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?

To Give or To Teach

Read Acts 3:1-10

There is a very old adage which has a much disputed origin. The adage is: “Give a man fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The concept of alleviating poverty by providing a means of self-sufficiency is found throughout history. Chinese philosophers, novelists, newspapers and charity workers have all been credited with some aspects of this adage. According to quoteinvestigator.com, Anne Isabella Thackery Ritchie deserves to be credited with the origin. Trying to be of service to someone in need is admirable. Choosing the best way to meet that need can be the biggest challenge. This adage causes us to evaluate the greatest action to choose with the opportunity to have longevity.

In the passage from Acts, we see Peter and John called upon to meet the needs of a man who was unable to walk so he sat at the temple gate begging every day. The man needed money in order to purchase necessities on which he could survive. Peter saw an opportunity to provide something which would be life changing, not merely life sustaining. Peter showed the man how to walk and stand.

We, like Peter, can provide a long-term change for people. The easy route when we are called upon to assist someone is to provide for the immediate need. This can be accomplished in the quickest amount of time and create the least amount of cost to us. However, we truly can make a meaningful difference if we invest our time in gaining an understanding of the source of the need. With this understanding, we then are able to provide whatever is necessary to reduce or eliminate the source of the immediate need. This will create a stronger possibility of the need not occurring again.

Let us follow Ritchie’s adage and Peter’s example.

Focus On You

Read John 21:20-23

People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.

Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.

Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said, 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.

Into the Water

Today as I was looking at some Christian artwork, I came across a picture created by Yongsung Kim (click here to learn about the artist.) As I viewed the picture, the story of Peter attempting to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33) came into my mind. Then I began to consider the many times I have needed Jesus to reach into the water and pull me up in life. View this picture and share your thoughts.

1. What do you notice about Jesus?

2. When you see Jesus’s hand, what thoughts come to mind?

3. When have you needed Jesus to reach into the water for you?

4. What led you to need Jesus’s saving act?

5. How did you respond to Jesus?

Give It All

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:36-38 (NIV)

This is the day of the year when we pause to remember those women and men who have died while serving their nation. Memorial Day has changed a lot since it first began. There have been various dates and times which nations have set aside to honor the deceased military. Our current holiday came out of some local practices within communities. The former confederate states set aside a day to honor those who had died during the Civil War. Northern states soon followed suit. In 1868, General John A Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic which was a northern Civil War Veterans organization, issued a general order setting May 30 as Decoration Day which was “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” This became the starting seed of what was declared a national holiday in 1971. Today the holiday has been moved to the last Monday of May and has become a day when all who have died are remembered and graves decorated. However, the original purpose of setting aside such a date must be remembered. This day is meant to recall those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863) by giving their lives for their country.

Our passage from John comes in the midst of whatwereferto as the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at a meal with his disciples. The ones who are closest to Jesus are beside him at the table. Judas has just left after Jesus identified him as soon becoming the betrayer. Jesus tells the disciples that he is to leave soon. Simon Peter asks Jesus where he is going and Jesus tells him that Peter cannot follow him now but will later. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow now and declares his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus questions Peter’s true willingness since he knows Peter will soon deny knowing him.

It is easy for us to identify with Peter. Peter’s love for Jesus is strong, so strong that he declares his willingness to give his very life for Jesus. He is eager to give his all. However, Jesus knows the weakness in Peter. When the time came for Peter to risk his own life by acknowledging being a follower of Jesus, Peter was unable to follow through. Few of us have ever been put in such a situation so we are unable to say if we would choose as Peter did or not.

In the brave men and women who we honor on this day, we are given an example to follow and a challenge to accept. These military women and men loved their country and its ideals so much that they were not only willing but did give their lives in defense of them. This is an example for us to admire and emulate in our lives. The challenge set before it is to not only be willing to do this for our nation but also for our Lord. Are you willing to physically and/or metaphorically give your life because of your love for the Lord and the ideals which the Kingdom of God sets forth?

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.

Correct Focus

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)

Have you ever used an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera? When I was in high school, I was part of both the newspaper and yearbook staff. This required me to be trained in using a 35mm camera to take pictures. If you have used one of these, you know that it is important to turn the ring on your lens in order to bring the subject into focus. Most people today use cameras, or their smartphones, which automatically focus the picture for you. Some even allow you either before or after you take the picture to use a filter which blurs the background so the subject stands out in the picture. Focus is the point in our Bible passage for today.

Jesus talks about his upcoming persecution and death at the start of the passage. Peter takes him aside and tells him to stop this kind of talk. We do not know if Peter is more concerned about Jesus losing his momentum talking about his death,, or if he does not want to think about the pain Jesus’s death will cause Peter. Jesus says that Peter is focused on human concerns and not on the purpose which centers Jesus’s mission. Then Jesus speaks to his disciples regarding discipleship. If one chooses to follow Jesus, they must let go of their own earthly concerns and image of life. The focus must be on the priorities of the Lord which impact their spiritual life.

Where we focus impacts how we understand life and influences the priorities which we set. If our focus is on the comforts of life then our time, energy and commitment will be directed toward obtaining and maintaining those comforts. Being more concerned about building our empire on earth than the wellbeing of our spiritual self leads us to focus on our earthly life. Jesus encourages us to be willing to release our earthly goals when they come into conflict with the spiritual goals which Jesus has shown us to be important. We are challenged in this passage to allow the background of life to blur so that we can remain focused on the vision which Jesus presents for our eternal future.