God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 30 - 1 Corinthians 5-8: Freedom vs. Holiness in Sexual Relations and Meat Offered to Idols

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 5-8

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul argues that we have freedom but should give up that freedom when it sets things right.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Deal with openly-sinful Believers in the open. Better to be embarrassed than damned. We cannot control outsiders, but we should not accept insiders who openly disobey God.
Don't sue each other. You teach outsiders that God cannot be trusted.
All things are legal but not all things are helpful.
God gives the gift of celibacy and marriage. If your spouse is not a believer, stay with them if they are willing.
Be content where you are. Only God defines you—not marriage, religion, or slavery.
Physical things are unimportant to God unless they are used to throw others off track.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Corinthian church valued tolerance over holiness.

The major issue with including the man sleeping with his father's wife (whether or not she is his mother is unknown) was that the church thought they were so otherworldly that it didn't matter what the man did. Instead they devalued holiness to be open and accepting. Holiness, not tolerance, is the goal of God's Chosen People. Tolerance is an important trait to develop, but only towards outsiders. Anyone who makes a covenant to obey God should be held strictly to that covenant. If not, they should be asked to leave.
What does this mean for us today? I am afraid we have so misused this passage that most churches disfellowship those they should tolerate and tolerate those who they should disfellowship. Think about it—when was the last time a church openly confronted a person because of a sin in their life? Instead, we write open letters and tell members not to associate with other churches because of religious differences.
Also, we fail to live as a community. If a congregation were to openly confront a person because of a sin that person would simply go to another church that agreed with them. However, that does not negate its importance. A congregation must remove bad examples to both help the bad example realize they are jeopardizing their relationship with God and prevent the saints from losing their holiness. We must remember, though, that this is about holiness not religious unity. Bad examples are not those who have different views than us on theology. Bad examples are those who practice unholy acts, like sleeping with their stepmother.

The church models God's Judgment to the entire world.

Paul has hard things to say about their inability to make judgments. They would rather be judged by people who do not respect God than trust a decision made by the wisest among them. He even said it would be better for them to allow an unjust decision to stand than to embarrass God's Chosen People in front of the world. Yet the reason Paul gave was not about justice or fairness. It was about God—it would prevent people in the world from setting things right because they would not trust God. When we become so critical of each other that we rather have people who do not respect God make important judgments, the world will not set things right.

Even if something is legal does not make it appropriate.

Paul's encouragement is to look beyond the legal appropriateness of every act and instead see if it helps honor God. We do not need to see if God approves of what we do before we do it. We should look to see if it helps set things right or divides us. Sexual promiscuity and gluttony do not honor the Temple God gives us. Honor God through your body. Treat it well as the Temple of God. Just as God became angry that Israel mixed holy and common in the Temple, God becomes angry when His Chosen People mix holy and common within their bodies. In this way sexual sins are greater than all other sins. It takes something holy—intimacy and commitment—and mixes profane—lust and selfishness.

Marriage is meant to merge sexual urges with commitment and intimacy. If a person can live without sex, they should also live without marriage.

Paul tackles a very difficult and complicated issue, one in which Christians battle over today. Paul seems to think marriage is necessary to help control our urges. This is why his first instructions were about submitting to each other—no husband or wife should stop the other from having their urges met. Abstinence is only good when it is mutually agreed upon. If not, the one wanting intimacy is tempted to go elsewhere. If an unmarried couple cannot manage their urges, they should get married. If a person can control their urge they should not get married enabling them to focus more on setting things right. Paul walked a fine line—on one hand he thought being single was more beneficial to setting things right, but on the other he did not want to encourage couples to separate or think they were second-class because they have sexual urges. He finished by warning them,
And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. (7:17, The Message)
Although this is couched in Paul's opinion, he reminds the Corinthians that he has the Spirit of God. Disagree only if you are led by the Spirit, too.
Christians today have a rather strange view of marriage compared to Paul's instructions. I find it ironic that Paul states—with help from the Holy Spirit—that unmarried people make better workers for God yet congregations would rather have a married minister (or pastor). Our society has elevated marriage to the point that it is the goal of life—to live in a committed relationship with one person, not to set things right. It causes people who have the ability to become, as Jesus stated, eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom to get married and struggle with their relationships for a lifetime. It also encourages people who have never been married feel left out or second-class. We should remind Christians, especially younger Christians, to let God define their life and to be content where they are.

Paul instructed the Corinthians to stay where they were.

Paul commanded in Galatians that they stop arguing over the Law. Here he reminds them that being or not being a Jew is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. Slavery is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. Marriage is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. Marriage to a person not dedicated to setting things right is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. If the spouse decided to stay, they could be won over through unswerving faithfulness. Where you are in life is not the focus for a Disciple. How you can use your position to set things right for God is the focus of life for a Disciple.

Meat offered to idols was a test-case for freedom vs. love.

Paul and the Christians in Corinth knew that there were no such things as idol-gods. The meat offered to idols meant nothing to them. They were free to eat meat offered to idols without worrying about their loyalty to God. But not all of the members had that clean conscience. One person's freedom should not cause another person to split their allegiance to God. Freedom should be second to brothers' and sisters' relationships with God.
One thing I think we should remember is that Paul does not suggest these people are theoretical people. I have heard many Christians argue that we should not do certain things because in theory a Christian could stumble and fall. That isn't what Paul wanted them to do. That isn't freedom at all. If they knew a person that would be harmed by them eating meat they should defer to the other person's sensibilities. If they did not know of a person, they had the freedom to continue as they wished.

What else do you see here?

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29 - 1 Corinthians 1-4: Loyalty to Theologians with a Slick Theology

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 1-4

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Corinthian church fought over theologians and lived in a city that thought their Message was ludicrous.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to God's church in Corinth:
Though God will never give up on you, you must stop fighting!
The Gospel seems ludicrous to outsiders, but God turns worldly wisdom into nonsense. Think about it, everything you have comes through Jesus.
God's Spirit worked through me—an inarticulate man—to help set your relationships right.
God gives His Plan to everyone when they commune with Him. That is why you frustrate me with how you treat each other.
Preachers are guides into God's Kingdom. I don’t care what you think of me. Only He is willing to guide us to maturity.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Paul begins the letter to the Corinthians by reminding them that God will never give up on them.

If a letter starts by reminding you that God will never give up on you, you know two things: 1) God will never give up on you (obviously!) and 2) What comes next is going to be a long list of things you messed up. Before we get into this book we need to remember, no matter how bad we mess up, God will never give up on us!
Today's reading comes at a great time. Yesterday I wrote at length about how we should be have a more humble attitude when discussing the differences between the churches of Christ and other denominations. I have had other difficult things to say which may lead a person to think I do not like my tradition or that I want to leave it. Many people in my generation have come to the same conclusions I have and have left jaded or bitter against us. Instead of leaving, I want us to realize we are like the Corinthians because we have many problems, but we are also like the Corinthians because God will never give up on us. We can become a group of people setting all things right if we remember that God will never give up on us, even if we have a laundry list of problems.

The Corinthian church elevated their theological influences higher than their relationships with their fellow Christians.

This section reminds me of something the Restoration Movement got right, at least we did for a while. As a student at a seminary, I noticed several factions within the denominational world—Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Azusa Street, African, Asian, Catholic, etc. These groups all had their favorite theologians and pitted them against each other. Paul wanted the Corinthians to remember that all theologians are servants of the Originator of the Message they preach. Don't focus on the servant. Focus on the God!

The Gospel seems silly to those who are "wise".

The Corinthians lived in a very educated, sophisticated culture which wanted either magic tricks to shock the crowds into believing (the Jews) or seamless arguments proving a tight theology (the Greeks). God's Message included neither of those things. Instead, He used a non-efficient method to spread a non-convincing Message—non-educated people teaching other non-educated people how to set things right because God came down and allowed Himself to become a brutal sacrifice. The truth is, neither magic tricks nor perfect, rational theology convinces a person to change. Only the words of a friend will truly convict a person to change. God uses an unlikely method to spread His unattractive Message—friends. Paul wanted to be impressive but failed. Instead, he allowed God's Spirit to convict others and great things happened. Paul wants them use that method of spreading God's Message. The Message itself is not slick. It's messy. It's tough. It doesn't sound very theological. It isn't easy to believe. Yet God's Message has gone throughout most of the world and no one can stop it. It requires a lot of faith because something you gain easily you lose easily.

God spreads His Plans for the world when we commune with Him.

God wants to tell the world what He is doing. He also wants them to listen. For that reason, He waits until they are willing to commune with Him before He lets them in on His Plan. When we commune with God, we learn how the world works.

Do you believe God will never give up on you?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November 28 - Acts 18:19-19:41: Correcting Believers and Surviving Mobs

Today’s Reading: Acts 18:19-19:41

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Jews were not the only group to forcefully oppose Paul and the Way.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul returned to Antioch while Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus.
Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, a disciple of John. They taught him about Jesus. He became a great help to the Christians in Ephesus.
Paul baptized disciples of John in Jesus' Name and the Holy Spirit entered them. Many people in Asia heard the Word.
Jewish exorcists tried to mimic Paul and excise a demon. They were unsuccessful.
As Paul planned another trip, an idol-maker organized a riot in order to squelch the Way. After hours of screaming "Great Artemis of the Ephesians!" the town clerk sent them home.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul provide a good approach for helping people who are not part of your group.

Growing up in the churches of Christ I was taught that the Restoration Movement had revived the New Testament church and I heard lesson after lesson about how denominationalism was wrong and we should not fellowship with them. In debate class I chose the topic of fellowshipping other churches. During my study I realized the Bible wasn't as simple on that topic as I had been led to believe.
When I moved to China I thought I would spend all of my time teaching people who were not Christians. The first few months we heard apocryphal stories of a Christian group on campus. "They're probably not following the Scripture," I thought, and ignored them. In the second year, I learned that the group was quite large (compared to our group) and they knew we were there. I wanted to keep my distance, though. It wasn't until my fourth semester there that they broke the separation. A few of their leaders wanted me to help them understand the Bible. At that point I realized how my pride prevented them from growing. My advantage—my gift you might say—was a background in reading the Bible. I used my experience and training to show them a way to read the Bible with their groups. I helped them find a way to get out of their old way of thinking and helped set them on a course to understand the Bible on their own.
Priscilla and Aquila would have alienated Apollos if they stood in their fellowship and complained that Apollos missed Jesus. Instead, they assumed he wanted to obey God and helped him see Jesus. That is our goal today! Our goal should not be to convince people to leave their religion/denomination/social group and follow Jesus. We want to help them see the Bible as it is—God's Message that He is setting all things right—and through that recognition have their relationship with God set right. (Remember, "Who is saved?" is the wrong question.) I believe many in the churches of Christ have an advantage over other Christians because we have read the Bible as God's Word for generations. If we humbly take people aside and tell them the rest of the story, we may find more like Apollos. And the Gospel can spread throughout the world as it did in Asia.

Not everyone that calls out in Jesus' Name will have their requests answered.

The Jewish exorcists' story is one of those stories you hate yourself for laughing, but can't help it. It is the opposite story of the one where the Apostles wanted to stop non-Chosen Disciples from casting out demons. The difference is in the attitude, not the name. The people in Mark 9 wanted to follow Jesus but were not part of His Circle. The Jews in Acts 19 wanted to look like Paul. They did not succeed because they wanted to make themselves look good. When we ask in Jesus' Name to make ourselves look good we fail.

Those who benefit from idol worship (of any kind) will not like Christians.

The riot in Ephesus was not started by Jews. In fact, Jews wanted to stop it. It was begun by people who knew their livelihoods would vanish if people believed this Paul who taught that an idol is nothing.
When we think of the idols people worship today they are mostly abstract ideas and not physical shrines. People who love "freedom" over God will not like the idea of obedience. People who love "order" over God will not like the idea of freedom in Christ. Entire industries are built around these abstract idols. When people realize these idols do not help them set things right the industry's business dries up. Notice, though, that Paul did not get up and denounce them all. The Christians stayed in the shadows and let the city leaders quiet the crowd. In the same way we shouldn't stand in front of people and tell them to shape up or face God's wrath. They will show their true selves and God's Way will be vindicated. When persecution comes because of rioting based on fear of losing their way of life, let God and those outside God's Chosen People quiet the crowds. We may get physically hurt, but they cannot keep us from God's Love.

How did people help you change by showing you the whole story?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November 27 - 1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians: Living the Beautiful Life Until the Resurrection

Today’s Reading: 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians

The Message

English Standard Version

Today we read two New Testament books. I want to keep each book separate in the summaries, so today I will write two summaries, one for each book. That way I do not need to condense them into one, 100-word summary.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Thessalonians wanted to set things right but they were confused over the Resurrection.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

1 Thessalonians

Paul with Silas and Timothy greet the church at Thessalonica. You have taken God's Message to heart! Your faith is famous!
Our Message has been purified through persecution.
You follow in the original disciples' footsteps—in both faith and persecution. No praise can do you justice.
Stay holy. Set things right—such a beautiful life.
Jesus' Resurrection gives us hope. Don't worry; the dead will join us for one big family reunion! No one knows when, though.
Act like creatures of Light. Build each other up.
May God make you wholly His—body, soul, spirit.
Jesus' Grace be with you!

2 Thessalonians

Paul, Silas, and Timothy greet the Thessalonian Christians. Your faith continues to grow! We are so proud of your faith-endurance.
Problems help you condition for the Kingdom. Justice will come at Jesus' Return!
Jesus has not returned yet. The Anarchist will come first. One day, God will overwhelm his fake signs. Stay firm—God will give you life.
Pray that our Message is received where we work now.
No freeloaders! Don't enable them but don't think of them as the enemy.
May God help you get along.
I, Paul, signed with my own hand.
Jesus' Grace be with you all!

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Thessalonians lived what Jesus taught.

Reading through Paul's boastings about them is uplifting, especially after spending a large amount of the year reading how Israel never got it. The Thessalonians, on the other hand, not only accepted Paul's Message of Jesus they lived it out. It is a huge encouragement for people who feel like being holy is impossible. When we live holy lives, the whole world takes note and Jesus' Message is accepted. If they could do it, so can we!

Trials and persecutions purify our faith.

Paul mentions his own persecution in the first letter and the church's persecution in the second. Both are used by God to get rid of impurities in their faith. The more they are persecuted the more they realize what is important and helpful in being holy. The other things are dropped or excised. Do not be discouraged by problems. They lead you to greater trust in God.

Paul encourages them to continue what they are doing, but not by going through the religious motions.

The things Paul tells them to do in the rest of the book are not "religious-y" things but focus on holiness and setting things right. Paul does not want them to become the replacements for the Jews—enjoying the rewards of being God's Chosen People without the responsibility of setting things right. He wants them to continue "in a living, spirited dance" (1 Thessalonians 4:1, The Message). Going through religious motions does not please God. Holy people setting things right does.

The hope of Resurrection separates us from the world.

Christianity is not a religion of the cross. We are a religion of the empty tomb. Jesus' Sacrifice may have set our relationship with God right but His Resurrection gives us hope that one day we will be with Him for eternity. The Resurrection was so important to the Thessalonians they became worried that their dead relatives would miss out. Paul sets their minds at ease by declaring that everyone will return from the dead to be with God. It will be one big family reunion!

The Message of Jesus does not lead to laziness.

Paul mentions this in the first letter but dedicates a long section to it in the second. He wants to make sure the Thessalonians do not think that just because rich people are selling what they have and giving to the poor that the poor can sit back and live off the proceeds. Paul tells them this is unacceptable. He and Silas did not live off them and they had a legitimate claim! Paul even goes to the point of saying the church should cut that person off—though he does not want them to be cut out of the church. Everyone pulls their own weight. Selling and giving should be reserved for those who have unexpected needs and/or those who cannot work.
This passage sets me at odds with much of the socialist programs in the world. The problem I see is not that they help the poor but that they cannot distinguish between those who need help and those goofing off. The church from the beginning helped everyone willing to be part of them. In fact, early Christians eliminated poverty within the church by giving to the poor. Government programs cannot do this because they lack the ability to say "no" when a person doesn't work. The bureaucracies are too far removed from the individual for it to be effective. Churches know if a person is being lazy or is legitimately unable to work. The federal government cannot. The question is not over whether the poor should be helped or not. The question is over which way would be more efficient and effective in eliminating poverty. The closer the giver is to the receiver, the better and more effective charity becomes.

Whose faith do you use as an example of trusting in God?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 26 - Acts 17-18:18: The Jews Stalk Paul; Paul Reaches the Athenians where They Are

Today’s Reading: Acts 17-18:18

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Jews are following Paul and Silas as they go from city to city.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul and Silas customarily taught Jews first. In Thessalonica, some believed. Others tried stopping Paul.
Next, they taught in Berea. Gentiles and Jews believed.
Thessalonian Jews followed Paul. He escaped to Athens.
Paul grew angry at Athen's sea of idols. Paul spoke at the Areopagus against idols and about God wanting everyone to set things right because of the eventual Resurrection. Some mocked and some believed.
Aquila and Priscilla were expelled from Rome alongside the Jews.
The Corinthian Jews would not listen. So Paul taught the Gentiles.
God strengthened Paul's resolve.
He was arrested but the charges were dismissed.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Paul first went to the Jews.

God opened His Chosen People for the world to join. However, God made a covenant with Abraham, too. Therefore, when Paul and Silas went from town to town they first stopped in to help God's Original Chosen People understand why Jesus had to die. God will never give up on His Chosen People.

The Jews cared more for their way of life than God.

Notice how their charges against Paul and Silas are not about them being wrong about God but instead go against their culture. God may still want His Chosen People to change, but they were still too headstrong to change. God cannot set things right when His Chosen People want to keep their lifestyles instead of setting things right.

Paul's lesson in Athens was different than Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost and in the Temple.

Paul could go into the Old Testament and show them that Jesus must be crucified as he did with the Jews. He could tell them that their sins put Jesus on the cross, as Peter did. He doesn't do either of those. Instead, he points out that they have idols to a god they don't know and he wants to introduce them to Him. The irony for them is that God doesn't want their carved images because He created the world. Paul begins there because that is their mindset and what is in front of him. God begins where we are to help us connect to His Message. Don't teach the same message to everyone. Not everyone has the same mindset. Start with where they are and they will want to set things right.

The Jews were kicked out of Rome.

This will be important next week when we start Romans.

God would protect Paul.

God protects His Chosen Messengers. God always has and always will.

Do you care to keep your religious way of life or do you want to set things right?

Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25 - Galatians 4-6: Arguing over Religion is a Waste of Time

Today’s Reading: Galatians 4-6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus brought us into an intimate relationship with God. The circumcision sect wanted to separate the Gentiles from God once more.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul continued:
Jesus' Coming made us God's Children, not God's Slaves. Abraham had two sons: one symbolized slavery (Ishmael), the other freedom (Issac). You can either be free in Christ or a slave to the Law.
Religion is meaningless. Only faith expressed in love matters.
Use your freedom to set things right—love others as you love yourself. God's Way makes life worth living.
Whatever you plant you reap. Sow good!
Remember that the circumcision sect doesn't obey the Law, either. Basically, what is important isn't what we do, it's what God's doing.
May Jesus' Blessings be yours.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Now we have something greater than the Law of Moses.

The Law of Moses was the greatest Law that existed. So when Paul writes that something better has come, it is saying more about Jesus than the Law of Moses. Jesus brings us into an intimate relationship with God where the Law kept the people at a distance. It is this reason that the ones pushing circumcision are doing the Galatian Christians a disservice. They value tradition and religion over relationships. They are separating God and the people again. Paul wants to make sure the Galatians do not fall for it.

Paul warned the Gentiles to question their teachers' motives.

Paul wrote how the teachers were looking for dependent students who needed them, not God. They wanted the Gentiles to obey a law they did not obey. Gentile converts would add to the individual Jew's prestige but the Gentile would lose out on a personal relationship with God. Beware teachers who make you dependent on them to understand God. God has made Himself known to the world.
We cannot read this without questioning the goals of our evangelism. Do we want more funding to "teach more people" or are we willing to encourage believers to interact with God independently, regardless of how it looks to us? To suggest they "need us" because no one knows what would happen is to suggest that the Holy Spirit cannot guide and to suggest your religion and traditions are more important than a relationship with God.

Once you accept a law, you accept the entire law.

Paul wants the Gentiles to know that if they want to obey the Law of Moses they cannot stop with circumcision. They have to continue to unclean foods, not mixing fabrics, and all of the other 600+ laws in the Law of Moses. They cannot pick-and-choose their favorite few laws that are easy to do. They have to do it all.
When we call people to become God's Chosen People and join a local church, we need to remind them that this commitment is not to attend worship only when we get together to eat. The commitment is to do everything that the fellowship agrees to do or abstain. The worst thing that can happen is a person come into a church and half-heartedly participate. Either join a church or don't. Once you do, do everything they agree to do. To willingly abstain is to do wrong—in essence, not set things right.

Freedom is meant to help us set things right unencumbered, not stop setting things right.

One of the strongest arguments against freedom in Christ (and freedom in general) is that people would abuse that freedom and do whatever they wanted to do, regardless of the consequences on others. Paul makes sure this is discussed, too. Freedom does not give us the ability to do as we wish. Freedom gives us the ability to focus on setting things right instead of pleasing God with our religion. The Galatians knew how sin hurt a person and their relationships. Freedom in Christ does not include evil. Christ is wholly good. God is wholly good. If we want freedom in Christ, we must be holy, too.

Disputes over religious observances and other religious acts are tedious and not worth our time.

With so much going wrong in this world, spending time arguing over circumcision, baptism, musical instruments, meals in the church building, music styles, teaching styles, etc. are a colossal waste of time. People live in darkness because they do not realize God is calling to them. Disputes over religious observances are wastes of time because God calls us to much higher things than these. When we limit ourselves to observing a law perfectly we miss the opportunity to help set relationships right. In the end, it's not about what we do anyway. It's what God is doing and if we join in His Work.

Do you argue over religion or fight to set relationships right?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 24 - Galatians 1-3: Don't Force Outsiders to Conform to the Law

Today’s Reading: Galatians 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Messianic Jews (Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah) wanted the Gentiles to obey a Law they themselves could not obey.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to the Galatian churches:
My authority is from Jesus. Why are you going away from His Message?
God called me, an uber-faithful Jew, to teach non-Jews about Jesus. Gentiles saw God because of me!
Some made attempts to circumcise the Gentiles. We resisted.
Jews had the best rulebook in the world and blew it. We trust in Jesus and aren't going back. Christ died to free us from rules.
Abraham's righteousness came by faith. You cannot impress God through rule-keeping. The Law was meant to guide us to Jesus. Now we have arrived. Don't make the Law separate us.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The problem in Galatia is the Law of Moses.

… Or Messianic Jews trying to impose the Law of Moses on Gentiles. Paul's message is quite blunt and to-the-point—it didn't make people set things right in the past, so don't force the Gentiles to do it. Paul has quite the résumé when discussing these matters which he will bring out when this issue surfaces in several books. Paul's authority comes directly from God when he tells them to stop focusing on the Law. If Abraham was considered righteous because of faith, so should they. The Law has no place there.
The impetus for having the Gentiles obey the Law comes from a good heart—it was the law given by God through Moses. Lasting over a thousand years, it gave the Jews an identity and one thing to feel proud of. It was the best law ever created. Who wouldn't want to obey the greatest set of moral laws in the world?
Except they forgot one important fact—Jesus came to remove the focus from the Law of Moses to the God who sacrificed Himself to set everyone's relationship right. To focus on the Law was to deny Jesus' purpose in coming to give Light to the world.
Christians must read this section of scripture with the understanding that we are the Jews of the first century. As I mentioned before, Israel's problems came from generations of people not taking God seriously—wanting the blessings of being God's Chosen People but not the responsibility of being lighthouses to the nations. Christians, especially those who grew up in multi-generational Christian homes, need to understand that the world does not see Christianity as a group of God's Chosen People setting things right. They see Christianity as judgmental groups of law-abiding citizens who can't keep their own members faithful to their god. If we want to help others set their relationships with God right we cannot add on the "oughts" that Christians expect—corporate Bible study, corporate worship, correct theology, etc. It doesn't work for Christians. It won't work for non-Christians, either. This isn't to say corporate Bible study, corporate worship, correct theology, etc. are bad or that we should stop doing them. Good people with good hearts believe being part of a church and doing all of these things helps set relationships right. Just like the Law of Moses, churches provide the best mechanism for setting things right. However, they are not essential to every person in the world having their relationship with God set right. To teach that they are is to negate Jesus' Purpose for coming.

Paul wants to keep the peace.

Yesterday we read how Paul had Timothy circumcised so they could enter synagogues without causing problems. Today Paul recounts how he did not openly flaunt his work with Gentiles when he returned to Jerusalem. As much as Paul wants to help Gentiles set their relationships right with God and keep their freedom from the Law of Moses, he also wants to live in peace and harmony with the Jews. He challenges the Pharisees and Peter in the open, since he wants them to live out the Truth they teach, but he doesn't parade freedom in Christ in front of the people who want to obey the Law of Moses. Before boasting of what God is doing, remember that God prefers right relationships over right mindsets. Don't try to get someone to agree with you and miss God. That defeats our purpose as His Chosen People.

We cannot impress God with our righteousness.

Undergirding the problem with imposing the Law of Moses on Gentiles is the belief that God wants to be impressed with how much good we do. Paul is clear: we can never impress God with our righteousness. The reason is two-fold: we can never be wholly righteous and God, through Jesus, has already done it. The first time is impressive. The second merely follows the trend. If we cannot impress God with our goodness, what does God want? God wants us to impress Him with our trust in His Way. We do that by accepting His Spirit, His Baptism, and His Life. When we allow Him to work in us we no longer focus on law, what to do or not do, and "us" vs. "them". We want to set things right with everyone because that's how God is! We want to be heirs of God's Way of Life because His Way blesses everyone in the world.

The Law was meant for us to realize we do not have a right relationship with God because we do not measure up to His Righteousness.

You might consider the Law the list of things God would not put up with. Although God prevented His Chosen People from terrible fates, the Law could not make a person holy. Why would God do such a thing? God wanted to make sure we understood that we do not measure up Him. We do not deserve a relationship because we do not set things right. Instead, God came and set our relationships right by being the sacrifice that covers what separates us. He came to humans when humans were the ones keeping us apart. There is no amount of religion that can teach people to live a life worthy of that honor. Only trust in Him will do it. How awesome is our God!

Do you teach setting relationships right or being religious?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

November 23 - Acts 15-16: On Circumcision for Gentiles, Disagreements, and Joy in Jail

Today’s Reading: Acts 15-16

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Obeying the strict ordinances of the Law was no longer the only way to set your relationship right with God.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A hotly-contested debate broke out over circumcision for Gentiles. Peter reminded them that God had not required Law-obedience from the Gentiles in his past experiences.
James wrote to encourage the Gentile Believers.
Paul and Barnabas split over a disagreement about taking John Mark on their second journey.
Timothy joined Paul's travelling party in Lystra.
The congregations grew.
Lydia became a Disciple. Paul and Silas sang in prison while on trumped-up charges. The jailor asked how to be saved. He and his family became Disciples.
The next morning Paul forced the city leaders to escort him out of prison.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Gentiles were never expected to obey the Law of Moses.

The Law of Moses was intended for the Jews to set all things right. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on Israel. This is the reason God chose the Gentiles to join the Jews in being His Chosen People. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, saw the Law as inseparable from being God's Chosen People and tried to push their Law on the Gentiles. Fortunately, Peter stepped in. His admonition is wonderful—God never required circumcision to the people He poured out his Spirit to, so why should the Gentiles be circumcised to obey the Law of Moses? God gave His Approval, why should God's Servants change His Plan? The purpose of circumcision was to help each person realize that God called them to be lighthouses to the nations. The Law of Moses was never intended for the Gentiles. It had too many laws and regulations. When baptism took circumcision's place, the Jews were not willing to give it up and provoked a large controversy.
We have a very similar situation today. There are many who reject the "institution-centered" view of much of American Christianity. American Christians, on the other hand, want outsiders to become insiders before officially joining their congregation. We want them to get out of harmful relationships, go through training classes, and know exactly the right theology before they are baptized. We must remember that the church was built for people, not the other way around. Remember: churches are meant for God's Chosen People to have a group to join them in setting all things right. This is why James' letter is so important—it helped set a standard with which to measure what we want to bind on others. We should not bind "church-y" things on them. What those are depends on where you live and your culture.

Paul was very hard-set.

Remember John Mark. We will read about him again in a few weeks.

Paul and Silas continued to praise God even though they were in prison.

Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed because they messed with the wrong people. They were so upbeat about being worthy of persecution that they sang in their chains. The jailor wanted to become a disciple of Jesus because of their integrity. Praise God no matter what circumstance you are in!

What extra laws do you weigh non-Chosen People with?

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22 - James: God wants His Chosen People to Set Things Right

Today’s Reading: James

The Message

English Standard Version

James could be considered the Proverbs of the New Testament. I will use this opportunity to give general comments and let you look at the specifics. Hopefully by now you are able to see how this book fits the Gospel: God is setting all things right!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

James wants everyone to set things right instead of focusing on "faith".

Summary in 100 Words or Less

James writes:
Rejoice when tested.
Pray when confused.
Prosperity is fleeting.
Lust becomes sin leading to death.
Good things only come from God.
Real religion is taking care of the helpless.
God's Kingdom embraces down-and-out people.
There are no "minor" laws. Obey them all.
Act on your faith. A good relationship with God requires faith and action.
Be careful how you use your mouth. Actions speak louder than words.
Call on God—He wants to help, if we submit to Him.
Rich people—set things right!
Confess your sins to each other—prayer is powerful!
Help wanderers return to God.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God loves to help.

One of the major themes of James' letter is to pray. God wants to help His Chosen People, and God knows how to give proper gifts! We should pray because God listens to us. We should pray because God wants to help us.

Faith needs action.

James wants to make sure this is clear—faith without setting things right is useless.
Today we struggle with incorporating the two. We think it is a balancing act—not too much faith but not too much works, either. How we balance the two has come out with both extremes—faith alone and obedience alone. In addition, we want to make this question about salvation. Jesus told the Apostles don't worry who will be saved or not. We should focus on setting things right. Don't balance faith and works. Trust in God and act on that trust! The two are not in competition with the other. One informs the other which confirms the first.

True religion is helping those who cannot help themselves.

If this placement is correct, James is saying something to Jews which would be somewhat insulting. They wanted the right religion, the right actions, and the right community. God repeatedly told Israel that they substituted sacrifices for setting things right and He was not pleased. James, therefore, writes how actions not related to "religious-y" things is what pleases God. True religion is not about worship, sacraments, buildings, or liturgy. True religion is about acts that set things right, especially for those who cannot defend themselves.

Riches should not add to a person's rank.

James has this idea throughout. The church thought that rich people should receive more-centered seating so they would add to the congregation's status. James reminds them that money does not elevate their ability to set things right—in fact, it often hinders it! Do not base judgments around a person's physical wealth or stature. Base judgments around a person's willingness to set things right as a lighthouse for God.

The tongue can either deliver praises or curses.

Although the tongue cannot be tamed, it can be used for praising God, other Chosen People, and non-Chosen People or for tearing them down, but not both.

What else did you see in James?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November 21 - Acts 13-14: Paul and Barnabas vs. God's (Previous) Chosen People and Greek-god Worshipers

Today’s Reading: Acts 13-14

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul and Barnabas had to go against people who did not understand religion.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The Holy Spirit told the disciples in Antioch to send Barnabas and Saul to teach the nations.
At Paphos, Saul, aka Paul, blinded Bar-Jesus for obstructing the Truth. The Roman governor believed.
John Mark returned home mid-trip.
Paul was invited to speak at a synagogue. Gentiles were grateful to receive God's Word; the Jewish leaders argued with Paul.
After healing a man, Paul and Barnabas persuaded the Lyconians to worship the Creator.
Jews following them forced them out of several towns.
They strengthened the new believers and appointed leaders. Then they returned to Antioch to report on God's Work.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Paul and Barnabas left with the Holy Spirit's and the Antiochian Christians' approval.

God wanted to have more relationships set right, so He sent Paul and Barnabas to the nations around Antioch. The Disciples joined in and commissioned them to go. Don't do mission work alone. Have the Holy Spirit's direction and a group of Christians commission your work. This does two things—it gives you a group to provide support and accountability and a group that you can return and tell your story to.

The story of Bar-Jesus may have explained Saul's name change to Paul.

It is possible (and a complete guess) that the governor of Paphos, Sergius Paulus, gave Saul his name to give cache and an air of protection around Saul. This may have helped give Paul comfort as he was being chased out of town after town.

The Jews in Antioch in Pisidia repeated the irony of Israel.

The Jews were very interested in Jesus—when He was for them only. The moment the entire city showed up to hear Paul teach about Jesus they could no longer listen. They had to keep God for themselves—forgetting the real purpose of religion. This set up the most ironic moment in the entire book: God's Chosen People, who invited one of their own to tell them about Jesus, argued vociferously with their guests in public, ran them out of town on a rail, then followed along causing trouble from town to town while non-Chosen People accepted the Truth about Jesus and became His Disciples. No doubt it reminded the first Christians about Jesus' interactions with the Roman Centurion and His interactions with the Pharisees. God's Chosen People can be the second-greatest enemy to God setting things right on the earth.
What can we get from this today? Before we consider ourselves the Gentiles accepting the Message, we need to remember this problem is a generational one, not a racial or ethnic one. Yesterday we read how God no longer used race or ethnicity to limit His Chosen People. A similar story was when Joshua circumcised the Jewish males before attacking Canaan. We are often the Jews arguing minute theological details with people trying to set things right. I have a friend who grew up gangbanging in the ghetto. After bouts with addiction and other issues, God and he set their relationship right. He now works for a charity helping homeless people overcome their problems. His congregation is currently embroiled in a controversy over musical instruments to worship. He told me, "I don’t care if they worship with instruments or not. All I want to do is praise God for saving my life from the streets." To argue with him is to do the very thing the Jews were doing in Antioch of Pisidia. Reflecting on the philosophy of Gamaliel, we should allow people to speak to find out if the Spirit is guiding them or not.

The Gentiles "could hardly believe their good fortune" (13:48, The Message).

Not everything went wrong in Antioch of Pisidia. Many non-Chosen People realized that they could become God's Chosen People because He opened the door and entered their lives. They trusted in God because many in the world wanted to worship God if they only had the chance.

The Lyconians were so anxious to worship something that they almost did not listen to Paul and Barnabas explain that they were not gods.

It is a very strange thing when people become so excited to worship something that they have to be shocked into realizing the object or person they want to worship does not want their worship. Paul and Barnabas barely stopped them from offering sacrifices on their behalf. Paul and Barnabas were more diplomatic than Isaiah, though.

Paul and Barnabas appointed local leaders on their way back to Antioch.

These leaders were not multi-generational believers who had advanced training. They were people fully convinced that God was setting things right on the earth and were wholly for Him. Leaders should be fully-dedicated to setting things right, not advanced training, a long track record of coming to worship services, and the ability to lead meetings.

Do you praise with your missionaries when they return to tell all the great things happening to set things right?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20 - Acts 11-12: Gentile Christians Grow in Number; God Executes Herod

Today’s Reading: Acts 11-12

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Jews were initially skeptical of allowing Gentiles but realized it was God's Plan.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

In Jerusalem, Peter recounted his vision and his visit with Cornelius. The Jewish Believers praised God!
The scattered disciples taught only Jews until many Greeks accepted Jesus.
The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch who fetched Saul from Tarsus. The Disciples of Jesus were nicknamed "Christians". They sent money to Jerusalem to help the Believers weather a famine.
Herod murdered James, John's brother, and arrested Peter. An angel helped Peter escape. He asked that everyone tell the Apostles what happened.
Herod executed the ones guarding Peter.
God killed Herod for acting like God instead of giving Him the glory.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Jewish Believers were initially skeptical of the Gentiles but eventually realized it was God's Plan.

The Jews always felt superior to the surrounding nations. This is why they were initially skeptical of Peter for associating with the Gentiles. Once they realized that the Gentiles had an opportunity to join them as God's Chosen People, they praised God for giving Life to the nations. God wants the entire world to set things right.
Today God's Chosen People need to remember that God calls anyone to be His Chosen People. There are some people Christians do not expect to obey Him. Sometimes they are skeptical that these people would follow through. Once we realize they do have a legitimate place, we should praise God for bringing light into their lives. When God's Chosen People realize His Light goes throughout the world, they should praise Him!

The Christians in Antioch wanted to help the Disciples in Jerusalem.

In the first of what would be several aids to Jerusalem, Barnabas and Saul were sent to give money to the Jerusalem Disciples to help them through a famine. God's Chosen People help other Chosen People no matter where they may be.

Herod had too high of an opinion of himself.

Herod had an interest in Jesus but found nothing wrong with Him. Later, his power corrupted his senses and he began persecuting the church. He executed James, one of Jesus' three closest Apostles. He had a second in jail and would have executed him if an angel hadn't intervened. Unfortunately for him, that episode did not convince him to stop. He took credit for his oratory skills and God executed him. Those who lack humility will eventually lack life.

Rhoda should have had a giraffe as her profile photo on Facebook.

She forgot to open the door.

What groups do you have a difficult time accepting as God's Chosen People?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 19 - Acts 9-10: God Calls Gentiles and an Ambassador to the Gentiles

Today’s Reading: Acts 9-10

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Saul is called to minister to Gentiles because he is unafraid to make people angry.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus chided Saul for persecuting Christians.
Ananias baptized Saul, God's Apostle to the Gentiles.
Damascenes conspired to kill Saul for teaching about Jesus.
In Jerusalem, Barnabas helped the Apostles overcome their fear of Saul.
Saul was eventually sent to Tarsus.
Peter healed a paralyzed man in Lydda and returned life to a godly woman in Joppa. Many people believed in Jesus.
An Italian captain, Cornelius, sent for Peter. Peter saw a vision that all animals could be eaten. Peter taught Cornelius' household about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit came upon them and everyone was baptized.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Saul was never shy about following God.

Whether Saul was persecuting Christians or trying to make disciples he went without any sense of trepidation or fear. When Saul believed God rejected Jesus' Disciples, no Disciple was safe. Once Jesus convinced him that he was wrong, the Disciples had peace and the Jews had problems—a motivated Disciple of Jesus wanting to prove that He was the Messiah. May God give more people willing to obey God with no fear!

Saul became God's Ambassador to the Gentiles because he was willing to stir the pot.

The first few years of his Christian life, Saul spent his days arguing with the Jews about Jesus being the Messiah. In Damascus, the Jews may have felt betrayed by Saul and posted guards to prevent him from leaving. Even though he had people waiting to execute him, Saul escaped to Jerusalem and continued teaching. The Apostles had to send him to Tarsus just so they could have peace again. Those who are willing to openly and forcefully teach in the face of opposition are the best ambassadors to people who others do not expect to obey God.

Tabitha was brought back to life because she loved to set things right.

I love this story because it reminds me of so many ladies (and men) I've known willing to help Jesus' Disciples. I have travelled many places in the world and one of few things that stayed the same was the eagerness Christians had to house us. We received many great blessings from God's Chosen People wherever we went.

Cornelius was chosen to become the first Gentile Disciple because he was willing to set things right spiritually and physically.

Cornelius was not the typical Gentile. He loved God with all his heart, soul, and strength. He loved his neighbor as himself. He wanted his household to honor and worship God. Of all the Gentiles in the land inhabited by Jews, Cornelius could have been the most worthy of being called God's Chosen Person. People other than God's Chosen People are willing to set things right.
Cornelius provides a great example for Saul's argument in Romans. We'll hold off until then to make it.

God no longer considered race or ancestry when choosing His Chosen People.

God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his children. They rebelled and would not listen to God, eventually killing His Son sent to call them to return to Him. Therefore, God changed the default to become His Chosen People from ancestry to willingness to set things right in God's Name. The Pharisees, religious scholars, chief priests, religious leaders, and Sadducees were all Abraham's physical descendents but were unwilling to obey God. Cornelius was not Abraham's son but he was willing to obey God. God chose Cornelius. God rejected the others. If you want to be God's Chosen Person, you must obey Him. Lineage is no longer acceptable.
Many people think Christians do not have this problem today. However, it is a generational issue not limited to the Jews. Children can grow up like the Jews and have no sense of setting things right but want to be considered God's Chosen People. We must understand that God's Message stays the same. Even though God has now called His Chosen People the Disciples of Jesus does not mean they are the only ones willing to set things right.

Who do you know willing to make others mad by telling them about Jesus?

Monday, November 18, 2013

November 18 - Acts 7-8: Persecution Scatters the Message to New Lands

Today’s Reading: Acts 7-8

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Persecution caused the church to move beyond Jerusalem.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Stephen argued that the Jews refused to listen to God even when God gave them His Word.
The crowd rioted and stoned him. As he died, Stephen saw Jesus and asked that no one be punished.
Saul encouraged Stephen's murderers.
The church scattered due to persecution. Philip healed many in a Samaritan city. Two Apostles helped them receive the Holy Spirit. Simon, a newly-baptized magician, wanted to pay the Apostles to give the Holy Spirit. They condemned his attempt to buy authority from God. He asked for forgiveness.
God sent Philip to teach a high-ranking Ethiopian leader. He was baptized.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Stephen's death provided the first proof that the world would hate Jesus' Disciples because they hated God.

Jesus warned the Apostles several times that they would be persecuted because the world did not like the Father nor Jesus. Stephen suffered the first martyrdom because He called out the Council for being stubborn even though they had God's Word. Obeying God does not always lead to peace and tranquility. Stephen died because he wanted them to realize how they and their ancestors missed God.

Stephen modeled Jesus' teachings on enemies as well as a view on death Jesus' Disciples should have.

Jesus wanted His Disciples to love their enemies and not resist them. Stephen neither pleaded for his life nor asked that God punish the ones killing Him. He saw Jesus beside God and asked that they not be punished for killing him. He had no reason to fear death—when Jesus' Disciples are murdered, they are given the gift of being with God sooner rather than later. Stephen did everything but thank them for helping him see Jesus.

Saul encouraged those who killed Stephen.

We will read about this in a few days. Saul thought he was doing God's Will. He will later realize his mistake.

The persecution in Jerusalem forced the Message out of Jerusalem.

Tradition states that these events in chapters 7-8 could have happened 10 years after Jesus' Resurrection. Whether or not this is true is unknown; however, one thing that we should realize is that persecution can be the best cause of evangelism far and wide. When God's Chosen People move, they take God's Message with them. Persecution should not be ignored, but we should realize that persecution can only lead others to a quick reunion with God or cause the Message to spread underground. It cannot stop God's Will.

Simon misunderstood how God works though he had a good heart.

Magicians, before the Internet, paid to learn how to do tricks, unless they developed them at home or had a mentor teach them for free. Simon thought the gift of the Holy Spirit was a magic trick—a sustained illusion. He was naïve in his new faith. When the Apostles showed him he misunderstood how God worked he quickly changed his mind. He had work to do to change his ways, but he had the heart to do it. God's Chosen People are not perfect. They have hearts willing to change.

God sent Philip to one man because the man wanted to obey God.

The story of Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch is interesting, not because of a strange fact within but because of the lack of an interesting plot twist. It seems to be a fairly routine conversion story—Philip goes to a man reading Scripture and helps him realize Jesus is the Messiah God pointed to in Scripture. The man becomes a disciple and is baptized. I think this story could have been remarkable to Luke for one (or more) of three reasons: 1) the man is African, not Jewish. He was most likely a proselyte. 2) The man is a powerful ruler in his country and may have helped many at home become disciples of Jesus. 3) He could have returned to the area and become one of the leaders in the church. What we should see is that God cares for anyone willing to obey Him. This one man travelling home from Jerusalem was important enough for God to send a delegate out of a city to help him understand the Scripture and how it pointed to Jesus.

How have you misunderstood how God works?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17 - Acts 4-6: The Ups and Downs of the Infant Church

Today’s Reading: Acts 4-6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The new church had struggles from within and without.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Peter told the religious leaders who questioned him, "I heal by Jesus' Authority."
The leaders were dumbfounded—Peter and John, country bumpkins, had God's Authority without their approval.
The Believers shared everything. Ananias and Sapphira decided to deceive God by acting as though they gave everything. God struck them dead. No one could deceive Him.
The Apostles were jailed. After an angel released them, they were arrested again.
"We will obey God and not men," Peter declared.
Gamaliel stopped their execution.
The Believers chose men to oversee the task of helping the Greek-speaking widows. Stephen was persecuted by rabble-rousing Jews.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God used uneducated, unsophisticated fishermen to spread His Message to the world.

All of the leaders in Jerusalem could not believe Peter and John, two uneducated, unsophisticated country bumpkins, could heal a man. Peter and John then confessed to healing the man using God's Authority! They could not believe it. These fishermen then accused the leaders of rejecting God's Cornerstone. They had no choice but to warn them not to speak about Jesus and release them, since they could not find anything against them. Peter's final salvo rubbed salt in their wound—the Apostles would not comply.
The second encounter did not go much better. Peter and the rest of the Apostles would not listen to threats. They would obey God, not people. Once again, God will use anyone willing to obey Him.
Many of God's Chosen People believe they do not know enough to talk to others about setting things right. Many who are educated often resent those who teach though they are not educated. We must remember that education should supplement faith, not replace it. The educated rejected Jesus because He did not conform to their expectations. Faith and obedience dictate who should pass on God's Way, not education and training.

The infant church shared so much that no one had unmet needs.

Yesterday I mentioned how these sections sounded like communism. Today's reading sounds like what communists purport to accomplish—rich people selling what they can to give to poor people so that there are no wants. It can happen, ironically when people do it out of gratitude to God! When God's Chosen People give to those in need, the church eliminates poverty within itself.

Ananias and Sapphira were struck down because they wanted to look more righteous than they really were.

Peter told Ananias and Sapphira that they had lied to God, not to people. Keeping part of their land's proceeds was not wrong. In fact, they could have kept their land and lived. Their sin and what cost them their life was the need to look good in front of everyone. God would not stand for people puffing their reputations at the expense of God's Chosen People's reputations. God will not stand for believers who place their status over righteousness.
Today we struggle with this. We want to be seen as perfect people who do not struggle with temptations. We keep quiet when people ask if anyone is struggling. We deflect to physical issues when we develop prayer lists, not wanting to "offend" anyone or appear to be gossiping. We maintain surface-level relationships with fellow Chosen People because we are too afraid to let them in to our deep, dark secret lives. I believe Ananias and Sapphira's story could be the main reason churches are dying. We worship God as though no one needed help but inside we die by giving into our temptations. If we want the church to grow, we must be willing to stop trying to look more righteous than we are. Only then can we help each other as God wanted—and the infant church did.

The Apostles became synonymous for setting things right.

It's a small section and somewhat strange, but I really appreciate that Luke included the fact that people hoped that Peter's shadow would heal them. God was being praised by many and many had their relationships with God set right. When God's Chosen Messengers spread God's Message, many will be healed and have their relationship with God set right. We may not be able to give sight back to the blind, but we can give spiritual sight back to the spiritually blind.

Gamaliel provided a small ray of hope in a vast darkness of Pharisee pride.

Gamaliel, who learned from the mistakes of others, went out on a limb and gave a suggestion that sounded very un-Pharisee-like. He realized that either the Apostles were authentic and they were wrong for fighting God, or the Apostles would be found out and the movement would disperse. If he were listened to by the others on the council the rest of Acts would have been a long list of cities who praised God once the Message came to them. Unfortunately, he was ignored. Unless God blesses a movement, it dies. If God blesses a movement, anyone who fights it will be fighting Him.
Gamaliel's suggestion to let things progress naturally provides a great philosophy for people today. We struggle with movements that "steal" members away from our churches. We would do well to take Gamaliel's advice,
Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it—and you better not be found fighting against God! (5:38-39, The Message)
The Spirit will convict others of their wrongs. We should continue to set things right by helping others set their relationship with God right and leave in-fighting alone.

The Apostles did not want to stop helping people spiritually in order to better serve people physically.

As the believers grew in number, logistical problems emerged. The Apostles did not want to stop their work—helping others set their relationships right with God—to serve tables. The solution was to appoint what we now consider the first "deacons", a term we will read later. Notice that these men were appointed for a task, not for a position. God's Chosen People have two tasks which should be done by people willing to submit to God to do their part in one or both—set relationships with God right and set physical needs right on earth. Jesus did both. So should we.

Stephen endured harassment and lies because of his willingness to obey God.

Jesus told the Apostles that they would be persecuted because the world hated the Father and Him. Stephen became the first one to face that to the end, as we will see tomorrow. God's Chosen People should not be surprised when the world wants to destroy us. They wanted to destroy Jesus, our Master.

How do you keep a "strong" image?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 16 - Acts 1-3: The Holy Spirit Guides the Good News through Heart Languages

Today’s Reading: Acts 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

We have made it to Acts! Because Acts covers the time period when some of the Epistles were written we will read those books while reading Acts. They are on the schedule, if you want to follow along.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Peter and the church show how to help each other physically and spiritually.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Jesus ascended into the clouds. One day, He would return.
Matthias replaced Judas.
On Pentecost, the Jews hear the Message in their mother tongues.
Peter taught, "You executed Jesus of Nazareth. God raised Him, as David prophesied. There is no doubt—Jesus is Lord and Messiah and you killed Him.
The crowds exclaimed, "What can we do?"
Peter replied, "Change, be baptized, and you will received the Holy Spirit."
The Disciples learned from the Apostles and shared all possessions.
Peter taught outside the Temple, "Your terrible plans were God's Plan all along. God's Promise to Abraham is fully enacted."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus is with the Father again.

I mentioned yesterday and the day before how Jesus' Resurrection serves as the basic foundation to Christianity. Today's reading shows how Jesus went from Earth-dweller back to exalted above the Angels. Jesus is risen and is with the Father!

Jesus left the Holy Spirit to help the Apostles witness to the world.

Jesus told the Apostles the Holy Spirit would come and help them teach all truth. Jesus' ascension left room for the Holy Spirit to come and guide. God does not leave us without help. The Holy Spirit guides us to both know and tell the Truth.

The Holy Spirit helped the Apostles teach many people using their "heart language" – the language mothers use with their children.

Anyone who has studied another language knows that it takes a very long time to understand a speech given in that language. God also understood that the Good News needed to go into the heart. In this way the Apostles could spread the Good News in the most effective way—using the mother tongue of each person. The Holy Spirit gave tongues to facilitate learning the truth in a person's "heart-language".

God taught the first lesson about the Kingdom to the very people who cried "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

I believe the reason Peter's message was so well received on the day of Pentecost was because He was speaking directly to the people who only a few months earlier persuaded Pilate to execute Him. The message, "Jesus is the Messiah and you messed up," worked well for them because they were there.
For Christians today, we need to make sure we are not replicating this situation and trying to get others to believe they are sinners when they cannot think of what they did that was so terrible. We must make sure we are not diluting the Message of Jesus, but we should also make sure we are not trying to convince people they are horrible, terrible, no-good, very-bad sinners when they do not believe they are. In other words, we must let the Holy Spirit guide a person to realize the state of their relationship with God. When that happens, they become Disciples. Then we can baptize the Disciples and teach them everything else. Until a person realizes they are a sinner on their own we cannot set things right by arguing with them the other direction.

God would no longer limit the ones who received His Spirit.

To us it sounds normal. Women and men have had the Spirit of God since we can remember; however, Jewish women were not allowed in the Temple. When Peter quotes Joel to them, He is showing that God is expanding His Chosen Prophets to anyone willing to obey Him. God's Spirit is for anyone!

The church began by setting things right for each other's needs.

Many people read communism into this text. They would be right—this is a form of communism, but one that is grounded in faith in Jesus. The reason they did this is because they followed in Jesus' footsteps. Jesus set things right both physically and spiritually. This reading includes both, with Peter helping many see how they missed God spiritually when they rejected Jesus, and the church helping each other physically by sharing all things in common.

If God was willing to reconcile with the very ones who yelled insults and curses at Jesus, He wants to reconcile with us.

Friday, November 15, 2013

November 15 - Luke 24; John 20-21: Jesus Passes Leadership to Peter

Today’s Reading: Luke 24; John 20-21

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You've made it through the Gospels and have 23 books to go in the New Testament. We are also halfway through the New Testament! Way to read!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus tells Peter—after he denied knowing Jesus—to lead His Disciples.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Two women, and later Peter and another Apostle, went to Jesus' Tomb, but found it empty. The two women later saw Jesus.
Jesus showed two men why He came, using Scripture. They told the Apostles what they saw.
Jesus joined and ate with them. They would go into the world with God's Power.
Thomas wanted visual proof of Jesus' Resurrection.
John wrote to encourage belief.
Eating with the disciples, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him unconditionally. He was tasked with leading the Disciples.
Jesus was carried into Heaven. The Apostles spent their time praising God!

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus is risen!

(Repeat from yesterday's comment)
It is yesterday's and today's readings that provide the foundational belief of Christianity: the resurrection of the body and its reconnection to the spirit. Christianity does not hinge on a cross. It hinges on Jesus coming back to life! Jesus' Crucifixion meant we could all have our relationships set right with God. Jesus' Resurrection means we will all one day be alongside Him. Praise God! Death will not have the last say!

The Old Testament pointed to Jesus coming to die to set everything right.

Unfortunately, we do not know what Old Testament books Jesus used to show that He needed to die. We do know, however, that Jesus complained that the Pharisees read the Bible thinking it would save them but instead missed the point—Jesus! Yet Jesus' own Disciples did not understand why He came! They were depressed because they thought He would save them from the Romans. Instead, He saved them from the guilt of their mistakes and to remove the onerous burden of the Law.
In the same vein, the New Testament, especially John's Gospel, was written about Jesus. John explicitly mentions that he wrote so that we would believe in Jesus. I hope you read the New Testament for the same reason.

Jesus sent the Apostles to change the religious discourse from sacrifice and religion to forgiveness.

God did not like all of Israel's religion because they wanted all of the blessings with none of the responsibility. With the Apostles, God opened His Chosen People to the world and taught the direct forgiveness of sins through Jesus' Sacrifice. What an awesome message to give to the world! Jesus forgives!

Jesus did not abandon Peter.

Peter denied Jesus three times. Still, Jesus wanted him to shepherd His Disciples. We should take heart—God will never abandon us when we are willing to obey Him.

Do you feel God has abandoned you? Stop! He hasn't!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 14 - Matthew 28; Mark 16: Jesus is Risen from the Dead!

Today’s Reading: Matthew 28; Mark 16

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You've made it through two of the four Gospels and have 25 books to go in the New Testament. Keep going!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Jews' rebellion did not end God's Plan! He is risen!

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Two women, both named Mary, went to visit Jesus' tomb. Suddenly they felt an earthquake and saw an angel sitting inside the now-empty tomb. "Don't fear, Jesus has risen!" the angel said, "Go and tell the Disciples."
Jesus met them on the road and asked that they tell the Disciples to meet Him in Galilee.
The guards were bribed to lie and say the Apostles stole Jesus' Body.
Jesus came to the Apostles and told them, "I have all authority. Go, make Disciples, baptize them, and teach them what I taught you. I will be with you forever."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus is risen!

It is today's and tomorrow's readings that provide the foundational belief of Christianity: the resurrection of the body and its reconnection to the spirit. Christianity does not hinge on a cross. It hinges on Jesus coming back to life! Jesus' Crucifixion meant we could all have our relationships set right with God. Jesus' Resurrection means we will all one day be alongside Him. Praise God! Death will not have the last say!

The Jews wanted everyone to believe Jesus' Body was stolen.

There are a few alternative theories about the Resurrection. What I want to point out here is that the Jews did not want the guards to say that Jesus stayed alive and walked out of the tomb. They wanted the guards to say His Body was stolen by the Apostles. One major theory over the last few centuries goes against that narrative and is believed even though there is no credible evidence in that direction.

Jesus wanted the Disciples to go, make more disciples, and teach them what Jesus taught—in that order.

Allow me to get a little technical—especially since this is one of my favorite texts in scripture. Notice that baptism wasn't the goal. The goal was to make disciples. The rest, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to do everything Jesus taught the Apostles, happened to disciples. A disciple who is baptized wants to know how to set all things right. A baptized person wants to continue in their religious practice and may care little for setting things right.
One of the major issues churches have today is that they go out and baptize people and then try to make them disciples. That's backwards! It is similar to Israel when they played "religious games" instead of promoting mercy and justice. I fear we do the same when we focus on baptism. Make disciples, not baptized people. Teach baptized disciples to set things right.

He is Risen!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 13 - John 18-19; Luke 23: The New Passover Lamb

Today’s Reading: John 18-19; Luke 23

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

On the day when God's Chosen People celebrated God's greatest act to rescue them, they executed His Son.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Judas betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees and religious scholars.
Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. Herod sent Him back.
Jesus kept silent through many accusations and told Pilate His Kingdom was not a political one.
The Jews wanted a murderer to receive mercy but Jesus to receive death. Pilate handed Him over for execution.
The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus and nailed Him to the Cross.
Jews mocked Jesus' fate.
Jesus cried out and died—this was seen by many.
The Roman captain believed that Jesus was the Son of God.
Joseph, from Arimathea, buried Jesus.
Everyone rested on the Sabbath.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Jesus' Kingdom is not a political one.

Pilate's question was not benign. He had the responsibility to stop any and all threats to Caesar's authority. If Jesus claimed to be a king, He would be executed. Jesus had to be cagy with His answers because to answer directly may have lead to His execution for rebellion, not as a result of God's Chosen People rejecting Him. Jesus' answer settled Pilate's uneasiness. Jesus is not the king of a landmass or a social structure. He is the King of Truth, shedding light on all things.
We must be careful when discussing Jesus and politics. Jesus wants to set all things right. He wants justice. He wants mercy. He healed the sick and He taught holiness. Jesus should not be grabbed onto and pulled into your one issue or problem. He is bigger than all issues or problems. Don't make Jesus a conqueror, as done for centuries by Europeans. Don't make Jesus the champion for socialism, as done today by many welfare-state proponents. Jesus is the King of Truth. If you have to hide facts to get people on your side, He is not there with you, no matter how good what you want to do may be.

The Jews did not understand what they were doing.

Yesterday I mentioned that Israel's greatest act of rebellion provided the opportunity for all people to have their relationship set right with God. I believe this is what Jesus meant when He said, "Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing" (Luke 23:34, The Message). The Jews thought they were getting rid of their fly-in-the-ointment prophet. Instead, they were providing the means for the world to join them in having a personal relationship with the Creator. The Jews should have no blame in crucifying Jesus. They never realized the awesome thing they did.

Do you see how God used the Jews' rebellion to set all things right?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November 12 - Matthew 27; Mark 15: Jesus' Sacrifice to Set All Things Right

Today’s Reading: Matthew 27; Mark 15

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Sacrifice that permitted every person's relationship with God to be set right hangs in front of a crowd of God's Chosen People who mock Him ruthlessly.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The high priests and religious leaders led Jesus to Pilate.
Judas hanged himself out of remorse.
Jesus kept silent through many accusations.
The Jews wanted a murderer to receive mercy but Jesus to receive death. Pilate handed Him over for execution.
The Roman soldiers mocked and nailed Jesus to the Cross.
People mocked Jesus' fate.
When Jesus breathed His last, a great earthquake tore the Temple's curtain in half and brought many people from the dead.
The Roman captain believed that Jesus was the Son of God.
Joseph, from Arimathea, buried Jesus.
The Pharisees sealed and guarded the tomb.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The Jews officially and irrevocably rejected God as their Lord.

From the Exodus, the Jews had a rocky relationship with God. Today we read the culmination of 1500 years of their relationship. There were highs; there were lows. God stayed faithful to His Chosen People all the while. They, on the other hand, struggled to stay wholly for God. At this moment, the climax of the story, Israel has arrested her King, given mercy to a murderer to prevent His release, and now stands before Him and mocks His Authority and Power. This rejection would have world-wide ramifications—which we will read in the days ahead.

Pilate was greatly impressed by Jesus' restraint.

Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews. Jesus was noncommittal. Many people presented false testimony against Jesus. He answered none of them. Pilate was greatly impressed because Jesus did not get down and wrestle with them rhetorically. He allowed His silence to speak for itself. When faced with obviously-false accusations, do not argue. Silence shows innocence more than desperate attempts to defend yourself.

God tore down Temple-based religion.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple that separated the Holiest of Holies from the rest of the world was ripped—from top to bottom. The Temple was erected because the Israelites did not want God to speak to them directly. God, through Isaiah, told Israel that He would open the Temple to the world. Jesus told the Apostles they would be able to speak directly to God. I will never forget how my professor elaborated on this passage (assuming the "top to bottom" was not random chance), "God ripped the veil from the top to the bottom. In essence He was saying, 'No longer will you need someone to go between us. You can now come to me directly.'" We have direct access to God. We do not need a group of "holy people" to present our needs before Him.

The greatest act of rebellion by Israel became the source of salvation for the world.

Without Israel rejecting and executing Jesus, the world would not have the close, personal relationship with God as they have. We should not feel anger or animosity toward them for what they did to Jesus. Paul will spend much of his ministry trying to get that point across.

Oh, God, You have set all things right with Your creation!