I Can See Clearly Now

I Can See Clearly Now

To me, chapter 30 seems to be about competing visions of and for the future. Paul has a vision of one world united in the kingdom of God under Christ. The religious establishment has a vision of the chaos and turmoil that would undoubtably be the “birth pangs” of such a transformation. When we read Acts today, it is very easy to judge those who sought to stop Paul and the rest of the early church, but I think that’s being unfair to them. We may disagree with their METHODS, but, generally, I think their MOTIVATION was to preserve what they thought of as the purity of the people of God.

I think it’s not so much that those who opposed Paul had no vision. Rather, their vision of the future was myopic. They could see in the near term that Paul was advocating a major upheaval of the social order of they day.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)

It’s hard to think of a more disruptive statement than this in the well ordered society Paul was speaking to! Is it any wonder that the religious leaders of the day, charged with a sacred trust to preserve the purity of the Jewish people, would see Paul and his message as something to be stopped at any cost?

But those who opposed Paul weren’t the only ones who suffered from near sightedness. We see it also within the church. When Paul is preparing to go to Jerusalem, he receives word of a prophetic vision, showing that Paul would be bound if he continued. So the fellow believers urged Paul to change his plans. But Paul would have none of it. He had a different vision. It’s important to note that Paul did not deny the validity of Agabus’ vision. Quite the contrary — he accepted is as valid. It’s just that he saw beyond that limited vision, to the greater plan that lay ahead.

So, what does all of this mean for us? Are we open to seeing where God may be doing a new thing in the world, even if it disrupts and destroys things we’ve held dear, even sacred? And how do we know when that “new thing” really IS of God?

The End

The End

I confess, I’m the one who reads the last half of the last chapter of a book first. Well, not first, exactly, but about 20% of the way through, after I get to know and love the characters, I have to be sure the ending is something like “happily ever after.” I also like to know the ending of a movie … I know, I know, it drives my husband and daughter crazy when I continually ask for spoilers about the Game of Thrones (they’ve read the books). But, to be fair, killing off beloved characters in the first season is a bit difficult. I want assurance that it all comes out ok in the end.

This chapter is about the end, the last page of the story. And, yes, it’s ultimately a happy ending. Unlike the fear filled stories we read in stories like the Left Behind series and other end times novels or movies … The Christ Story is one of redemption, resurrection, and renewal. It is a vision … and like most visions (and some dreams), it is both vivid and surreal. There is a non-realistic, yet somewhat symbolic (or just plain weird) truth in the vision.

I’m struck by the repeated use of “in the beginning, is now, and always will be” phrasing, the referral to Christ as the beginning AND the end, the alpha and the omega. There is a nonlinear aspect of dreams and visions that I find fascinating … In this case, it is both a promise of what is to come and an assurance that it’s already done. Sure, there’s a hope for the world to come, but there’s also a recognition that the new kingdom is already here. Jesus is already at the door … Knocking. We only need to open the door.

I’m not one who is especially motivated by promises of heaven, but I am passionate about the new creation that was, is now, and ever shall be. The vision of a reality filled with love and goodness and justice and joy … No tears, no sorrow as those things are over, done … Those chapters are closed, and the sequel? It’s okay, more than okay, praise God.

I used to have a magnet on my refrigerator that said, “In the end everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” But it’s not something we passively wait for … No, it’s and ending we get to participate in. Jesus is at the door knocking … Inviting us to be a part of the story.

So, what’s the next chapter in your life?

Assignment … Chapter 31

assignment_icon This week we’ll be reading the story of the end times.  That’s Chapter 31: The End of Time.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Revelation 1-519-22. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory


Worthy of the Call

Worthy of the Call

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Extremely powerful words, both to the church in Ephesus and to us. Even from the depravity of prison, Paul calls us to live a life worthy of the call God has put upon us. This passage is a common charge and benediction at the end of a worship service. The words are familiar, eloquent, and inspiring. There is a part of me that reads these words and waits for the inner choral response … “A-men, a-men, a-a-a-a-men.” The danger of using great passages of scripture as liturgy is that the meaning becomes more about the ritual of saying or hearing the words than in the words themselves. These words, for instance, are often heard as a dismissal, but they’re not just nice words to finish the service. They are spoken from a deep passion and urgency … They are a vision, a hope, and a caution. Don’t let the fight, the hard work, the mission of the Church lead you to be less than you had hoped you would be or less than Christ deserves.

As the “called out” body of Christ we are to be humble and gentle, patient and loving. When faced with persecution and harassment like the early church experienced … it’s easy to fight among ourselves over who’s more “right” and who knows better. It’s hard to be patient when we’re tired and scared, and our colleagues are on death row. It’s hard to be loving when our own people turn against us.

I see that. Our church members aren’t faced with imprisonment or martyrdom, but many Presbyterians are still scared and impatient. I know I am. Congregations are facing huge challenges for survival, and when we struggle to survive we don’t always “play nice.” Churches experiencing financial, leadership and membership challenges may find they also experience more conflict and crisis.

Some of us are heading to our national General Assembly in a few weeks, and our commissioners are already being lobbied to vote “in favor of …” or “against … ” Some are afraid of the most “controversial” issues: gay marriage and our policies on the Middle East. Others try to please everyone with compromises. We label each other as “liberal” or “conservative” or “evangelical” or “progressive.” We make friends with those who think as we do and put down those who see things differently. We argue, “it’s a justice issue” “it’s about love” “it’s what the Bible says” “it’s unnatural” “It kills people” “we need to send a clear message” “it’ll harm our relationship with …” “it won’t change anything” or “it’ll change everything.”

Paul tells us when it comes to the mission of Christ we are to keep up the race, to persevere, to keep on … but to do so in love. Always in love. It’s not just about getting the job done, it’s about living a life worthy of our call. Integrity, humility, kindness, compassion … this speaks louder than any fancy politicking. Remember it’s Christ we’re serving … the same Christ … there is unity of Spirit in Christ.

Our church and our world are polarized into us and them, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the smart and the dumb, the educated and the ignorant, the reasonable and the unreasonable … but there is a common source of life and hope in Jesus Christ. So remain humble and patient, be gentle and focus on peace. In the end it’s about the quality of our lives, not the results of our voting. There is love which binds us together. That love is over all and through all and in all.

Assignment … Chapter 30

assignment_icon This week we’ll be continuing the story of Paul.  That’s Chapter 30: Paul’s Final Days.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Acts 20-2327-28Ephesians 1-6; 2 Timothy 1-4. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.


If This is Tuesday …

If This is Tuesday …

pjbigYears ago, when I was still a candidate for ministry under care of the Presbytery of Western New York, I was asked in an interview: who is your favorite Bible character?  I answered Paul.  He is the one who give shape to the Christology on which the church is built.  He’s the one who takes the good news and gives it form and function.  He’s the one who interprets salvation through Christ, not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.  Paul has the knowledge, education, and status to bring the message of Jesus to people throughout the Greek and Roman world.

I am writing this post on the first night of my final (third) annual week of training and community with new presbytery leaders in the PCUSA.  During my first week of training (two years ago) our morning Bible Study considered the parallels between presbytery leader (or executive/general presbyter) work and the work of the Apostle Paul.  The ways in which he cares for the Christian communities … churches … in the cities he visited and kept contact with is similar to the kinds of work we do.  That is true, Paul was a preacher, a teacher, a writer, a motivator, a politician, a peacemaker, a conflict mediator, an applied theologian, an organizer, a mentor, a pastor, a healer, and a tent maker.   He was a Greek and Roman citizen as well as a Jew.  He knew how to get things done and was a great reader of people.  But today I’m most interested in the steadfastness, passion, and spontaneity of his mission.  He had a plan, but he was free to change it.  He listened to the leading of the Holy Spirit in his work.

Mostly, Paul was on the road.  He was on the lecture circuit, the traveling evangelist, the missionary sent to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Like any frequent traveler, Paul visited so many places, he had stories to tell … of the times he was locked up, the times he ate with this one or that one, the time he told the demons to leave the slave girl, the time …

This week, though, I was struck by the times Paul decided to stay in one place for awhile.

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.(Acts 14:1-3 NIV)

Paul went to see them,and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them … So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.  (Acts 18:3, 11)

75_d__0_IfItsTuesdayThisMustBeBelgiumWith all the traveling I’ve been doing these few weeks, I’m wondering if Paul ever woke up at night in a strange room, with sounds of strangers in the room above, wondering where he was, or what the itinerary was for today.  I don’t get the sense, though, that Paul had the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” head spinning.  I get the sense Paul was attentive, highly attentive, to the people, the context, the work … he stayed for as long as it took, and he left when the mission was no longer being served.

What is your passion and mission in life?  Do you go where you are called, and stay when you are needed?  How do you know where and to whom the Spirit is calling you?