvation Army, Good Will, Habitat for Humanity or other favorite charity.  If you own a business purposely make your next hire someone who is unemployed.  Take the time to get buy a meal for a homeless person and actually sit down and talk with them while they are eating.  We are constantly complaining in this country about the problems of homelessness, poverty and many others.  However, do we get involved?  Do we take part of what God has given us (our time, finances and abilities) to affect a positive change in the situation? 

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for these words to guide us as we seek to do your will on earth.  Thank you for showing us that you love each and every person regardless if they are a beggar on the street or a CEO in the board room.  Help me to take these words to heart and to truly be your servant.  I love you Lord.  Amen.

17:1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 17:2 “Speak to Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites, and tell them: ‘This is the word that the Lord has commanded: 17:3 “Blood guilt will be accounted to any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat inside the camp or outside the camp, 17:4 but has not brought it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord. He has shed blood, so that man will be cut off from the midst of his people. 17:5 This is so that the Israelites will bring their sacrifices that they are sacrificing in the open field to the Lord at the entrance of the Meeting Tent to the priest and sacrifice them there as peace offering sacrifices to the Lord. 17:6 The priest is to splash the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, and offer the fat up in smoke for a soothing aroma to the Lord. 17:7 So they must no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat demons, acting like prostitutes by going after them. This is to be a perpetual statute for them throughout their generations. – Leviticus 17:1-7

18:1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 18:2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘I am the Lord your God! 18:3 You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you have been living, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you; you must not walk in their statutes. 18:4 You must observe my regulations and you must be sure to walk in my statutes. I am the Lord your God. 18:5 So you must keep my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:1-5

We live in a day of designer religion. People take a little of this and a little of that and come up with a “god of their own understand.” It actually sounds like kind of a nice idea. You get a god that looks a lot like you want it to, so you can pretty much do what ever you wish. How could your own personal God put any restrictions on you that you would not put on yourself. How could your god get mad at you when you screw up or how could you even determine when you made a mistake when you have self-defined your morality. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it simply does not work this way. God did not let the Israelites worship and believe anything they want to. He showed them who he was and he expected them to worship him exactly as he prescribed. While God no longer requires us to sacrifice animals at a specific temple, he does still expect to be worshiped, served and loved. God expects us to come to understand more and more what it mean to become a Christ-follower. God expects us to take this understanding and to make it real in our lives. God allows us to have a designer religion if we choose (it is call New Age, Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witness, and the list could go on and on), but he loves us so much he shows us how to worship and serve him – the One True God.

Heavenly Father,

Sometimes it is good to know that the problems we face today with so many false belief and religions surrounding us is nothing new. Thank you for showing us the way, the truth and the light. Help us to continue to seek first your Kingdom, so we will follow only the truth. I love you Lord. Amen.

*NOTE* Sorry everyone, I did this on AOL and had pressed it to publish tomorrow but somehow it published today and erased everything!  I tried to delete it and republish but it didn’t let me.  Then I added to the post in Internet Explorer (because it had all been erased except the title) but it still wouldn’t let me publish it for tomorrow…)  So, Chris, sorry mine came before yours…when you get Acts 2 in here.  (I went into administration and corrected the order.  Doug)

On to the topic:

Wahoo! I have a much shorter chapter to cover today (last weeks was 72 verses, but this week is only26).

Acts 3:1-11 A Lame Man Healed

Okay, I bet most of you know the Sunday school song:

"Silver and gold, have I none, but what I have I give you…In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!

And he went walking and leaping and praising God, walking and leaping and praising God. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"

I’m doing a little jig in my seat as I sing and type. Can’t you just see the guy? He had been lame from birth and begging at the temple all his life…no hope.

Suddenly, these men care enough to not only look at him and ask that he look at them, but touch him!

Growing up in California, I saw many beggars and homeless in downtown San Jose. I became hardened and ignored them. Most people, me included, NEVER made eye contact…would actually cross the street before getting too near. And I never saw anyone touch them, thinking they are too dirty. I hate to admit that I was like that, but I certainly was. I was also a Christian. I judged them…they should have a job, they shouldn’t beg, they should take a shower.

At least someone cared enough to carry the lame man to the temple everyday so he could beg. It is also nice to know that the temple allowed him to be out there…even if the priests didn’t help him.

I’m sure many temple goers would either walk on the other side of the entrance or flip a coin at him as they passed by…but no one would really make eye contact. Making eye contact shows that you care and that you want to know how you can help. So, when Peter and John fixed their eyes on him and asked, "Look at us" the lame man must have been startled.

He gives his attention to Peter and John, expecting to receive something from them. He was probably a bit nervous thinking, "Will they help me?" Or "Are they going to mock me?"

Instead, Peter tells him that he has no money but that his Jesus can heal. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." He then touches the beggar by grabbing his hand and lifting him up.

Immediately the beggar is healed and filled with joy! He starts to leap! He praises God!

Everyone who sees and knows the man (after all he has been a permanent fixture in front of the temple for many years) is amazed.

Acts 3:11-26 Peter’s Second Sermon

What a sermon! I love how Peter quotes the prophets and shows how Jesus is the one they foretold.

He also reminds them that they killed Jesus…but then says, "Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers."

He asks them to repent and get their sins blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

He also talks of the second coming…"and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things…" This tells me that I have a mission… the Great Commission. I need to preach Jesus so that people may be saved and Jesus will come again.

What does Peter’s sermon say to you?

Tonight I think instead of the usual recap of the daily reading, I’ll focus in on just one passage… the one I believe the holy spirit highlighted for me.  It is the passage of Acts 2:42-47, which is the response to Peter’s statements on the day of Pentecost by the thousands in the crowd.  It reads:

2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 2:43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 2:44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 2:45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 2:46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 2:47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.

When I hear folks talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit being the display of wonderous signs, like speaking in tongues, I wonder… why is speaking in tongues any more a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work in us than the simple transformation of ourselves into people who love one another, and show their love in action like these early believers?  Many Christians today seem to value their own personal experience of being "caught up" in the Spirit, usually during a particularly moving song, for example.  Yes, this is nice, but really now — what does the Spirit expect of us?  Our RESPONSE, that’s what.  I think if we really study these last six verses of Acts 2, we can understand that the effect the Holy Spirit should have on our lives is nothing short of helping us emulate Christ.  Like the early believers, we need all the help we can get.

 

13:45 “As for the diseased person who has the infection, his clothes must be torn, the hair of his head must be unbound, he must cover his mustache, and he must call out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 13:46 The whole time he has the infection he will be continually unclean. He must live in isolation, and his place of residence must be outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46

14:8 “The one being cleansed must then wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe in water, and so be clean. Then afterward he may enter the camp, but he must live outside his tent seven days. 14:9 When the seventh day comes he must shave all his hair – his head, his beard, his eyebrows, all his hair – and he must wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and so be clean. – Leviticus 14:8-9

14:33 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 14:34 “When you enter the land of Canaan which I am about to give to you for a possession, and I put a diseased infection in a house in the land you are to possess, 14:35 then whoever owns the house must come and declare to the priest, ‘Something like an infection is visible to me in the house.’ 14:36 Then the priest will command that the house be cleared before the priest enters to examine the infection so that everything in the house does not become unclean, and afterward the priest will enter to examine the house. 14:37 He is to examine the infection, and if the infection in the walls of the house consists of yellowish green or reddish eruptions, and it appears to be deeper than the surface of the wall, 14:38 then the priest is to go out of the house to the doorway of the house and quarantine the house for seven days. 14:39 The priest must return on the seventh day and examine it, and if the infection has spread in the walls of the house, 14:40 then the priest is to command that the stones that had the infection in them be pulled and thrown outside the city into an unclean place. 14:41 Then he is to have the house scraped all around on the inside, and the plaster which is scraped off must be dumped outside the city into an unclean place. 14:42 They are then to take other stones and replace those stones, and he is to take other plaster and replaster the house. – Leviticus 14:33-41

One thing I love about the book of Leviticus is how it is filled with uncommon commonsense. These are things we may not always like or even understand, but God had his reasons. In this particular case the outcome seems harsh. You have a skin disease and you actually have to go and live by yourself outside of the camp. Your are ostracized. Yet, this is an example of God’s uncommon common sense. In this time period when bathing was not as frequent as it is today and the washing of clothes was also not as common, skins diseases had to be taken very seriously. God was actually giving sound instructions to the Israelites to stop infectious diseases from spreading to the whole population. God knew that these regulations literally had to come down from on high for people to take them seriously. He knew that his representatives on earth, the priest, had to be the arbiters of clean and unclean. God simply cared deeply about his people so he had to institute what some people would consider extreme measures.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for caring about us so much that you put in place rule and regulations to protect us. Thank you for helping to keep us healthy and safe. Help each of us to understand to the best of our ability why you do what you do and to accept those things we cannot understand. I love you Lord. Amen.