Friday, August 31, 2012

Gift of the Spirit given even to the Gentiles

From today's reading:  The [Jews] who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.  Acts 10:45-46

In today's lesson, the Jews were "astounded" that God would bless the Gentiles with such obvious evidence of his presence.  They weren't sure what to do about it, but Peter knew they had to offer the water of baptism.  I was very blessed when Bishop Andy Doyle was at St. John's, La Porte in May.  After baptizing our adult candidate, he offered the ministry of baptism to anyone there who felt called to come forward.  Acceptance for anyone and everyone who desired to come - regardless of race, class, age or political or sexual persuasion.

Why is it, that as a human people, we have trouble believing that someone who is not 'just like us' cannot receive the Spirit of God?  And why is it that we seem to think that if a person truly does believe, they will come around to our way of thinking?  I know (and love) a number of people who are all God-fearing Christians, but some are "flaming liberals," while others are "bullheaded conservatives."  Yet they all know and love Jesus Christ and they follow him as their Lord and Savior.    

I don't think we're ever going to see eye to eye on many of the externals, but Jesus' commission to love our neighbor and to spread the news that He is risen from the dead lives on as the guiding principle for our life.  We just need to remember that "Christian" means that we are followers of  Jesus Christ, and we come in all shapes and sizes and political persuasions.  

(Personally, this year as a good "Via Media" Anglican, I'm looking for a third viable candidate for president.  Hmm, Jesus Christ himself might be nice...)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The wonder of God's law

From today's reading:  Psalm 119:17-18

17 Deal bountifully with your servant, * that I may live and keep your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may see *
the wonders of your law.    

I read that and I really wish that it said, "that I may see the wonders of your creation" rather than "of your law."  Creation I can deal with much more favorably - laws are a little harder.  I don't necessarily want to think about laws that have to be obeyed.  I'd much rather think about the delights of creation rather than obedience, because I can do guilt trips really well.  I can easily obsess over things that I have not handled well, or sometimes not at all.  

And I can sometimes beat myself up over not helping someone in a particular situation.  But the truth is I do help in some situations and not in others.  Sometimes I feel called to reach out and sometimes I don't.  In those times, when I don't reach out, I have to remind myself that I can't do everything - and I'm not even called to do everything.  In some situations, someone else is called and I have to honor that person's service.

I also have to remember that from a human perspective, God's laws make sense.  At the time they were written, there were real health concerns that were addressed as law.  They included listing some foods as "unclean" that we now know in some circumstances can cause illnesses. They included washing hands and washing eating and cooking utensils.  Many of them were very practical laws meant to keep people healthy.

But God's laws also address human relationship.  They say something important about how we deal with each other.  The vast majority of God's laws are intended for the benefit of human kind - emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It is a wonder to see and understand that God's law indeed makes sense in the world even today.   

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taking refuge in the Lord

From today's reading:  Psalm 5:13-14
13 But all who take refuge in you will be glad;* 
     they will sing out their joy for ever.
14 You will shelter them, *
     so that those who love your Name may exult in you. 

Offer a prayer for me this morning, please - I have pain and stiffness in my head and neck. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Seek God in all things

From today's reading: "As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause. He does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. He gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.  Job 5:8-11

This is the voice of Job's friend Eliphaz speaking.  We remember that Job is the servant of the Lord who was tested by Satan.  Satan took everything away from Job because Satan believed that the only reason Job loved God was because of his good fortune.  But Satan was mistaken.  Job did not curse God, he sought to understand.  

Job's story is an example of "when bad things happen to good people."  Many people think it is the oldest book of the Bible.  It is a story of how we handle the bad things that happen in life.  In the passage above, the goodness of God is affirmed.  

The passage encourages honest conversation with God.  When things go wrong, we need to be honest with God about what we feel, how we feel.  We need to seek the voice of God in the midst of turmoil and trust that he will bring us out on the other side.  Even when we do things that bring about our own downfall, God is there to pick us up on the other side.  So seek God and trust him to care for you and to be there at all times.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Whole Armor of God

From today's reading: Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Ephesians 6:11

The following is a portion of a sermon I preached at Redeemer 6 years ago.

Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and to pray at all times.  He tells us to be aware that things are going to happen to us that are going to try to draw us away from the Lord.  He says to put on the whole armor of God.  

Paul had been in prison when he wrote this and he had watched the soldiers put on their armor day after day and he thought of a way to use that to teach others how to do battle with these powers that seem to try to drag us down, and to be able to keep the faith.  He says, “dress yourself as a soldier dresses for battle.   Put on the belt of truth.”  You’ve heard the saying, ‘the truth shall set you free’ – if you keep the truth before you, then you won’t be distracted by lies and distortions others tell you.  

Next, you put on the breastplate of righteousness – the knowledge that you are of God, made in his image and you have chosen – made the decision to follow Jesus.  And that doesn’t change regardless of anything you do or that happens to you.  

Third, you put on the shoes of peace, that wherever you walk you strive to bring peace, not strife.  It’s not just proclaiming the gospel of peace, but it’s conducting your life in such a way that you demonstrate peaceful ways of co-existing with those around you.

Fourth, you must take of the shield of faith, that piece of armor that catches the darts and arrows that the enemy (those around you) try to throw (shoot) at you to distract you from the task at hand or to throw you off the course you have set for yourself.

Next you take up the helmet of salvation.  That helmet is Jesus Christ.   Jesus Christ loved you so much that he gave his life for you – regardless of who you are or what you have done.  God loved you so much that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him might have everlasting life.  We wear that helmet in the assurance of eternal life.

And the last thing you do is take up the sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God – given to us and it is our only offensive weapon.  When you are not sure of what to say, fall back on the word of God – scripture is a great defense.  But remember that you are not to beat people up with it – or drive off those who need desperately to hear what God has to say to them.

We are all sinners – every one of us – and we all need to hear the word of God.  There are some people here who want to run off those they feel are unworthy.  When we do that we may very well be cutting off their path to salvation – and we don’t have the right to deny anyone access to God’s saving grace.  We don’t come to church as full-blown Christians – we come to church as seekers, seeking where God’s grace can touch our lives and bring us into communion.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Come and See

Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'  John 1:46

Nathanael was not much different than some of the cynical people you meet today - and that probably includes my husband.  Don't get me wrong, I love him dearly, but sometimes I need to be goaded into re-evaluating my own thoughts on something.  At the same time, he is the one who often needs to "come and see" to be swayed.  I think when people challenge us on a particular position or belief, we need to do two things: we need to examine our own conclusions, and we need to invite them to come and see.  

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  (Hebrews 11:1)  Our faith needs to be informed - by scripture, by tradition, by experience, and by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We need to be aware that blind faith can and will lead us down dark alleys, because the 'prince of lies' is always looking for a way to derail us.  So when you are convinced and convicted of your belief and someone says to you, "Can anything good come out of..." Don't be afraid to stand up for your belief and say  "Come and see."   

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Responding to God's call.

From today's reading:  Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it."  So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"  He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"  Acts 8:29-31

I love this reading.  I like the idea of Philip being led by the Spirit and listening to the Spirit and responding.  This is typical of the kind of thing that happens to us occasionally; when we are somewhere and suddenly we feel called to reach out to someone...  

I remember one Thanksgiving day when I had finished the 10 AM service in Huntsville and we were driving down to Alvin.  We stopped at Luby's in the Woodlands to grab a turkey dinner and there was behind us a woman by herself.  On impulse I invited her to join us at our table.  We had a pleasant lunch and learned a little about the woman.  I don't know that the conversation had any lasting effect on her, but I really felt that God had called us to reach out and that he used the experience to his benefit.

Philip was asleep when God called him to "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza..."  This is a reminder that we are to hold ourselves ready to respond whenever God calls us to reach out - regardless of the circumstances or the location.  Lord, help me to respond in faithfulness to your call.  Amen. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Signs for our life.

From today's reading:  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."  John 6:14

We have heard time and again about the feeding of the 5000.  In John's gospel, the miracles are called "signs."  The people seeing these signs, knew that Jesus was something out of the ordinary.  They could see that a miracle was taking place before them.  Considering our own lives, we might look back to see how the landscape of our life might be littered with the evidence of God's hand at work in the world, and in our lives.

It is not just the good things that are brought about by God, but also the way he has helped us as we have moved through some of the tough times in our lives.  As I've said before, God has not promised us that life will always be perfect.  But he has promised us that when times are not so good, he will be with us in the midst of that to strengthen us and to comfort us.

What are the signs in your life that point to the King of Kings and the Lord of Life?  What are the struggles that you have come through when all seemed to be lost?  When are the times that you have relied on God when you had no control over your situation or circumstances?  God's presence produces signs (or miracles) for us to see if or when we open our eyes and believe that a loving God truly wants to be a part of our life.  May our Lord God be present to you today and always.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let us go to the house of the Lord.

From today's reading:  I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD."  Psalm 122:1

One of my favorite psalm verses.  I remember when I woke up one day and realized that I really liked going to church; liked being with the Lord.  It was something of a surprise for this young lady that once had watched the clock closely during worship wishing that they would choose the shorter prayers so that we could get out sooner.  I probably went to church out of a sense of duty - knowing that I should be there, but somehow wanting it to be over sooner.  I'm not sure when the change took place, but at some point in time, I not only was glad to go to church, but was also glad to remain there. 

This is an example that we don't have to perfect or holy or even sure of our beliefs to come and be with God.  I've heard, as we all have, stories or complaints about the "hypocrites" in churches.  It is a common complaint from people who want an excuse not to go to church.  The church is made up of seekers who are in various stages along their journey of life and journey to seek truth.  As we grow in grace we become true worshippers and can encourage those who are not so far along on their journey, because we, too, have been in their shoes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Touching the Holy

From today's reading:  "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?'"   Acts 7:48-50

This is part of Stephen's testimony before the leaders of Israel just before they dragged him away to be stoned.  When you consider that heaven is God's throne and the earth his footstool, how much sense does it make to build elaborate palaces for God here on earth?  And yet, we do it.  Having seen Canterbury, and Notre Dame, and the Sistine Chapel as a young 21 year old wandering through Europe, and looking at them with wonder; I understand now that we don't build those things for God, but for us.  

Our individual churches are built so that we have a place to go, to feel safe, to feel close to the Holy.  They are, as much as anything else, a testimony to our love for God and our desire to meet the Holy in a place that we feel is special.  Stephen had the right idea, God does not need those places to reside on earth.  We need them, to remind us of God's presence with us and his involvement with us on a daily basis. These are indeed the places where we can touch the Holy on a continuing basis.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

The beauty of God's creation

From today's reading:  In the beginning, O LORD, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  Psalm 102:25

I have always been something of a creationist.  I enjoy many of man's creations, but I delight in and love God's creations.  That was where I really came to see God; in the rolling sea, the sunsets, the birds of the air or forest creatures, the high mountains.  Even when I am inside wondrous human creations, I long for sight of any part of God's creation.  I have a great need to be able to see outside.  

My heart leaps at the thought of God saying, "Let there be light."  No, I don't believe that it was all created in six 24-hour days, but I do believe that God was the mastermind behind it all.  When I see a flower unfold, or a new born baby, or the intricacies of a spider's web in the morning sun, there is no question in my mind that God is real and at work in our world each and every day. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

See a man who told me everything...

From today's reading:  Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"  John 4:28-29

I can imagine this woman with her heart filled with the surge of hope that comes from the presence of the Lord.  It brings up the fact that we can't hide who we are from God.  He knows us deep down inside; who we are, what we do, how we feel.  And the Lord accepts us right where we are.  When we ourselves face who we are, then the Lord can begin the healing that is necessary to bring us from a place of brokenness to a place of wholeness.  Once we have faced ourselves, then we too will run with joy to bring others to Jesus.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bringing forth life

The angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Although you are barren, you shall conceive and bear a son."  Judges  13:3

How often has the Lord sent an angel to announce the bringing of life from a barren womb?   Sarah brought forth Isaac, Hannah brought forth Samuel, and this unnamed wife of Manoah was destined to bring forth Sampson.  There is great rejoicing at the birth of a child.  It is interesting that each time a child comes forth, it is a child with purpose; a child who is destined to further God's purpose for his people and the world.  And then God brought forth Jesus from a virgin womb, to be a light to the world, to bring hope where there is no hope and love to a hurting world.

Even when our lives seem to be at the lowest point, God can work within us to bring forth miracles and to bring forth new life.  Our God is a god who brings forth life out of the barrenness of our world.  When we trust in him, he will anoint our efforts and use them to enlarge his influence in the world around us. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

When God says, "Look at me."

From today's reading:  Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk."  Acts 3:4-6

Peter said, "Look at us."  The Lord will often get our attention just before he acts.  He wants to make sure that we know that it is the Lord and not ourselves working in the world.  I laughed at our two oldest grandkids last week.  After dinner they wanted to go outside and "look at nature."  

This reminded me of my first job out of seminary.  I was faced with two different placement choices.  The first was a known situation where I knew I'd be happy, but the second was totally unknown.  I prayed as we traveled to interview at the second place.  My prayer was for a sign -  that sign was that I would be able to see nature through open windows from the sanctuary...  

As we walked into the nave of St. Stephen's in Huntsville, God said, "Look at me."  I could see him in the crepe myrtle blooms through the side windows, I could see him in the forest pines through the window over the altar.  Every where I looked, I saw God's presence.  That was the beginning, not of a simple year-long beginning curate, but of 6 years of ministry that were a powerful witness to God's presence.

The crippled man, looking up to Peter and John, expected to receive alms  - but instead, he received much more - a healing that was God's gift for paying attention.  Whenever God says, "Look at me," be ready to receive more than you ever imagined.  

Monday, August 6, 2012


From today's reading:  About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.   Luke 9:28-29

This is one of the many times that Jesus goes off to pray.  We might have a lot of reasons that we pray - to ask for favors or blessings or healing, to thank God, to ask for guidance or clarification, to intercede for others.  The ultimate purpose of prayer is to place ourselves in the presence of God.  It is in His presence that we find comfort, peace, strength, power, and even meaning in life.  

As we come into the presence of God, he fills us with his Spirit.  As Jesus absorbed God's Spirit, his whole countenance began to glow with the radiance of God's presence.  This time Jesus had taken only Peter, James and John with him up on the mountain.  They were to be witnesses to his glory. Their immediate reaction was to want to stay there and worship Jesus - to build booths to honor Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  But Jesus tells them, "no."  

It is a reminder for us that although it's wonderful to be up on that mountain top, it is in the valley below that we minister and grow.  Blessed be the name of the Lord, and the Lord's annointed. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Come Holy Spirit

From today's reading:  O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you.  Psalm 69:6

"Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he was laid, then go and tell his disciples..."  Matthew 28:5-6

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:4

I saw in the various readings today, a progression.  In the Psalm there was an acknowledgement that regardless of how sophisticated or holy or relevant we would like to be, there is a humanity that more often comes through.  We have to be able to laugh at our foolishness, acknowledge our faults and move on in the Lord.  

Our reading from Matthew reminds us that this is why Jesus came and died - to rise again so that we will have the ability to overcome our foolishness and our faults by reaching out to the risen Lord who will always be there to help us.  And finally, as we follow the Lord, we will be filled with his Holy Spirit and be empowered to be his agents in this foolish and fault-filled world.