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Saturday, April 24, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 6

Each of us has defining moments in our lives that occur relatively early. One of my defining moments came during the fall of my senior year of high school.

The previous Spring I had been elected Student Body President of my high school. That meant I was responsible for helping organize the Homecoming festivities the following fall. There were many traditions associated with Homecoming. One of those was that there was a competition that was held between each of the four classes. The competition lasted all week – and each day of the week there was an individual “event”. At the end of the day on Friday, points from the events were tabulated and a winner was declared. That was the formal explanation of the tradition.

There was an informal tradition associated with the competition as well. That informal tradition was that the senior class ALWAYS won: even if it meant that the leaders had to cheat in order to rig the competition.

As of Thursday night that year, the junior and senior classes were running neck and neck in the competition. That meant the competition would be decided by a pyramid competition on Friday. The pyramid competition required 10 members of the class to build a pyramid. Whichever class did so in the least amount of time won.

The senior class went early and had a good time in terms of putting their pyramid together. The junior class went last. Their junior class’ advisor helped the juniors figure out that nothing in the rules indicated that the participants had to build the pyramid by getting down on their hands and knees (even though every other class had always interpreted the rules that way over the years). So when it came time for the juniors to go, they built their pyramid by simply laying on top of each other. Needless to say, they shattered the time of the senior class.

When the junior class finished their pyramid, the gym was going wild – thinking that history had been made and the senior class had been upset. Before the results could be announced, however, the judges had to meet and issue a final ruling. It would have been easy for me to disqualify the junior class and let the senior high class win. I didn’t, however. I stood up to the pressure and did the right thing. In the process, I became the first President to let my own senior class lose the homecoming week celebration.

There probably isn’t another person on the planet who remembers that moment nearly 25 years ago – but I do. It was an important lesson in my life about standing up for what is right: even when it is hard to do so.

This morning’s passage from Acts introduced us to another individual faced with difficult circumstances: the apostle Stephen. Of course, his situation was much more challenging than mine. Individuals who felt threatened by Stephen from the meeting place misrepresented his ministry – and put him in a position where he could be killed.

And how did Stephen respond to the pressure?

The closing words of the passage tell us he became a sort of angelic presence that manifested itself in the midst of the High Council. That description reminds us that when one does the right thing, we have the ability to be a vessel for something far greater than ourselves.

As I said at the outset of today’s entry, each of us has such moments in our lives when we can become that vessel for truth/God. Today, I would encourage you to do what I did : remember one such moment from you life. As you do so, may you draw strength from that moment so that it might prepare you for future moments when you have a chance to do the same thing.

Til next time…

Friday, April 23, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 5:12-42

Taking the role of “leader” brings with it many challenges. The challenges some people think of right away are challenges that I would consider relatively superficial (i.e. balancing time commitments, massaging personalities and ego to keep folks motivated, networking, etc.).

Some might look at that list of things and think they aren’t superficial because they require a lot of talent and energy. For me, however, there is a whole other area involved that makes those things look small by comparison.

And what is that area?

For me, that area has to do with whether or not an idea is grounded in MY vision and agenda or whether it’s an expression of God’s vision. That is the most important (and most challenging) work to accomplish.

So why is that issue important?

Well, time after time in my life I have leapt into projects and nearly killed myself trying to realize them. Rarely did I ever stop at the beginning and ask, “Is this dream bigger than myself.” I would try to make such projects happen – even if that meant ignoring the obvious (i.e. that the resources weren’t appearing). Consequently, I often became frustrated and bitter.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown in my capacity to be more honest about my pursuits. Rather than try to force things, I’ll simply present ideas and watch to see if they grow and expand. That’s exactly the type of process I’m in now as I work to pull together members from the community to plan a 50th Anniversary Celebration for the Appearance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Valley. The celebration will occur the weekend of January 14-17, 2011 – the 50th anniversary of when Dr. King preached at the church I serve and then delivered an address to the community titled “The Future of Integration” later that afternoon.

Last night we had our first organizational meeting. After getting the word out, I wasn’t sure exactly who (if any) would show. Nor did I have a specific event of what the event should look like. At the end of the meeting, we had representatives from five community agencies involved and the seeds of a vision that will include somewhere between five and seven activities for that weekend.

I know the planning process will take many twists and turns. I am confident, however, in the wisdom contained in today’s passage from Acts – the portion where the author(s) quote Gamaliel as saying in response to the apostles activities: “If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it…”

Today I would invite you to explore various aspects of your own life – in particular projects that you are focused on. Are there any projects that you have been fighting or trying to force to happen? Projects that are draining your life and your energy? If so, maybe it’s time to ask yourself, “Is this project simply an expression of MY hopes and dreams or does it reflect something bigger than myself?” The answer to that question can either propel you further into the realization of the project, or help you let go of it.

By the way. If you would like to track the 50th anniversary celebration, you can do so in one of two places. If you are on Facebook, you can join the group “50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s Appearance in the Valley”. Even more information would be available if you go to and join the group “50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s Appearance in the Valley.”

Til next time…

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 4-5:11

Growing up as the youngest of four children was an interesting experience. It was interesting because I had a taste both of what it was like to grow up having siblings and what it was like to be an only child. Let me tell you how that was possible.

You see my two brothers and my sister are significantly older than I am. My sister is 7 years older than I and my brothers are 9 and 10 years older. When I was little, this meant that I had the experience of growing up with lots of siblings around. As I got older and entered junior high, however, my siblings had graduated from high school and moved on with their lives. This meant that for much of my teen years, I lived as if I were an only child.

This unique situation helped me grow to appreciate my sister and brothers more than some who grew up simply taking their siblings for granted. There were many things I appreciated about them. Some of those things were pretty superficial (i.e. I liked having older siblings who could drive me places) while other things were not (i.e. I liked being able to step back and learn from their mistakes without always having to make the mistakes myself).

One of the most important things my siblings taught me was how it was possible to function as one family in spite of our differences. My oldest brother Gene, for instance, didn’t like school much, but he LOVED playing the drums. My older brother Keith toyed around with music some but came alive on the football field and wrestling mat. My sister Karen was physically active through outlets like the high school’s drill team, but she really enjoyed her time spent learning about other languages and cultures. And while I felt comfortable in classrooms learning, I most enjoyed the time I was able to spend leading and organizing others. While those differences might have caused some brothers and sisters to drift apart, my siblings and I were able to weave together the various threads of our lives into one beautiful tapestry. At least that was true on our good days :)

I was reminded of my experiences with my siblings when I read today’s passage from Acts – for in that passage the author(s) give voice to a rather provocative image of the early faith community in which Peter and John were moving. The fourth chapter of Acts culminates with this description of the community: “The whole congregation of believers was united as one – one heart, one mind!”

Some might hear that description and say, “That’s impossible! There’s no way that a group of people – especially 'church people' – could ever agree on enough things to function as one.” As I learned from my siblings, I don’t think that description implies that the community of believers agreed on everything. That, indeed, would be impossible! What I think it suggests is that the group had a sense of perspective about what really mattered (i.e. their relationship with their Creator and their relationships with one another) – and that perspective allowed them to transcend their superficial differences and unite.

So how do you live with those who are different than you? Are you threatened by those differences and use them as excuses to withdraw from others; or are you able to maintain a sense of perspective that allows you to transcend those differences and live in harmony with those who are different from you?

Til next time…

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 3

I’m always amazed at what a huge difference there is between various translations/interpretations of the Bible. Case in point: today’s passage from Acts.

In the New Revised Standard Version, Acts 3:17-18 says that Peter told his audience: “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what God had foretold through all the prophets…” This translation makes it sound as if God caused the actions of the people and their rulers.

In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the passage, the message is conveyed slightly differently. The culminating words of the passage read: “But God, who through the preaching of all the prophets had said all along that God’s Messiah would be killed, knew exactly what you were doing and used it to fulfill God’s plans.” In this paraphrasing, it makes it sound more like God simply worked through their actions rather than caused their actions.

So what’s the difference between God causing something versus God working through something? Isn’t it simply a matter of semantics?

No. Or perhaps I should say, “Not for me.” I see a huge difference between the two.

It would be hard for me to embrace a God who I believed caused the heart-ache that all of us live with. It would be hard, for instance, for me to embrace a God who caused my mother’s degenerative bone disease that has kept her in constant pain for the last 30+ years. It would be equally hard for me to embrace a God who caused my friend Ryan’s addiction to drugs and alcohol – a problem that is literally destroying his life.

I can, however, embrace a God whose presence can be manifest in such difficult situations. I can embrace a God who has been present in the midst of my mother’s pain in such a way that all of us around her have learned to appreciate the moments of reprieve from pain - rather than take those moments for granted like most people do. I can embrace a God who has been present in the midst of Ryan’s addictions in such a way that those around him have learned the difference between helping and enabling – a lesson we might have never learned otherwise.

As you face the challenges of today, I would encourage you to explore for yourself the difference between a God who causes the occurrences of the day versus a God who is present in the midst of the occurrences.

Til next time…

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 1-2

During the recent debate on the health care, I found it fascinating how quickly some opponents of the bill were to throw around the word “socialism”. They acted as if that word represented everything that was opposed to what we as a people stood for. There were many folks in this camp who publically identified themselves as Christians.

Whenever that happened, I found myself smiling and wondering, “Do those people REALLY understand the values the early Christian community stood for?”

And what were some of those values?

Well, today’s reading gives us a great picture of some of those values. “And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony,” the author(s) wrote, “holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned,” the author(s) continued, “and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of the values we would associate with capitalism.

Reading those words reminds me just how counter-cultural our Christian faith really is! The vision embraced by those early followers of Jesus was egalitarian in ways that many of us modern folks can’t even begin to understand.

Today I would invite you to explore your perceptions of the world Jesus calls us to create. As you flesh out those perceptions, I would encourage you to begin to take small steps that might move the world – or at least your corner of the world - in that direction.

Til next time…

Monday, April 19, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 24

When I worked for the public health department back in Spokane, one of the duties I had was to help staff the outreach center downtown. The outreach center had many functions. One of its primary functions was to get intravenous drug users connected with resources that would greatly reduce their risk of contracting HIV. This meant that I saw a very different side of the community than I had ever seen before.

After a while, most of the individuals who passed through the outreach center didn’t distinguish themselves. Many were people who had made a point of trying to seem invisible to others. It was their way of staying out of trouble.

There was one pair of teenagers who came in, however, that I still remember nearly 13 years later. The couple was made up of a young man who must have been around 17 and a young woman who was around 13. What made the couple stand out was the way the young man cared for the girl who had been thrown out of her abusive home. While many individuals in his circumstance would have preyed upon the young woman’s vulnerability, this young man did not. In fact, he did just the opposite: he provided protection for her on the streets, he showed her where to get help, and he helped her make healthier decisions that wouldn’t put her long term health and well-being at risk. When I looked at the young man as he got a list of resources available to them, I swear I saw more than a scruffy faced teen. The closer I looked at him and the more I listened to him, the more I felt the presence of Christ.

Of course lots of folks would say that was a strange place to bump into the presence of Christ – in a downtown outreach center created to reach at risk populations. But then again – as today’s passage from Luke reminds us – Jesus had an odd way of showing up in the places folks least expected to see him.

At the start of the passage, for instance, the disciples expected to see him in the tomb. When they went to look for Jesus’ body in the tomb, he wasn’t there.

The disciples walking on the road to Emmaus were sure they wouldn’t encounter Jesus anymore. And guess what? They did.

Then, as the group of disciples gathered to hear the story about the others’ encounter with Jesus, guess what happened? That’s right. Jesus appeared.

Jesus had a way of appearing in those times and places that you would least expect!

With this in mind, I would encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open as you move through your day. See if you might find Christ’s presence through the words and actions of another.

Til next time…