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. 

In Christ

Read Colossians 2:6-8

Some passages from the Bible can appear fairly simple on the surface but when examined closely, they can contain some valuable insights. For today’s passage we will do some mining to see what insights we may glean.

The passage begins with a reminder that those hearing this message have received Christ as Lord. The concept of receiving has been viewed in a variety of ways. First, there is the image of receiving Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This image has associated with it the understanding of allowing the Spirit to enter our lives and our hearts as a guide and support. Second, by adding the phrase, “as Lord,” the concept of receiving includes an acknowledgement, maybe even a declaration, that Christ is the Lord of our lives.

The next portion of the passage comes with the instruction to “continue to live your lives in him.” This is a curious and complex thought. What does it mean to live “in” Christ? The idea that the source of our life is Christ comes to mind. Seeing our life enveloped in Christ would mean how we respond to people and aspects of our lives should be from a Christ-like perspective.

Then the writer expands upon the instruction by defining some of what this might look like. Our anchor is to be in Christ. We grow by being securely planted in Christ, his teachings and his expressions of love. This allows us to withstand the challenging times of life as we mature into being followers of Christ.

Next, the writer tells us to become stronger in the beliefs which we have been taught. Here we are reminded that our learning does not have an ending point, on earth there is no graduation as a believer. Instead, we continue to study God’s word, listen to the messengers God places in our lives, and explore with fellow believers how to live out the grace and love which we receive from the Lord.

The final phrase of this section tells us to overflow with thankfulness. There are a variety of ways we can express our thanks. The easiest is by using words to speak of our gratitude to the Lord. The expression which brings the greatest joy to God is by living out our thankfulness. Through the ways we give to and interact with others, we can demonstrate how thankful we are for what we receive. A combination of these approaches will allow others to see our lives of gratitude.

The remaining section of today’s passage is a warning. The warning is for us to not be led by human understanding but solely by Christ. Human interpretation of life and how to live it, void of Christ’s instruction and guidance, lacks substance and accuracy. Human teachings must always be viewed through Christ-given lenses.

May we take these pieces of wisdom and strive to live according to them.

Gift Discernment

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

When a teenager is in high school, often they will experience taking some form of an aptitude test at least once. The purpose behind such a test is to assist the teenager in identifying what type of employment may best suit their personality, skills, and interests. With this information, the student can be guided in what subjects they should take while in high school. This also provides an opportunity for looking toward the future in regard to what post-secondary education or training would be helpful for the student to move toward them toward employment goals. The generally accepted view is that after identifying the personality, skills and interests, preparing for a future where these are easily applied is the best route. What this approach fails to take into account is the changes which can, and do, occur in those three areas as a person matures. Also, the changes in employment types and opportunities as society advances does not factor into this approach. However, a short-term plan can be established for the time being as long as taking other aptitude tests occurs frequently throughout the person’s life.

Paul speaks about a person’s aptitude in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses the words “spiritual gifts” instead of aptitude. Paul tells the people that everyone receives personalities, skills, and interests from the Spirit. These are intended to be used by the individual to serve others. Each person’s gifts are different from another but are expected to work in harmony with others to achieve the benefit of everyone.

You have been given your own unique personality, set of skills, and interests by the Spirit. Identifying those unique aspects is important so that you are able to exercise them for the good of all. This identification usually requires the assistance of others which is one of the purposes of active engagement in the fellowship of the Church. It is also very important to remember that discerning these items is not a one-time event but should be done frequently since changes occur. Each time after discernment, identifying how to apply these gifts for the good of others is the next step.

When did you last take inventory of what you received from the Spirit? Is it time to repeat this discernment? How are you using your gifts?

Cry For Help

Read Psalm 143

Life is not always easy. There are periods when everything seems to be going smoothly; work, relationships, health, finances, and leisure time seem to be in sync and have positive outlooks. Then there are events which impact one or more of these and life can seem topsy turvy. All of us experience some level of this during the pandemic. During these times of challenge it may appear that we are all alone, having to face whatever situation on our own. We may even feel God has abandoned us. Hope may be fading for us.

This description of a life situation is exactly how the author of Psalm 143 is feeling. In a period of desperation and fading hope the author writes this song to be sung to the Lord. It is a plea, a prayer. The request is simple. The song calls on the Lord for hope. A desire to be led out of the current, difficult times is placed before God. There is urgency in the plea. The individual acknowledges the loss of hope and the crushing of the spirit. Yet, clearly there still exists confidence in the Lord.

This psalm is one which each of us could probably sing at different points in our lives. We may experience times of desperation. Our view may be that we are facing challenges alone. While we still believe in God, God can seem to be so distant from us. Hope can be fading in our lives. The weight of our situation is overwhelming and brings us to the point where our spirit feels crushed under it. However, we are not alone. The Spirit of the Lord is always present with us. Our prayers and cries for help are heard. We are being led to something better even though we are unable to see it at the present time. Our confidence does not rest in us but in the hope from our Lord.

Watch the Words

Read James 1:19-21

A cornerstone to a healthy relationship is communication. Whether the relationship is an intimate one or more casual in nature, communication is significant. Whenever we interact with another human being, we have initiated a relationship, brief or in length. The relationship might be between two people on a sidewalk, between a customer and clerk, or between two people on a date. The setting can be a rally event, in our home, in a store, or on the commuter train. Anytime we interact with one another, some form of relationship occurs. In all of these situations, how we communicate influences the relationship and the outcome of the encounter.

As we read the passage today, we engage in advice regarding communication. The words were written to a group of believers in the first century but have value even today. First piece of advice is to be quick to listen. This indicates to us the importance of listening before beginning to speak. Defer to the other person to hear their information and/or perspective. Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said,” We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This is echoed in the advice from James which continues by saying we should be slow to speak.

The third piece of advice is to be slow to become angry. Anger does not fit what God wishes to see in human relationships. The usual outcome of anger is the expression of damaging words. Anger does not build up a relationship. While the emotion of anger is unavoidable at times, managing and controlling it is a valuable skill. Many difficult situations can be avoided if we do not rush to anger and the harsh words it produces.

Finally, the advice states to remove moral filth and evil from our thoughts and communication. Instead, we are to focus on the words planted in us by the Spirit. These are words which build one another up. These are words which communicate the love of God into our relationships. By focusing on and using these words, we save ourselves from destructive communication which destroys relationships.

Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.

Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.

The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.

A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.

Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.

Opening the Eyes

Read Mark 8:22-26

In the story of Jesus healing a blind man near the town of Bethsaida, we see the power of Jesus to open that which has been closed. Jesus takes the blind man who has been brought to him outside of the village. The man is taken out of his comfort zone, his familiar. Once outside the village

Jesus touches his eyes and then asks the man to describe what he sees. The man’s description indicates to us that his sight is only partially restored. Like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NRSV) Jesus touches the man’s eyes again and the man’s eyesight is fully restored.

We are spiritually like the blind man. We are unable to see Jesus in a spiritual way. We remain in the familiar because we are unable to navigate safely in the spiritual realm. Then someone brings us to Jesus. Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone. Our spirits are touched by the Lord’s Spirit. At first we can only partially see the fullness of Christ and only partially understand the grace and magnitude of the Lord’s love. There will come a day when our hearts will be touched by the Spirit again and we will be open to see the completeness of our Lord. 

For now we pray this…

For Our Good

Read Romans 8:26-28

Socrates was considered to be one of the wisest philosophers and teachers of Ancient Greece. He created a method of teaching and discovering which was based on a series of dialogues between himself and his pupils. A subject is chosen and the dialogue commences. As wise as Socrates has been purported to be, he is quoted as saying, “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” This humility seems to indicate that Socrates understood his limits.

Humans have limits. This truth is evident in Paul’s words found in the letter to the believers in Rome. Paul indicates the human weakness and inability to even pray correctly. But Paul states this is not a point of despair for us because the Spirit intercedes for us. The One who intimately knows the will and thoughts of God also knows us intimately. Where we are unable to utter, the Spirit communicates in ways beyond us. This is done because God desires all aspects of life to work toward the good of us who love God and are called by God.

Much like Socrates, when we take an honest inventory of our knowledge and abilities, we are deeply aware that as gifted as we are in these areas, we have so much farther to go. Paul’s words to the Romans bring comfort to us in the midst of such a revelation. Having the assurance that we have God constantly working on behalf of us even to the point of interceding in our weaknesses and prayers, provides us a boost in life. Our God, who is powerful enough to create all we see and cannot see, is tirelessly working to bring good to us. What amazing love is this?

Spirit Fruits

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)

This is the time of the year when many fruits and vegetables are ripening and bring enjoyment to our tables. The melons, tomatoes and other garden vegetables enhance our meals. On a hot, summer day, a watermelon can seem to be a refreshing treat. The fruits add a nice, sweet taste as a snack or part of an after-meal dessert.

In the letter sent to Galatia, there is a conversation about fruits. The fruits here are not apples, grapes, or plums. The fruits discussed here are what the Spirit produces in human lives. These fruits benefit society and all people so there are no prohibitions restricting us from exhibiting these behaviors. Living within the Spirit, we are to practice these behaviors regularly instead of the selfish behaviors and desires we exhibited prior to our knowledge of Christ. We experience the fruits of the Spirit in our lives just as we practice them towards others.

A Rising

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (NIV)

The process of making food which includes a rising element has always been fascinating. Mixing together the correct ingredients which leads to the food item rising either before or during the baking process contains an element of mystery. Whether it is a type of bread or a cake, the rising is necessary for an enjoyable outcome. As an adult, I understand the chemical process which results in the rising but as a kid I was amazed by it. The key is that the right ingredients must be in the batter to make this possible.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of having the correct ingredient to produce a rising, the rising of our own mortal bodies after death. Paul tells the Roman followers that if Christ is in them, they are now in the realm of the Spirit and no longer the realm of the flesh. The body is still subject to death but the Spirit gives life. Because the Spirit is in us, we will have a bodily resurrection just as Christ had one.

The key ingredient for us is the Spirit living within us. This Spirit moves us from living just in the physical realm into the spiritual realm. It is the Spirit which is necessary for our physical bodies to be raised after death like Christ was raised. The Spirit lives in each of us, when we believe and acknowledge this, we accept the gift of the promised resurrection.