Friday, May 18, 2012

Continually Devoted

Sixth day of the sixth week after Easter.  Read this week's lectionary readings here.

9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.

13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.

14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

I think they call this the proto-church.  The church hadn't been founded, yet (that comes next week!) but these people kept the Lord's limited ten day mission: go to Jerusalem and wait.  And they continually devoted themselves, through prayer.

I wonder what they prayed. Could it be that their prayers were inspired by the promise the Lord made in verses 4 and 5? (Wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.")  Could it be that they remembered lessons from the Lord like Luke 11:

11 "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?

12 "Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?

13 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"

Also, this phrase "continually devoted themselves to prayer" reminds me so much of what the church in its fulness did when it was established ten days hence, in Acts 2:
42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Blessed is the man that doth meditate day and night in the Law of the Lord (check out today's Psalm).

Won't you join the Lord's people in continually devoting yourself to prayer?  Pray the Psalms, pray what is on your heart, talk to the Lord.  And join in devoting yourself to learning, living, and simply enjoying hearing the apostles' body of teaching (which comes from the Lord, and accepting the ones the Lord sent is mandatory for accepting the Lord Himself), and join the Lord's people in devoting yourself to sharing fellowship, and join the Lord's people in breaking bread (eating together and/or observing the Lord's Supper).

There's a big table here reaching around the world, and there's plenty of room.  Come recline next to the Lord and eat and have a conversation with Him and His disciples.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Ascension of our Lord

Fifth day of the sixth week after Easter.  Read this week's lectionary readings here.

The Revised Common Lectionary often includes alternate readings.  The idea is that churches can select which readings they want.  Sometimes this is as simple as a choice between an Old Testament reading that goes with the Gospel reading, or an Old Testament reading that follows a program of reading through the Old Testament roughly in order, called lectio continuo.  Sometimes there are alternate choices of Psalms to read.  Sometimes there are several complex choices.

As an individual, I try to just read all the readings for each day, including each choice.

For Ascension Day, I am glad to have read both Psalms.  I would never have noticed how well these two Psalms (47 and 93) go with the Ascension on my own.  It talks about how the Lord has "gone up" to sit on His throne and reign.  In the context of just reading about the Old Testament, I would have found that exciting.  In the context of reading it in conjunction with the New Testament, suddenly the passage appears to be about Jesus Christ!

47:5 God has ascended with a shout, The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet.

I don't know if there was a literal trumpet at the ascension, but the angels said He will come back in the same way as He ascended, and in I Thessalonians we learn there will be a trumpet sound.

7-8 For God is the King of all the earth ... God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.

That's Jesus.  The one that Thomas proclaimed to be "my Lord and my God!" in the Gospel of John.  The divine Messiah "whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2).  "Thy throne is established from of old; Thou art from everlasting." (Psalm 93:2)

God was the original King of Israel, you know.  Gideon (Jerubbaal) knew this and rejected a chance to be king (Judges 8:22-23) .  Samuel knew this and rebuked Israel for requesting a human king (I Samuel 8:7; 10:17-19; and all of chapter 12).  But God permitted their foolishness to go forward, and they were given a human king, and later a dynasty of human kings through David.  But in the person of Jesus Christ, the son of David, finally God has returned to His throne.

At His ascension, as He goes up to the Father to receive His throne, all that has been witnessed about Him has been fulfilled: "Thy testimonies are fully confirmed; Holiness befits Thy house, O Lord, forevermore." (Psalm 93:5)  The Lord reigns and is clothed with majesty, and the earth is firmly established under His rule (93:1) and thus His kingdom will never be shaken.

So "Clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy. ... Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises." (47:1, 6)  Let's assemble (verse 9) and have a coronation celebration!

And amazingly enough, we will reign with Him (II Timothy 2:12).  So read 47:3 and see how our Lord delights to honor us: "He subdues peoples under us, And nations under our feet."

By the way, again I recommend the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood's sung Psalms.  I have been listening to Psalms 47 and 93 for over a week now which gave me a lot of time to think about how they relate to the other readings today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Psalm 39

Fourth day of the fifth week after Easter.  Read this week's lectionary readings here.

4 Lord, make me to know my end, And what is the extent of my days, Let me know how transient I am.

Why am I transient?  Why are my days so short?

10 Remove Thy plague from me; Because of the opposition of Thy hand, I am perishing.
11 Thou dost consume as a moth what is precious to him; Surely every man is a mere breath

Why is God doing this to me?

11 With reproofs Thou dost chasten a man for iniquity...

Oh.  It's my iniquity.  My sin.  My fault, my most grievous fault.

I am silenced.  I deserve all that has come upon me.

9 I have become dumb, I do not open my mouth, Because it is Thou who hast done it.

Or as it says in Psalm 51:4 "Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge."

7 And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in Thee.

12 Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with Thee, A sojourner like all my fathers.
13 Turn Thy gaze away from me, that I may smile again, Before I depart and am no more."

Perhaps the Lord will answer my prayer as he did Cornelius' prayer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

All things working together for good

Third day of the fifth week after Easter.  Read this week's lectionary readings here.

God moved heaven and earth to save Cornelius, and on the very eve of his salvation Cornelius still committed idolatry!  Yet God forgave him even of this sin.  Moreover, God was listening to Cornelius's prayers.  Even in his sin, even in his unsaved state.

I don't know if God listens to the prayers of all of the unsaved, or just of those who are looking for salvation.  I do know He is aware of everything that goes on in this world, and I do know that He wants everyone to be saved, according to I Timothy 2:4.  And I know that He is working on each individual detail that happens in this world to bring about the good of those who love Him and who are called, according to Romans 8:28.  He had arranged a lot for Cornelius: He had planted Israel centuries earlier, to hold up His light to the Gentiles.  He had brought Rome into power, so that Cornelius would be stationed in Judea.  He had sent Jesus and the apostles through the region, which according to Acts 10:37 Cornelius knew about.

And of course those are minimal compared to the real work which Jesus did for Cornelius's salvation in suffering and dying in agony on the cross.

And He had listened to Cornelius's prayers, watched his deeds of righteousness, seen his heart, and arranged to give him the desire of his heart: contact with Jesus, through the preaching of the Gospel and immersion into the atoning death of the Savior.

Those who do not believe God's Gospel often want to charge that the Gospel is one way among many, that other paths of faith are just as valuable, that God can and should and will send everybody to heaven.

But God didn't just forgive Cornelius upon his prayer alone, nor because of his religious life, nor in response to him being a good person.  Cornelius could only be saved through the work of Jesus Christ.  That work had to occur, and Cornelius had to hear about it, and he had to believe in it and accept it, and he had to become a part of it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Repentance unto life

Read this week's lectionary readings here.

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

How did the witnesses know the Holy Spirit had done this?

46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

What was striking about this, aside from the fact that it was obviously a miracle?  What was amazing about it, to people who were regularly amazed by such deeds of the Holy Spirit?

45 the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles

What was the conclusion based on this act of the Holy Spirit?

46 Then Peter declared,
47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ

Or, as those who later heard Peter retell the entire story concluded: "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18)

By the way, I encourage you to go through Acts 10 and 11 several times and read through it carefully.  The entire story is retold several times from person to person.  Each telling focuses on different details.  All of them are important for a full understanding of what God is telling us in this story, but of course I would say that the main focus is the above: God has granted to Gentiles also the privilege of repenting from sin and receiving life in Jesus.

Thank God, because I am a Gentile.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Preaching Jesus, accepting Jesus

Read this week's lectionary readings here.

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

36 and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"

Philip must've explained how Jesus was the one promised in that Scripture, the prophecy of Isaiah.  He must've explained the Good News that Jesus was the one who had stood on trial for the sins of the world, been found guilty and executed, been raised to life as the Scriptures had promised, and who now offered salvation to all who called on His name.  He must've explained that anyone who accepted Jesus would be saved from sin and death, and how to accept Jesus, and the eunuch was thinking about it, and wanted that.  And then the opportunity presented itself, and the eunuch called.

And the Lord answered.

Praise His name.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Singing the Psalms

I sing the Psalms from the lectionary using the Psalm tones published by the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood.  Find the LLPB website here.  Find MP3s of (almost) all of the Psalms, in King James Version, here.  Each day I usually try to hit all the Psalms from the past seven days and all the Psalms from the upcoming seven days.

The LLPB sings the Psalms in beautiful, a capella Gregorian chant.  You can buy their breviary and learn to sing them yourself, or just do like I do and sing along to the MP3s to learn them.  Sometimes I have the time to follow along with the text and sing myself, sometimes I just put them on in the background, but even then I find that they are sinking into my heart and memory.  The earlier church had a great idea to just sing the Word of God like this.  The Psalms were meant to be sung, and singing them with these tunes you can learn to sing along with thousands of others around the world.  Sing like the church in the New Testament (not exactly, but closer) and produce and listen to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs rather than being distracted by mere notes produced by mechanical instruments.

Moreover, as you sing and pray the Psalms, it is like having the Holy Spirit guide you, as if an expert teacher guides your fingers while you learn a complicated task, until your habits are well-formed and grow like His.  We know not how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us.

Seen and unseen

Read this week's lectionary readings here.

20 He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Interesting comment from (presumably) the same author who recorded this:
John 20:29
Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

In practice, Christianity works.  The Gospel serves the seen brother.  The Gospel requires us to do for others as we would have them do for us.  Wash their feet, feed them, clothe them, care for them.  Listen to them, respect them, seek to understand them (because we all seek to be understood) even when we think they are wrong (because we all want people who disagree with us to be fair and respectful to our differing point of view).  Love is action.  Do we merely say we love, or do we actually do loving things?  "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." (I John 3:18)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Lectionary readings

36 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered, "Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later."
37 Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You."
38 Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a cock shall not crow, until you deny Me three times.

I was always taught that the apostles did not understand and did not accept that Jesus was going to die.  And to some extent I still think that is true: it seems they did not grasp fully what Jesus was saying to them, and of course when He was raised this seems to have been completely unexpected to them, as if they quit listening the minute He said "betrayed into the hands of sinful men and killed," because this was impossible and unthinkable, and then they never got to "

But then there are moments like this when Peter does seem to get it.  He would go lay down his life for Jesus, he would even be willing to die with Him.

Of course, he wasn't really willing.  Not really.  Not yet.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jesus, Apostle

John 12:44-46:

44 And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me.
45 "And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me.
46 "I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness.

Jesus' words here are remarkably similar to what He said when He commissioned His disciples in Matthew 10:40: "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."  And look at what He is about to say in the next chapter, John 13:20: "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me."

This concept of sending and receiving seems to be important, at least for those of us who want to take advantage of Jesus as being the True and Living Way to the Father.  If you would receive God, you must receive Jesus His Son, whom He sent. If you reject Jesus whom He sent, there is no other way to God.

The word "apostle" comes from two Greek words meaning "sent out."  The apostles were "apostles of Jesus Christ" (see I Peter 1:1, Colossians 1:1, and the first verses of most of the epistles for examples), i.e., they were "sent out by Jesus Christ."  You also see some people in the New Testament being billed as "apostles" of certain churches; what we might refer to as "missionaries."  But Jesus Himself is an Apostle.  Indeed, He is the Apostle, the one sent out by God for the most important "mission" in history: the rescue of lost humanity and the redemption of creation.  He describes this mission in verse 46: "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness."

Jesus mandated that in order to receive Him (which is necessary for receiving God), we must receive His apostles in their apostolic mission, and likewise we must accept His sayings, His words, His commandments, His teaching.  In fact, these are one and the same, since Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guarantee the apostles' mission of teaching His Gospel.

47 "And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
48 "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
49 "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak.
50 "And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."

It is mandatory (and, frankly, extremely blissful) to accept Jesus'  teachings (including the teachings expressed through His apostles!) as the word of God.  As the apostle Paul put it "we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."  'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus!