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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for April, 2010

Good Promises

Acts 13:26-52    Joshua 20-21    Job 30

“Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). Promises. Today’s readings invite us to consider God’s good promises from all angles.  Israel, having taken possession of the promised land, “settled there” (Joshua 21:43) . . . Paul brings the good news that “what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us . . . by raising Jesus: (Acts 13:32,33) . . . and, in the middle of it all, Job laments the absence of God and any evidence of promises fulfilled (Job 30). 

“I cry to you and you do not answer me” (Job 30:20). Job, deep in his “days of affliction” (v.16), wrestles mightily with God’s silence and the loss of every tangible sign of God’s good promises in his life. As I read his words, I am mindful of the commonality of this struggle. Sometimes, all that we would see as evidence of God’s good promises gets buried under layers of “dust and ashes” (Job 30:19) . . . And yet, the good news that Paul proclaims is that there are promises that are more satisfying than land, more meaningful than possessions, and more lasting than this mortal life . . . What Job reminds me is that the loss of  tangible, touchable promises opens up to us the possibility of discovering and claiming the true and eternal promises of God (2 Corinthians 4:18). . .

“By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free (Acts 13:39)  from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”  Everyone. Anyone. Whether they possess land, or goods, or good health, or not. Forgiveness. Freedom. Life eternal and abundant . . . These are the good promises of God. Take possession of these promises. All will come to pass. Amen.

“And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
     — Acts 13:52

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Hearing and Deciding

Acts 13:1-25    Joshua 18-19    Job 29

“The Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'” (Acts 13:2). In today’s readings, Barnabas and Saul are sent out, the tribes of Israel finish dividing the land (Joshua 18-19), and Job begins his final discourse (Job 29-31) by remembering better days (Job 29) . . . All of which leads me to reflect on the manner in which we go about hearing God and making decisions.

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting . . .” (Acts 13:2) is the way the hearing begins in Acts 13. And the tribal inheritances were handed out by lottery “at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting” (Joshua 19:51). “They.” God’s people gathered. Together before the Lord. And more: focused on the Lord. Worshiping. Fasting. Expecting. Listening . . . And together they heard, decided, and took action. “So they finished dividing the land” (Joshua 19:51) . . . “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3).

“Job again took up his discourse” (Job 29:1) . . . Job 29 stands out in contrast to the day’s other texts. Different  focus. Different context. Different results. Plenty of talk; no hearing or deciding .  . . Which leads to this: What might you and I learn from today’s narratives? How do we go about seeking God’s direction and making decisions? Are the behaviors of gathering together, worshiping God, fasting, praying, and listening part of our decision-making process? Or are we more apt to go it alone? Do more speaking than listening? Simply announce decisions to God and others? I wonder . . . Perhaps today we might learn a better way of hearing and deciding? May it be so. Amen.

“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went . . .”
     — Acts 13:4

And . . .

Acts 12    Joshua 15-17    Job 28

“Where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12,20). Sometimes understanding is hard to come by. The tribes of Israel receive their allotments in the land of promise; yet, they are unable to fully claim the inheritance (Joshua 15:63; 16:10; 17:12,16) . . . And in Acts, violence against the church continues, James is killed with a sword, and, at the same time, “the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents” (Acts 12:1,2,24). And in the midst of it “the church of God prayed fervently” (Acts 12:5) for Peter. As, surely, they had prayed for James . . .

“So the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Joshua 15:63) . . . James is martyred and Peter is delivered . . . Success and failure. Setback and progress. Grief and joy. Loss and gain. It is all here — in the texts and in our lives — together. I have come to think of it as “the theology of AND.” A promise is received. AND it is not fully realized. Herod rages. AND the word of God advances. Job is a good man. AND understanding escapes him. One does not negate the other. Both are real. And present. And true. And, though we try mightily to tidy it up and fit it all together, understanding is not to be found in such efforts. Grief and grace exist together. And faith exists in the midst of it. Amen. And Amen.

“And the word of God continued to advance . . .”
     — Acts 11:24

Grace

Acts 11:19-30    Joshua 13-14    Job 27

“These are the inheritances that the Israelites received in the land of Canaan”  (Joshua 14:1). Grace comes. Sometimes dramatically, more often gently. Even imperceptibly. So it is that, in today’s texts, nothing much happens, and yet, the events are monumental. The people of God receive their inheritances. The process has been unlovely and the work continues, but God’s promise to Abraham here becomes reality. . . And in Acts, the good news of Jesus advances to the Greek-speaking world (Acts 11:20,21). And it is reported as being almost accidental . . . a natural outcome of the dispersion that took place due to persecution.

“When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced” (Acts 11:23).  Barnabas saw the movement of God among the Greeks for what it was. Grace. Others may have missed it. Still others would surely have labeled it differently. But Barnabas saw this “accidental” advance clearly. Grace. And he rejoiced. And embraced it. How was it that Barnabas saw it so clearly? Well. “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24).

“Very much of the land still remains to be possessed” (Joshua 13:1). Yet the inheritance is given. Do you see grace? Or just the unfinished work? And in Antioch the disciples are first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The good news advances. Do you see the grace? Or does it simply seem uneventful? The answers depend on the state of our spiritual health, for grace is most clearly seen by those who are full of the Holy Spirit and of faith; by those who are seeking to see and do the next right — good — thing. Perhaps there is grace to be seen in the uneventfulness of this day . . . Maybe, just maybe, it is there in the midst of the unfinished work that is our chaotic world and messy lives . . . Grace comes. May we recognize it. Today. Amen.

“When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.”
     — Acts 11:23

And They Praised God

Acts 11:1-18    Joshua 11-12    Job 26

“When they heard this, they were silenced”  (Acts 11:18). Peter faced criticism when he returned to Jerusalem. Going to Gentiles? Eating with them?? Baptizing them into the church??? In the view of  Jewish Christians, his behavior was way out of line and completely unacceptable. What did he have to say for himself? Peter’s response is instructive: He “began to explain it to them step by step” (Acts 11:4). That is, he simply told the story of God’s dealings with him and the Gentiles. And he finished with a question, “Who was I than I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:17). No argument. No accusations. No advice. Just the story and a question. And it silenced his critics. And they praised God. Compare this with the ongoing struggle between Job and his three friends . . . 

“How you have helped one who has no power!” (Job 26:2). Sarcasm. Job has found no help in the arguments, accusations, and advice-giving of his friends. And Job’s harsh responses have clearly done nothing close to silencing them . . . Simply viewed from the perspective of effective communication, the story of Job and his friends provides a stark contrast to that of Peter and his critics!

“If then God gave . . . who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:17). Such simplicity. Such humility. Such wisdom! Tell the story of God’s grace-in-action and finish with a question. Do you see it? Peter trusted the power of the story. And he had faith in the ability of God’s Spirit to work through the story. And (see this) he didn’t allow himself to get in the way.

“And they praised God” (Acts 11:18). How differently it might have ended had Peter, like Job’s friends, placed his confidence in his own ability to persuade, convince, and argue!  May we follow Peter’s example. Amen.

“And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.'”
Acts 11:18

Astounding

Acts 10:34-48    Joshua 9-10    Job 25

“The Jewish believers who came with Peter were astounded” (Acts 10:45). And the reason? “That the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles!” Even. Indeed. It is a long way from the record of Joshua’s conquests to Peter’s discovery that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Whereas once the Gibeonites had only trickery at their disposal to save themselves (Joshua 9), now “everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Even Gentiles. Astounding.

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” (Acts 10:47). Well, as an eyewitness, Peter saw it clearly: “he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). But, as we shall soon see, the struggle was just beginning . . . Including those “not like us,” even when God fills them “just like us” (v.47), is difficult work. Especially when history has played out in such an opposing manner (Joshua 10:40). . .

What shall we do with today’s texts? Well . . . Wrestle. With Joshua. And with our own prejudices. And the temptation to play the role of gatekeeper for God. But this isn’t all . . . Celebrate! Give thanks! God shows no partiality. This is good news for you. And me. And for the whole world that God so loves. Yes. Wrestle. It is part of what it means to enter the story. But do more. Thank God and welcome others. People will be astounded. Amen.

“In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
     — Acts 10:35

Greatly Puzzled

Acts 10:1-33    Joshua 7-8    Job 24

“Now while Peter was greatly puzzled . . .”  (Acts 10:17). Peter is but one of several puzzled folks in today’s texts. After defeat at Ai, Joshua joins him, falling to the ground on his face perplexed and struggling mightily he prays, “Why?” (Joshua 7:7). Job, for his part, puzzles over God’s silence and laments that “God pays no attention” to the prayers of the poor (Job 24:12).  Then there is Cornelius who, upon meeting an angel of God in a vision, stares in terror and squeaks, “What is it, Lord?” (Acts 10:4). This much is sure: Not a one of them expected what they were given!

Greatly puzzled.  Have you ever been there? I know I have! How about that time God didn’t come through the way you expected? Or the occasion(s) when God has shown up in ways, times, or places you did not expect? Or, imagine it now, maybe God has even attempted to lead you to go where you never, ever expected God to send you . . .  If so, know that Joshua, Job, Cornelius, and Peter found it puzzling too . . . responding with grief and terror, protest and hesitation. And more . . .

“The next day he got up and went with them” (Acts 10:23). Peter’s obedience mirrors that of Cornelius and Joshua. Puzzled as they were, they each came to a place of attentiveness; listening and then responding with action. Even Job, who is not yet finished puzzling, does so with heightened attentiveness . . .  Puzzled. Engaged. Attentive. Responsive. Who knows what God will show us if we will do the same?

“God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
— Acts 10:28  

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