Do Not Stop

Read Acts 5:27-32

One of the challenging lessons for parents to teach their children is not to succumb to peer pressure. This is a lesson which must be learned because throughout our entire life we will encounter people who try to pressure us into a variety of actions and situations. There are also times when we pressure ourselves to conform to the desires and priorities of others. A person needs to learn to stand for their own convictions and beliefs while being open to learning from the perceptions of others and possibly adjusting when appropriate.

The followers of Jesus are trying to understand what it means to continue to follow even though Jesus is no longer physically present. Meanwhile, The Jewish leadership is trying to eliminate any further following of Jesus. The leaders in Jerusalem had instructed the apostles to cease doing acts in Jesus’s name or share his teachings with others. Yet the apostles continued to do as Jesus had told them to do. In today’s passage the apostles are brought before the leadership to answer for their disobedience. The apostles tell the leaders that they cannot and will not succumb to the pressure of the leadership. They declare that they must do what Jesus, who spoke God’s instructions, told them. The Holy Spirit has affirmed this to them.

We are to be like the apostles in what we read here. There are people who tell us to not speak of Jesus. We are told to no longer share the stories of Jesus and how Jesus has worked in our lives. Some mock us when we attribute the works of compassion, mercy and grace which we perform in the name of the Lord. Our faith, beliefs, and understandings of the Lord should be kept private so we make no one uncomfortable is what we are told. The apostles tell us in this passage not to let peer pressure stop us from doing as God instructs. We are to have the courage to stand by our convictions and beliefs. Let us pray that we will follow the example of the apostles. 

Tell The News

Read Romans 10:10-15

As a person ages, it becomes important to make the effort to learn about all the new discoveries, tools, and culture in the world around. We all know of individuals who choose not to learn about computers, social networking, and/or other new technologies. Often, their excuse is that they are too old to learn. This excuse is so far from the truth. No matter what one’s age may be, there is always the capacity to learn. Instead, the person has consciously made the choice not to learn or engage. This choice limits their interaction with the world and people around them. If they had never been introduced to these new ways, then the choice was never afforded them but once they have been introduced, the choice is fully their own.

In the letter to the Roman believers, we read of a similar situation. The writer is speaking of being justified through belief in Christ’s salvific actions. The promise put forward is all have the potential to be saved from our own sinful ways if one will call on the Lord for salvation. Then the writer puts forth a challenge. Through a series of questions, an importance is placed upon the need for all to have the opportunity to hear of Christ’s saving action so they may believe in it. The challenge is for believers to tell this good news to others.

As believers in Christ today, we are given the same challenge which the Roman believers received in the first century. There are people who have heard nothing about Jesus’s saving actions. There are people who have been given misinformation which causes them to have incorrect perceptions. We are the ones who have been sent by Jesus (see Matthew 28:18-20). Our feet are those beautiful feet of which Scripture speaks. Each, in our own way, share how Jesus’s actions have had an impact. Then we inform those with whom we share the news that Jesus’s actions were  for them as well. Whether we use words, life examples, stories, our actions, or a combination of any and all these, we share.

Accept the challenge!

So Good

There are times in a person’s life when memories from our childhood can come flooding back into the mind. Certain experiences or events can trigger those memories. Recently, some events in my life created one of those instances. I was reflecting upon how certain situations fell into place. I had a need for the Lord to intercede in my life and the lives of some individuals who I deeply love. Naturally, this prompted me to engage in a sustained period of frequent and diligent prayer. I turned to family and trusted prayer warriors in my life. While I firmly believe that the Lord always works faithfully in the lives of God’s children, I could have never foreseen the great show of faithfulness which I recently experienced. This led me to remember a song from my childhood.

Growing up in a small, rural community, I had the blessing of being nurtured into the Christian faith by loving people in a small church. Every Sunday morning, children, youth, teachers and the pastor would gather in a basement room for the Sunday School opening. We would sing songs, hear a passage from Scripture, and say a prayer before splitting into our classes by age. One song which we sang frequently is, God is So Good. I would also later sing this song at church camp.

As I considered the Lord’s recent guidance and blessings in my life, the words of this song flooded my mind.

God truly is good and has been extremely good to me. I love God so!

Jesus Loving Sinner

Read 1 Timothy 1:14-16

When we come to realize the magnitude of the love, mercy and grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ, we are amazed. Our sin can seem overwhelming. We may mistakenly think that there is no possibility that God can overlook our sin and continue to love us. God does not overlook our sin but loves us in spite of the sin. We are loved so much that God provides through Jesus Christ a way for our sin to be removed. This gift, or grace, prompts us to respond in love. Each of us is broken, that is the truth, but each of us are made whole in the love of Christ.

May this song by Casting Crowns remind you of these things.

Following

I am currently on a brief trip but wanted to share this video for you to consider. There are times when Hollywood provides us something which can have a positive impact on our faith. The movie, Sister Act, is one such example. The combination of a meaningful storyline and the utilization of secular songs placed in a faith context is a positive result.

Consider what it means to follow the Lord as you listen and watch.

Rest of the Story

Read Romans 3:21-26

During my childhood I would hear in the morning a commentator on a radio show which my mother had on in our kitchen. The commentator would always end his show with the line, “And now you know… the rest of the story.” You may recognize this line as spoken by Paul Harvey. I would listen to the show every school day morning as I ate my breakfast. Paul Harvey would share the background of some story which was about a famous event or person. There was something captivating about his voice. As he told the story in a shrouded manner, you tried to guess about what or who he was speaking. He saved the reveal until the very end. I frequently would be shocked, or at least amazed, when he did the reveal. Knowing “the rest of the story” enriched my understanding. Often I would have a new perspective.

In the passage from Romans, there is an important “rest of the story” component. This passage speaks of the righteousness of God in regard to the Law. Prior to Jesus, righteousness was acquired by fulfilling the Law. Anyone who broke the Law was considered unrighteous. A new understanding is introduced which indicates that now, righteousness is obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. God has utilized the shedding of Christ’s blood as the method of answering for the unpunished sins committed.

The portion of this passage which is “the rest of the story” begins at verse 23, “… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If we were to stop with verse 23, then humanity remains in a helpless and hopeless state. But we are not left with the truth of verse 23. The story continues in verse 24 and our status is completely reversed, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Chiust Jesus.” For each of us, this is the rest of the story. God gave to us the full righteousness of God in Christ. We are redeemed and sin is forgiven.

Now you know… the rest of the story.

Dashed Misperceptions

Read Matthew 10:34-42

Our lives are filled with a lot of comforts and conveniences. Since the arrival of the industrial age, these comforts and conveniences have been on an exponential increase. With the coming of the technological age, the pace and impact of inventions have increased even more dramatically. Yet, we are always seeking more comfort and convenience. Our patience has lessened and our expectations have increased dramatically. Simply put, we want our lives to be easy. We desire the demands of life to decrease. We want it all without having to do much to obtain it. Our perception may be considered to be misaligned.

Jesus had to deal with misperceptions and expectations. His words in this passage may be a bitter pill for us to swallow just as they were for his disciples. The perception was that the Messiah would arrive and the people’s lives would be easier. The Messiah was to bring peace for the Jewish people. Their burden would be reduced. Jesus dashes those concepts in these words. He indicates that there will be conflict because people would argue and fight about Jesus and his teaching. People will fight over who Jesus is and what the Messiah is about. He goes on to say that he must become number one in the life of his followers, the most important relationship. Jesus states that his followers will suffer and sacrifice as they follow him. The burdens will increase. Those who welcome and provide for him and his followers will find they have received a reward. The reward will not be temporary but eternal. Jesus’s words were difficult to hear and even rejected by many.

We are not different from those first century believers. The misperception that following Jesus will make life easier still exists. The concept that all conflict and effort will disappear at the acceptance of the Lord is still taught. Jesus flatly says this is not true. The opposite is more likely. While this is not what we comfort-seekers desire to hear, this is necessary so we can move forward from this reality check. If we are to follow Jesus, we must place this understanding at the lead of our lives. We must be willing to speak the truth even when it may bring division. We must take on the burdens of following Jesus’s teachings and examples even if it causes us suffering and discomfort. Our sacrificing of an “easy” life is necessary to attain a meaningful life. In following and serving, we will discover a permanent reward instead of earth’s temporary reward of comfort and ease.

A New Understanding

Read Acts 10:9-23a

Various cultures have different understandings of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Everything from how a person enters a home to what foods are acceptable to eat. Government diplomats actually have training in regard to customs and behaviors prior to being stationed in foreign posts. This training is important so that the diplomat does not inadvertently offend citizens and government officials where they are sent. The rules and customs of a group of people have deep roots. Some of these are linked to history, some to religion and some due to practical reasons.

Peter was a rule abiding Jew. He prided himself on being faithful to the laws and customs of his Hebrew heritage. The Jews had strong dietary laws. Today we would view these laws as practical based upon what we now know in regards to food safety. In Peter’s time, the laws were linked to his faith since they were recorded in the laws which Moses handed down. When Peter had a vision in which he was instructed to eat foods forbidden by the Law, he naturally declined. The purpose of the vision was to communicate to Peter that rules and understandings can change as God reveals new information to us. This was an important message because soon Peter would be called upon to act in a manner considered wrong by Jewish standards. Peter would be asked to go to the home of an officer in the army which occupied Israel. If the vision had not opened Peter’s eyes to God working outside the rules and customs, he likely would not have gone and the good news would not have been shared.

The lesson for Peter is important in our lives as well. We easily become accustomed to our customs, habits and understandings. Our faith can be attached to what we have been taught when we were younger. What we must always keep in mind is that we believe in a living God. Our God is always at work in the lives of people. Our God is constantly revealing new understandings to us as we are better equipped to receive them. As we grow in our knowledge of the world, God gives us new insights. None of us follow all the dietary laws of Peter’s time because we have refrigeration and better ways to store and prepare food. Why would our other understandings of God, faith and the world around us also not change?

A Legacy

Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8

When a person dies, one of the tasks which family members must complete is writing an obituary for the person. Occasionally, individuals will write their own obituaries prior to their death but it often falls upon the family to complete this. The writing of the obituary may actually require two to be written; one to be published in newspapers and one to be included in the service since newspapers are charging so much that a shorter version makes it more practical. The goal of the obituary is to highlight important facts about the individual’s life, encapsulating their legacy. If you were to write your own obituary, what would it say?

The writer of today’s passage is giving a brief obituary. The person acknowledges an impending death. Verse seven is the legacy that is being left behind, a life hallmarked by completing what was being asked in the context of faith. The writer then concluded that due to this legacy there is a reward awaiting which will be supplied by the Lord. In addition, the author states that this reward is available not only to the one speaking but to all who do the same in faith.

The passage causes many questions to surface for anyone who hears or reads it. Ask yourself these:

– What fight are you called to fight by your faith?

– How would you describe your race?

– In what ways are you keeping the faith? Where are you struggling to do this?

– What do you hope to have included in your legacy?

The Word Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Our world is filled with words. Every year the editors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary choose what words are added to the dictionary. The basis of making such a decision is the frequency of its usage by a lot of people. Words are understood by the context in which they are used. They are interpreted by what the hearer/reader brings to them. The strength of the word is found in how it lives out in real life situations. Words have a great value in communicating an idea or concept or understanding. However, experience says that actions have a much stronger impact on people than words.

Paul is communicating a very important understanding of a frequently used word in his day and in our own. The passage from his  letter to the people of Corinth is well known by believers and non-believers  alike due to its frequent reading at weddings. This usage of the passage is not wrong but tends to leave the impression that Paul is writing about romantic love or solely a relationship between spouses. This impression could not be any farther from the purpose Paul intended. Paul is writing to a church with strong divisions and frequent conflicts. This passage lifts up to them a central understanding of what it means to be believers in Christ.

Paul knows that love is the core of who God is and how God  is revealed in Jesus. This love is not romantic in nature nor is it an emotion. The love which Paul writes about is a way of living. In order to understand love, Paul is indicating that it must be witnessed in the actions and attitudes of life. Jesus expressed love not in words but in how he lived, responded to people, and viewed the world around him. This is exactly what Paul is expressing to the people of Corinth. Knowledge, spiritual gifts and insights are nice but if they lack the living out of love in life, they lose their value. Paul tells the people that the greatest of the only three items which have sustaining value, faith, hope and love, is love. This love is experienced and known through the actions and attitudes displayed in human relationships.

Each of us needs to hear Paul’s teaching here frequently. We need to realize that as wonderful as words are in communicating, the communication through actions and attitudes is all which has lasting value. If we are going to be faithful in following the Lord and demonstrating who God is, we need to live in a manner where love is witnessed, love as defined here.