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Showing posts from October, 2012

The Snake God Sent

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He’d told the story of his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road countless times. He had, perhaps reluctantly, described what he had been doing with his life before that encounter. But perhaps there was no time to tell that story that was any more significant than this moment on the Island of Malta.

Paul and his companions are shipwrecked on the island. They had set sail for Italy at the beginning of winter—not advisable, but the captain had been in a hurry. Cargo in a hold isn’t worth much unless it gets to market. In this case the cargo didn’t get to market at all. The ship and its contents floundered and the crew now found refuge on Malta.

The islanders were friendly, but superstitious. As Paul gathered wood and then put it on the fire, a snake slithered out and bit him.

When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live'” (Acts 18:4…

No Expiry Date

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We don’t view Paul as a patient man, but considering that by the time we get to Acts 26, he’s been in front of the Sanhedrin, two Roman governors, Felix and Festus, and one king, Agrippa, to defend himself, we have to give him a gold star. What is it that you people don’t understand here? How many times do I have to tell you before you get the message?

Do you have times when you just want to give up, to stop fighting what seems like a futile battle?

Then Paul mentions what is to me a clincher of a statement. Acts 26: “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.

The vision, of course, is the mandate given to Paul by God on the Damascus Road to go and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (9:15, 16; 26:15-18).

Obedience to God’s call has left Paul lying for dead outside the city gates, being lowered in a basket to escape his persecutors, in jail and beaten, misunderstood by the Jewish believers and criticized by the Gentile Christians, and now arrested and on his w…

Hired Help or Faithful Shepherd?

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Most of us loved to be stroked. We appreciate people who agree with our opinions, do what we ask of them, and don’t challenge us. When faced by some real or imaginary threat, we follow the old western model and “circle the wagons” with the “good guys” (the ones who stroke us) gathered around us ready to repel the “bad guys” (the ones who challenge us).

It’s not a good plan, certainly not a Biblical one. And in spiritual leaders it’s a heinous crime, an affront to all that Jesus taught.

Paul, preaching to the believers in Ephesus, remarked: “Keep watch over yourselves and all of the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, NIV).

He then goes on to say that it is the wolves who come in and destroy the sheep, and distort the truth (20:29).

But it is Paul’s statement in verse 28 that needs to be etched in the minds and on the hearts of all those who would call themselves overseers of the flock…

Using the World to Win the World

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Those who are my generation and older were probably taught to stay away from the world and from those of other faith practices. We were to be “separate.” Our understanding of the Biblical concept of separation from the world was flawed.

Paul gives us a prime example of that in Acts 17. The apostle is in Athens. He started out in the synagogue, which was his custom (17:17). The Athenians were idol-worshipers and this was a concern to Paul so he headed to the marketplace to preach (17:18). Then he was taken to the Areopagus (17:19). Traditionally we talk about this place as being a kind of central housing area for all the gods that the Athenians worshiped, but it was also the place where the high court met to judge criminal and civil cases so it could be that there was the possibility that someone wanted to bring Paul up on charges for “advocating foreign gods” (17:18).

In any case, Paul did not resist. It is interesting to note that Paul, usually considered to be pretty brusque, did not…

Does Anyone Know Where the Terminal Is?

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The bus had no recognizable markings but I was assured that it was going where I wanted to go. The driver couldn’t figure out how to lower that first step so I struggled to make that leap that would get me on board. I heard him talking to someone on his cell phone asking for instructions. I also heard him ask what streets he should use to get out of Toronto. He was heading west so I knew that at least we were going in the right direction.

When we got to our destination, various passengers began to ask him to let them off  the designated stopping places along the way to the terminal. He didn’t know where those were so had to rely on the passengers to tell him exactly where they wanted to get off. The driver was extremely pleasant and cooperative—a Santa Claus with a long white beard and the belly to match. He just didn’t know exactly where he was going.

But I really began to be concerned when he called back to the passengers and asked if any of us knew where the bus terminal was! Fortun…

Calvary Does Cover It All

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The early chapters of Acts describe a church on fire, where thousands of people came to faith and new believers were added daily to that number. This new movement must have distressed the establishment to no end. They thought they had stamped out any possibility of these Christ-followers gaining momentum when they crucified their leader.

Equally amazing to those who watched was the community that grew up around these professions of faith. Acts 5 tells us: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

We like the multiplication the believers but tend to race over the division of goods. But that’s a subject for another time, though I can hear the pundits clamoring to tell me that that was a different time, a different place, a different culture and we couldn’t expect to re…

Praying Together: What A Novel Idea!

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He told them to wait and they did.

Jesus had returned to His father in heaven (Acts 1:9) and there they were in the upstairs room, waiting. The eleven disciples were there, (1:13) but others were also part of “the wait.”

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (1:14).

While they waited and prayed, they also conducted the business of choosing a successor for Judas. There were two candidates. To know which one was God’s choice, they prayed together, and then voted (1:24-26). Matthias was the choice—his one and only time mentioned in Scripture. The criteria behind the choice of candidates was simple: It had to be someone who had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry (1:21, 22).

We never heard about Matthias in any of the stories left for us in the Gospels. We never hear about Matthias again after he was chosen to replace Judas. We didn’t see him, but God did. He was what 2 Timothy 2:2 calls “relia…

Time Management and Following Jesus

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When Jesus began His public ministry, He asked the men He had chosen to become His inner circle to follow Him (John 1:43). Now, after the resurrection and just before His return to His Father, Jesus repeats the same instruction. The scene is Peter’s reinstatement to service after his denial of the Lord.

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” (John 21:19). Moments later, when Peter asked about someone else, Jesus repeated His instructions: “Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me’” (21:22).

There is a challenge to these words. If they followed Him when they could see Him, touch Him, travel with Him, would they still follow Him when they couldn’t see Him, couldn’t touch Him, and traveled apparently alone to face the pressures and stresses of ministry? He had promised them the presence of the Holy Spirit, but humankind are prone to like their leaders …

The Potter

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When Jesus was betrayed, he was taken before the priests to be judged. John 18:14 has this to say about one of those men: "Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people." Little did he understand the significance of what he said. Some men die as they have lived—selfishly. But only One man died to make it possible for every other man to live.

THE POTTER

The cart lurched, throwing Abel off his stride. He stumbled but kept his grip on the shafts between which he walked. He pulled to the right, willing his shallow crate on wheels to slide as easily out of the rut as it had sliding in.

Romans tax us to death and they can’t even fix the roads. How often had Abel heard his father mutter that complaint under his breath as he had carted earth back to their hovel? Well, the old man was gone and now it was his son’s turn to haul the rusty-red dirt.

With the cart now securely back on the track Abel paused to adjust h…

A Debt of Worship

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Yesterday I needed to go to the bank. I got there before the doors opened and while I waited I read the fine print on the bill I was about to pay. Among the tidbits of information was one that informed me that if I were to pay only the minimum amount required each month it would take me six years (including interest, of course) to cancel the debt. Good grief!

This morning I read about an incident that took place just before Jesus began that final journey to the cross. He was visiting the house of Mary and Martha and enjoying a meal with His friends. “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3),

When I lived in Venezuela I used to buy the flowers from which nard perfume is made. The smell was so powerful and so beautiful that it filled the house just as is described for us here.

Jesus had spoken about His death. Did Mary somehow sens…

Constance Monroe Silverlake

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A little departure from the normal blog today. Several years ago I wrote the following story for the Faithwriters' Challenge. Today, a friend posted this picture with the caption. I decided to repost my Faithwriters story as a tribute to faithfulness. May humans be as faithful to their Lord as this dog is to his master.

CONSTANCE MONROE SILVERLAKE

Some call it instinct. Then there are others who name it ignorance. Dumb dog doesn’t know any better, they’d say. Those are probably the cat lovers. You know how they are—just a little bit snobby.

Whatever it was to the uneducated eye, instinct or ignorance, Connie slipped passed the forest of feet cluttering the kitchen space. Taking advantage of a bit of human carelessness brought on by the distractions of the day, she pushed open the screen door, which had been left slightly ajar, and squeezed out.

No one noticed.

Constance Munroe Silverlake, Connie for short, had been a one hundred dollar pound puppy. It had been Marsha Lane…

Stand Up and Be Counted

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I had reason to go hunting through the church archives yesterday. As I was sorting through the record books, photos and other memorabilia that have been collected over the last 90 years of our history, I ran across a little item that fits with the encounter described for us in John 9.

A long time ago, our church belonged to a denomination that began to stray from its historic Biblical roots. Our church was one of the first to protest this drift, and was expelled from the denomination a year before other churches were expelled. It costs something to stand up for truth.

In John 9, we are told how Jesus healed a blind man. The religious leaders of the day were not happy with the situation because Jesus had broken their rules. They interrogated the parents of the man. And for fear of being thrown out of the synagogue, the parents referred the authorities back to their son who was old enough to speak for himself.

The now healed ex-blind man wasn’t entirely sure just Who had healed him, but…

Always Fresh Daily

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When I was setting things up for the Thanksgiving display at the church, I came across some loaves of bread that had been left over from last year’s display—perfectly preserved after a year in storage. I’m not sure what that might say about what was baked into those loaves to keep them from going moldy, but I was impressed nonetheless—even though they were as hard as rock!

Jesus described Himself as the bread of life (John 6:35). “...the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world...I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:33-35).

No illustration can compete with the real thing, but those hard Thanksgiving loaves did remind me of the permanence of God’s gift of the bread of life. Unlike those loaves, God’s gift never gets stale or hard, but it is a “forever” gift, one that will outlast any circumstance and any attack.

The implication of the text here is that this “bread o…

Lessons From A Sunflower

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I accidentally grew three sunflowers in my balcony planter this summer. They were probably the result of some stray bird seed, but nevertheless there they were. In the beginning the sunflowers were quite pretty. But their beauty didn’t last long. Very quickly they petals began to dry up and turn brown. I wondered if the soil wasn’t deep enough for them or if they were lacking water. Then I realized that the death of one part of the plant was a natural part of the process that was bringing life to another part of the plant—the sunflowers seeds. As the petals died, the seeds were bring produced in the heart of the flower.

I was reading John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 this morning. When the disciples returned from hunting up some lunch, they discovered that Jesus had been busy doing ministry. They thought they had left Him to rest by the well. They were concerned.

‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing …

Heavenly Banking

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The red light flashed on and off in my mind.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10, 11)

The context is how we handle our worldly possessions and whether we possess them or they possess us. The bottom line is given to us in verses 13: “You cannot serve both God and money.

But what intrigued me this morning was that little phrase from verse 11: “...if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches.”

Call me stupid, but I never noticed before what this verse was eluding to. I always thought that Jesus was saying that if we handled a little bit of money well, He’d give us more. The context is money, after all. And money is something our minds turn to all too frequently because most of the time we don’t think we have enough …

Little Lost Sheep

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Our community has the highest percentage of homeless per capita in the district. We also have the highest percentage of live births to unwed teenage moms in the district as well as the highest percentage of drug and alcohol abuse.

These were some of the facts that came out yesterday at an information meeting I attended, hosted by the local ministerial association. The focus of the meeting was on the community services available to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in the community. That we aren’t doing enough was obvious.

But as we heard about, and talked about, the situation in our community, I was reminded of how important it is that our “gospel” be a holistic one. We can’t just look after the physical, mental and emotional and only give a passing glance at the spiritual anymore than we can focus entirely on the spiritual and only give a passing glance at the others.

Jesus covered all the bases in His ministry. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, cast out the demons, and dealt w…

Bigger Than Bread

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There is an interesting connection between Luke 11 and Luke 12 that I noticed this morning.

Jesus was a forward thinker. With the kingdom always in mind, he often warned His followers to look beyond the present to the future.

After His teaching on prayer at the beginning of Luke 11, Jesus shifts to reminding His followers that God is good and always gives good gifts to His children. His illustration has to do with bread and fish and eggs so the reader might think that the Lord is talking about material blessings (11:5-12).

But then Jesus throws a curve ball by ending this particular teaching this way: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (11:13).

Hmmmmmm, doesn’t sound like lunch to me!

The message? The greatest gift God can give us is Himself.

By the time we get through Luke 12, we are reminded again that God promises to provide for His children materially. We…

Going to the Dogs

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We mean it in the worst possible way when we say: “The world is going to the dogs.” But actually, Christians should be like dogs: obedient and willing to do absolutely anything to please their Master.

Now THAT gives a whole new meaning to “going to the dogs!”

I can’t say for certain that Jesus was thinking about the parallels between His followers and dogs when we find Him walking along with His disciples in Luke 9. During this journey a man promised to follow Him wherever He went (9:57) and Jesus reminded Him that following would mean sacrifice (9:58).

Then Jesus asked another man to follow Him and the man said he would, but only after his father was dead and buried (9:59). Jesus responded by saying that the Kingdom came before family (9:60).

Another promised to follow Jesus but wanted at least to go and say goodbye to his family (9:61). And Jesus’s reply was perhaps the strongest of all: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (9:6…