Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 4: Unstoppable

There's an old story about a country church that got itself a new preacher.  Everybody liked him until, after a few months, he started doing a strange thing.  Every morning, he would go down to the train station, sit on a bench on the platform and read the newspaper until the morning train approached the station.  As soon as he heard the train, the preacher threw down his paper and cheered.  When the train pulled out from the station, he cheered again until it was out of sight.  Then he folded his paper and went back to his office.

After a few weeks of this strange behavior, the parishioners sent some deacons to talk to him.

"Uh, preacher," they hemmed a bit.  "Folks've been asking about something."

"Oh, the train thing?" said the preacher.

"Yeah," they answered.

"I love that train," replied the preacher. "It's the only thing in this town I don't have to get behind and shove."

If you've ever been in ministry, you know just how he feels.  You know that program, that initiative, that fundraising drive, that new Bible study that takes everything you've got, and you know that if you ever stop shoving it along, it's just going to dry up and blow away.

That's exhausting.  And not at all the way God intended the gospel to go forward.

This week's Bible story comes with a truth that is a relief.  The apostles have been boldly preaching about Jesus and healing people, and the religious leaders have tried all kinds of ways to stop them.  They are seriously considering killing them, when Gamaliel, a respected teacher, speaks up.

"Be careful what you do.  Remember, there've been others who made claims like this, but nothing came of it.  If this work is merely human, it will fall apart,
but if this is God at work, nothing can stop it."
-Acts 5:33-39

"Flesh gives birth to flesh.  Spirit gives birth to Spirit," Jesus told Nicodemus. And later he told his followers, "Apart from me, you can do nothing."

Really, nothing?  I have a hard time accepting that sometimes.  I live in a very creative, very connected, very make-it-happen community of believers.  And when we get busy for God, wow, it is really something.  Or it seems like it. 

That's why it's really important that we pay attention:  Is this merely humans at work?  Or this is God?  I don't believe God ever needs us to get behind the gospel and shove.  I believe he calls us to stand in the path of the Spirit and ride the wind of God.

Is that a relief to you?

Click here to listen to this week's story and download the homework.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 3: Bold!

Last winter, when we first began learning to tell Bible stories at Wednesday Bible study, we discovered that we had to unpeel some thinking we had about what needs to happen when you talk about faith in God with someone.  We were learning the creation story, and I remember asking the question, "What bothers you about this story?" And someone said, "Well, it doesn't bother me, but I know who I'm going to tell this to, and I know what they're going to ask:  'Seriously, you think God did all that in 6 24-hour days?'"

I didn't say anything in the story about a number of days.  And I didn't on purpose.  I wanted to tell the story of a God who is pleased with his creation, who gave man and woman a relationship with him and a role to play in creation.

But quickly we began to see that one of the reasons we don't tell stories of our faith is that we feel that going into a conversation about faith, we have to fight.  And we have to win.

We talked about the story of evolution, and someone said, "That's just stupid!"  and I said, "Really?  That's what most of our culture believes, and they think your story is stupid."

Things, as you know, can get ugly.

What if we learn to say, "This is the story that tells me who I am and what I am here for. What's your story?  And what does it tell you?"

How can we talk about faith with courage and conviction, but not end up in a sword fight?

I was thinking about that this week, because this week's story is about Peter and John being called before the Jewish religious leaders because they had healed a crippled man in the temple and then started telling the crowd that it had happened by the power of Jesus.

God's Spirit filled Peter, and he replied, "Are we being called on the carpet for doing good to a crippled man?  Then know that this happened by the power of Jesus.  You rejected him, but the prophets spoke of him.  It was always God's plan to restore us and give us life with Him through Jesus.  And I'm telling you there is nothing else God has given us that can make us whole and right except Jesus."
-Acts 4:8-12

Luke's account tells us that the religious leaders were astonished that ordinary men could be so bold.  Boldness is what stands out in this story.  Peter and John's boldness before the religious leaders.  And then, the believers' response when they heard Peter and John's story.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and give us more boldness to tell everyone everywhere about Jesus.  And do even more miracles by the power of Jesus."
-Acts 4:29-30

In response to their prayer, they were all filled with God's Spirit, the place where they were praying was shaken, and they went out and changed the world.

What's the difference in being bold and being belligerent?

How can we learn to talk about Jesus with conviction and charm?

The gospel is going to offend people.  Jesus is a Revealer;  he reveals what is in men's hearts.  You can see that the early believers expected Jesus to offend people.  But Luke says an interesting thing about them, bold as they were:  It was obvious that God was with them, and their life with Him was attractive to people.  They had, we would say, charisma.  From the Greek word charis, which means  graciousness of manner or action, the divine influence upon the heart.  Charisma - graciousness that attracts people - is what you have when God's Spirit fills you.

Left to his own devices, Peter used to cut off people's ears.  But Jesus didn't choose Peter to lead his church and leave him to his own devices.  And he doesn't leave us on our own either.  Remember, he promised, "And I will be with you to the very end."

I believe we can be bold in a better way.

Click here to listen to the story and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 2 The Power

Last Friday my mother had major surgery.  My 82-year-old mother was in surgery for 6 1/2 hours.  She is a champion.  But now she is weak and exhausted and in pain, and she needs me.  Since last Thursday night, she has needed me to be present and caring and strong and encouraging and patient.

Meanwhile, my newly-engaged son and his fiancé need me to be engaged in making important decisions.  They need my input, my wisdom.  To care about dresses and dates and venues.  The night before my mother's surgery, Ben's car overheated and he needed rescuing from the Kroger parking lot.

Sunday morning Dennis wanted me to be at his side to lead worship.  He needed me to sing "Fairest Lord Jesus" and to lead the prayer time in the service.

A friend on the other side of the world needs me to pray, needs counsel, needs someone to listen. An editor who'd given me a writing assignment needed me to deliver my 1,000 words.  Wednesday morning is coming, and I need to be ready to teach this week's Bible story.  My inbox is full of people who need a reply, an action, an investment of my time and energies.  Even driving to the hospital every day, I can't even stop at a red light without seeing that homeless guy selling the Contributor, who knocks on my window and asks for $2.

My reaction to all of the above is, "There is not enough of me to go around.  I've got nothing to give you."  And that's true.  There is not enough of ME to go around.  But "me" is not what any of these people really need.

I was thinking about this when I was learning this week's story for Wednesday Bible study.  Peter and John are walking to the temple to pray.  This is part of their daily routine, just like driving to the hospital is part of mine right now.  A crippled man is begging by the gate to the Temple.  He asks them for money.

"Look at me," Peter answered.  "I don't have any money.  But what I do have, I give you."
-Acts 3:4-6

What happens next is astounding.  Peter reaches down and takes the man's hand and says, "In the name of Jesus, get up and walk," and the man does!  He follows Peter and John into the temple, where he begins leaping and around and praising God for what just happened.  Of course, a crowd gathers around, and Peter takes advantage of it to say, "Why are you staring at us, like we did this ourselves? "

"It is by faith in the power of Jesus that this man stands before you today whole and healthy."
- Acts 3:16

It's interesting that Peter doesn't say, "This man's faith in Jesus is what healed him."  This man didn't even know to ask to be healed.  He didn't even know to put his faith in Jesus.  Peter did.  Peter had seen Jesus do exactly this same thing, and Jesus had said, "When you get my Spirit, you will have power to do even greater things."  And then the Spirit had come and wow! what power.  It was Peter's faith in Jesus that made this man whole.  It was because Peter looked at the man and knew that what he needed was not money;  it was health and restoration to community, and only Jesus could give him that.  And Jesus now lived in Peter. The Source was in him.

When our kids are tugging on our sleeves, when our husbands are hungry and tired, when our parents are feeble, when our friends are scared, when the homeless guy knocks on the window, when we step to the platform and hold the mic, what people need is Jesus.  The power of Jesus.  They need wisdom,  hope, encouragement, strength, peace, meaning, significance, forgiveness, instruction, companionship - and the source of this is Jesus.  Who lives in us.  We have what they need, and what I know from this week is that no matter how tired or overwhelmed or unrested or underprepared we may feel, what Jesus said is true:

"The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life."
- John 4:14

In Jesus' day, there were wells and then there were wells.  There were man-man cisterns, deep holes dug in the desert to collect and hold water.  These would dry up when the rains stopped.  An artesian well was a spring-fed well, fed by an underground fresh water source that sprung up between the rocks.  Know what caused an artesian spring?  Pressure.  When the ground shifted, the pressure and weight of the rocks would cause the underground source of water to spring forth.  Artesian wells were prized in the desert.  The people called them "living water."

There is not enough of you to go around, but there is an endless supply of that.  Is it in you?

Click here to listen to this week's story and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 1: The Guarantee

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. 

It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

  This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” 
- Romans 8:9-15 The Message

How old were you when you became a Christian?  I was six.  There were some things I understood at that age and some things I didn't get for a long time.  I understood that God loves me.  And I like to be loved.  And something in me loved him back.  I understood that God made the world.  And I liked the world he made.  So I did what others told me to do:  I asked God to live in my heart.  

How great is that?  The God who made the world loves me, and now he lives in my heart. I thought that I had just invited God into my life.  Now the God who made the universe was going to get to work on my agenda. And boy, did I have an agenda!  I was a very typical little American girl, raised on stories of "There once was a beautiful girl, and she had something she wanted.  And she got it.  And she lived happily ever after." I had lots of ideas about what happily ever after would look like.  Let's do this.

What it took me a long time to realize was:  I had not invited God into my life.  God had just invited me into his.  My story had just been pulled up into his long-term story, into his agenda.  And boy, does he have an agenda!

I was thinking about this lately because this week we begin Wednesday Bible study again, and this fall we are going to learn stories from Acts.  Last winter, we learned that we are deeply loved and pursued by the God who made all things, including us.  We were made for relationship with him, a relationship delivered at the hand of his son Jesus.  This is what Paul tells the Ephesians - people who were very concerned with love and fate:

 Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. 
- Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12 The Message

What is God's idea of "glorious living," exactly?  What does it look like?  Where will it take me?  How does it up-end my idea of glorious living?  Is the life God designed me for and offers me more special than the "special" I would go out and get for myself?  Those are the questions we will think about this fall as we continue to learn what this life with God looks like.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
-Ephesians 1:13-14 The Message

The Holy Spirit is the deposit of that life in us - that guarantee of that life forever.  The story of Pentecost makes us nervous, because the Holy Spirit makes us nervous.  Right off the bat, we are going to discover that a life powered and led by the Spirit is a whole different kind of special than we could ever have imagined or designed — or can control. But the Holy Spirit does not bring chaos;  he brings Purpose, with a capital P.   It's an adventure for sure, to be swept up into God's life, into his agenda.  Do we want that adventure?  

Let's find out.

Click here to listen to the story of the gift of the Spirit and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?