Monthly Archives: October 2015

Life Journal (10/30/2015) – Evil Self-destructs

Scripture    Mark 5:1-5

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

Observation

  • Mark continues to focus on the forces of evil
  • This man has supernatural strength: breaks binding, chains, irons on his feet
  • Man also lives among the dead
  • Harms himself due to this evil presence

Application

In his fictional but incredible take on Adam and Eve Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’s protagonist observes:

“on the surface, [there were] great designs and antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within. . . was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness . . .”

At its heart, evil is nothing but destruction, blackness, the ultimate antithesis of all that is good, and light, and life.

The man who lived among the tombs illustrates this so well. Afflicted with and controlled by a demonic presence, he lives among the dead and not the living. Just as he is unable to be bound by physical restraints he is also unable to live among the constraints of human society and of his faith. He also is self-destructive and probably would have lived a much shorter and certainly hellish existence apart from this deliverance.

Evil cannot endure because, at its core, it is empty and puerile as Lewis observes. It cannot sustain life let alone enhance or give it. It is an empty shell of a promise that leads to nothing. Jesus, however, offers something just the opposite.

Prayer

Lord, all around me I see that evil and wrong destroys and does not create. It ends and never begins. It kills and never births. Even when it seems to bring pleasure it is only in the way it corrupts and twists the good. Remind me today that Christ will triumph over Satan, that through his continued intercession and ministry that good will trump evil. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/29/2015) – Another World

Scripture     Mark 3:13-15

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve[a] that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons.

Observation

  • Mountain: parallels with other mountains (Sinai, Nebo, Zion)
  • Repetition of relationship words and images: wanted and “with him”
  • The twelve came and were sent – came because he wanted, were sent on his mission
  • Their tasks: preach and have authority over demons (parallels what was said about Jesus’ ministry in previous chapters and verses)

Application

The calling of the disciples is a parallel of Jesus’ calling and mission – Jesus is “called” at his baptism and then begins preaching and driving out demons. I am unsure if I ever noticed how much of Mark’s early portrayal of Jesus’ ministry focuses on driving unclean and evil spirits out of people! But Mark clearly notices and relates this aspect of Jesus’ ministry.

Saturday is Halloween, a day of mixed perspectives for Christians. Some love it – others are horrified by it. And there is much on both sides of that debate that makes sense to me. But I love Halloween and always look forward to this season.

What I realize is how much we miss sometimes by forgetting this balance of ministry focus. There is a supernatural dimension of Christian life and ministry. After all, we worship a God whom we cannot see and a Savior who was resurrected from death. And the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and in us.

I am far too rational sometimes, too logical, too mind-focused. There is a reality that is deeper and wider than the physical world. And there is a reality that cannot be modeled by mathematics or theorized in the mind. Jesus spoke to both.

Prayer

Today, Lord, make me mindful that there is a world of the spirit. A reality that is beyond what I can see and analyze. Jesus preached the truth but also witnessed to the truth of this spiritual life and world that sometimes I crowd out of my mind and my ministry. May it be real to me today and in my life and ministry. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/28.2015) – Somewhere Else?

Scripture     Mark 1:35-39

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Observation

  • Jesus prays first thing in the day before anything else: VERY early and still dark when he does so
  • Jesus went elsewhere to pray
  • Interesting – Simon and the others do not do the same thing?
  • Jesus says they will go somewhere else to preach to fulfill his mission

Application

It’s been raining all night and much of the day is forecast to be the same. What I wanted to do is stay in bed where it is dry and warm But the demands of the day – taking my son to school, work, commitments this evening all mean having to get up and get going.

Jesus gets up and gets going in this story from the early days of his ministry. He gets up early to pray (something I need to return to doing) and goes somewhere else to pray. He then tells the disciples that they must get up and go somewhere else to preach because that is what he was sent to do.

I wonder if Jesus means not only that he was sent to preach but that the Messiah who was sent knows he mus go – to new places, to new people, to new fields where he has not yet been.

I want to stay where it is comfortable and where people like me – where it is warm and dry. But to follow Jesus means to go. To go to pray – to let prayer drive us away from where we are to where God wants us to be. To follow a Savior who was sent means to be sent ourselves. Even if I stay in the same physical place for many years, there are “places” to go that are new: opportunities, changes in me, new relationships to make.

Prayer

Lord, today may my prayers lead me to the next place you want me to go. Remind me of my purpose and mission in following Your Son and in imitating him by also going and moving. May I look today for new places and new things to do where you would have me go. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/27/2015) – My God Is Too Nice

Scripture     Psalm 114

Psalm 114

When Israel came out of Egypt,
    Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

The sea looked and fled,
    the Jordan turned back;
the mountains leaped like rams,
    the hills like lambs.

Why was it, sea, that you fled?
    Why, Jordan, did you turn back?
Why, mountains, did you leap like rams,
    you hills, like lambs?

Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turned the rock into a pool,
    the hard rock into springs of water.

Observation

  • Alludes to the Exodus and to the crossing of the Jordan by Israel at its end
  • The people became God’s sanctuary (not the tabernacle or the temple?)
  • The earth’s reaction in vss. 7 and 8: God’s presence in the people / in Judah?
  • Further allusion to God’s bringing water out of the rock when Israel wandered in the wilderness

Application

When I was a child, my dad had on his bookshelf the book “Your God Is Too Small.” I have since read it and somewhere around here I have it on my shelf. When I read this Psalm today what came into my mind is “Randy, your God is too nice.”

I think too fondly of God – and not much awe, fear, or trembling. It is kind of popular today to see God as a therapeutic deity whose main function is to heal our neuroses and resolve our personal problems. But do I tremble at the thought of God? Do I hold God in awe in worship or in prayer or in meditation? Not so much and not very often.

It’s no coincidence that when God visits people in the Bible – even through intermediaries – the reaction is often fear and trembling. God is not my therapist nor my personal banker nor my life journey travel planner. God is high and lifted up…. God is the God whose presence makes the earth tremble. I need to reclaim that trembling.

Prayer

God of Judah, come and dwell in me and in your church as you did in them long ago. God of Israel, extend your dominion over my life and your church. May your presence cause me to tremble because you are more wonderful than I can imagine and more than I can comprehend. Restore to me that sense of awe and wonder at your presence and let me experience it in my life again. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/26/2015) – A Vision from Heaven

Scripture – Acts 26:19

 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”

Observation

  • Paul defends his actions as coming from the vision he received when he was converted (26:1-18)
  • The preceding verses remind us that Paul was known to the people who opposed him in and around Jerusalem
  • Paul then tells of his missionary efforts that followed this vision
  • God helps Paul – not to avoid trouble but to fulfill the commission in the vision

Application

“Vision” gets tossed around more than a little, especially (but not exclusively) in the church. Usually it is used as if it is something that comes from a group process or that reflects a consensus of thought, etc. Sometimes it means a particular person’s plan or ideal for the group.

In the Bible nothing could be further from the truth! Paul’s vision smacks him upside the head, redirects his life, reorients his efforts and passions. And pretty much overnight.

I realize in reading this story from later in Paul’s ministry that I don’t really have such a vision. Not the kind of overwhelming and all-consuming and passion-producing vision that comes from heaven – from God. Not from my brain or my thoughts or my experience or my logic. But something God makes so clear it hurts… so sharp it bites into life and cuts across the path I am following.

Prayer

Lord of the Damascus Road and of Paul the Visionary – you revealed yourself so clearly to Paul that he began a mission that changed the course of the world. Give me such vision! Give me such an overwhelming clarity of purpose. Renew my sense of call to your mission and to your purpose alone. To be so blinded that I can at last see. To be so compelled that I surrender all… oh to walk in Paul’s steps in my life and in our age. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/23/2015) – The Difficulty of Religion

Scripture     Acts 17:13-15

13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

Observation

  • “But” in vs. 13 is a contrast to the reception Paul received in Berea
  • In this entire narrative in Acts 17, when the opposing Jews “stir” up things, Paul leaves for another place
  • Why this opposition? Why this desire to agitate the crowds wherever Paul preaches?
  • In 17:5 we are told they were “jealous” and acted to disrupt Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica and then here in Berea
  • Of what are they envious, jealous… so much so that they follow him to another place?

Application

Paul experiences opposition in many places and many ways. Like his own life before his conversion, some in the Jewish community violently oppose Paul’s preaching and teaching. Some so much – as here – that they follow him to other places to stir opposition where it hadn’t occurred on its own. Much of Paul’s difficulty doesn’t come from the culture but from the people who are on his side of things – the Jews.

Luke tells us here that the Jews causing Paul difficulty are jealous… but of what? If this story tells us something about conflict or disagreement in churches, for instance, then I am unsure what it tells us! Having grown up in church, I have seen plenty of opposition – especially to the new or to the different. What I wonder is what this story might tell me about it?

What seems clear is the opposition becomes personal – it is Paul of whom they are jealous and not necessarily intellectual opposition to his message.

This much is probably true from this story from Paul’s journey: much conflict is grounded in emotion not logic, in feelings rather than fact. I wonder if Paul leaves because against such there isn’t much one can do.

Prayer

Lord, your servant Paul found himself in conflict. We will too, especially it seems in the church as he did among those of his faith. Help me to appreciate the emotion and the passion that lies behind people’s roles in conflicted situations, their zeal. And to learn from you how to respond instead of responding as my flesh would do out of my own emotion. In the name of the one to whom Paul witnessed, Jesus the Risen One. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/22/2015) – Not Difficult Does Not Mean No Expectations

Scripture     Acts 15:19-21

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Observation

  • Contrast between “difficult” and the expectations that follow (and therefore neither difficult nor a burden)
  • What is the purpose of verse 21 in this narrative about the debate over what the Gentiles must do?
  • Vs. 21 is substantiation – moving from effect to cause. Because the law of Moses has been preached, these things must be observed
  • How do the things James asks of the Gentiles in vs. 20 flow from the reality of the law of Moses being preached?

Application

I have read this story many times – the moment when the first leaders of the church grapple with the question of what to do with these people not like us? people who have been seen as outside the circle of God’s covenant? James rules that the Gentiles need to be circumcised (whew!) and does not lay the entire law of Moses on them. But he does ask them to do these specific things (or to abstain from them). Why these?

Are James’ instructions a kind of basic ritual purity – not the whole law and certainly not asking them to submit to any of the law’s rituals. But to keep from those things that Jews would clearly see and find abhorrent.

Thinking about this for me and for today, I wonder what these things might be for today? Christian people sure don’t agree! Part of the problem in applying this particular part of the story is that the standard of “impure” is not really a cultural norm any  more and Christian people have a wide variety of opinions on many of these things. I am not worried about food sacrificed to idols… but what should I abstain from doing to witness to my faith? What does following Christ today mean in terms of abstaining?

Prayer

Lord of Moses, those who worshiped you in Moses’ and Jesus’ days sought to keep themselves pure. Lord, show me and my fellow believers how to do so today. Some things, like sexual immorality, are still boundaries you call us not to trespass. But others are not so clear and not so easy to discern. May the spirit of wisdom and love that stirred James stir me as a follower of Jesus and as one called to answer such questions for today in my ministry. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/19/2015) – Other People’s Prayers

Scripture   Acts 10:1-3

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Observation

  • Cornelius is someone who acts as much as a Jew as possible with conversion and circumcision (“God fearer”)
  • Cornelius’ vision due to this acts both of piety and charity (see following verses for this)
  • He is addressed by name – a vision specifically to and for him

Application

The story of Cornelius represents the beginning of the mission of the church to the Gentiles. Peter will have his own vision and know that he is to begin this work. But God speaks first to Cornelius… not to Peter. We tend to think that things begin in the church and flow out to the world. The story of Cornelius tells a different tale.

God was at work in Cornelius and had elicited from him a genuine faith that expressed itself in both his good works and his piety ( he couldn’t participate in the Jewish religious practices except as an outsider).

Who around me is praying? Seeking God and wanting more? Desiring something they lack but not sure what it is? Not finding the answers in what the church offers (ouch)? I don’t mean people who shun the church completely or who don’t want to submit in any way to anyone except themselves. I mean people honestly seeking but who find things off-putting and confusing that we put in the way of their finding.

Peter becomes the answer to Cornelius’ prayers. God has to shake him up a bit and out of the place where he is to do it. Where might God want to do the same today for those around me through me?

Prayer

Lord, around me today are people seeking you, people moved by your Spirit and moved by you. Use me today as you did Peter… correct my vision and change my perspective as your did Peter’s. Make me an answer to other people’s prayers – not for anything I am or have but because you would use me and because I am where you need and want me to act. In the name of Jesus who transformed Cornelius’ life and answered his prayers. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/15/2015) – Asking for…?

Scripture   Acts 4:30-31

28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Observation

  • These words are the conclusion of what the church prays when Peter and John were released from prison after being arrested for healing on the sabbath
  • None of the prayer is about protection but rather enabling the mission of proclaiming and witnessing to Jesus’ resurrection
  • Nothing about Peter and John being delivered either – here or in what precedes it
  • The prayer elicits a strong response from God – a physical shaking of the building and a new filling with the Spirit

Application

I am astounded – again – by the faith of the early church. Peter and John are in prison and on their release their response? They don’t event thank God for letting them go! They pray for more mission, more ministry, more fruit in proclaiming Jesus crucified and risen. Wow. My prayers for money, for resolution of issues, for people’s illnesses all seem so small by contrast.

What does God want to do – through me, through my church? Do I pray for such things? Not really or not as much as I ought. Prayers for stuff of some sort or another are the norm for me whether for personal or church issues.

To have a renewed sense of vision larger than myself, larger than my imagination. Prayers big enough for God – not just for God’s power but for God’s will and purposes.

Prayer

Lord, do wondrous things through me today. Things that only your power can do. Things that will cause people to look beyond me to the God who does them, May I have that apostolic faith and vision and passion that leads to such earth- and building-shaking prayers! In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Life Journal (10/14/2015) – Learning to Pray Again

Scripture     Acts 3:1-5

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Observation

  • What significance lies in it being time of prayer when this story occurs?
  • Time of prayer coincided with time of sacrifice
  • Is there a connection between the time of prayer and the man begging and asking (praying)?

Application

I am in a season of thinking about and focusing on prayer in my ministry – so it is on my mind in my personal times of reflection too. ‘Pray’ or some form of the word appears 34 times in the book of Acts – more than once/chapter. It is easy to miss how critical prayer was to the early followers of Jesus and should be to us. So many significant things occur in connection with prayer.

Here, the man is praying – begging – not to God but to the passing crowds on their way to pray each day. I am sure this man and his friends and family knew that those on their way to pray would be more inclined to give, and to give generously.

Maybe I need to re-learn to pray – to really pray? To beg God for things that I do not have and that I need. This man needed money to survive as he would have had no other means of living. His prayer was answered but not as he expected.

I am certain that often I miss the answered prayer because what I ask or seek is not what God does. Yet God does something more amazing and more a witness to the love and power of Jesus Christ than the thing I want so badly for God to do.

Prayer

Lord, the man who begged from Peter could not work and so could not work. Yet he knew when a great thing had been done for him – when his life was changed in answer to his prayer. May I not be lame or limited in my praying, blind to your action in the world and in my life and in my heart. May I lie near the place where prayers are heard and answered… Amen.

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