September 2008


With the amount of upheaval and change occurring in the book of Acts, you’d expect major division. There is, of course, a huge rift between Jews and believers in Jesus which is evident throughout the book. But as I have been reading lately, I am struck by the agreement amongst those who have come to faith in Christ – both former Jews and the Gentiles.

For instance, after Peter’s vision of the sheet and encounter with Cornelius, the Gentile convert, in chapter 10, Peter reports at Jerusalem that God has granted that the Gentiles, and therefore all people, should receive salvation by faith in Jesus just like many Jews had. The magnitude of that shift in salvation history is amazing! While such worldwide salvation had been hinted at even to Abraham, to see the promised Messiah as Savior for all humanity, not just the Jews, would have been quite a shock. But Luke records that, “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'” While I’m sure there were those who dissented, and we see in the epistles that this issue would continue to be a sticking point for some, Luke emphasizes an amazing, Spirit-led unity. Peter was showing himself to be the rock Jesus had said he would be, and the church was of one mind.

Such unity is seen in Acts 15 as well. Some in Antioch began teaching the necessity of circumcision for salvation, contrary to the teachings of Paul and Barnabas. So a council gets together in Jerusalem, and with the help of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James, they sent a letter stipulating what new believers should and should not be doing, rejecting the notion that circumcision was part of a person’s salvation. So when this letter got to Antioch, you would expect some kind of rebellion, or people splitting off to form the “First Church of Circumcision is Necessary for Salvation.” But Acts 15:31 says that the Christians in Antioch, “when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.” Again, people probably dissented and left, but Luke emphasizes a Spirit-led, miraculous unity.

With all of that said, this is the way I pray our churches function. Much of it is surely tied to leadership – Peter, Paul, and others spoke with authority because it was obvious to the people that they were seeking God’s glory and the church’s good. Also, much of it had to be tied to the people as well – they were focused on what God was doing, not what they wanted. They trusted their leaders while discerning whether or not their words were from God. So, grounded in the authority of God’s word, submitted to His Spirit, this is the way I desire to lead and follow. May my church and other churches be known, not for blind adherence to whatever people say or by a rebellious spirit that rejects thoughts contrary to my status quo, but by Spirit-led unity that rejoices whenever and however God is glorified.

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I mentioned in my last post that our family has begun reading the Bible together each day. My previous thought concerning “Family Devotions” was that they were something I would need to prepare a lesson for, or that I would at least need to have some deep insight to convey to the captive audience of my wife and children. I have since realized that the attention span of a two-year old is… short, and that my wife and I are able to share our own insights in a more casual manner throughout the day, as opposed to during a formal “lesson.”

So here’s how our family devotions have been going: Elaine “reads” from her Bible. (Today’s selection was as follows: “Jesus sneezed. “God bless you.'” The Trinitarian implications are mind-boggling.) After that, Andrea and I take turns reading paragraphs from one chapter of a selected book – we are currently in Luke. Elaine takes her second turn of reading, and then we all pray. It’s so simple, but I see how God can use such a simple thing to help me recognize my role as a spiritual leader in my home and the responsibility Andrea and I have to raise kids in a way that honors God. And Elaine has caught on fast; in the past two days, she has been the one reminding us that we haven’t read our Bibles yet. The other nice thing is that visitors can join in. We had Andrea’s family in town this past week, and her sister was able to jump right in with us.

All in all, family devotions have turned out to be much less daunting than I had previously conceived. I am praying that we will remain faithful to this simple yet profound practice; if Elaine has anything to do with it, we will.

Last week was one of the most intense weeks of my short life. On Sunday evening, my grandmother, who had fought cancer for a short period of time, passed away at 78. Andrea, my wife, was (note the past tense) pregnant at the time, which made decisions about me going to the funeral difficult, but she solved those on Tuesday morning around 12:45am when her water broke. After about 28 hours of labor, she gave birth to Lena Irene at 5am Wednesday morning. She was 7lbs, 6oz, and continues to be content… as long as you’re holding her. With Andrea’s mom here and Andrea’s permission, I left for Ohio at 3am Thursday morning, arriving at the funeral home at 10:30am for an 11am funeral service, at which I emotionally shared some thoughts about my grandmother – it was harder than I had expected. The time with family, though sad, was very nice. My sisters, brother-in-law, and I were able to go to grandma’s house and spend some time remembering grandma’s life, surrounded by walls that held so many memories. We also spent time together as an extended family, complete with a football game, Apples to Apples, and a Bob Evans breakfast on Friday morning before I hit the road to return to my newly expanded family. Friday and Saturday involved lots of sleep.

As people continue to offer congratulations and condolences simultaneously, I can’t help but think about how intricately tied life and death are, though apparently opposites. My life, other people’s lives, and history itself has a way of plodding along, not respecting the contradictions of each day. Yet my belief in a sovereign God helps me know that such events in close proximity are not accidently but divinely ordained. I’ve thought about how the life, death, and resurrection life of Christ allow believers to die to self, live to Christ, and have the hope of eternal life. I’ve thought about how my grandmother, because of her faith in the saving power of the death and resurrection of Christ, is more alive now than she ever was. How she had to die in the land of the dying so she could live in the land of everlasting life. And I’ve thought about how for Lena, though young and just days old, physical death is a threat and spiritual death is a reality. That all who live to old age and die were once a tiny son or daughter, dependent on family for life. I’m sure there’s more to this life/death dichotomy, but these are the thoughts that have come to my mind over the past days. I thank God that things happened when and how they did, and I believe that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Proverbs 7:2).

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In contrast to these deep thoughts, I have to share three things that have cracked me up lately, while resisting talking about how laughter and sorrow are intricately tied…

  • I received a phone call yesterday from a pet grooming business, reminding me of my appointment to have my two yorkies groomed. I informed them that I did not have any dogs, but the fact that she used the word “yorkies” made me smile for a while.
  • A week or so ago, Andrea and I were having a political conversation at the dinner table. Elaine informed us that Joe Biden was in the church nursery and had cried for his mommy.
  • We have begun reading the Bible and praying together as a family. We all take turns. Yesterday, Elaine’s reading of her upside down, pink New Testament went like this: “And Jesus was walking around by himself. ‘A egg!’ he shouted.”