Posts Tagged With: apostles

1 Corinthians 4: Success Defined

Our American society defines a successful leader a certain way.  He is charismatic and charming.  She is an engaging speaker.  He has a strong backbone and can’t be railroaded by the people he leads.  She has a visionary spirit.  He projects genuineness and is authentically caring towards his people.  She empowers her reports and does not micro-manage.  In a post-Enron world, he must be virtuous and free from scandal.  She is available and open to input so as to elicit loyalty, but at the same time she is confident enough to make hard decisions.  He is a self-made man.  More often than not, successful leaders in our culture also have an attractive physical presence and have a lifestyle of affluence.  Bottom-line, a successful leader has power as our society defines power — the power of personality, persuasion, money, intellect, and respect or even fear if necessary.  (When you look at the complete list one almost has to be superhuman to be that leader.)

Is a successful leader the top dog . . . ?

The problem comes when we take this same paradigm and bring it into the church.  In this model, our preachers, pastors, elders, and teachers would be expected to be like the description above.  Consciously or not, we would then judge our leaders by this standard.  We should complain that this preacher is not dynamic or funny or a good enough storyteller.  That elder has not excelled in his own business career so surely he can’t help shepherd a church.  We certainly cannot abide a weak leader.  Nobody walks on a true leader and they have plenty of people to do the grunt work so they don’t need to get down in the trenches.  Successful church leaders get things done and win people over to their way of thinking and make it obvious that their ministry is achieving.  Church leaders need to make it known what they have done for the kingdom, so people will be impressed with them and slap their backs in approval and congratulations.  Successful leaders make sure churches have all they need, and their churches are not in want.  Ask yourself if any of this resonates with churches you know.  Do members you know have these expectations?

This seems to be something like the problem Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians.  It seems the Greek culture of Corinth had similar views.  Power is good, and weakness is bad.  Strong leaders are articulate and persuasive.  They get things done.  They evoke esteem and admiration.  They achieve and do not want.  They are celebrated and served by others.  We can tell from today’s chapter that this thinning was also in the Corinthian church:

Some people are getting puffed up. (4:18a; c.f., 4:7-8)

Paul makes it clear that this is not the right way to define success.  Churches need to guard against exporting this sort of thinking into their community.  It is counterproductive to judge leaders by this definition of success.  Actually, a church should be concerned if its leaders have this sort of thinking, as a new group of self-imposed leaders in the Corinthian church seem to have  (we will hear more about this group later).

This is how we [apostles] should be thought of: as servants of the Messiah, and household managers for God’s mysteries.  And this is what follows: the main requirement for a manager is to be trustworthy. . . . This is how I look at it, you see: God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession [a parade of prisoners of war, likely destined to fight to the death in the Colosseum], like people sentenced to death.  We have become a public show for the world. . . . We are fools because of the Messiah. . . . We are weak. . . . You are celebrated; we are nobodies!  Yes, right up to the present moment we go hungry and thirsty; we are badly clothed, roughly treated, with no home to call our own.  What’s more, we work hard, doing manual labor.  When we are insulted . . . persecuted . . . slandered. . . . To this day we have become like the rubbish of the world, fit only to be scraped off the plate and thrown away with everything else. (4:1-2, 9-13)

. . . or a servant-leader?

According to Paul, a successful, godly leader is first and foremost a servant and manager of God’s church, not their own.  They know there is no self-made minister and certainly no self-made church.  They may be very capable because of the gifting given them by God, but their greatest trait is that they are trustworthy of the great privilege they have been given to lead God’s people.  Their life is anything but comfortable, glamorous and affluent.  They roll up their sleeves and they do whatever it takes — nothing is below them — to advance the kingdom.  Their life is marked by sacrifice and they empty themselves of self, even to the point of putting to death their egos.  However, they are powerful, but in a whole new way.  It is the power of love, sacrifice, and the Spirit.

Now, that is a different way of view success.

What stood out to you?

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Luke 10: Celebrate The Right Person

I guess I am still stuck on yesterday’s message.

Look: I’ve given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and every other power of the enemy.  Nothing will ever be able to harm you.  But — don’t celebrate having spirits under your authority.  Celebrate this, that your names are written in heaven. (10:19-20)

It is just plain easy to have pride in or “celebrate” what we have been able to do for and because of God.  In the apostles’ case that meant the ability to exorcise demons.  But Jesus’ warning is unequivocal.  Don’t celebrate what you can do, rather what was done for you.  It is not about your gifts, rather the gift that was given you.  Tell others not about your authority, rather about the authority of God, the power by which we serve.

May God’s name and praise be always on our lips!

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Matthew 28: Terror and Great Delight

The women scurried off quickly away from the tomb, in a mixture of terror and great delight. (28:8)

This is an angel standing before us — a majestic messenger of God that strikes fear in all who see it.

The message is that Jesus has been raised from the dead — the message we long to hear, though it defies logic.

We are running off to tell the disciples Jesus has been resurrected — they will be so excited, if they don’t think we are out of our minds.

That appears to be Jesus up ahead — Hallelujah, but can I trust my eyes?

Rumors are swirling that the resurrection is a hoax we cooked up by stealing the body — that is not the truth, but it is easier to believe and the Jews are buying it.

We have hurried off to Galilee to meet Jesus — how can we help but worship, but wait a minute “Is this real?”

He is sending us out in the world, the hostile world, the one that killed him — he is with us with all authority in heaven and earth, but will they kill us like they killed him?

Faith is not easy.  It defies pure logic.  It makes you second guess what you are seeing.  It doesn’t add up.  There are always alternative theories afoot for what you are choosing to believe.  That can be terrifying.  But if it is true, if it is true . . . there will be great delight!

What does resurrection mean to you?

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Matthew 9: Bring a Friend Along

Caravaggio, "The Calling of St. Matthew"

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting in the tax-office.

“Follow me!” he said to him.  And he rose up and followed him.

When he was at home, sitting down to a meal, there were lots of tax-collectors and sinners there who had come to have dinner with Jesus and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” (8:9-11)

Matthew wasn’t exactly the ideal candidate for a disciple to an itinerant Jewish rabbi.  He would have been a Jew, but many would have labeled him a traitor.  As a tax collector he was working for the enemy, the Romans.  Good Jews wanted out from under the Roman thumb, and Matthew was only perpetuating foreign tyranny.  Not to mention the assumption that Matthew was likely skimming a bit of the tax money off the top for himself, just like every other tax collector did.  So just the fact that Jesus would call Matthew to be a disciple was unexpected.

It is what Matthew did next that struck me today.

Matthew is leaving his life as a tax collector.  He is about to start a very different kind of life, dissimilar in ways he probably doesn’t even realize.  Still, he calls his friends to his house for one last party.  We can tell from verse 11 that this group of friends was composed of fellow tax collectors and other unsavory people.

Yes, Matthew is leaving his profession and even this town.  But he doesn’t just drop everything.  He is starting a new life, but he chooses to include his friends in this new life too.  It seems he wants his old friends to meet his new rabbi.

Did some of these friends become disciples too?  Did they come along with Jesus and Matthew?  We don’t know, but we do known that Matthew’s first act of witnessing was to his very own friends.  He wanted his friends to know Jesus too.

Good reminder.

What struck you in this active chapter?  

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Acts 5: Celebrating Suffering

We want to run away from hard times.  We pray for them to stop.  We do all we can to avoid them.

I am not sure that is all bad.  I don’t think we need to go looking for trouble; it has a way of finding us just fine without our help.

But the apostles in today’s passage endure a sound beating and berating at the hands of the Sanhedrin and what do they do?  Celebrate!

They called the apostles back in.  They beat them and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus.  Then they let them go.  They, however, went out from the presence of the Assembly celebrating, because they had been reckoned worthy to suffer disgrace for the name. (5:40-41)

Is there anything to celebrate in suffering for Jesus?  Several things, actually.  We better understand our Savior, who suffered greatly in life.  We are reassured of our devotion when we are willing to suffer.  We can be confident that we are perceived of as a threat to the power brokers of this world if they are willing to take the time to push us down.  We will no doubt develop perseverance, patience and character as a result of our suffering.  We will become stronger through adversity.  But the biggest point of all is in the last clause of v.41: we know we love the name and reputation of Jesus more than our own welfare and interests if we endure persecution to the point of suffering,  In addition, we are reassured that God had enough confidence in our ability to faithful endure suffering that he allowed it to come our way.

It will take some time to retrain the heart to these realities, but this idea is a wonderful one!

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Acts 2: They Begin to Get It

This is such an incredible chapter!

I don’t say that because I have been programmed to by my religious tradition that has exalted this chapter since the beginning of the Restoration Movement almost 200 years ago.  They often championed this chapter as a blueprint for receiving Christ in a particular way.  That is certainly in here, but that kind of reductionism misses the point.

Acts 2 is a sunburst of spiritual power.  The original Great Awakening.  It is the start of something new, though it was spoken of  long ago (Acts 2:16-21).  So many things we have been seeing are coming together here, and so many things will launch out from here.  The Celts would have called this one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth in an explosion of energy, awareness, ability, and change.  Now that is a reason to exalt a chapter!

Amongst other points, this chapter is so wonderful because the apostles finally begin to get this kingdom Jesus has been talking about.

  • They begin to see that “Death” is the real enemy that has to be vanquished not Rome, and that the battle was waged on a cross and in a tomb not in Judea (2:24, 27, 31-32)
  • They were able to grasp that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to David to have a descendent on the throne, but that this was a different sort of throne (2:30-31)
  • They boldly claimed that “Jesus is Lord” (2:36) instead of saying “Caesar is Lord,” a common cry by the AD 60s when Acts was written if not in the AD 30s when the actual events took place.  Somehow it was possible for Jesus to be Lord even while Caesar was on a throne.
  • They were understanding that the greatest tyranny comes at the hands of Sin, and the greatest freedom is from this enemy (2:38, 40, 47)
  • They were switching from a worldview that said Israel is our most important allegiance to seeing the fledgling collection of Jesus-followers as the Great Community (2:42-47)

Notice, they didn’t really get it in Acts 1.  Now they begin to in Acts 2.  What changed?  What happened?  The only thing that changed was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.  God is changing them from the inside out.

Let your Spirit come!  Fall upon us now!

What spoke to you anew in this very familiar chapter?  

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Acts 1: Waiting in Prayer

So when the apostles came together, they put this question to Jesus.  “Master,” they said,” is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

We have come to a new book, written by a different author, Luke the physician and traveling partner of Paul.  We are at a turning point in our story: Jesus is leaving and there is a promise of something new.  But these are the same old apostles.  Even now, forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, still they do not get it (and maybe I wouldn’t have either).  It sounds like they are still thinking the kingdom Jesus is bringing is an earthly one in which Israel’s political, cultural, and economic blessings will be restored.  Surely, Jesus has returned from the grave in an astounding show of power in order to rally the masses in a great revolt against Rome.

But he has not.  In another move they were not expecting, he ascends into the sky and disappears.  They are so confused they stand looking into the sky and have to be sent back to Jerusalem by two angels to wait for whatever comes next.

It is what they do next that struck me today:

They all gave themselves single-heartedly to prayer. (1:14)

That is such the right thing to do.  When life gets confusing, pray.  When things do not go as expected, pray.  When you are sad and feel left alone, pray.  When life becomes a waiting game, pray.  When it is time to prepare for something new, pray.  When you are scared, pray.  That is a good example for today.

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Mark 16: What Will You Do With Jesus?

Blogs are an ideal place for experimental writing, so I hope you will allow me to do that today.

In just about every Bible translated since the King James Version there is a line after 16:8 that says verses 9-20 are not found in the earliest manuscripts.  Still, I have always read the chapter as a whole, trusting that the editors of whatever translation I am reading had a good reason for putting vv. 9-20 in there.

Verses 9-20 were probably not written by Mark; there is ample evidence to suggest that.  They do show up before AD 150, though, so they are early and maybe still apostolic.  Maybe a copyist thought the book was too messy if it ended at 16:8 and added an ending of his own.  Maybe someone wanted to add a truncated version of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the Great Commission and mention of miracles to be done by the apostles.  Maybe someone felt we needed to actually hear about Jesus meeting the apostles in Galilee as 16:7 mentioned.  Maybe Mark did have an ending and it was lost or destroyed (this section would have been the end of a scroll or codex) and vv. 9-20 are just a copy of the original that was rewritten later.   Maybe Mark died or was arrested before he could finish the book.  Honestly, I am not that worried about it.  It might be wise to refrain from picking up rattlesnakes thinking the Bible authorizes it, just in case.

Today I would like to experiment with ending Mark at 16:8 and seeing what message arises from that decision.  Maybe Mark wanted his gospel to end as abruptly as it started in chapter 1, no mention of his birth and now no post-resurrection appearance by Jesus.  So, the ending of Mark would be:

They [the women] went out, and fled from the tomb.  Trembling and panic had seized them.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (16:8)

That seems like a weird ending to the book.  We never see the resurrected Jesus; we must simply believe that what the angel says is true.  We never see emboldened believers: the apostles are still hiding, and even the women who were at least faithful enough to come to finish the job of anointing the body run away in a mix of awe and terror.  Is Jesus alive as the angel said?  What will become of this new movement?  What more should have been done?  These questions are all left unanswered in Mark’s awkward ending.

But maybe that is the point.  Maybe Mark, who we have repeatedly seen leave us hanging with forced vows of secrecy and people swimming in puzzlement, wants to leave us with questions.  That certainly would fit with the “messianic secret” idea we have seen already.  Remember these questions from Mark?  We are left answering these questions for ourselves:

Who do people say I am? (8:27)

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? (14:61)

Are you the king of the Jews? (15:2)

What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews? (Mark 15:12)

More practically, maybe Mark is intending to push us back into his book to decide for ourselves whether we can believe that Jesus really is who he says he is. Some people think Mark was intended to be used as an evangelistic tool and this sort of ending could set up quite a fruitful conversation with a spiritual seeker.  Maybe we are supposed to naturally compose the ending we think there should have been — what the women should have done, what the apostles should and will do, what needs to be done now if Jesus really is alive.  Moreover, maybe we aren’t just supposed to compose the ending, maybe be are supposed to do that ending we imagine.

I think I like that sort of ending.

As we finish Mark, please take the time to write one sentence summarizing what “big idea” has stayed with you these past three weeks as you have read.

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