Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

Power in Numbers: Pricilla & Aquila – Aug. 18, 2019

Linda Lou Taylor was married to George Scott in 1957 in Anderson, Indiana. She was 16 and he was 31 years old. The marriage lasted for 7 years. Linda admits that she liked getting married, in fact, she said she was addicted to romance. Over the next 33 years, she would be married again 22 additional times.

She is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as holding the greatest number of weddings, 23, and is called ‘the serial bride’. Over the decades, she married, (to name a few) a one-eyed convict, a preacher, a bartender, 2 homeless men, a couple of plumbers and a few musicians. One man, she married 3 times!

Her shortest marriage lasted 3 days, because she said that, “The love just wasn’t there”. She had seven children, all from different husbands and multiple step-children. At the age of 68, Linda had gone 12-years without a husband but had said that she was always on the lookout for number 24.

Linda was originally born in Alexandria, but spent most of her life in Anderson, IN. Claiming to have always been faithful to her husbands, Linda said that ‘if she had to live her life over again’, she would never, ever marry so many men. Some were abusive and many abandoned her.

She must have been a fascinating woman; Linda claimed that several thousand men proposed to her. She died on December 27, 2009 at Saint John’s Medical Center, without getting remarried.

Today, I want to talk about a model of what marriage could and should be like. So, I will not be discussing Linda and her many marriages but instead Pricilla and Aquila. They are the best example of what a marriage should be in the Bible.

Pricilla and Aquila are mentioned 7 times by name in the Bible and nearly always together, literally side by side. They are literally yoked together in unity of spirit and purpose. They are 2 people joined to become one flesh.

We first encounter the couple in Acts Chapter 18. Paul had been in Athens, preaching the Gospel, when things had taken a bad turn. A few men had become followers, but overall, most were hostile and in defiance of the Word. So, he had been driven out and was likely feeling rejected and discouraged.

Paul traveled on to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus and his wife Pricilla. Just a little background; Pontus was a Greek Community located on the southern coast of the Black Sea in Turkey. From there, Aquila and his wife Pricilla had moved to Rome.

The Roman Emperor Claudius was annoyed with the Jewish and Christian believers, because he thought that they were causing a disturbance, so he issued a decree expelling them all from Rome.

Aquila and Pricilla then moved to Italy and finally, they had just recently moved to Corinth, a seaside community. Corinth was the kind of community you went to when you wanted to fade away for a while. Travelers came and went.

It was also a haven for scoundrels and known for all kinds of debauchery (As many seaside ports were). So, it was easy to become invisible there.   

Pricilla and Aquilla needed a place to lay-low and they needed to make some money. Paul was from Tarsus, a place known for its fine Goat skin used in tents. Because they were tentmakers, like Paul, he stayed with them and they all worked together. Their home was a place for Paul to rest and to get strength again.

The men were good at preparing the leather or goat-skin hair fabric. They cut it, designed the posts ‘to hold up tents’ and created the ropes and knots to tie it up. Pricilla was good at sewing the pieces together.

Tents were used by visitors to the early Olympic-style games, played in Corinth. The material could also be used for awnings, sails or for mending sails. It guaranteed that they would always have work and an income. They were bi-vocational.

Every Sabbath, they would go to the synagogue, and Paul would preach to the Jews and Gentiles. But the people would argue with Paul and it left him even more tired and frustrated. It was Aquila and Pricilla that kept him going, and they encouraged him to stay.

On one occasion, when the crowds got violent and rough, the couple and other Christians came to Paul’s rescue. Later, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul wrote, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ. They risked their lives for me. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful for them.”

Paul was very frustrated because things were not going well, that he planned to leave Corinth. But God came to him in a dream and encouraged him to stay there longer. So, Paul remained a year and a half with Pricilla and Aquila, teaching them and others about Jesus.

Finally, the Jews and the synagogue ruler had had enough of Paul and they took him before the court. They claimed that Paul was persuading people to worship God in ways ‘contrary to the law’. But the judge dismissed the case and set Paul free. 

That was the last straw for Paul, he decided to leave and sail for Syria. Pricilla and Aquila went along with him. They arrived in Ephesus, and that is where Paul left the couple to establish a new home church. Paul preached in the Synagogue and then left on a ship to continue spreading the Gospel.

While in Ephesus, Pricilla and Aquila witnessed an Alexandrian Jew, named Apollos, teaching in the synagogue. Alexandria was located on the north coast of Egypt and was known for its cultural and educational center. Its library was the largest in the world at the time, containing 700 Thousand scrolls and other documents.

Apollos was highly educated and was clearly knowledgeable of scripture as well as being a gifted speaker. He was described as ‘fervent in spirit’ which is translated ‘burning or boiling hot’. But he did not know about the full impact of the life and resurrection of Jesus.

So, Pricilla and Aquila invited him over for dinner and they gently explained the way of God, at work through Jesus, more adequately. Scripture says, they took him aside, as to not embarrass him in public. Notice that the text says, they taught him together.

Of the 7 times the couple is named in scripture; 5 times Pricilla is mentioned first – before her husband. This indicates a few things to us;

First, that her name was ‘more highly recognized’ than her husband’s name. In their culture, women’s names were often not mentioned and always after the husband’s name. Her name being named first was no coincidence.

She was highly educated in the gospel and clearly a good teacher. Some scholars call Pricilla and Aquila the first clergy couple or the first missionary couple in the Bible. 

Second, because their names were switched in order, it indicates they were known as equal partners. They did not let pride divide them and they supported one another fully. That was also uncommon in their day.

First-century women were often uneducated in the scriptures. They were forbidden from touching the Torah scrolls or taking part in reading scripture. They were excluded, because their questions were considered too simple or misdirected.

In other faiths, women in the church dressed flashy and became temple prostitutes. For these reasons, women were often told to remain quiet and to never teach the men. Yet, Pricilla was different, and Paul knew it.

While there is no indication that Pricilla or Aquila were preachers in the synagogue, but there is amble proof that he and she were leaders and teachers in their own home. (it is mentioned twice in scripture) Eventually, they would return to Rome where they continued teaching. Then, when persecution began again under Nero, they returned to Ephesus.

Pricilla and Aquila are a great example of a Godly couple for at least 3 reasons; First, they worked well together. Second, they supported each other and other believers. And third, they kept God first in their lives.

Not every couple works well together. Some couples report, that when they work together, they just get on each other’s nerves. They both see the flaws in the other person, and it is too much to overcome.

But Pricilla and Aquila learned the gift of balance. Each did their part. Instead of micro-managing one another, they trusted each other. When conflicts came up, as they do, they learned to give each other some room. Instead of focusing on their partner, they learned to do what they did best.

There was no competition or un-necessary conflict. There was no bruised egos or one-ups-man-ship. Aquila was not threatened by Pricilla’s strengths or skills. They learned to co-exist peacefully.

They also became each other’s cheerleader. They looked for the good and supported one another. They were careful to pull Apollos aside to teach him and not embarrass him in public. They understood how to be respectful and kind.

They knew how to be flexible, communicate clearly and forgive one another. They didn’t take everything personally. They saw the good in others and learned to build them up. It is so easy to point out the bad things, but it takes time and commitment to see and honor the good.

Finally, they knew how to keep God first in their lives. They read the scriptures, asked questions, and most likely prayed together. They spent regular time in the synagogue and in teaching in their home.

Like I said, they were unified or yoked in spirit and purpose. They looked past themselves to God’s greater plan. They, like clergy couples, also moved from time to time and so they had to learn to be each other’s best friend. Couples that learn to stay together must have; faith, trust, compassion, forgiveness, respect, and commitment. They must see each other as equals.

They must have good communication, be encouragers of one another, be flexible, learn to laugh, have fun and give each other room to breathe. And most importantly, they must be united under one joint cause, in their case it was the work of the kingdom of God through Jesus.

The Bible makes it clear that there is power in numbers. Luke 10:1 reminds us that when Jesus sent workers out, he sent them in groups of two. One spoke and one prayed.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up.” Verse 12 adds, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken”.

Finally, in Matthew 18:19-20 we read, “Again, I tell you, that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you, by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The last point I want to make, extends beyond this couple. They understood how to work well with others. They added others to their circle; people like Paul and Apollos and it increased their reach.

This is just a fun fact. Did you know that a single bee in its lifetime, only makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey? But when the build a hive, 50,000 bees can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey in a year.

Apply that now to the church. Jesus took 12 men and before long, their numbers exploded. Imagine what we could do if everyone contributed, instead of just 20 or 25. That is something to pray about and act on.

Your assignment is…to look up the passages in the Bible where it talks about being unified. The Bible teaches about us being unified as believers, as couples and unified in Christ. What might it look like if we were all bound together under one cause? We are one body, the church, under Christ. You see, that is our goal.

My prayer is you that you become so passionate about the kingdom of God, that we can become all God has intended sooner not later. When we do, I believe we will continue changing Muncie and make our mark on the world for Jesus. May it be so.

Amen.

The Barnabas Factor – August 4, 2019

Nelson Mandela once said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”.

As we study our Bible, the New Testament points to one man who seems to fit ‘perfectly’ in this mold. He is often considered a Minor Apostle, similar to how we classify Minor Prophets; but I would argue, that should not be the case here.

The man’s name is Barnabas, and we must look back – early in the book of Acts to see how his story begins. In Acts Chapter 2, just after the Holy Spirit came and 3,000 people came to faith and were baptized, we find these words in verses 42-47,

(These new converts) “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions ‘to give to anyone who had need’. 

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God – and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Now, we do not know if Barnabas was in that first group who came to faith at Pentecost, or whether he joined shortly afterward, but he was one of the early believers. We read this in Chapter 4:36-37, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Because Barnabas was from Cyprus, he would have spoken primarily Greek, whereas the Jews from Jerusalem spoke in Aramaic. This seems like a little thing, since they all spoke several languages in their day, but it connected people since they were multi-lingual.

Colossians 4:10 also ‘gives us a little insight’ about who Barnabas was, it records that he was a cousin to the Apostle Mark. We also know he was a Levite, they were often priests, but clearly Barnabas was too far removed to qualify.

After the stoning of Steven, many of the early followers scattered to avoid persecution. But because of his position and affiliations, Barnabas did not leave, he remained in Jerusalem. It is believed that he was ‘an older and distinguished gentleman’ who was highly respected. 

Early in Chapter 11, Peter had returned, and shared a vison he had with the Jewish Council in Jerusalem.

Peter explained that God wanted all people to be a part of the church and so he was helping convert Gentiles. Verse 18 reads, “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Now look closely what happens next in verse 19 after Peter left. Those who were persecuted and scattered went out only sharing the ‘Good News’ only to the Jews. Even after Peter’s testimony, some could not accept that God’s word was also for the Gentiles.

Other followers went to Antioch and began to tell people about Jesus. Vs. 21 reads, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Now, the insight here is; they were sharing their stories, but they were not church planters.

New Testament writings refer to two cities of the same name: Antioch of Syria on the Orontes River – and Antioch of Pisidia. A family of Syrian kings who ruled much of Asia under the name Antiochus built both cities. Antioch of Syria was a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan center. It sat on a river and was a trade route that connected Rome and China.

Antioch of Syria was a strategic city, the third largest in the Roman empire. It had multiple sports stadiums and was the location for the Chariot races in the fictional book Ben Hur.

Now, word got back to the Jerusalem council that there was a movement of faith taking place in Antioch and they needed some support. After some discussion, they chose and sent Barnabas to evaluate the situation and to decide what steps needed to be taken.

Vs 24 records that Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. They called him a good man in relation to his disposition and ability to get things done. Barnabas was generous, easy-going, cheerful and big-hearted. He was flexible and supportive in nature.

They also said he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. The Greek word often used for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete, which means helper, counselor, comforter, teacher, advocate or guide.

To be a paraclete literally means ‘someone who walks alongside you’. That person is your defender and encourager. He was a person who sees potential and brings out the best in others. In other words, this person does the work of the Holy Spirit. That is why the disciples called him Barnabas, which means son of encouragement (instead of Joseph, his given name). 

Now, back to our story. Barnabas went to Antioch and saw the evidence of God at work in the lives of the people there. It excited him and he encouraged them to keep up the good work. They were faithful people, who were reaching out to the poor and needy.

Barnabas began a few small groups and under his teaching, a number of people came to faith. Before long, he realized he was going to need some help.

While Barnabas could get things organized, he was not a strong preacher. Hearing great things about Saul (later Paul), Barnabas traveled to Tarsus, Saul’s home, to offer him a wonderful opportunity.

You may remember, Saul was cast off by the other disciples. Before he had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul had been a persecutor of Christians. The truth was, most followers of Jesus did not trust Saul and even feared him.

We don’t know what the conversation was like between Saul and Barnabas; but we have some possible insights. Saul was on fire for Jesus, but he was pretty rough around the edges. He needed some guidance and he needed to build some credibility. Barnabas had the gifts and skills to help him.

On the other hand, Barnabas needed help building up the church and Saul was a great preacher. Clearly this would be a good match, so they agreed to work together, and Barnabas took Saul back to Antioch. Just a side note; this was a big risk for Barnabas. If he got this wrong, Saul could do major damage to the new followers at Antioch. Yet, Barnabas had the gift ‘to see the pearl in the oyster’ in Saul.

For a whole year, Barnabas worked and organized, and Saul preached and taught, and a strong church began to emerge. Others saw the potential; Barnabas was greatly loved for his genuine love for others and ability to cheer them on. While Saul preached and taught with enthusiasm and passion. He had charisma.

People in the community saw that they were strong men of faith and so they called them ‘Christ-Men’, which many believe soon would morph into Christians. Acts 11:26 tells us that, “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” True story!

Later on, Barnabas and Saul would travel to meet with the Jerusalem Council and Barnabas would vouch for Paul and tell of his good work for Jesus. This would go a long way in finally giving Saul, who would then be called Paul, real credibility with the other followers.

Unfortunately, there would be some struggles in their relationship. Along the way, they would divide over whether it was right ‘for Jews to eat with Gentiles’. Paul was for it and the Apostle Mark was not. Barnabas would side with his cousin Mark. But eventually, it appears, that Barnabas and Paul would reconcile.

Along the way, Paul would take what he learned from Barnabas and become the voice for most future Christians.

And Barnabas would be fine to fade out, he would later be labeled a minor apostle. I don’t think he would have minded. It was never like him to seek the limelight.

While there have been some questionably writings credited to Barnabas, we have no real proof that he ever wrote anything. Yet, we know of the great influence he had in the lives of Saul/Paul and Mark and they together are credited for authoring 14 out of the 27 books of the New Testament. 

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “There are different kinds of gifts, – but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, – but in all of them, and in everyone, it is the same God at work.

“Now to each one – the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, – to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different languages, and to still another the interpretation of different languages. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”  (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

He goes on to write about how the body is made up of many parts and all are needed. Likewise, the church is made up of many people, with many gifts, and all are precious, and all are required to make it function at its best. I think Paul could write this because he had to learn to rely on others. I think he learned this while working with Barnabas.

Moses had to take counsel from his Father-in-law, Jethro. David got support from his friend, Jonathon and wisdom from the prophet Nathan. Ruth took counsel from her mother-in law, Naomi. And Esther took guidance from her relative, Mordecai. Each had gifts to share and guidance to hand down.  (Proverbs 11:25)

What I have labeled ‘The Barnabas Factor’ is; the ability of all God’s people to contribute to the life of the church. While it is important that we contribute with our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our witness; we should not neglect our service.

Ignatius was an early Christian writer who pastored the Church in Antioch for 40 years – and would later be their bishop.  He wrote, “It is right therefore, that we are ‘not just to be called Christians, – but that we actually ‘be’ Christians.”

In other words, it is in our intentional serving others in the church with our gifts, that we raise all up to a higher standard. My question for you then is, “What active role do you take in building up others in the church?”

So, your assignment is,…to make a list of all your gifts and abilities and after careful assessment, find a way to plug yourself into the Church, where you can make the most difference.

Because if we all give with our whole heart and energy, I know God will continue to bless Corinth for generations to come.

Amen.

God does not show Favoritism – July 28, 2019

What is the value of a human life?

Engineer and president of DataGenetics Nick Berry calculated the worth of a human being in terms of our physical body. He wrote, “By mass, human cells consist of 65–90% water and a significant portion of the body is composed of Carbon-containing organic molecules. All in all, 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of just six elements: Oxygen, Carbon, 

Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, and Phosphorus. “All in all, if you break down the body into the sum of its parts, these chemicals are only worth about $160.”

Another set of Scientists have suggested, if you could sell off all your body parts; the human body could be worth as much as $45 million dollars.  

Government run health insurance agencies calculate human life as worth $50 thousand dollars. (in May of 2008) Stanford economists have determined that human life is worth $129,000. They add a little more for quality of life.

The Environmental Protection Agency just dropped the value of a human life from 9.1 Million down to 7.8 Million. Which is close to the value the Food and Drug Administration priced a human life at 7.9 Million.

Maybe we should consider what the US Government values a human life; when a soldier was killed in Iraq, they paid the family $600 thousand dollars. Finally, after 911, the value of human life was assessed by lawyers at between 2 million, 83 thousand dollars and $400 thousand dollars. (depending on age, salaries, status and other factors)

I had no idea how many people sit around calculating the value of human life, but the list goes on. In fact, we are also guilty of doing the same thing. Most of us put greater value on American soldiers over foreign soldiers. We value people by age, race, sex, education, where they live or how popular they are. We often make snap judgements about people by their clothes or the type of car they drive. And our society promotes this on TV, in the news, in our politics and yes, even sometimes in the church.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So, one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian.

When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned,

“If Christians have caste differences also, “he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.

While God never intended for anyone to be mistreated or shunned, fallen mankind has made it a habit to separate one from another. God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3 was this, “All of the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.”

Jewish law forbids mistreatment of foreigners, widows and orphans. In Jesus’ genealogy we find, Tamar, Rahab and Ruth, all Gentiles. And in the life of Jesus, we find him helping heal and enlighten many Gentiles; the woman at the well, a man possessed by demons, a mother worried about her child – and he healed a Centurion’s servant (to name a few).

Last week we reflected on the story of how an Ethiopian Eunuch came to faith through Philip. In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and 3 thousand people, not all Jews, came to faith. Yet the prevailing wisdom was, that Jesus only came for the Jewish nation. That is, until our encounter today in Acts Chapter 10.

Our story starts with 2 different men, having 2 different visions. We begin with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea. He was a soldier from the Italian Regiment, brought in specifically to keep order and squash uprisings by rebellious Jews.

As a centurion, Cornelius was the commander of 100 men and part of regiment of 500 more. Some say he would be like a captain today. He was supposed to be loyal to Rome’s Emperor alone, yet he was not. Scripture describes him as, “devout, God fearing, who gave generously to those in need and that he prayed to God regularly.”

Praying regularly meant praying like Daniel, 3 times a day. (Daniel 6:10) They would pray first thing in the morning, at the 9th hour (3pm) and then before bed. How Cornelius lived was a strong testimony to his great faith.

So, one afternoon at 3pm as he was praying, he saw an angel of the Lord, who called to him, “Cornelius!” Uncertain if this would be good or bad news, Cornelius shrunk back in fear and with a shaky voice said, “What is it, Lord?”

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner; whose house is by the sea.” (Acts 10:4-6)

Immediately Cornelius called 2 servants and a devout soldier to go to Joppa to retrieve Peter. I am also sure he took a deep breath and thanked God it was good news. Meanwhile at Noon the following day, over 33 miles away in Joppa, Peter went up to the roof to pray. If Cornelius is devout for praying regularly, 3 times a day, Peter was on fire because he prayed even more often! Scripture reports that Peter was hungry, and while waiting for a food, fell into a trance.

In his vision he saw heaven open and a large tablecloth filled with food was lowered down. Now, on this spread before Peter was food that was not kosher. It contained animals that Jews were not supposed to eat, and so Peter refused to kill and eat any of the animals because they were impure and unclean.

Peter would have this vision 3 times in a row, 3 is a signal to us that this was highly significant. The second and third time he refused, he heard a voice say, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

While Peter was contemplating this on the roof, Cornelius’s men approached the house and stopped by the gate. They called out for Peter, but he could not hear them. That is when Peter had a second vision. A voice of the Lord said, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So, get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

Peter did as he was instructed and he listened to the men, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The trip took about a day and a half, but when they arrived, Cornelius was waiting with family and friends. As Peter entered Cornelius’s home, the big soldier dropped down on his knee in honor of Peter. But Peter immediately made him get up. He said, “I am just a man, no king or god”. Then Peter followed Cornelius into a large room with many people.

At once Peter said, “You understand it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

Now, a little background here. Jews looked at Gentiles as heathens. They were uncultured and considered barbaric; too stupid to believe in God. Clearly this was not the case. Yet it wasn’t uncommon for Jews to call Gentiles dogs. They were forbidden to go into their homes or eat with them. Yet here stood Peter.

Cornelius explained what happened while he was praying, that an angel had come to him. Then, he ends with these words, “So I sent for you, immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now, we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

I think at that moment, something inside Peter clicked and after he caught his breath, he opened his mouth and said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism – but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Notice how scripture says that Peter opened his mouth, the same way Philip opened his mouth last week. They both knew it was the right time to speak. The moment was orchestrated and ordained. And then, Peter tells them the Good News of peace that only comes through Jesus, who is Lord of all.

Notice also in verses 44-46, while Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit descended on all who heard the message. And all at once, the people began speaking in foreign languages and praising God (This was like Pentecost for the Gentiles). Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have.” And so, they were all baptized.

Now, you may recall from Matthew 16:18 Jesus said to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter was the foundation for the church to the Gentiles. Word got back to the other disciples and the Gospel of Jesus spread even faster than before. What a day and what an experience.

Later Paul would write to the Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, – for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

And after that, everything was right with the world, right? Wrong! Even Peter struggled. Paul took him to task in his letter to the Galatians – because Peter would eat with Gentiles, until his Jewish friends came around. Then, he treated the Gentiles differently; he refused to be seen with the them.

We all have our biases, and we must be on guard against; racism, xenophobia, nepotism and favoritism of all kinds. Favoritism in the Hebrew is defined as to look into the face of another with favor. In other words, to see them as a worthy and as a valuable person.

Remember the priestly blessing from numbers 6:24-26, listen; “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

Looking into the face and the eyes of another shows respect and honor. It says that they are a person to be celebrated. And that is how God looks at each of us! Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us that we are to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

We are all to love others as God loved us. God does not judge by the outward appearance, he looks at the heart. You really must get to know someone to know their heart. They question is, do we give them the time of day to do that?

Romans 2:11 reads, “For God does not show favoritism.”

James 2:1 reads, “My Brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

And James 2:8-9 reads, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

We are all sinners saved by grace. And we are called to love all people, just as Jesus loved us. With mercy, forgiveness, offering peace and hope through the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Former President Jimmy Carter wrote, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”

We do that with our actions and our words. Who is it you should be talking to? That is your assignment this week…to look someone in the face and treat them with love. Then, if God opens the door, share the Good News. Amen.

The Good News – July 21, 2019

On May 16, 1998, several teenagers were playing basketball in an alley behind Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago. They paused at the sound of screeching tires and had no time to move before gunfire rang out. When the shooting stopped, as the car sped away, the teens assessed the situation. Miraculously, only one boy was hit.

15-year-old Christopher Sercye, an 8th grader, took two bullets to the stomach and lay bleeding on the court. Thank heavens, they thought, we are right next to a hospital. Christopher tried walking but could only take a few steps. So, several of the boys dragged the wounded teenager around the building to an emergency entrance ramp, about 30-35 feet from the emergency room entrance.

Finally, one of the boys ran inside to get help. That is when the problem started. In 1986, a federal law was passed called ‘The Emergency Treatment and Active Labor Act’. This law stated that Hospitals had to foot the bill for folks who had no insurance if they came through the door in an emergency; in other words, they could turn no one away even if they could not pay.

In response, most hospitals passed policies that said, they would not treat patients that could not walk through the doors on their own volition. As the boy lie bleeding, neighbors called the police for assistance. Police officer Lt. James Maurer explained the boy’s situation and asked emergency room staff for help, but they refused.

Then he asked for a stretcher and they said no. Finally, he grabbed a wheelchair and along with several other officers, they got Christopher into the hospital. Doctors quickly took the boy to surgery, but he died within the hour. One of the bullets hit his aorta.

The spokesperson for Ravenswood Hospital tried to explain that they were not a trauma center but the public and president Clinton were all outraged. Chances are, Christopher would have never made it, but the actions of the hospital staff were sickening.

Legal experts were quick to side with the hospital, since the boy was technically not on hospital property, they violated no law. Yet a simple moral code, an ethical code to do no harm was broken. The hospital would eventually pay a $40,000 fine for not treating a person in need but no criminal action could be taken.

5 years later, to avoid a civil suit, the hospital paid Christopher’s family 12.5 million dollars to drop their case. Since that time, new laws require hospital staff to aid anyone ‘outside a hospital’ within 250 feet from the building.

Imagine dying 30 feet from the door of a hospital. That is approximately 2 car lengths. You can see the promise land, but no one will carry you to it, when all you need is just a little help. Let me ask, would you have been willing to help carry Christopher?

I am sure it was an awful scene with a lot of blood; that would turn some folks away. It would be easy to dismiss the situation and say, ‘Sorry, I do not have the medical skills to help’. Others might say, I do not know the boy, or I do not want to get involved.

When I worked at the hospital, I was trained in CPR and had advanced skills at basic life support training. Because I had this training, by law, if I came upon an accident and was the first person on scene, I was required ‘by law’ to stop and give aid. And I had to do this on more than one occasion.

Let me be honest, even with my training, it terrified me. I was no nurse or doctor. The best I could do was assess the scene, provide comfort and offer some soothing words. But I always stopped, not because of the legal ramifications, but because it was the right thing to do.

Let me say that another way, sometimes things are hard to do, but we do them anyway. And we do it because it is the right thing, the loving thing, the thing that moves our hearts. More often than we realize, God has called us to that place.

That is, what I believe happened, in our passage in Acts. Chapter 8 begins with the spreading of the gospel outside of Jerusalem. The reason for this was that Saul (also known as Paul) was persecuting Christians and so, they were on the run. 

Chapter 6 introduces us to 7 men chosen for a special task. It begins, “In those days, when the number of the disciples was increasing, one group of Jewish followers complained to the other, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”

To remedy this, they chose 7 followers to wait on the needs of the widows. They were called to visit them, serve them, pray for them, and share the Word with them. They were essentially the first deacons in the early church. It wasn’t their job to preach but to serve. Philip was one of the seven chosen.

After the persecutions started, the disciples all fled to the countryside. Chapter 8:4-6 re-introduces Philip, it reads,

“Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went. Philip went up to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.”

These were hard times and Philip had to step up his game. He wasn’t a preacher, but he could share his faith in a pinch and God used him. He was no expert, yet Philip had great faith and he trusted God. It was the right thing to do.

That leads us to our scripture today. After Philip left Samaria, he traveled south back toward Jerusalem. As he approached it, he began to go around the city because he knew it was unsafe to enter Jerusalem. That is when an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Continue south to the road – the desert road- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

Just a little background, this desert road was really a deserted road. Old Gaza was about 2 miles from the sea; Alexander the Great had destroyed it and it had yet to be re-built. It was a quiet road, few traveled it but travelers also had to be weary of thieves and robbers.

It was while Philip traveled, that a chariot approached on the same road. Here, we get some background information in the scriptures.

Riding in this possible ox or horse drawn cart was an Ethiopian Eunuch with his servants. He was an important official in charge of the treasury for Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia.

This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship and he was on his way home. Now, several things should jump out at us here. First, as an Ethiopian, he came from what the Jews believed was an exotic land far away, on the edge of the world. Keep that in mind.

Second, because he was a eunuch, he was forbidden to enter in the inner courts of the Temple in Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 23:1 forbids it. Yet, his interest in knowing the Lord drove him to go to Jerusalem.

Third, we know that this man was a man of great wealth. In part because of his position, but also because of his recent purchase. On his way back home, this Ethiopian man was reading the scrolls from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah is a large book and would cost a considerable amount of money to get a full copy. And not only had he purchased it, he was reading it. He was a man of education as well as wealth. And it was their tradition to read out loud and Philip heard him.

Then scripture tells us, “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” Honestly, I do not know if he actually heard the voice of God or received an inner nudge. I would guess the later. The reason I say that is because I have had many Spirit nudges in my life. Times when I felt prompted to take certain action.

So, what does Philip do? He follows the lead and runs up beside the chariot. Now, this could have been a really bad idea. The Ethiopian could have taken this as a threat and had his men attack Philip, but I think he was too engrossed in his reading.

Casually, Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Humbly, the man replied, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Philip must have said he could and so the man invited him to come up and sit with him. Notice how the passage begins, the one that he was reading aloud, from Isaiah 53;

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Then the eunuch turned to Philip and asked, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” What a perfect opening.

The New American Standard and KJV have the best interpretation of this next line of scripture, it reads, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, he preached Jesus to him.” (8:35)

Notice, how Jesus knew when to keep his mouth closed – and we, like Philip are supposed to know when to open ours. Everything fell perfectly in place; we call this a divine appointment. This was God arranged and all Philip had to do was follow the prompting of the Spirit.

Again, I want to point out, Philip was a layman, not a preacher. But God calls all of us to step and to be used. And Philip IS used in a powerful way. As he ends his sharing about Jesus, suddenly, in the middle of the desert, a lake appears.

And the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” and he stopped the chariot. Philip could have said, “No, I cannot do that…but he did. Right on cue!”

There are still 2 points I want to flesh out here. First, after this encounter, the eunuch goes back home and starts a church in Jesus’ name. Irenaeus writes that then Jesus’ words were fulfilled from Acts 1:8 when he said,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Second, Acts 21:8-9 reveals that later on, Philip, the evangelist, one of the seven, had 4 unmarried daughters who prophesied. The also preached and shared the gospel! His legacy lived in them. How’s that for transformation.

Now, let’s pull this altogether. God has created us all ‘for such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14).  Jesus calls on us to live out our faith in actions and in words. Philip knew this and we can learn from him.

1) First, he knew how to listen and then act on the Spirit nudges in his life.

2) Second, he was willing to go where God needed him, even if, it moved him out of his comfort zone.

3) Finally, he knew when to listen ‘and when to speak’. He wasn’t afraid to share the Good News of Jesus, to someone who needed God.

Philip could have said, “Sorry this makes me uncomfortable”, “That’s not my job”, “I do not even know this man, why should I care?” or said, “I don’t want to get involved” but he didn’t.   Instead, he took responsibility and lives were changed.

Imagine if that were the case for Christopher, the boy who died right outside the hospital. If only one person would have stepped across that line and picked him up and carried him in. I don’t know, maybe it would have helped. But doing nothing certainly didn’t.

Our faith has got to be about more than allowing us to sit back comfortably. I believe in speaking the truth and living the truth out, even when it is challenging. Because in doing so, others will know us by our compassion and love.

Your assignment is…to pray for the Spirit to guide you this week and to then take action. Don’t be afraid to step up or to speak the truth in love. Someone may be on the edge and your action or words could be the difference between life and death.

I pray God will use you soon.

Amen

A Body in the Sand – July 14, 2019

One day an older gentleman in a brand-new Volvo was driving around a crowded parking lot looking for a close space. He finally found one and was just about to back into it when a young man in an old VW Bug whizzed into the spot before him.

As the young driver got out of his car and was walking away, the man in the Volvo called out, “That was my spot, I was here first. What gives you the right to rush in and take it?”

The young man laughed and said, “Because I’m young and quick” and he kept on walking.

All the sudden the VW Bug driver heard the horrible sound of a car being smashed. He turned around to see the man in the Volvo repeatedly ramming his car into VW Bug. The young man cried out, “Stop!”

The man in the Volvo caught his eye and said, “This is because I’m old and rich!”

Of all our emotions, psychiatrists tell us that anger is the most destructive. Anger increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. It lowers your immunity, raises your blood pressure, raises your stress hormones and is linked to depression if it is held in.

In 2018, a national survey was completed that asked about Americans levels of stress and anger. 55% of Americans claimed to be experiencing high levels of stress and 22% (more than 1 in 5) claimed to be very angry, most of the time.

Doctors from Coral Gables, Fla., did a study to see what anger does to the human body. They compared the heart’s pumping action in 18 men with coronary artery disease to that of 9 healthy men. Each of the study participants underwent a physical stress test and three mental stress tests, one of which dealt with an explosive episode of anger. Using sophisticated X-ray techniques, the doctors took pictures of the subjects’ hearts in action during these tests.

For all the subjects, their anger reduced the amount of blood that the heart pumped to body tissues more than the other tests, but this was especially true for those who had heart disease. The brain shunts blood away from the gut, brain and heart towards the muscles.

Studies show that those who repress anger or explode, can cause ‘real damage’ to their own bodies as well as ‘what they might do to others’ in that fit of anger.

After a sermon on ‘how to deal with anger’, a lady approached Billy Sunday and tried to rationalize her angry outbursts. “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” she said, “I blow up, and then it’s over.”

That’s when Billy Sunday famously replied, “So, does a shotgun and look at the damage it leaves behind.”

No one understands the effects of explosive anger better than Moses. We find his story in Exodus. The Hebrews (also called The Israelites), were slaves in Egypt under the Pharaoh. Because the Israelite people were increasing in number, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to drown every newborn baby boy in the Nile River.

To avoid this, Moses’ mother and sister put him in a basket and placed it in the reeds near the place where the Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. Then, when she came down to wash, one of her attendants saw the basket, took it to her and she accepted the child as her own.

So, as a child, Moses was raised by an Egyptian princess. In many ways, he was treated like a prince; yet it was clear that he was not one of them. As he grew, Moses noticed these differences and so did others in the kingdom.

Since Moses was fed and cared for part of the time by his own mother, who helped the princess, maybe she or Moses’ sister told him about his rightful family. Scripture isn’t clear on those details. But Hebrews 11:24 does record that Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

What we do know is that as Moses got older, he recognized that the slaves, the Hebrews, were his people. Exodus 2:11 records these words, “One particular day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his people were working at hard labor and he watched them.”

Scripture tells us that Moses was 80 when he returned to Egypt and that he had been in exile for 40 years. That means he was 40 on this day. I am sure it was not the first time he had watched the Israelites at work. But it was on this particular day, that everything changed.

As he watched, he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. An overseer doesn’t really need to have much of a reason, to beat a slave. The man may have been tired and not working as hard as taskmaster thought he should, or he might have walked away to get a drink or relieve himself.

But whatever the cause, now he was paying for it. Different translations describe the beating with different terms. One says he beat him, another that he was scourged and another that he smite him. A taskmaster’s rod was made of a tough but pliable wood that was imported from Syria.

In Acts chapter 7:23-24, Stephen says that Moses saw a terrible injustice taking place. This was apparently a sadistic taskmaster, inflicting a brutal beating on the slave. Sickened by it, Moses became very angry and decided to act.

In many movies, Moses acts in a fit of passion. Jewish commentators often gloss this over and say that Moses acted heroically and justly. They call it a rescue or that he acted in his own self-defense. In Moses’ defense, we cannot tell if the Egyptian intended to kill the slave or not; that may have been the case. Yet, as in any good detective story, other facts give us insight into what really happened.

Exodus 2:12 says, that Moses looked one way and then the other to see if there were any witnesses, before he intervened and killed the Taskmaster. You see, this wasn’t an unthinking reaction, what Moses did was pre-meditated.

Moses not only killed the Egyptian, but then he tried to hide him by burying him in the sand. From what we can tell, the slave who was being beaten did not help. He probably watched and then left during or after while Moses worked.

In every good murder mystery, evidence is always left behind. It’s awful hard to eliminate every clue. It wouldn’t take long to notice that an Overseer was missing or to find the missing body. It is hard to cover up footsteps in the sand. But it seems like Moses put it all behind him.

The very next day, Moses is out and about the slaves and taskmasters again. Moses has no fear of being caught and probably believes that what he did was justified. And this action, this venting of anger, has made him bolder.

Seeing two Hebrews fighting, he intervenes. One slave was brutally striking another, so Moses asks him, “Why are you hitting your fellow brother?”

Then the man turned to Moses, in anger, nearly spitting in his face, the slave cried out, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you planning on killing me as you killed the Egyptian?

Moses reeled back then, he knew his secret was out. The man he defended must have told others and they would sell him out to save themselves.

Moses immediately understands that he was in danger, for though his high status might protect him from punishment for the murder of a mere overseer, the fact that he killed the man for carrying out his duties to Pharaoh would brand him a rebel and a danger to the king.

Indeed, when Pharaoh heard what happened, he demanded that Moses be put to death. But before this can take place, Moses fled to Midian and settled there to live.

Moses had nothing to gain and everything to lose by killing the Egyptian. It would have made more sense for him to walk away, yet his anger burned too bright.

Certainly, he must have heard the story about how Cain killed Abel and knew how God reacted. God said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10). Did Moses really think he could get away with murder?

Moses was under the assumption that the Hebrews would see him as an equal. That in his position, they could seek help from him, but instead, they only saw a man raised in the palace. If he really wanted to help, he chose the wrong time and the wrong path.

The Israelites were not ready to be delivered and Moses was certainly not yet ready to lead them. Some Scholars suggest, that his actions set back their release by 20 to 30 years. Had he stayed, God may have been able to use him sooner to deliver his people. 

The good that he hoped to accomplish, back-fired in his face. It always does when we take matters into our own hands. Sin has consequences and his anger was corrosive.

Jesus addressed this during his sermon on the mount. In Matthew chapter 5:21-22 we read, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment’. But I tell you, that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” 

Anger uncontrolled can become explosive and held back destroys the one with hate in their heart. The judgment Moses received was that he was not allowed to cross over into the Promised Land.

Make no mistakes about it; anger not kept in check destroys. So, we might be inclined to say, well, we just won’t get angry. In truth, even Jesus got angry. And Ecclesiastes records for us that there is a time for everything under the sun even anger and hate.

The real question is; how do we deal with it? Jesus tells us, in Matthew 5:24, “If we are angry with another, we are to go to them and work to resolve the matter.” (possibly after a cooling down time)

Ephesians 4:26-27 reads, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. And do not give the devil a foothold.” 

And James 1:20 makes it clear, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

Instead of allowing your anger to destroy you or another,

1) Take a walk or exercise to defuse the situation.

2) Try to pinpoint, what really made you angry, so you can address the real issue.

3) Talk to someone who can help you deal with the issue, especially if you cannot see eye to eye. (There is no disgrace in seeing a counselor).

4) Or write down your thoughts in a letter or diary and then later, destroy them after you give them to God.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame”.

I want to end with this true story,

Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did, and showed the strongly worded document to the president. “What are you going to do with it?” Lincoln inquired.

Surprised, Stanton replied, “Send it.” Lincoln shook his head. “No, you don’t want to send that letter,” he said. “Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter and you had a good time writing it and you feel better. Now burn it and write another.” 

Learn to deal with your anger in a constructive way, before it takes over or destroys your life. That is your assignment, begin today.

Amen.