Friday, October 31, 2014

Acts 16:6-10 God Directs Us

Acts 16:6-10 NIV
Not sure which direction to go? Be assured that God has a purpose for you - a direction. Listen for the Spirit of Christ to guide you in The Way.

As Paul, Timothy, and Silas continue on their mission journey, the Spirit of Christ guides them. They know where they should not be going (at least not yet) and where they are being led to go. I often hear that people would wish that God would tell them what they are to do. Use your senses - all of them. Use what you have been taught through scripture. Listen to God, the Spirit of Christ and that just might mean shutting the television off to hear that still small voice. He will show you The Way. God will shut the doors that you should not enter, so don't go barging through them. He will also the doors through which you should enter. Don't go shutting those doors on yourself. Walk through those open doors to new opportunities to serve God and others.

God is with you now. He is with you always.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Acts 16:1-5 All Things For The Sake Of The Gospel

Acts 16:1-5 NIV
Paul has just convinced the other disciples that it is not necessary for believers to be circumcised; yet, here he is have Timothy circumcised in order that Timothy might accompany him on a mission trip. The reasoning? They are going to be reaching out to a community with a Jewish population. He feels it necessary in order for the people to hear. He sets aside freedom from the law for the sake of the gospel. In his first letter to the Corinthians (9:19-23), Paul wrote: "For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings."

In order for others to be open to hear the word, there may be times when we, too, may need to set aside our own traditions and live according to the traditions of others. That is not to say that we should sin in order to be like others. Paul considered that circumcision was not necessary. It should not be required nor was it against the law to be circumcised. In this case it would be helpful for Timothy, whose mother was a Jew, to be circumcised in order for him be accepted in this community; in order for the people to be willing to listen to the message of Jesus that he carried. For the sake of the gospel when we enter the mission field, we do not impose our own traditions on those we are ministering to. It is most helpful to be, as Paul was, "all things to all people."

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Acts 15 Division

Acts 15 NIV
There have been and always will be differences of opinion in the church. We are both saints and sinners, after all. There will be debates on what needs to be done and who needs to do it. But, we should always remember that we are not politicians. We are stewards of the Word and servants of the living God. We should always strive to listen to Him that we might follow in the Way that He would have us go.

When politicians debate the debates can get quite nasty. When Christians have debate, we need to remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and Christ has blessed us with his peace. Hang on to that peace; therefore, that the will of God (not our will) might be done through us.

Paul was called by God to proclaim the Good News to the gentiles. But, there were certain other disciples who felt that the gentile Christians had to comply with every aspect of Jewish law. Paul disagreed. Through debate, they came up with a final decision. The gentiles would not have to submit to circumcision.

When Barnabas wanted to take Mark on their next mission trip, Paul disagreed. He didn't think that Mark was quite up to making that commitment. Their debate was not quite so agreeable as the one they had just had with the other disciples. Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Paul taking Silas with him and Barnabas took Mark with him. They went separate ways proclaiming the Gospel.

There is a difference in the two disagreements you've just read about. One was about doctrine, which was settled amicably. The other was a personal issue. It is sad that their end up being divisions between brothers and sisters in Christ. But, know this: that no matter what happens, God can use even divisions for the good of those whom He calls. Paul and Barnabas continue in their proclamation of the Gospel to the gentiles, even though they are not together when it happens. In fact, as the two went separate ways even more people were reached with the Good News. Paul's love for Barnabas is not diminished by this separation for later he requests that Mark be brought to him because he is useful to Paul's ministry. (2 Tim. 4:11)

May God help us to avoid divisions caused by personal issues so that we are not distracted from our mission and help us to stand on those doctrinal issues that are necessary for the salvation of those whom He calls.

God's Peace  - Pr. J

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Acts 14:21-28 Entrust the Elders to God

Acts 14:21-28 NIV

Zion Lutheran, Skanee, MI
Their mission complete, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch via the very cities which their lives had been threated. In spite of the previous threats, they went to encourage the disciples in those places and to appoint elders for them in each church to carry on the ministry which had begun. These leaders of the church leave. They leave these churches after entrusting them and their elders to the Lord.

I know that it is hard for some today to believe; but, there are multitudes of smaller congregations, even house churches, without traditional clergy shepherding them. At the present time, for whatever reason, there is no other option. Some of these people and places are very remote. I have heard, at times, that congregations like this should just shut their doors since there are not enough of them to sustain a ordained Pastor to lead them. They should drive to the nearest viable congregation. That is just so totally wrong on so many levels. There are enough people in this world, to be able to grow the church (every single congregation) and not diminish it; to fill up every sanctuary; every living room. Rather than shut doors and combine congregations under one roof; what would be wrong with filling each of them up? Think it not possible? Remember, the church we know today began with 12 disciples doing mission. By the power of the Holy Spirit, it spread throughout the world. Yes, indeed, if we think the church is just about maintaining the building and the status quo; then, yes, the doors might probably need to be shut. The church is about proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom to all people. The church is about growth in the Kingdom.

So what can we do for all those small congregations who might appear to some to be dying? First of all, we can pray for them. We can trust that the elders of those congregations are in God's care and under His guidance. Do not discourage; rather, encourage them. We can visit them often to encourage them and strengthen them with the word of God so that their faith and faithfulness might grow.

May God help us to remember that the mission of the church is to reach out to all people, teaching them all that Jesus taught us and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God help us to remember that the Church is bigger than us.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, October 27, 2014

Acts 14:8-20 Do Not Be Swayed

Acts 14:8-20 NIV
Human beings can be swayed so easily. Paul and Barnabas enter Lystra proclaiming the Good News and performing miracles. The pagans are so impressed they want to worship Paul and Barnabas; which, of course, Paul and Barnabas object to vehemently. But, the next thing you know some Jews enter the picture and sway the people to reject what Paul and Barnabas have to say about Jesus. The people drag Paul out of the city and stone him. Paul lives to go and proclaim the Good News to other people. God is with him. God has a purpose and a plan for him.

May God be with each of us so that we might not be swayed by human opinions or any false gods. May we stand firmly on the Word of God so that even if we face death for the name of Jesus, we will face it with faith and hope in the eternal Kingdom promised through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Acts 14:1-7 Move On

Acts 14:1-7 NIV
Paul and Barnabas have just left Pisidian Antioch because of the trouble stirred up against them. They left shaking the dust off of their feet as a warning to them. (Acts 13:51, Matt 10:14) Today, we find them proclaiming the Good News and performing signs and wonders in Iconium. Many came to believe because of their testimony; but, again many did not. As in Pisidian Antioch, those who refused to believe stirred up trouble against them. They left Iconium, as well, to go to Lystra and Derbe where they continued to preach the Gospel.

Sometimes, it is necessary to shake the dust off of our feet and move on. There may come a time when persecution by a few becomes so prevalent that proclaiming the Gospel becomes secondary to thwarting attacks. It may be that in times like these that it becomes necessary to move on to those who are willing to hear what God has done and is doing for us. As we waste countless hours thwarting attacks by the enemies of God, we should consider how many people we are not reaching with the Gospel. It is a work of the devil to keep us from joyously sharing this Good News.

There are times when it might be necessary to shake the dust off of our feet and move on. May God grant us the wisdom to know when to persevere in one place and when to move on for the sake of the Good News of the Kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Acts 13:13-52 Old Testament; Our History

Acts 13:13-52 NIV
Every Sunday, the Sunday School Youth assist in leading the prayers of the church. Before we do this, I usually pause during the service to see what they learned during Sunday School. (I don't do children's sermons well - so I don't do them.) This past Sunday, I was just a little surprised when I asked them what they had learned and the response was that they had learning about Absalom. They actually knew the whole story including how he had turned on his father, David. I wondered how many of our adult members knew the story of Absalom. (I didn't ask for a show of hands.) Knowing our history is very important to help us know who we are and where we are going. That history can be found in the pages of Holy Scripture which definitely includes the Old Testament.

Each Sunday we begin the readings from scripture with the old testament. I have been questioned (a few times) about doing things the same old way every single Sunday and have been told that following this order of service tends to be boring. As we read Acts 13 we can see that this order is not exactly something new that the Lutheran church or any other has just made up out of thin air. There is a purpose to it all.

When Paul proclaimed the Good News in the synagogues, he began by reminding the people of their history. He began by reminding them why they need the Good News of Jesus Christ in the first place. We need to be reminded of all that God has done and will do for His people. We need to be reminded of the reasons God sent His Son to be our salvation. We need to remember our history, for it is indeed our history - the history of the church - and so we begin with an old testament reading every Sunday.

God's Peace - Pastor Judy

Friday, October 24, 2014

Acts 13:4-12 Darkness for Children of the Devil

Acts 13:4-12 NIV
Bar-Jesus (Elymas the sorcerer) was spiritually blind. He was a Jew; in spite of the fact that Jews were forbidden to participate in any type of sorcery. Bar-Jesus worked hard at keeping Proconsul Sergius Paulus from accepting the truth about Jesus the Christ that Barnabas and Saul (also called Paul here) proclaimed. Paul confronted the sorcerer; calling him a child of the devil. He cursed Bar-Jesus with physical blindness for a time.

Of all people, Paul would have understood what it meant to have been spiritually blind. For once his eyes were shut to the truth, as well. His spiritual blindness had been healed as God had given  him physical blindness for a time, as well. The scriptures do not say whether Bar-Jesus came to accept the truth about Jesus the Christ. But, his physical blindness due to Paul's confrontation definitely convinced Sergius Paulus of the truthfulness of Paul's proclamation.

The inability to accept spiritual healing and wholeness sometimes leads to physical ailments even today.  It is not all that unusual for the darkness within us to overwhelm our physical beings, as well. When we choose to act like children of the devil, by undermining the Word of God, we should not be surprised when darkness surrounds us, either.

May God grant us healing and wholeness of body, mind and spirit.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Acts 13:1-3 Praying For Those Whom God Sends

Acts 13:1-3 NIV
Barnabas and Saul were called by the Holy Spirit to be set apart to serve the Lord as, what we today would call, missionaries. The people of the church at Antioch prayed and laid their hands upon them before they sent them off to do the work which they were called to.

Bp. A. Malasusa, Bp. T. Skrenes, Rev. J. Wrege
Pr. J (kneeling) and Rev. Jimalee Jones (behind pulpit)
We ordain and install Pastors with the laying on of hands and prayer. At the beginning of each school year, we pray for those whom we are commissioning or installing as teachers of our youth. After our annual congregation meeting, we do the same for new council members. And, when the Spirit calls sets apart one of our members to visit the sick and our elderly neighbors we have a special service at which we pray for those going out to serve. That is not to say these are the only ones that visit our shut-ins. We have many who do this. But, usually one or two or set apart at any given time to ensure that those who cannot be with us; hear the Word and receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion on a regular basis. These are set apart to pray with those whom they visit.

To what have you been called? We know that God gives to each of us gifts for the good of all. (Romans 12:4-8) What gifts has He given you so that you might answer the call that He has called you to?

Let us pray:  May God who has called you to serve, bless every step that you take. May he bless the work of your hands and the words of your lips that all that you say and think and do may be acceptable in His sight and glorify He, who is our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Acts 12:20-25 Give Glory To God

Acts 12:20-25 NIV
I am pretty sure that Herod was quite pleased that his enemies from Tyre and Sidon had to humble themselves and go to him so that they might be able to eat and live. They were running out of food; so they did what they could to get it. They pretended to honor Herod; they feigned peace for food. When they got it, they lifted up Herod as though he were some kind of god.

Herod did not correct them. He did not stop them. Being of the lineage of Esau, Herod should have known a little better than that. But, his ego allowed the people to praise him as a god and he was struck down immediately by an angel of the Lord.

It is really not a good idea for God's people to take credit for what God has accomplished through us. May God help us to always give glory to God. After all; He does always have the final word.

Pr. J

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Acts 12:1-19 Free Indeed!

Acts 12:1-19 NIV
The church had been earnestly praying for Peter. Peter could hardly believe it. He thought he was dreaming. But, it was no dream or vision. An angel of the Lord released him from prison.

When Peter showed up at Mary's doorstep they could hardly believe it. Believe it! God can open the chains that bind us. He can unlock the doors that keep us locked up no matter whether those doors are physical or spiritual. "When the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!" (John 8:36)

You will be free; just as Peter was, to go and tell the world what the Lord has done for you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, October 20, 2014

Acts 11:19-30 Evangelism Follows Persecution

Acts 11:19-30 NIV
God can use even the worst things that happen for the good of all people. Stephen's death would definitely not come under the category as a good thing. Yet, even as he was being stoned he testified to the kingdom of God. Just before he was stoned; "Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" (Acts 7:55-56)

Here in our reading today we find that all those people who had scattered by persecution after Stephen was killed traveled far and wide spreading the Good News to both Jew and Gentile. The stoning of Stephen initiated a wide-spread persecution of the Christians; yet, it also initiated a wide spread evangelism movement.

Jesus promised that persecutions will come to those who follow him. But, with persecution; much blessing not just for the one; but for those who witness the persecution and those who hear about it. Persecutions do come; but, blessings comes with it. For, "blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:10)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Acts 11:1-18 Account for Actions

Acts 11:1-18 NIV
There are times when we all have to account for our actions. It helps to dispel rumors and gossip. It helps us to have credibility so that we might continue our mission; rather, than spending time putting out "fires." Of course, there are some who like to start problems and keep us from doing what God calls us to do in spite of the fact that the truth has been told. There is nothing we can do about that except pray and continue to speak the truth.

Peter was called on the carpet by the other believers for visiting that Gentile, Cornelius. He explained to them that it was God who brought them together so that they might hear the message through which they would be saved. Peter's answer was enough. They understood that God intended that the message of salvation was for even the Gentiles.

The message of salvation is indeed for all people. Sometimes, we need to account for our actions so that we might dispel any rumors that might distract us from it. Hopefully, we need only account for our actions once so that we might get on with the mission of proclaiming the Good News to all people.

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Acts 10:30-48 Heard And Received The Holy Spirit

Acts 10:30-48
Can you believe it? The Holy Spirit feel upon these unclean Gentiles! Peter testifies to these Gentiles what God has done for them through Jesus Christ and they believe! They believe and receive the Holy Spirit even before they are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Whoa! is that how it's suppose to work? The bottom line is that God does what God does. He is who He is. He calls whom He will call and sends whom He will send. He anoints those whom He chooses when and where He chooses. He calls and sends people to witness to what He has done.

So when the Father calls and sends you, go out and witness so that all people (no matter who they are) might hear, believe, receive the Holy Spirit and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the message. (Rom 10:17)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, October 17, 2014

Acts 10:1-29 Peter and Cornelius Visit

Acts 1-29 NIV
I have never quite figured out why Jews were not permitted to hang out with God fearing Gentiles. I guess it was just one of those rules that were set up to remind the Jewish people that they had been called out of the general population to be God's people. But, God had other plans. He gave to both Peter and the God fearing Cornelius (a gentile) different visions that brought them together. Simon's vision instructed him to call Peter to his home. In Peter's vision he was instructed not to consider anything or anyone impure that God has made clean. Peter follow the direction he receives in the vision and goes to Cornelius' home.

But, on the other hand even as the Jews were not permitted to hang out with God fearing Gentiles, how often do we stay away from other Christians whom we consider "unclean" because their theology doesn't "jive" with ours? Or maybe, they practice rituals that we consider totally unnecessary? Do we intentionally stay away or shut the door on them when they knock. Maybe, the story of Peter and Cornelius might be worth considering as we welcome or don't welcome them into our homes as God's children.  Maybe, the story might be useful to us in directing us to visit others. whom we would not necessarily visit. with the Good News of the Kingdom. Sharing the truth of God's love with others really might be helpful to others as well as ourselves and for the sake of the Kingdom whether it is with someone who shows up on our doorstep or we on theirs.

May you go wherever and to whomever the Lord leads you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Acts 9:32-43 Peter Gets Around

Acts 9:32-43 NIV

Every now and then, I go up to the Bishop Baraga Shrine to pray. It is situated on a hill at the head of the bay between Baraga and L'Anse. From this vantage point, I can see much of the area that I have been called to serve; but very little of the area that Bishop Baraga served. He was a mover. He covered a goodly portion of Michigan by foot, snowshoe (that's why he's called the Snowshoe Priest) and canoe. When a family summoned him because a loved one was sick or dying; he was there no matter what the distance was.

Peter was a mover, as well. He was moving freely about between communities. He was busy healing people and at bedsides with those who were grieving. His ministry was not confined to a specific place. He, as we all are, was sent to proclaim the Good News to all people.

I am most fortunate to serve with a congregation that understands that my call is not merely as a chaplain to members; but, to minister to all people in the community who are in need. I am most fortunate that I am free to pray with the sick, bury the dead, proclaim the Good News to all people whether they are a member of this congregation or not; even if they have never even visited the congregation.

I spend very few hours in the office and most of those hours are either in the wee hours of the morning or late in the evening. My time is spent within the community, freely moving about and going wherever there is a need for healing and hope; wherever there is a need for the Good News of the Kingdom of Christ Jesus to be proclaimed. I thank God for the people of Skanee who have called me to serve not just them; but, anyone who is in need.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Acts 9:20-31 Trust Saul?

Acts 9:19b-31 NIV
The saying that it's easier to forgive than to forget seems to apply to Saul (Paul). As soon as he is baptized, Saul begins to preach that Jesus is the Son of God. Some of the people want to kill him for his preaching; others do not trust him.

God can change anyone's heart. But, after so zealously persecuting (mega bullying) others, followers of Jesus are not so sure that he could have made such a drastic change. Simply put, they did not trust him. In Jerusalem, Barnabas had to witness to Saul's conversion so that Saul could freely witness to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God; so that the people would trust and listen to him.

It took only a few moments for God to change Saul's heart; but, it took much longer for the people to understand that he had really changed. Be careful then how we treat one another in order that our witness might be believable and accepted.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Acts 9:1-19 Saul's Eyes Opened

Acts 9:1-19 NIV
God can heal anyone he chooses of blindness. God can call whomever He chooses to serve Him. Here is the story of Saul's spiritual healing; his conversion. On the way to Damascus, this murderous enemy of God and God's people has an encounter with the ascended Jesus. He has, in short, a conversion experience. Saul loses his physical sight even as he gains spiritual insight. Through yet another vision to him; as well as a vision to a disciple named Ananias; he regains his physical vision even he is filled with the Holy Spirit. This man, who just days earlier, is on his way to destroy Christians, desires and is baptized into the Body of Christ. He receives the Holy Spirit, is baptized and sets forth on the mission God has called him to; to proclaim the Word to the gentiles and kings and all of Israel. In just one encounter with the Lord he is converted from persecutor to persecuted.

And, so we pray for our enemies, even as Stephen prayed for his in the moments he was being stoned to death. We pray and hope that the Lord would call, even our worst enemies, to serve him. It can happen. Just read the story of Saul (whom we know as St. Paul) and you will have hope even for those who would destroy the church on earth. One can never know whose eyes God will open or whom He will call.

Again, it is said that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matt 5:4)

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Acts 8:26-40 The Eunuch Hears

Acts 8:26-40 NIV
In one visit with Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch heard the good news about Jesus and was baptized. It did not take many visits. There was no set time period for the eunuch to have to study before he was baptized. But, the eunuch did have a history. At first glance, it may appear that this is the eunuch's first introduction to the savior. But, it is not. He apparently knows the scriptures and the scriptures point to Jesus. He doesn't understand them completely. But, he has been reading them. He has been studying them. He's got a pretty good idea what they say. He just doesn't understand until Philip explains them that the prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus the Christ.

This is my opportunity to remind you that not only do we usually need someone to help us understand scripture; but, that we actually need to know what scripture says in order to help us understand them. As I said, the eunuch knew what the scriptures said. He knew the words of the prophets. Now, he knows that the prophecies were fulfilled and he rejoices. By the power of the Holy Spirit, faith grabs hold of the eunuch and the eunuch is baptized.

There are plenty of opportunities to read, hear, and study the word of God. Zion has a Bible study open to all every Wednesday at 9 a.m. and Worship Services at 10 a.m. on Sundays and 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, the sermon is interactive so that you can ask questions and discuss the readings. Join us or your local congregation in studying and hearing the message about the word. After all; faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Rom 10:17) And, for those who are reading this blog, don't forget to click on the Scripture link above and actually read the passage that inspires the reading.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Acts 8:4-25 Simon the Sorcerer

Acts 8:4-25 NIV
It takes time to really get to know the LORD. We may hear the message and believe; but, it still takes time to really get to know; to have a relationship, with the LORD. There are many lessons to learn along the way in order to grow in Christ. Some take longer than others to learn the lessons.

Simon, the sorcerer, did not understand fully when he was first baptized. The people thought that he had great power; that is, until Philip came to town. Philip was busy proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Even this sorcerer, Simon, heard Philip, believed and was baptized. Simon was impressed with the great signs and miracles that were performed through Philip.

When Peter and John came to town, they prayed and laid hands on the new believers because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. In his zeal, Simon wanted this power to lay on hands so that people might receive the Holy Spirit. Whether he wanted it to make himself look good or so that even more people might come to know the Holy Spirit or both, we do not know. It may have been a noble quest or it may have been a self-centered request. A real problem was that Simon thought that he could buy this gift. He did not yet know Jesus enough to know that the gifts that are given us were purchased by His blood. They cannot be bought.

A few years ago, I tried encouraging an elderly woman to return to worship now and then, as she was able. She had no problem getting around; but, no longer drove so I promised to pick her up. She did not want to go. Her response was "I paid my dues." I reminded her that we cannot buy salvation. She was a very lovely woman and it made me very sad to think that her relationship with Jesus all these years had been a relationship built on the law and not the graceful love of God. She, had indeed been very faithful in attendance when she was younger. But, I wondered, had she really heard and understood the message of God's gift of love to her, in His Son, Jesus the Christ. Had she accepted Jesus Christ as her one and only savior?

When Peter and John pointed out Simon's sin in thinking he could purchase God's gifts, it appears that he repented and grew from the lesson, as he asked for prayer. May we all be willing to accept that our works will not purchase for us any of God's gifts. May God help us to, day be day, grow in relationship with Him, our Father, our Savior, our Counselor.

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Acts 8:1-3 Dragged Into Prison

Acts 8:1-3 NIV
Around the world today, people are persecuted for their faith. They are dragged out of their homes and into prison for what they believe.

After St. Stephen was killed, people went their own ways hoping that they wouldn't be noticed by the persecutors. They were afraid and rightly so; for their lives were on the line. But, the apostles did not run. They stayed in Jerusalem. They may have been afraid; I know not, for sure. But, they did not run. There was only a handful of men left in the church in Jerusalem to take the heat. The church in hiding only served to empower Saul's boldness and desire to destroy the church. "Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison." (vs 3). They were easy prey as they stood and hid alone.

In the face of persecution, may the church on earth, stand boldly and face our accusers with the authority of Christ that the devil will have no power over us.

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Acts 7:54-60 NIV Forgive Those Who Would Destroy You

Acts 7:54-60 NIV
There are times when we think that we will never be able to forgive someone. Yet, here is Stephen following in the footsteps of Jesus, forgiving those who are putting him to death. A young man Saul, is witness to this event. This young man you probably know better as St. Paul, missionary to the gentiles. Yes, Paul was there to witness the stoning of Stephen. He encouraged it as Saul was a great persecutor of the Christians. Until the day that Saul met the ascended Lord on the way to Damascus. The Lord wanted to know why Saul was so busy persecuting him and his followers. That is the day that the old man in Saul died and Paul began to live and serve the Lord even to his own death. One of the most ardent persecutors of Christians became one of the greatest missionaries ever. We can never know what the Lord has in store for any of us, even our enemies.

Forgive your enemies and pray for them, even as our Lord Jesus and Paul and many other saints before and among have gone to their deaths, praying for and forgiving their enemies. For our hope is not in this world; but that as we (and all whom we encounter) draw our last breaths that we, too, might look to the heaven and see the glory of God, with Jesus standing at His right hand.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Acts 7:1-53 Denying the Holy Spirit

Acts 7:1-53 NIV
Fifty-three verses might seem like a lot of reading this morning. It may be even difficult to stay with it because the reading is familiar to most of us. It is a brief history of God's covenant with His people beginning with Abraham. For Stephen to be able to summarize it so well in such a short narrative, I find pretty amazing; as there are many weeks when I spend more time cutting my sermons down to a more manageable size than I do actually writing them.

After reading the history, we hear and realize that Stephen wants us to grasp the fact that God is in charge. He always has been and always will be. He is larger than any sanctuary contain. He is God of all the earth (and more!). His Spirit has led the people since the beginning and His Spirit continues to guide and empower His servants to do His will. The Holy Spirit is very active in all the world. However, there have always been and still are those who reject the Holy Spirit and the message the Spirit speaks through God's servants. The prophet's message of a coming Savior were rejected. The preacher's message of a Savior who has come, is with us now, and will come again is rejected. The servant who brings this message, by the guiding power of the Holy Spirit, is often persecuted even as the Savior himself was rejected, betrayed and murdered.

Let us not deny the Holy Spirit. May God protect us from ourselves so that we do not deny the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew 12:32 "And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." May God open our ears and eyes and hearts and minds so that we might be led, by the Holy Spirit, to glorify our Father in heaven; regardless of what the world might think of us.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Acts 6:8-15 Here is Stephen

Acts 6:8-15 NIV
Here is Stephen; one of the faithful men who had been appointed to ensure that the whole community had food to eat. Here is Stephen; full of grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people. Here is Stephen; his enemies bearing false witness against him. Here is Stephen; tirelessly proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. Here is Stephen; persecuted; yet his judges behold a Stephen with a face like an angel.

In the midst of it all, Stephen maintains his composure. He is at peace because he knows he speaks the truth. He is at peace because he has confidence in the promises of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

May God grant that we should be able to stand, by the power of the Spirit, in the day of trial, composed and ready to speak the truth for the good of all people and for the glory of God. Amen.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Acts 6:1-7 Ministry of Word

Acts 6:1-7 NIV
As a lay person, I understood my primary call to be a prayer warrior. I also had gifts that enabled me to serve as a youth leader and was involved in many outreach programs that helped feed people and cared for them according to their needs. As a pastor, I consider my primary call to be not only as a prayer warrior, but also as evangelist; one who proclaims the Word, not only within the congregation; but, in the whole community or wherever I might be in both word and deed. It can be summed up in these three words:  "Prayer, praise, proclamation." We are all given gifts to be used according to the needs of the community; for the good of all. We work together, using our individual gifts, for the glory of God. One person cannot do it all. I thank God for the many faithful disciples at Zion Lutheran who, according to their gifts, serve one another and the whole community.

The apostles began running into problems not too long after the church was born. The church was growing quickly. There was way too much for twelve of them to do. They were busy trying to minister to everyone who was hungry; feeding thing with physical food. Consequently, they found themselves with less and less time for the ministry of the word; less time to feed them spiritually. So that they would be able to give their full attention to prayer and the ministry of the word, they chose seven men who would be in charge of making sure that everyone, including all of the widows, were fed.

May God fill each of us with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom so that we will know how best to use our gifts for the ministry and the power to use those gifts for the good of all and the glory of God.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, October 6, 2014

Acts 5:17-42 Fighting With God

Acts 5:17-42 NIV
The apostles were elated because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. That sounds reasonable. But, I'm not so sure if I would be elated. They were persecuted for the Name. They were ordered not to be talking about this Jesus any longer and thrown into jail for the Name. Angels came and released them. They were then flogged for continuing to spread the Good News in the Name of Jesus Christ. They suffered much and came through it all still thanking and praising God for and in the Name of Jesus.

Yet, this morning I find myself feeling very sorry for those who persecuted the apostles. To have witnessed the Christ working through them and still denying Christ is a very sad thing. Such a waste of time and energy it is to try to deny the truth.

The Pharisee, Gamaliel, finally persuaded the Sanhedrin to let the apostle's go by saying to them: "Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." (vs 38-39) So what do you think? The apostles were not stopped. Two thousand years later the Good News is still being shared around the world. For those who persist in trying to stop the Name: give it up. It is from God and you will not be able to stop it.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Acts 5:11-16 Believers Do Not Fear To Follow

Acts 5:11-16 NIV
There are some things that we should stay away from. There are those things that we might and probably should fear. After the death of Ananias and Sapphira at the hands of God, many who otherwise might have associated with the believers in Jesus, stayed away. I'm thinking that they understood that pretending to serve God in Christ Jesus was probably not a real good idea. Attempting to lie to God is not wise. They feared being confronted as Ananias and Sapphira were confronted. (Acts 5:1-11)

This was a very good time. The Gospel was shared. Multitudes of people were healed. The power of the Holy Spirit was active through the apostles. Peter did not even have to lay hands or pray for some of them to be healed; all that it took was for his shadow to fall on them. Talk about faith! So; although, there were many who did not believe that stayed away; others came who did believe. The church on earth was full of faithful followers and it grew.

The church on earth is indeed persecuted in many ways; yet, at the same time we have something precious that those who are merely pretending to be followers and stay away do not. We do not have to fear death, for by faith in the Son who gave himself for us; we have been made whole and reconciled to God our Father in His Kingdom for all eternity. Death has no power over us.  

God's Peace - Pr. Judy

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Acts 5:1-10 Lying To God.

Acts 5:1-10 NIV
I have been lied to and about so many times that there is no way that I could even count the times. We all have. Frankly, it makes me a bit weary. Sometimes, the lies are used to make someone look like someone they are not; like they are in the right and are doing good for others; while they are in truth, not.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira attempted to make themselves look righteous. They wanted to look as generous as the others who had sold their property and gave the proceeds to the church for the good of all of the people. But, they withheld some. Their sin was not in keeping some for themselves. The sin was in attempting to lie to God the Holy Spirit. God knows everything we say and think and do. It is just a bad idea to try telling God lies. The humans that we might tell lies to; usually know that we are not telling the whole truth, as well. We may not be able to prove the lies; but, God knows the truth.

The rest of the story for Ananias and Sapphira was that when they lied to Peter and to God, they died. They died immediately. When we lie to protect ourselves and our own egos; a bit of us dies inside, as well. We are not who we were or who we can be in Christ Jesus. Make every effort then to speak and live in the truth with integrity.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, October 3, 2014

Acts 4:32-37 One Heart and Mind

Acts 4:32-37 NIV
"All the believers were one in heart and mind." Wow! That would be awesome! United in the Body of Christ, they shared everything they had and there was no one needy among them. Just amazing that people should share and give so freely.  There was no need for government programs there. Neighbors took care of neighbors who could not take care of themselves. It worked, not because some gave to those who had nothing; but, because everyone worked with one mind in Christ for the Good of all, for the glory of God.

Everyone had something to give and everyone had something to contribute; whether it be in time, talents, gifts of the spirit, or material things. There could no sloths in this group of Christians; there could be no hold-outs. Everyone freely shared what they had with one another for the glory of God.

I'm not sure when all this total sharing ended. But, I imagine it ended because the human hearts have such a difficult time doing good for our neighbors if it means that we might have to live with a little less "stuff." This kind of communal living can only work when we are of one heart and mind in Christ.

May God help us to live reconciled to God in Christ Jesus and with one another; living and serving with one heart and mind.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Acts 4:23-31 Hindrances To Proclamation

Acts 4:23-31 NIV
Why, indeed, do the people plot in vain; rising up against the LORD and His Anointed One? 
At times, it can be very difficult proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. The world seems to have set up obstacles all around. There seems to be way too many times when the proclamation that would bring comfort to the people is hindered simply because the time is being spent on distractions caused by dissension. (Rom 16:17-20)

Peter and John had been jailed for proclaiming the Good News for the healing of the lame man. But, they did not allow this distraction to hinder them. They continued to pray and to trust that the LORD would enable them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak His word with great boldness. They prayed that the LORD would stretch out His hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the Jesus.

Do not let the world stand in the way of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom for all people. Know that God is with you with, guiding and empowering you by the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, our LORD.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Acts 4:1-22 Isolated for Jesus

Acts 4:1-22 NIV
It's kind of unbelievable when you think about it. For healing the lame man, in the name of Jesus, Peter and John were thrown into jail. Because a man who could not walk before and now can, two men are brought to trial. The elders of the church and teachers of the law really don't know what to do with these men. They are running around healing people in the name of Jesus and the evidence is before them. The forty year old man who was lame and who now is not lame, also stands before them. Tough call! How to stop these trouble makers who are running around healing people?

They decide they are just going to ask them to stop doing that; to stop talking about Jesus and to stop doing anything in his name. Of course, they refuse.

Things have not changed all that much over the years; except that in this country (USA) we don't usually get thrown into jail for healing someone. Although, I do recall an elderly woman, whom I met when I was selling insurance in North Carolina some 30 plus years ago. I returned to visit her a couple of times before I left the area. Her parents had been slaves. Her life had not been easy by any stretch of the imagination; yet, her faith was strong. She was a faith healer. In fact, as a gift that Christmas (she was overjoyed that someone had come to visit her), she prayed over me, in the name of Jesus, and a cyst in my wrist was completely gone. Yes, it was healed instantaneously. This 90 year old woman had no other friends left alive. Her family, embarrassed over her call to minister to others and proclaim the name of Jesus, had deserted her. Her children and grandchildren did not communicate with her. The state had, in fact, ordered her to quit healing people or she would be arrested. She lived in a one room shack alone; deserted by her family, her friends, her neighbors. She was in effect isolated from the world because of her faith. But, she was not alone. She had Jesus and in His Name she lived.

It did not matter that the state had ordered her to quit healing people. She continued praying for others in the name of Jesus. Not everyone will understand or accept the lives we live in faith in the Son of God. We may and most probably will be judged for our faith. But, what others may think of Jesus should not deter us. May we all be so bold in our faith, willing to be called out for praying and doing good for others, in the name of Jesus.

God's Peace - Pr. J