Luke 5 – Calling

Read Luke 5

Each of the Gospels records different versions of Jesus calling some of His closest disciples.  Two of these accounts, the calling of Simon Peter, James and John, and the calling of Levi the tax collector.  These people couldn’t be any more different in who they were and what they did.

Fishermen were often poor, their income stream fully dependent on the amount of fish they caught the day before.  For some it was likely the difference between eating a meal for that day or not.  They would have been dirty, sweaty, and smelled of fish (amongst other things).

Tax collectors were quite the opposite, likely being well dressed and relatively wealthy.  Known for cheating people out of money through the artificial inflation of taxes to line their own pockets, Levi, and his counterpart Matthew, would have been rather unpopular with the people.

Yet they have something in common: a calling.  Jesus sees them, calls them from whatever they were doing, and they follow.  There is no waiting for them to get their lives back in order, to quit their jobs with the appropriate 2-4 weeks notice, or even to get their lives right with God, Jesus calls them on the spot and they follow.

Now, it goes without saying that the context and culture of that day are different than today.  Certainly people don’t go around telling others to “come follow me.”  We would be rather suspicious of anyone that did.

Yet does our suspicion and our busyness get in the way of listening to the voice that does call us?  The “still small voice” of God is always speaking through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  He still desires that we take us our cross daily and follow Him.  Do we hear that voice?  Are we listening?



Luke 4 – Wilderness

Read Luke 4

The theme of “wilderness” is something that is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.  From the very beginning, Scripture records people heading into the wilderness as a part of their journey.  One of the more famous of these is that of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their captivity in Egypt and entering the promised land.  King David also spent time in the wilderness being chased by Saul before finally ascended to the throne.  The people of Israel also experienced a “wilderness” type event in the Babylonian Exile.

All of these events have something in common, though, as they are all intimately related to the shaping of identity.  Israel leaves Egypt as a group of slaves and enters Canaan as a nation, the people of God.  David enters into the wilderness as an anointed shepherd but emerges as Israel’s great king.  Jesus is baptized, given His identity by the voice of God Himself, and enters the wilderness for 40 days before emerging to begin His ministry here on earth.  Each of these Old Testament events points forward to Jesus and brings meaning to His identity as the Messiah.

We too are a part of this story.  We find our identity in Jesus Christ and that identity is continually shaped and molded through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.  Our lives too contain times of “wilderness” experience when God seems distant and life seems hard.  Yet these often serve much the same purpose as those of the Bible, to develop and establish our identity and to teach us dependence on God.

Have you ever experienced a time like this in your life?  Sometimes we spend that time asking “where is God?”  Perhaps a better question is “what is God teaching me in this time?”

**Many of the colored words here are Links to other posts related to this topic.  Feel free to click and explore other writings on this subject!



John 8:2-11 "Am I Accepted?"

The question of identity is one that we grapple with our entire lives. From the very beginning of life, we seek to answer the question: “Am I Loved?” Throughout youth and even into adulthood we are always wondering, even if it is at a subconscious level, “Do I Belong?”
In Jesus Christ, the answer to this question before God is always “Yes!”



Day 350: Titus and Philemon: Living into Identity

There are two books contained within our reading for today, both written by Paul.  Titus is one of the Pastoral Epistles yet, containing a great deal of similar information as 1 Timothy.  Philemon is another one of Paul’s Prison Epistles, written to a man named Philemon, as well as Apphia and Archippus about a slave named Onesimus.

Titus:

The book of Titus was written by Paul to Titus, a leader in the Church whom he left on the island of Crete  to teach the Cretan people, spread the Gospel, and build up the church.  As I was reading this, I got the impression that this may not have been where Titus wanted to end up, and that the task was rather difficult for him because of the nature and culture of the people of Crete.  According to one of their own, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  This, no doubt, made Titus’ job a bit more difficult as he sought to build up the church and disciple people of God.  For Paul, the qualifications for Elders that he lays out here are not that different from those that he lays out for Timothy, yet  think they become all the more important within this context because of the difficulty in finding such people and the necessity to have them as leaders in the church.

As I’m reading this it also draws into my mind some of the issue that the contemporary church is facing as well.  There have been no shortage of reports about church leaders that are not meeting these qualifications and those that are, in their service, committing awful crimes against others both in and out of the church.  Pastors, Elders, and other leaders seem to be caught all the time in affairs and in sexual sin, yet it seems like the church continues to remain silent on these issues.  In other places, Pastors have watered down the Gospel so much that Jesus is hardly mentioned for fear that it might offend someone.  The ideas of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are running rampant in the church, making the Gospel seem irrelevant and the Word of God meaningless.  Paul speaks to us here as much as He is speaking to Titus: “teach what accords with sound doctrine.”  Moreover, he gives rather specific directions for the Christ-like living, something that is a necessity for the community of faith.

I have tended to say this at just about every mention of Christian living, but I don’t think that it can be emphasized enough.  While is seems that Paul is laying down the law for how people are to live in accordance with their faith in Jesus Christ, this is not a “law” in respect to a set of rules that need to be followed for one to earn their own salvation.  In fact, as Paul has said time and again, that it is out of the freedom that we find in Christ Jesus, the fact that we are no longer a slave to the law and sin, that we choose to live out our lives in a way that is godly and Christ-like.  Paul’s urging in Romans 12 is a testament to this, that because of the mercy that we are shown by God in Christ Jesus, we present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, that we may live out Christ’s love and spread the Good News of the Gospel everywhere  we go.

Philemon:

The book of Philemon is a rather unique book in the New Testament because of the context in which it was written.  Being only one chapter long, Paul is writing to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, a name that means “useful,” because of his recent conversion.  Onesimus was apparently a slave of Philemon, something that was a common practice back then (whether we condone slavery or not is really not the issue here), and had left his service to Philemon after stealing some things.  Paul writes in the understanding the what Onesimus did was very wrong, yet in the time away from Philemon, he had come to faith.  Now Paul is writing on behalf of Onesimus to ask Philemon’s forgiveness.  Onesimus is returning to Philemon because it was right for him to do that as he was still technically the slave of Philemon.  Yet Paul is arguing for a deeper understanding of Onesimus as a brother in Christ rather than just another servant.  Moreover, Paul willingly pays whatever debt is owed to Philemon for the crime done against him.

A great deal of the theology of this letter comes from Paul’s other writing about equality and oneness in Christ Jesus.  Paul writes in several different places that there is no distinction between slave and free, male and female, etc.  Keeping in mind that there was a rather different understanding of slavery and even servitude back in this day, Paul is advocating for a deeper understanding of a person’s identity in Christ Jesus superseding that of any other identity that a person has.  This has been important to the Church in every age and context, but has become even more important in the last 200 years with the struggles against slavery, inhumane treatment of the people and the poor, this notion of equality in Christ Jesus has become an even bigger and important topic.  From Oscar Romeo to Martin Luther King Jr. the book of Philemon has become an important book in the conversation and understanding of our identity and equality in Christ Jesus.



Day 322: Acts 13-16; Paul, Barnabas, and the Jerusalem Council

Today our focus shifts a little bit from the original Apostles like Peter and John and to the work of some of the “second generation” disciples, those that would have not necessarily followed Jesus, or not been close to Him during his earthly life, but have become believers and have been filled with the Holy Spirit during these first years of the Church after Jesus’ ascension.  Specifically we turn here to Paul and Barnabas, to key figures in the spread of the early church outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to the “ends of the earth” as they knew it.  As we said at the beginning of the book of Acts, this is really a historical account of the Holy Spirit’s work as the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem, the center, outward like the ripples on a calm pond that has just been disturbed by a rock.

We see also today the same pattern that has really taken place over the course of this book already.  By this point, we are already over a year past the time that Jesus has been taken up into heaven.  Remember, from Pentecost on, we see that in these events where the Apostles and believers speak, they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” and then open their mouths to speak the Word of God.  In some ways, they are not unlike the prophets of old that spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well.  The message has changed quite a bit though for those 400+ year old prophetic messages.  In these times we are hearing how those messages and all of Scripture have led us to this point and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had been spoken and written before Him.

Anyways, this pattern continues here in chapters 13, 14, and 16.  Each move, each message, each time of spreading the Gospel is not something that is done on its own, but happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and in those who do not yet believe either.  This really is the beginnings of the central theme and belief that the Holy Spirit is present in all that is done in the name of Jesus Christ.  From church meetings to worship services to outreach, the Holy Spirit is the one that is working within our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we encounter as believers.  I think too often we feel like it is up to us now to take care of things.  Even though the Spirit is with us (whether we acknowledge the Spirit or not), we are robbed of such confidence and comfort that it is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit that is really key in the spread of the Gospel.  He will never leave us or forsake us!

One other thing that I wanted to point out today was Acts 15 and the first church council that was held in Jerusalem.  In many ways, this was the first rumbling of what would later become a church governmental structure.  Throughout history, there have actually been a great number of council type meetings that have taken place.  Their subjects have ranged from creating creeds and confessions like the Nicene Creed from the two councils of Nicaea in 325 and 381, to dealing with issues of heresy and wrongful teaching within the church which have taken place throughout history.  Some of these councils have also focused on things like changing how we worship, the most recent of which was Vatican II, in which the Roman Catholic Church decided to change the Mass into the common tongue so that all could participate, something protestants denominations had done a few hundred years before.

In this case, there were some that were teaching that all converts to what was becoming known as Christianity had to be circumcised like the Jews.  For the Jewish people, circumcision was a part of their identity, part of what made them the people of God.  It was a sign that they were members of the covenant.  Yet it is all to clear that things like circumcision and land had become more important to the Jews than their identity as the people of God.  Peter once again stands up in front of the people and speaks to the heart of God in this matter.  Like all councils, the goal is to discern what is God’s will for the direction of the Church.  I think it just awe inspiring that they see here that the purpose of the Grace of Christ is not one that binds them further into the Law, and it is not because of any particular action or association of this world that we are saved, but only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Their letter, then, and the decision that they made here in this council has much to do with instruction and encouragement, urging the new Gentile believers toward a purely lived life in which they honor God in all that they do and say, but because they are required to in the law, but out of gratitude for the grace that they have received.  May the same be true for us yesterday, today, and always.



Day 209: Isaiah 41-42; God is With You

After yesterday’s words of comforting assurance to the people of Israel still held captive in Babylon, the writer of this second section of Isaiah continues the theme of God’s work in them and for them, even while they are still in captivity.  One of the ways that this happens is by directly stating that fact in the first part of Isaiah 41.  God, speaking through the writer here, asks some obviously rhetorical questions with even more obvious answers and then speaks more words of calming reassurance to His people.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Sometimes I look at this and have to think how it is possible that the people that God had chosen could ever forget the fact that they were the people of God.  They had the temple, the land, the priests, and the worship rituals, not to mention the amazing stories that were part of their heritage, yet they still forgot who they were and whose they were as well.  All to often we are quick to judge the people of Israel for their sins and how quickly they turned away from God, but do not we also loose sight of our true identities in Christ when the going gets tough?  I’m sure we’ve all experienced it, the “dark night of the soul” when we feel as though we are totally alone.  Our tendency is also to turn from placing our strength in God and to put it in other things… video games… TV shows… Money… Things… Food?  The list goes on and on…

Yet into this darkness the Lord speaks even to us saying these same words.  “I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah goes on to speak of the futility of idols, those things we so often and too quickly put our trust in and he is spot on.  We turn so quickly to things that we think will help us, and yet it doesn’t take long for us to realize that they are truly no help at all.  We cannot put our hope in physical things for the offer nothing to us.

Another interesting thing to note in this Scripture today is the statement that God makes at the beginning of Chapter 42 about His chosen servant.  If it sound familiar to you, its because it is very similar to what God says when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan at the beginning of his ministry.  This is the first of the “servant songs” that appear in this section of Isaiah that go very far in painting a portrait of the person that will eventually be Jesus.  Not only do we know much about Him prior to His birth through prophecies such as this, we also see very clearly that type of Kingdom that He will usher in, the restoration that He will bring to the whole world.  There is much more to come on this as well.



Day 140: Nehemiah 8-10; Covenant Renewal

As we have been talking about for the past few weeks now as we have journeyed through the Chronicle and through Ezra and now Nehemiah, we are reading through the process by which the people of God, the returned exiles of Judah are re-identifying themselves.  They are discovering who they are anew by way of remembering where they have come from and linking themselves with the God that has called them and brought them to this point.  We have, in many ways, looked back with the Jews from the building of the wall in Jerusalem all the way back to Adam and creation, seeing for ourselves the direct link that saw the people of God brought to Jerusalem at this time by the providence of God almighty.

Ezra Reads the Law Photo Credit: www.tillhecomes.org

Ezra Reads the Law
Photo Credit: www.tillhecomes.org

Today we see what is arguably the peak of that process coming to fruition in Jerusalem.  The people have finished the work on the wall and they are ready to celebrate!  In their desire to celebrate, they have a worship service of sorts in which the book of the Law is read.  Likely, this is the book of Deuteronomy, the summary book of the all the Law of Moses.  This probably wasn’t quite like any worship service that you or I have ever been too.  It started on the first day of the seventh month, when they read the book of the Law from “early morning until mid-day.”  Then they all went home and had a feast!  Not your average Sunday morning I would assume.

The next day, they all got together again and read from the book of the Law and discovered the festival of booths which was to take place once a year.  In this they were to stay in little huts, to remind them of the time that they were in Egypt and in the Wilderness, yet another way of helping them to connect with the past through remembering.  Interestingly, for the Hebrew people. remembering isn’t just simply calling to mind some stuff, it is as if they are participating in the actual event.  The Greek word for this is “anamnesis.”  It is more than just thinking about it, it is also participating in it.  As the Hebrew people celebrated this 8 day festival, they participated, by calling to mind and doing action, in the events of the exodus and wilderness wanderings.

Ezra Reads the Law of Moses Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

Ezra Reads the Law of Moses
Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

A couple days after this is done, the whole assembly gets back together again and this time reads from the book of the Law for 6 hours and then they pray and confess their sins.  Once again we have an example of how the Hebrew people connect with God.  They don’t just confess the sins that they have done, but the sins of their fathers and ancestors.  And then, once again they recall their history, remembering who they are because of whose they are and reaffirm the covenant.  Nehemiah 9 is one of the most beautiful chapters of the Bible when it comes to remembering God’s actions throughout their history.

Now I can’t imagine being in a worship service for that long, or for that many days.  We certainly haven’t adopted the practice of reading Scripture at these great lengths.  Yet I wonder if we might have lost something in not doing this from time to time.  We break up Scripture and segment it, and then roll it up into one or two pithy moral statements and call it a sermon.  I wonder what would happen if we were to read large chunks of Scripture at a time.  I wonder what would happen if we were to be open to just letting Scripture speak, rather than developing a sermon.  How do you think you would be impacted, say, if someone read the whole Gospel of Matthew or the entire book of Deuteronomy to you?  Do we even believe that the Word of God is that powerful and would have any sort of impact on our lives?  I wonder what that kind of a mentality would do to us and for us on a Sunday morning if we say… truly opened ourselves up to the transforming work of the Spirit through the Word of God?



Day 130: 2 Chronicles 23-25; Joash and Amaziah

Joash the Boy King Photo Credit: www.kids.christiansunite.com

Joash the Boy King
Photo Credit: www.kids.christiansunite.com

Picking up where we left off yesterday, God has faithfully spared Joash (also known as Jehoash), the only living son of Ahaziah.  Despite the best efforts of the evil Queen Athaliah, Joash is hidden in the house of the Lord for what appears to be roughly a year.  I have to say, threat of death aside, that an awesome year that would be!  Anyway, after some time Jehoiada the priest took courage and rallied the people behind Joash.  He put a plan in place and set up Joash as King of Judah and had Athaliah put to death.  The reign that followed was mostly good, at least until after Jehoiada died.  As the narrative goes, Jehoiada was Joash’s counselor and directed him in the ways of the Lord.  During this time, the temple is rebuilt and the people follow after the ways of the Lord once again.  You’d think that this would be something coming out of the heart of the king, the one who has been saved by the faithfulness of God and spent a great deal of time living in God’s house, but it seems that most of this came on the counsel of the faithful priest Jehoiada.

Joash Repairs the Temple Photo Credit: www.somepcguy.com

Joash Repairs the Temple
Photo Credit: www.somepcguy.com

When Jehoiada dies, King Joash appears to turn quite quickly from the ways of God.  We read that he ignores the temple and even the prophets that God sends to him.  Sadly, even the son of Jehoiada, the man that risked his life to install Joash as king, comes to Joash and tries to counsel him into returning to God.  Instead of listening though, Joash forgets his past and has the young priest put to death.  This act winds up getting him assassinated.

Amaziah, son of Joash begins his reign in much the same way the his father did, by following the ways of the Lord.  Looking back, he has a lot to be thankful for too for the Lord was faithful in protecting his father and seeing him brought back to the throne of Judah that is rightfully his.  Amaziah does a great deal of good at the beginning of the his reign, and listens to and follows the way of the Lord.  Yet later on he too falls victim to the allure of other gods.  Even in the face of warnings from the prophets he strays from the Lord, bringing the people down with him.  His sin eventually winds up with his capture and the plundering of the city of Jerusalem by the Northern Kingdom.  In the end, Amaziah dies in shame, overseeing the a major back-slide in Judah.

I think that both of these stories, similar as they are, open our eyes to an apparent problem that is being encountered time and again in Israel.  Every time a king back-slides or does evil in the sight of the Lord it is because they are having a fundamental identity crisis in their lives.  Both Joash and Amaziah have a great deal to be thankful for.  In reality, both of their lives, and the lives of all of their descendants to come after them, have been spared by the faithfulness of God alone.  They are children of the covenant in a very real way, because God has spared Joash’s life in the face of great evil so that the Covenant with David may be fulfilled.  One would think that this would be easy to see, or at least remember, living in the house of God for a time.

To be honest though, I don’t think that this is just a problem with them… I think it is the fundamental problem that plagues all of humanity.  We are made in the image of God, creations of a loving God who seeks to have a relationship with us.  For Christians this takes an even more prominent role as God’s people, His covenant community here on earth.  We are united to Christ because of the grace that is shown us and the salvation that is offered to us.  This fact belies a fundamental identity shift in our lives that changed both who we are and whose we are.  Yet this world has no shortage of things that also would seek to help us define or “re-identify” ourselves.  We see who we truly are and who we are truly meant to be in Christ, and when we sin we see that we are not ourselves… at least not completely… not yet.  The next time that you sin and find yourself dwelling in the shame and guilt that would seek to bog you down, remember, you are who you are truly in Christ, the one who has taken away your sin and shame.  Remember too that day by day the Holy Spirit is working in you to re-identify and re-image you (sanctification) in the image of Christ, through whom we are made new and complete.



Day 114: 1 Chronicles 1-2; Books of the Chronicles

As I said towards the end of the writing yesterday, up until now everything has happened in a fairly chronological order.  Yesterday we came to the end of the narrative of the kings of Israel and Judah with the final exiles being carried off to Babylon.  We will pick up on that again, however, we now take a step back and look at the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles.

In the Hebrew Bible these books actually compose the last two books of Scripture, while the Christian Bible has these two books towards the end of the “historical” section of the Biblical Cannon.  Tradition has it that these books were written in the “post-exilic” time of the nation of Judah.  While the author is anonymous, both Jewish and Christian traditions hold that it was Ezra the priest that actually wrote this all down along with the book that bears his name, Ezra, and the book of Nehemiah.

Timeline of the Old Testament Patriachs Photo Credit: http://www.ltradio.org/charts/

Timeline of the Old Testament Patriachs
Photo Credit: http://www.ltradio.org/charts/

Today’s reading was, I admit, a bit arduous.  No one likes to read genealogies  especially when they don’t lead to a story.  However the way that the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles are set up, they go through the history of humanity, and then focus in specifically on Israel, David, and then the kingdom of Judah.  As this book was written post-exile, it would have been written for a group of Hebrew refugees that had just returned from exile.  They were, for all intents and purposes, in the same boat as the Israelites were when they first entered Canaan.  They had no land to call their own, no houses, no Temple, no cities or anything.  They were starting over… however this time they didn’t have a nation of a million battle ready soldiers to drive the people of the land out, they had to start over in the midst of oppression, fear of attack, and with a sort of lost identity.

Lost Identity?  Yes… I meant to say that.  See, the exile wasn’t simply about God being mean and pushing these people out of their land.  There was a lot more to it than that.  Remember a ways back, when we talked about the people of Israel living a “Theo-centric” existence?  I couldn’t find the exact date on which we talked about it, however what we see with the nation of Israel, especially when they are in the wilderness, is that they want to live as close to the center of their universe, God, as they possible could. This is seen in how they camp around the Tabernacle, the place they believe that heaven meets earth.  Later, when the Temple is built, that becomes the place of God’s dwell.  Again, this is the place at which heaven and earth meet.

This idea of Theo-centrism also applies to the land in which they live.  Canaan was given to them by God and, though they sinned all the time, their identity was wrapped up in it and, even though they forgot God, it was still a core part of their identity as Hebrews.  However, as I just said, they did sin… they sinned A LOT!  Their identity was twisted and mangled, much like it was in Egypt.  Israel had become slaves once again… slaves to sin.  Once again, they needed to be stripped of their identity and re-identified as God’s people.  In this case, it required punishment and removal of the old by God.

Exile was a very traumatic event because it stripped the people of everything that made them who they were.  You know they say that you’ll never miss something until it is gone, well… this would be very true here.  The people of God lost what they would consider to be their access to God through the Temple.  They lost their inheritance from God in the land.  They lost everything that it was that made them who they were… or so they thought.  However, the one thing they didn’t lose was God.  We’ll see this in some of the many prophets that were sent to the Jewish exiles, and how God works for them through people like Esther and Daniel.

But that, right there, the fact that they never lost God, is the whole point of the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles.  It was written to remind the people of Judah who they were and whose they were.  The covenant did not end with the Exile of God’s people.  In fact, God was still at work, upholding both ends of the covenant as He had always done before.  Though God’s people might have felt “dis-located,” God was trying to show them that they could never truly be absent from the one who is omnipresent.  And in some ways, their presence in the land of Babylon was just the beginning of God’s people fulfilling God’s promise that they would be a light and a blessing to all nations.

Wow… that’s kind of getting ahead of the story.  Today we begin Chronicles.  It takes us through the history of Humanity, of Israel, and then talks briefly about Saul.  It zeros in very specifically on David, and then Solomon, and then on to the Kingdom of Judah primarily.  Why?  Because this was written for returned exiles… and Israel never returned.  As you read, especially in the first half of 1 Chronicles, try to call to memory all that we have read and talked about in the last 4-5 months.  Take some time to look back… to see the bigger picture of God at work in the lives of these people, in the nation of Israel, and how He has been and is continually faithful all the time and everywhere.