Doing Chuch: Acts 9

This Sunday, Vince C. preached on Acts 9.  This is also known as Paul’s conversion.  What I have come to like about Vince (among many things) is his simple thoughts on something that is most likely known by the majority of people who has read the Bible for any length of time.  I think that is one thing I honestly miss.  Before I got a degree in Bible and continued my education for a Masters in biblical studies, I read the Bible simply to read it and learn the stories of the Bible.  I did not worry about parsing the Greek or understanding the theological implications, which led to a whole other set of rules, and thoughts that went along with it.  I just simply read the Bible because I saw it as a book of stories with Jesus as the winner in the end.  Though Vince, himself is a Bible School graduate, he has not allowed the Scriptures to become something more than they should be – namely, a story of a Great God who desires to be in relationship with His people and His creation.  This is the main thrust of the story.

The story of the Conversion of Paul is a simple story.  Paul was blinded after seeing the light of God.  The people with Paul were frightened.  After three days, Paul received his sight and at once began to preach that Jesus was Lord.  Many people, I am sure, thought that perhaps it was a trick and attempted to harm Paul.  So, the Apostles lowered Paul in a basket and preserved his life so that he could go to Tarsus and meditate on the Word of God for a little.

What interests me is that both Moses and Paul had the same experience.  Both almost lost their life, both were put into a basket so that they would be kept out of harm’s way, and both were radically transformed to do some amazing works for God.  Though the context of the stories is a little different, it is interesting to note that they both bare these similarities.

I love the story of Acts 9.  It is a great story that we all need to read over again with fresh eyes and a simple heart.

A Small Gospel?

I have just read an article written by Tim Keel called, “An Efficient Gospel?”  In this article, Tim deals with the issues I have been struggling with for almost three years.  For me, it was a breath of fresh air to actually read something from someone that actually had something to share that was beneficial to the body of Christ for today (not just a future event).  The issue of Gospel is a big deal to me.  I get so angry when people stop someone on the street and ask, “If you were going to die tonight, do you know where you would be going for eternity?”  For some reason, I didn’t know why I didn’t like this question.  All I could gather was that it made people only think about dying rather than living.  I didn’t realize how much my first impression of this statement would come out in my future understanding.

“If someone were to ask you what the gospel is, what would you say” (19)?  This is a question Tim was asked at a camp.  He struggled with this question because, when he thought about it all the more, he really did not have an answer to this question – and it bothered him a lot.  For me, I never thought about that question until I was confronted with that question in my early years of college.  I mean, I grew up in a Christian family, with Christ-like values and went to church each Sunday and even some Wednesday nights if there was something going on in the church.  For me, I didn’t worry about this question because I was saturated with what was “the Gospel.”  When I got to Bible College though, a deep sense of unfamiliarity rose in my mind about what was this thing we called the Gospel?

Some of the questions I found myself asking people in my dorm were questions like:  Why don’t people care about the questions we ask concerning the Gospel?  Why do people seem to think the church is so separate from the world?  Why does it seem that we are really missing something in our Gospel conversations?  Are we helping or hurting the cause for the Gospel?  How did Jesus deal with the issue of the Gospel?  Does the church follow His model or have they inadvertently gone their own way in order to push their own kind of agendas?  I am sure if we were to sit in a group together, we could come up with several more questions, we probably would lose sleep in our conversations, which might not be the worst thing we could do.

Still, the Gospel has been reduced to what our protestant friends have packaged into a nice formula:  God is Redeemer.  It is true to the nth degree that Christ is our redeemer.  I am blessed beyond words that Christ came to earth in order to redeem both His Creation and His people.  Tim Keel states, “But when we reduce Jesus to redeemer only, we miss another essential element of our faith:  Jesus is also creator” (22).  Tim opens the doors of the Gospel by adding a unique characteristic of God we seldom remember and apply to Christ:  He is both Redeemer and Creator of all things.  What does that do for our theology and our faith in Christ?  It is significant.  In Genesis 1-3, we see God as Creator.  In Genesis 3, we see the fall of man and God as redeemer of humanity.  Isn’t it interesting that we see God as Creator before we see God as redeemer yet we only seem to focus on His redeeming characteristic?  That is mind boggling to me that we only give people a limited Gospel message of God’s redemptive power and forget first and foremost that we were made in His image.  What a beautiful picture we can give to people.

One of Tim’s final paragraphs really brings this whole message of the Gospel home for me.  He states,

…No wonder so many have determined that the church and “the gospel” have very little to contribute to the world.  The idea that the gospel has something to say about the eternal destinies of people has been drummed into them from a long time.  But they don’t see that we are equally concerned about that Jesus taught us to pray: “May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (22).

When we examine the significance of the Gospel message, we realize just how important these thoughts really are.  We cannot be fall into reductionism and hold the Gospel on one thread of God’s character.  We must look to the multi-faceted characteristics of God as a whole.

How then should we approach people with regards to the Gospel message?  Tim Keel gives an interesting question we could use when witnessing:  “But asking people, “If you had just a few years left, what kind of life would you want to live?” generates enormous energy.  It is a question of home, something our balkanized world sorely needs” (22).  To this, I say amen.  I personally do not have all my questions answered but at least I have a more full Gospel in which to ask these questions and search for answers.  I hope you will take a few moments and read Tim Keel’s article.  If you get a chance – after you read it – drop me a line and let me know what you think.  God bless

Resurrection Weekend Reflections

I have had some time to think about this Resurrection weekend and thought I would share some of my thoughts of how this weekend was challenging, depressing, hopeful and positive.

I will begin with this past Thursday.  I attended my Sister’s Lutheran Church because my niece was going to receive her first communion.  Since this was apart of the Holy Week and because I wanted to support her in her decision to take part in this very important sacrament, I made sure that I would be there for her.  Knowing I was going to a Lutheran Church, I knew (or thought I knew) how important Holy Communion is.  I was surprised and almost to the point of anger however, when the pastor (a woman who talked more about how she hated feet rather than getting to the point of her message which dealt with washing the disciple’s feet) had to battle through a message while the congregation talked to one another during the message, throughout communion, and out the door even though it said clearly in the bulletin, “Please leave quietly.”  I was so angry at the end of the night, I felt like going up to one of the pastors of the church and having a few words with them.  I have never been in a Lutheran Church where the Lord’s Supper was considered the most important aspect of worship in the service.  These people (adults and kids alike) had no cares about what the significance of this night was all about.  They cared more about “March Madness” and hitting the person behind them or in front of them and laughing the whole time (did I mention that the adults did this as well?)  Now I am not a Luther Scholar at all but I would tend to believe that if Martin Luther were there, he would have made a little noise himself and then would have simply sat down and cried because those who were there did not care about the importance of this night.  Maybe he would have just left and knocked the dirt off his feet and cursed the church.  In any case, my eyes were open to how denominational stances are not as significant as they were even fifty years ago.  The lines of division seem to have blurred by the lack of knowledge of those who attend these churches.  Perhaps that is one thing I have learned.

Friday night’s service was simply amazing.  I was so glad that I got to take part in the service at The Well.  We had a smaller crowd but it was intimate.  We had several dozen candles lit and a big cross in the front of the church.  My parents even came out for the first time and really enjoyed themselves.  Through the service, we were able to worship, pray, take communion together, participate in a foot washing, nail our sins to the cross, throw away 30 pieces of silver and meditate on Psalm 22 and 53.  There was no hurry to the service.  We heard perspectives of the cross from Judas, Peter, the thieves, Mary and Christ.  As the night came to a close, I truly felt as though Christ was honored in our church that night.  I left feeling as though a weight of crap fell off my shoulders and I could really concentrate on the death of Christ.  What an awesome blessing.

On Saturday, I had to work.  A long 12-hour shift was not what I was looking forward to.  I would have rather spent the time in prayer and contemplation.  Serving tables all day left little room for that to happen.  And, when it did present some time to do so, I couldn’t even concentrate enough to do so.  Usually, I feel like Saturdays are a waste of time for me, even though that is when I make the most money at my work.  Spiritually though, I do not spend the kind of time I would like with Jesus.  When I got done my work, I came home and almost immediately fell asleep.  I wanted to be up early on Resurrection Day and go to church to pray.  It didn’t happen that way though.

Sunday came and I woke at almost 10 AM.  I had missed breakfast with my church family and rushed to get ready and moving to be at the service by 10:30.  The service was all right.  The kids in our church put on a play that I could hardly hear because they talked so softly.  What I had gotten from the story though is that we are not good enough but with Christ we are forgiven.  I personally do not know what that had to do with Resurrection Sunday but I guess because Christ died and rose again from the grave, we could experience this forgiveness for ourselves even though we are not perfect.  Todd gave a simple yet effective message on sorrow turned to joy because Christ had risen from the grave.  I can honestly say that even though it was a short message, it was one of his best (not because he kept it short either).  It just made me think about what my life would have been like if Christ never rose from the grave.  That is truly significant to me.

In conclusion, my Resurrection weekend was a 7 on a scale from 1-10.  Thursday really beat me up a lot as I could not focus on Christ or the service.  Saturday once again seemed like a waste of time for me.  I am so glad however that Friday and Sunday were both great days of reflection and worship.  I hope that next year, my situation will change and that next year I will be able to reflect more on the cross of Christ on Saturday and enjoy a more reflective time of contemplation on Thursday.  Lord willing, my experience over the Resurrection weekend next year will be a 10.  At least that is my goal.  God bless

Stories from the Homeless (17)

I have been reading this book called, “Under the Overpass” by Mike Yankoski. If you have not heard of it, I definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for a book that gives a first person account about being homeless. Mike and a friend of his named Sam go to five different cities spending a month in each city, living as a homeless person. The stories they share give a very real and raw. Anyway, I submit this book for your reading.

This past Monday, we had a small group, which is good at times I guess. Though we were small in number, we took the opportunity to spend more time with a lot of the homeless people. Since we were small in number, we could make our rounds. That is what I attempted to do.

When we showed up, we realized that we had forgotten cups to pour our coffee in for the homeless. Needless to say, we felt a little foolish that we had forgotten something so important. Luckily, we knew that a Starbucks would most likely get us some cup if we asked real nice for them, which they did (provided that we buy a coffee or two, which was not a problem).

I saw a couple of the guys that I had talked to before. The one guy’s name was Mike. The other guy keeps his name on the D.L. He figures that if anyone knows his real name, perhaps he might be found in trouble or something so he just goes by sir, who was kind of odd but I rolled with it. Both men had been on the streets for over 20 years. They chose to live on the streets even though they had a lot of money in the bank. It was easier to live that way they said. They had no bills and had everything they needed. I think they have been on the streets so long, they do not understand what it would be like to live off the streets anymore. Perhaps they really just wanted to live on the streets and live off other people. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. In any case, we sat down and talked about tangible ways we could help them out.

See, this has been my problem fro the beginning. We go down to Love Park and give out coffee, PB and J’s, and some clothes and then leave after a couple of hours. I know I have written this before but it just seems as though we are meeting simple, temporal needs and not helping people achieve goals or even set them. I have never walked to my car after a night with the homeless and patted myself on the back for doing a good thing. To be honest, I am not sure how much we are really doing even though I guess we could be doing nothing, which would be even worse than what we are doing now. I guess I just wish we could have a greater impact on those in whom we meet and help them out more than just giving some temporal, material goods.

One thing I have been thinking about his perhaps looking to see if we can help them put together their resumes or even help them get into a program to get their G.E.D. I do not know how many need them but if we could assist in that manner, perhaps I would feel like we are doing a little more than nothing. These are just a few off the cuff ideas that I thought about and asked “sir” what he thought. His response hit me hard: “They have to want to do something in their life. Many people do not want to do anything and simply live off the streets because it is just a lot easier that way for them. If they want to be helped, then your idea is great and you should move forward with it.” With only one tooth visible, he just kind of smiled and looked at me. We sat for awhile just looking up at the stars in Love Park while a bunch of rich foreigners ran over to the “Love” sign to take a picture, not even noticing the fifteen or so homeless people who were sitting all around them, trying to catch a couple of hours of sleep before a cop came to tell them to move on. No matter how many times I end up seeing that, it bothers me.

My final meeting was with the guy with the really long hair. This is the same guy who had been growing his hair for 13 ½ years nonstop. It was all matted in the back because he always ended up sleeping on it. He sat there and told me over and over again that he was a “messenger from God” and that “God told him that he didn’t need to fellowship in the church.” When I tried to ask him questions, he would only reply, “Excuse me. You don’t know who I am. If you knew who I was, you would not be talking to me that way.” I was getting a little frustrated with him because he was not listening to what I was saying. I simply had to leave him to himself. Walking away, I watched him hit his had several times over and remembered that he most likely had a lice issue and was dealing with the major itch that lice gives to those who have it.

The end of the night showed to be a decent night of serving people and loving on them through conversation and fellowship. I didn’t see Greg this week, which made me wonder how he was doing. I wonder if he simply forgot we were going to be there and was in the library reading while we were in the park. I am sure if I go next week, I will most likely see him. It will be good to see him and see how things are going with an apartment opportunity, his work, church, and his 4-year-old son. We packed up our stuff and headed home to Bucks County to lay in our warm, cozy beds. It still gets me that only twenty miles away from me, there are people who sleep on the floor or on a park bench. That is why I still continue to go. I am so glad that I do.

Doing Church: Resurrection Day

Today is Resurrection Sunday.  This is the day in which we recognize the beautiful hope in Christ.  I know there are many people who have written already on the story of the Resurrection of Christ so I will not state anything anyone has already heard.  I am just happy that we get to recognize the blessed hope resurrect from the grave and live once again

I personally do not know what I would be doing if it weren’t for Christ.  I don’t say that in a prideful or cynical manner.  Not that long ago, I went to a party where a lot of people I had graduated with ended up drunk and messed up.  Some of them, who I used to hang out with all time, were now just skimming by life.  I don’t want to just skim through life.  I want to do something greater than that because I know the kind of potential I have.  I think if it weren’t for Christ making such an impact on my life, I would be in a place I would rather not think about.  For me, I know that means that I need to spend a little more time thinking about how much Christ has blessed me.  I have no doubt that it is because of His death and resurrection means something significant to each person in a unique way.  Each person has their own story of how Christ has turned their life upside down.  I can only share my own story.  I hope this Resurrection Day; you will share your own with those whom you love.  It is a story we all need to share.

Post – Crucifixion, Pre – Resurrection

Tomorrow is the day in which we celebrate and recognize the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Each year, our family gathers and we eat ham (which actually seems a little funny considering that ham is from a pig and Jesus was a Jew.  This is not a kosher meal to say the least).  Yes, tomorrow will be a busy day of eating, sitting, and enjoying family fellowship.  And yet, I wonder if we will become too busy to reflect on all that has transpired.

I wonder what it was like for those who knew Christ had died on the cross.  I cannot imagine what their hearts must have felt like when all this had transpired.  Did anyone remember the hope of the resurrection that was to take place on the third day or was all hope gone when Christ breathed his last breath?  What do you do when the one who you called Rabbi and friend dies and leaves you behind to sit and ponder?  I wonder if any of the disciples felt almost used by Jesus.  Jesus called them to follow Him.  The calling of Jesus meant that He (Jesus) believed that they (the disciples) could be like Him.  That is significant.  When a Rabbi believed you could be like him that was a really big deal.  So what’s the deal?  How could they be like their dead Rabbi?  How could they possibly wrap their mind around the significance of His death?  I think we too as those kinds of questions – or at least be willing to consider them.

Here are some other questions I would love to know if I could know them:  How did the people respond to the disciples after Jesus died?  Did people look at them differently now that their leader had passed on?  How did they explain the tearing of the separating curtain of the Holy of Holies?  The material of this dividing fabric was so think – how could something divide it?  Did they even understand the significance of that event?  Did life just seem to go on as if nothing happened the day before or were people changed by the events of the cross?  Did any of the disciples go and help bury Judas after he hung himself?  What ever happened to those 30 pieces of silver?  Did Judas use the money to buy the rope in which he hung himself?  What about that thief on the cross?  What was it like for him to enter into Paradise with Jesus that day?  I have so many questions I would love to ask.

When I read the letters of Paul, my mind stops to think of Paul’s message where he writes, “I want to know Jesus, to share in his sufferings and the power of His resurrection.”  I wonder if Paul had an opportunity to read the accounts of this thief on the cross and was almost jealous that this man was able to share in the suffering of Jesus and know the power of the resurrection first hand.  I almost wonder if Paul yearned to be the thief on the cross and experience this mercy, love, and grace that Jesus bestowed upon a man who realized he was not worthy of anything but death.  Oh, to be in the presence of the Almighty Father and Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit – what an amazing sight that must be!  Paul was so desperate to be in the presence of God.  I wonder sometimes if I am as desperate as Paul was.  I wonder if I live my life according to that hope like I know I should.

On this day, the body of Christ lays in a grave, wrapped in stripes of cloth.  Tomorrow, before the sun comes up to its fullest potential, Mary will begin her journey to the place where Christ is buried.  She will bring along with her spices and fragrant to pour on the body.  With everything prepared and ready to go, for now all she can do is rest and try to get some sleep.  Her anxious heart anticipates her responsibility for tomorrow.  I wonder what her prayer was that night before she attempted to close her eyes.  I wonder if she got any real sleep at all.  What I do know is that what she thinks she will find the next day at the tomb of Jesus is not what she will see.  Tomorrow’s events for her will ultimately change the way she understands everything that had transpired the past couple of days.  All at once, everything will click and make sense.  For now, she must get her rest so that she will be able to perform a burial ritual for a man who claimed to be the King of the Jews.  With that, we will close

Good Friday Service: The Thief

As we enter “Good Friday,” I was asked to participate in the service at the church I attend.  I was somewhat surprised that they would ask me to help out but I accepted the invitation to speak.  My part would be to share some thoughts on the perspective of the thief on the cross (I chose to incorporate both thieves).  With no other direction than to share how I react to this story of events, I was on my own to put something together that was both meaningful and thought provoking about these two guys who experienced the same type of death as Jesus.  The next several paragraphs outline my notes concerning what I shared.

There really is only two ways we can approach the death of Christ on the cross.  We can either mock Christ or say something like, “If you are the Christ, save yourself, and save us” or we can chose to say something like, “Do you not fear God?  This man is receiving the same type of punishment you and I are receiving.  The only problem is we deserve what we are receiving but this man does not.”  I have to be honest and ask, “Which thief are you?  Which one am I?”

I wish I could say that every moment of my life is filled with the certainty of knowing that I am making the wisest decisions.  I wish I could say that I consider the cost of my actions before I commit an act.  I don’t always, and perhaps, that a lesser issue though.  When I see the thieves on the cross, I wonder how often I would most likely compare myself to one over the other.

I knew I shouldn’t have taken the money off the counter and taken it upstairs.  I also know I shouldn’t have lied to my parents about it.  I did though, and I got caught.  It is no fun getting caught because when that happens; there are consequences when one is caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing.  Taking money is one of the lesser sins I have committed in my life.  It was the first time though that I had lied to my parents, and it broke their heart.  They knew I was a sinner but was still disappointed in me for lying to them.

In other situations in my life, I have repeatedly called on God to fix the problem and help me get out of the mess I had created for myself.  I would beg for God to move time back just ten minutes so that I could try and do it all over again.

When I read this story, I have come to realize that the one thief understood the situation while the other one hadn’t a clue.  The one thief realized who he was and came to understand that he did not deserve the mercy of God.  He realized that he deserved to die.  He asked, “Do you not fear God?”  I wonder if I fear God like I should.  I do not think I do it enough and yet I am not hanging on a cross, dying because I am a sinner.  The one thief got it though.  He had a real life conversion on the cross just moments before he would take his last breath on earth and his next in eternity with Christ.

I guess my question is:  Do we get it?  Do we fear God?  Will we allow this story to transform how we look at the cross and how we look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  The boldness of the thief to ask God to remember him when Christ entered glory is the most unique statement we read in this passage.  Is this guy nuts?  The sin of the world is being placed upon Christ at this moment, and some guy who is dying next to you asks if the one who is dying for him at that moment would remember him.  Did the thief understand what was really going on?  I think so.  It is my challenge that we think about it as well.

In closing, here are some final thoughts:

1. Even in Christ’s weakest moments, He is stronger than I ever will be.

2. Christ’s love extends beyond the pain of the cross.

3.  It is really never too late to humble ourselves and ask Christ to remember us.

4.  This should not be a once a year reflection – it should be a life-long reflection.

I hope you will take some time out this year and consider the thief on the cross.  Allow the cross to transform your life and your heart this year and everyday.  Praise God we are saved by His blood.  Amen