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Daily reading: Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 Wednesday May 31, 2017
Galatians 3:23-28 23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian. 26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The foundational question before us is, “is the purpose of church to get people to be more like us?”  Paul’s response is no.  As a law abiding Jew that has come to follow Christ, he has seen the  movement of the Holy Spirit among Gentiles that has convinced him that God’s welcome is much wider and inclusive than he had ever imagined it to be.
“There is no longer Jew or Gr…

The great equalizer

Daily reading: Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 Tuesday May 30, 2017
Galatians 3:23-28 23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian. 26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The words of Galatians 3:28, are not just a point of celebration then, but they serve as a check point for us to examine how it is we allow this message to guide our community.  So while this two tiered system existed in the secular world of believers, within their community, the Holy Spirit gives full permission for equal rights among followers.
Just like the old adage of …

Inclusion

Daily reading: Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 Monday May 29, 2017
Galatians 3:23-28 23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian. 26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, we get a sneak peek into this issue of full inclusion.  Paul came preaching this wide welcome, found in the message of Christ, as he helped to start the churches in Galatia. 
After he left, some other leaders taught the communities that all believers in Christ had to also follow the Mosaic Law, narrowing the welcome and creating …

Wide Welcome

Daily reading: Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 Sunday May 28, 2017
Galatians 3:23-28 23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian. 26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Today we focus on Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.  It is a letter that is infused with a message of grace.
As we explore the early church movement, what we find is that there is a lot to work out.  Jesus’ message of radical inclusion continues to challenge his followers, as the message moves further away from its Jewish home base. 
There was plenty of debate in the…

Diversity

Daily reading: Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21 Friday May 26, 2017
Daily reading: However, we know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law – because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law. Galatians 2:16
Amidst all of their diversity as they work to welcome in both Jews and Gentiles, grace is what will form their communities.  Grace will allow them to make room for differences to exist, grace will allow each person’s unique story of faith formation to be heard and valued, grace will allow us to welcome in and make room for one another:  Which is very different than welcoming in and expecting the outsider to become like us: Which is the heart of what Paul is preaching. 
Grace allows Christ to live within us, as we let go of our attachment to ourselves and all of the baggage …

Grace in Community

Daily reading: Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21 Thursday May 25, 2017
Daily reading: However, we know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law – because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law. Galatians 2:16
Paul’s response is more about life in community than it is about the individual.   Paul will not tell the Jewish members of the community that they need to stop following the law, but he will say that the law does not need to be imposed upon the Gentile members of the community.  He goes onto to point out how even the Jewish leaders are not following the law.  Cephas, otherwise known as Peter, has on occasion broken kosher law and eaten with Gentiles, but when in the presence of Jews he refused to break bread with the Gentiles that were present.  He asked both Peter and B…

Boundaries of Grace

Daily reading: Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21 Wednesday May 24, 2017
Daily reading: However, we know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law – because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law. Galatians 2:16
Paul knows what it means to follow the law so strictly that it becomes a weapon that restricts and silences and even works to impede the work of God.  So he writes to the communities in Galatia when he becomes aware that there are leaders that are telling the community, that in order to be part of the faith community that they have to follow Torah law, specifically in the matters of circumcision and kosher food laws.  They have another gospel that they have presented that supports this view point.  These new leaders we can guess have led the communities to believe that P…

Grateful for Grace

Daily reading: Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21 Tuesday May 23, 2017
Focus passage: But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace.  He was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles.  I didn’t immediately consult with any human being. Galatians 1:15-16
This foundational story of Paul is revealed here and in the book of Acts.  In Galatians, rather than hearing about it second hand through Luke, we are hear it straight from the source, from Paul.  It is Paul’s story to tell and he does not shy away from his past, but sees how it has formed him into the person he is today.  Paul puts it out there for everyone to see and he is able to do that because he believes so deeply that he is not justified by his actions but by the faith of Jesus Christ.  In fact, if he were to be justified by his actions according to Mosaic Law, then he had it made because he followed the letter of the law to its fullest.  He believed so deeply in it that he work…

Grace

Daily reading: Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21 Sunday May 21, 2017
Focus passage: But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace.  He was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles.  I didn’t immediately consult with any human being. Galatians 1:15-16
Throughout the scriptures, what we find is that God is always up to something bigger than our words can capture.  Grace, welcome, unearned, and hospitality all help us to define the active work of God in community. The book of Galatians is a letter about grace and how it sets the parameters for a healthy, Christ centered community.
Take some time today to reflect on a time when you were welcomed in (where your voice, gifts and unique culture were valued).  What did that feel like?  Allow that moment to infuse how you welcome others in.  Take time today to practice radical hospitality and grace.
Prayer: Gracious Creator, unsettle our assumptions and our egos.  Open us up to hear your word …

Peacemakers

Daily reading: Acts 15:1-19 Friday May 19, 2017
This debate of what we need to do or confess or say to be in community has continued throughout history. We are just months away from celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Healthy debate was not the rule of engagement back then.  Wars were fought and families were divided.  Roman Catholics did not believe that the Protestants were true believers and conversely the Protestants did not believe that the Roman Catholics were either. As the Protestant movement developed, rather than being one it splintered into denominations who then had suspicions about the worthiness and faithfulness of one another. It was during the splintering that our denomination was founded as a pathway to unity.  The Stone Campbell Restoration movement sought to strip away all of the tests of faith that divide us and find the essentials that unite us.  While we have yet to unify all Christians, we find that within ecumenical communities that we …

Grace

Daily reading: Acts 15:1-19 Thursday May 18, 2017
Grace is gift that we cannot earn and is not given only to those who go through a ceremony.  More so, the evidence of faithfulness is more than a sign of following a covenant, it is a life of faithfulness. 
The council at Jerusalem continued in the tradition of reinterpreting scripture through the lens of God’s current activity in their lives.  Reminding them and thus reminding us that the church is called to follow rather than direct. James, a member of the council, then responds after Paul and Barnabas finished speaking.  He turns to Amos chapter 9 verses 11-12, to remind the gathering that part of God’s restoration after the exile and rebuilding of Jerusalem, recognized a place for the Gentiles in God’s kingdom. 
And so in light of the weight of tradition and the current movement of God, the council decides that circumcision will not be required of Gentile converts.  What is surprising is that tradition doesn’t direct the movement forw…

Practicing Grace

Daily reading: Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21 Monday May 22, 2017
Focus passage: But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace.  He was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles.  I didn’t immediately consult with any human being. Galatians 1:15-16
The Epistles are letters written by followers of Christ to communities that they have either had a hand in starting or were in communication with a church that was forming.  They are the earliest documents we have from the Christian community, predating any of the gospels, in their current form. What we know is that, as the communities are forming, there are a lot of issues to resolve and what we get in the Epistles is a sneak peek into conversations.  We don’t know what the letters sent to Paul or to others said, we only know their response.  Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia begins with greetings but quickly jumps to a defense of his own authority to preach the gospel to Gentile…

Scripture as a lens not the only lens

Daily reading: Acts 15:1-19 Wednesday May 17, 2017
In the spirit of healthy discussion and faithfulness to God’s words, Jewish believers, students of the law who followed Christ, believed that the Gentile converts needed to follow the Law of Moses; it was the bedrock of faithfulness.  Not following had, in the prophet’s eyes, been the very reason that they had experienced defeat and exile.  Faithfulness to God was grounded in a covenant.  Circumcision was the physical mark of that covenant for the men in the community.   The argument wasn’t whether Gentiles could be welcomed in; it was based on whether they needed to bear the mark of the covenant to be part of the community.
Paul, a Pharisee, also a student of the law and follower of Christ, along with Barnabas had been called by God to spread the word of God to Gentile communities, were of the mind that circumcision was not a prerequisite of being part of God’s Kingdom.
And so both sides poured over scripture as a spring board to further…

Non violent communication

Daily reading: Acts 15:1-19 Tuesday May 16, 2017
Back when I was serving a congregation in Jefferson City, Missouri, I came upon a model of non-violent communication.  The author had used it in inner cities to work with warring gangs and had used it to create bridges between pro-choice and pro-life adherents.  The guidelines were simple.  In a room you had the same number of people on each side of the debate, they all sat in a circle, in an a,b,a,b fashion.  So you would not ever be sitting next to someone who agreed with you on the given topic.  Each person had a time to share but could only speak in “I” sentences which avoided placing blame or creating those who disagreed as the quote other.  The end result was that compassion and respect for people with differing viewpoints blossomed.  At the end of the day, differences still existed, but didn’t escalate into violence with either actions or words. They learned through the process how not to associate disagreement with love and accepta…

Scripture as a guide and not a weapon

Daily reading: Acts 15:1-19 Monday May 15, 2017
As the body of believers is growing and the Spirit is out ahead of the physical movement of followers, infusing communities and surprising both believers and non-believers, word has spread to Paul and Barnabas out in the Gentile community that those in Judea believe that salvation only comes to those who are circumcised.  The church in Antioch sends Paul, and Barnabas and several others to Jerusalem so they can present a different view point.
When they arrived, they give a full report of the Gentile conversions and the work of the Spirit in the communities they had visited.  It is at this meeting that some of the scholars of the law stand up and say, “The Gentiles must be circumcised.  They must be required to keep the Law from Moses.” And thus a debate ensues.
While we have a tendency to use scripture as a weapon to prove we are right, be it on a number of issues throughout time as a means to end the discussion, that is not what the Jerusale…

Expanding Parameters

Daily reading Acts 15:1-19 Sunday May 14, 2017
We have been, since the Advent season, focusing on the gospel of Luke and since Easter, have been in his second volume, the book of Acts.  Luke paints a portrait of a generous God, who seeks out absolutely everyone and makes room for us all.  Barriers to the community are brought down and healing comes as people find wholeness as relationships are knit back together. How we fully welcome people into community and the parameters we set in place to guide our community have always been present.    The conversation of who is in and who is out is a major theme in the work of Luke. The question is whether Gentiles need to be circumcised in order to show their faithfulness to God’s covenant with their community. And what is at play is how we recognize the validity of different communities that might have a very different cultural context than our own. 
Weekly practice: Practice being fully attentive to what other people are saying.  Deeply listen fr…

Journey

Daily reading: Psalm 121 & Acts 8: 26-38 Thursday May 11, 2017
Focus scripture: God won’t let your foot slip.  Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job … The LORD will protect you on your journeys – whether going or coming – from now on until forever from now. Psalm 121:3&8
Philip is sent out on a wilderness road and so is the Ethiopian court official.  It is there that they encounter one another and the Holy Spirit.  The road they were on was a dangerous road and yet on the journey they not only have a transforming moment that was full of joy they also came across what they needed.
Scripture provided the point of connection and allowed space for Philip to tell his story and an oasis provided the opportunity for the Ethiopian to be baptized. 
The psalmist paints an image of God who is ever present on the journeys we take.  Take comfort in that reality.  What do you have to do to alter your day so that you are able to recognize the presence of God?  What road is God sending you …

Through the Gate

Daily reading: Matthew 7:13-14 & Acts 8: 26-38 Wednesday May 10, 2017
Focus scripture: Go in through the narrow gate.  The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road is wide, so many people enter through it.  But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.  Matthew 7:13-14
The road of faith is challenging.  It calls us to let go of the things of the world that enslave us and lead us to believing in their empty promises.  It is hard to let go.
In spring we go through the process of spring cleaning and for many of us that means letting go of the physical items in our homes that no longer are useful.  I find that this process itself while it can be liberating is also challenging.  Letting go can be hard.
The story of the early church is a story of moving into a new place where they had to let go of a life of discipleship with Jesus leading them in the flesh, to living a life of faithfulness with the Spirit’s promptings.  I can only imagin…

Do you understand?

Acts 8: 26-38 Tuesday May 9, 2017
The Ethiopian man is reading from the prophet Isaiah and Philip asks if he understands what he is reading and the man replies, “how could I?”  Revealing this fundamental truth that we need other followers and the presence of the Spirit to really understand what we are reading.  Scripture is an invitation to conversation and an encounter with the Divine.
The Ethiopian’s question gave Philip the opportunity to tell his story on the wilderness road.  Much like Christ on the road to Emmaus, he revealed the God who rescues and restores beginning with the prophet Isaiah speaking to a people in exile to the life of Christ.  Philip was given the chance to provide the lens through which he saw the world, through gospel, Kingdom eyes.

Prayer: God of scared stories, help me to see your presence in my life, help me to see connection with your Kingdom work throughout time.  Give me the voice to share my own story and the ears to hear others.  Amen.

The road toward

Acts 8: 26-38 Monday May 8, 2017
Focus passage: An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)  So he did.  Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship.  He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace.  Acts 8:26-27
Today we focus on Philip, who like Stephen from last week, is a lesser known deacon in the early church.  Rather than seeking for a road to take, he was seeking for the Spirit to guide him.
Unlike the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he isn’t on a road away from but rather on a road toward.  He is given specific instructions; at noon take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.  And so he heads out on this wilderness road, with the Spirit’s guidance.
Be in prayer today for the Spirit to guide you. 
If you have time to walk, take time to be in prayer as you walk, ask God to show you the way forward in faithfulness.

Spring cleaning

Reading: Acts 8: 26-38 Sunday May 7, 2017
Focus passage: An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)  So he did.  Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship.  He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace.  Acts 8:26-27
We are in the season of spring and the readings for Sunday mornings reflect this newness, this time of new life springing forth: In the story of the women at the empty tomb, in the story of the walk to Emmaus, in the story of the budding church and Stephen and in today’s story of Philip and the Ethiopian.
They are stories of growth and of knowing and also stories of uncertainty and doubt.  In spring we see the evidence of seeds boldly breaking forth from their hardened shells under the surface of the earth, stretching and growing and becoming something that will bear fruit.
The stories help us to connect to God a…

Fearless Faith

Read Acts 6-7 http://www.commonenglishbible.com/explore/passage-lookup Friday, May 5, 2017
Our world is full of examples of senseless killings like Stephen’s, where an insistence on being right trumped the life of another human.  But we are called to live our lives differently.  To allow the Spirit to guide us in practicing forgiveness and in offering love in situations that are unbearable.  We are called to live resurrection lives, lives that are unhindered by the fears of our world. There are countless examples of faithful responses to fear and threats.  We will conclude with a recent one: Just weeks ago on Palm Sunday, ISIS bombed two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt. The following week a church in Egypt was overflowing with faithful, fearless followers of Christ. This is what a resurrection church looks like in the face of fear. 

Prayer: Holy God, may the words of scripture be a song that sings throughout my day.  May your love and compassion be the source of courage I need to face tho…

Standing at a Crossroad

Daily reading: Jeremiah 6:16 & Acts 8: 26-38 Friday May 12, 2017
The LORD proclaims: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths.  Where is the good way?  Then walk it and find a resting place for yourselves.  But you say, “We don’t go!”  Jeremiah 6:16
Do you find yourself at a crossroads today?  Maybe it is with a decision that needs to be made for your family, or maybe it is happening at work, or maybe you feel that God is pulling you in a new direction and you are in a place of discernment.
Our God is a God of the journey.  We have studied this week the story of Philip and the Ethiopian court official on the wilderness road.  Take time once again to go and walk.  Maybe you can carve out time before the day gets too hot to be in the desert. 
As you walk, pray “where is the good way?”  May this prayer help you to find the way forward in your spiritual, personal and professional life.
Prayer: God show me the good way with each step that I take forward.  Amen.

The power of forgiveness

Read Acts 6-7 http://www.commonenglishbible.com/explore/passage-lookup Thursday, May 4, 2017
I have seen the effects on individuals, families, and communities of faith when forgiveness is not practiced and hearts are calcified. When words are spoken but not lived.  Forgiveness, like love, is one of the most powerful forces that Christ offers to us. It is so powerful that Jesus commanded us to forgive one another because he knew that forgiveness could change our world if we allowed it to.  But instead, we hold onto hurt and anger and allow it to close us off from one another. How different would our story be if Jesus had fought against those who had arrested him or if he had spat back upon the soldiers while hanging on the cross and had spoken hateful words? How different would our story be if the resurrected Christ hadn’t returned to the disciples on the beach and offered encouragement and a place for Peter to receive forgiveness after denying him in his greatest hour of need? How different…