Here endeth the lesson.

We’ve spent this school year in the book of Acts looking at how the Jesus movement went from a small group of people following a rabbi named Jesus to the worldwide religion that it is now.  It’s been a wonderful journey.  Last night everyone received a dollar to do a small act with great love.  We still have $8 left, so if you weren’t here last night, come by CCF and I’ll give you a dollar.  The last blog post of the year is always challenging for me as I try to summarize the year. In this case, I’m going to go with the idea that less is more.

Join the movement.  Follow Jesus: love God, love people.

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Heavenly Quotes

Tuesday while reading in Common Prayer I came across this quotation for St. Catherine of Siena, “All the Way to heaven is Heaven, because He said, ‘I am the Way.’”  This made me think of a quotation from theology professor Dallas Willard, “The message of the gospel is not how to get into Heaven when you die, but how to get into Heaven when you’re alive.”

I think this is a huge point.  Yes, the eternal reward of Heaven is powerful, but following Jesus is not just about a deferred reward.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).  This is absolutely true, but too often we carry this to the extreme and talk about how we can’t wait to get to Heaven.

The truth of the matter is that Heaven is Heaven because it’s where God is.  If you’re following Jesus, then you’ve got God in your life, and therefore, you are in Heaven.

I think Paul would agree that If in Christ we have hope in the next life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  It’s not an either/or situation; it’s both/and.  As followers of Jesus, we have hope in this life and the next.

I am reminded of the words of a dear woman name Tweet Moore when she said, “My life following Jesus is so good, that’s it’s worth being wrong,” in response to being asked what if there is nothing after you die.

The reward for following Jesus is Jesus, and He is a present and eternal reward.

Correcting Misconceptions

Upon surviving a shipwreck and arriving on the island of Malta, Paul helps gather some firewood for a fire that some of the people living on the island had made for everyone who had just come ashore.  As he did so, a snake not only bit him on the hand but also held on to him.

Acts 28: 4 – 6 chronicles the native people’s reaction, When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

In their minds, Paul goes from being a murderer to being a god.  How can that be?  How can they change their minds so dramatically about who Paul is?  How can that be so wrong about what he is?

They don’t know him.

Similarly, how can so many different perceptions of God exist?  How can we believe that God is this angry, wrathful being who can’t wait to smite someone?  How can we think God is a divine genie?  How can we think God is this weak being that will not hold us accountable for the wrong things we do and the right things we don’t do?  How can we think that?

We don’t know Him.

How do you view God?  Why do you view Him that way?  Are your views of God shaped by what you were taught as a child?  Are your views of God shaped by what you hope to be true? Are your views of God shaped by your own personal experiences?  Are your views of God shaped by what you read in the Bible?

What you think about God is important, but it is also important to think about why you think what you think about God.

The same is true for the Bible.  I have found that often we think the Bible says something because we believe it.  In other words, we let our opinions and feelings inform how we read the Bible instead of allowing the Bible to inform our opinions and feelings.  We read the Bible for affirmation not transformation. Often we are surprised to find that things we thought were in the Bible aren’t, and then we are surprised to find some things that are in the Bible.  There’s a really simple way to avoid this surprise.

Read the Bible.  Doing so will also help with those misconceptions about God because when you read the Bible you will get to know God.  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing where you spend an hour a day reading.  If you want to do that go for it, but in just 5 minutes a day for 16 days you can read through the gospel of Mark.  That’s just one chapter a day to get you through one of the accounts of Jesus’ time on Earth.  If you’ll do that challenge, I’ll bet you’ll find that you want to keep reading on day 17 as well. So why not give it a shot?  It’s five minutes a day for a little over two weeks.  You’ll learn something knew about Jesus I guarantee, and when you learn more about Him, you’ll know Him better.  Then, you’ll realize that He is worthy following.

Jonah and Paul

Acts 27 is all about Paul in the midst of a storm at sea. In the Old Testament of the Bible, there’s a book called Jonah, and in the first chapter Jonah finds himself in a storm at sea.  The circumstances that led both men to being aboard ships are different.  Paul was going to Rome at God’s direction while Jonah was actually fleeing God’s command.  Perhaps this is the reason they say very different things to the others on board their storm-tossed ships.

Jonah says, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV).

Paul says, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship” (Acts 27:23 ESV).

The Hebrew word that is translated fear in Jonah 1:9 means “to be afraid, to fear, to stand in awe, to revere.”

The Greek word that is translated worship in Acts 27:23 means “to serve, to render religious service or homage, to worship.”

What do you think about these men choosing the words they chose? Why do you think Paul chose to say he worships/serves God while Jonah chose to mention his fear/reverence of God?

At least part of it has to be that Paul knew he was doing what God wanted him to, so he could say that he serves the Lord.  Jonah on the other hand was very aware that was going west when God had called him to go northeast, so when a huge storm comes up, fear seems to be a good word choice.

Our relationships with God, especially how faithful and obedient we are being, have profound impact on how we see Him. While it is important to remember that no matter who you are and what you’ve done God loves you, we also need to remember that doing things God’s way opens us up to enjoying a relationship with Him that we can’t experience when we do things our way.

What words would you use to describe your relationship with God?  Why do you think those words are applicable?

Where does your hope lie?

Beau asked a huge question during Dinner and a Message last week.  Where does your hope lie?  This is a very important question.  It is also a question that we often realize we have answered incorrectly.

You can put your hope in a job, but then that job can decide to not renew your contract.

You can put your hope in being in good shape, but then a chronic auto-immune disorder can force you to cancel your gym membership.

Those are just two examples from my life.  We all have examples of realizing the hard way that we put our hope in the wrong things.

Hebrews 13:8 reads, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Nothing and no one else can make that guarantee.  Jesus will always be there.  He will always love you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.  That makes him worthy of your hope.

Divine Vision

Last night Beau talked to us about Paul’s experience with a storm at sea on his voyage to Rome in Acts 27.  He pointed out that in the midst of the storm Paul was able to steer the conversation toward God.  This, however, is not a surprise.  Paul is in the habit of talking to people about Jesus, so it is no surprise that he can find a divine connection in virtually everything he experiences.

Being able to see God in circumstances can be a powerful thing.  It can help you find solace in hard times.  It can give you hope in times that seem hopeless.  It can also keep you humble. When something goes really well, you realize that it was God behind it.  When something happens that enables you to use some of your talents, you can acknowledge that those talents are gifts from God.

How is Paul able to do that?  How can he see God in virtually everything he encounters?

He knows not who he is, but Whose he is.  In Acts 27:23, Paul refers to “the God to whom I belong.”  Paul knew he belonged to God, and therefore, he saw a need and had a desire to talk about God every chance he got.

I think Paul would have liked the song Good, Good Father because he understood the idea that “I’m loved by you.  It’s who I am.”  Paul saw his identity through the lens of God. When you see everything through a divine lens, then you see God in everything.  If you’re thinking that you can’t do that, ask God to help you.  Ask Him to help you see Him in your experiences.  He’s there; you just have to learn to see Him.

Jesus and Politics

It is safe to say that this has been the most … wow what’s the world to describe this election year?  I really don’t even know, but of all the elections years I’ve lived through this one is the most whatever that word is.

I wanted to share a post that I read yesterday from a man named Shane Claiborne.  It’s pretty short.  It will only take a few minutes to read, but if you read it, it will give you something to think about.  So take a look at his post entitled “Don’t Confuse America with God’s Kingdom.”

As is always the case when I post a link to an online article, I’m not saying I agree with every word.  I am saying that I think the article is worth your time and could be a great way to kick-start a conversation that is worth continuing.