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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Not Ashamed of Jesus (Location: Caesarea)


“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You may speak for yourself.’ So Paul gestured with his hand and began his defense.’”

Acts 26:1 (Common English Bible)

            Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, rises the restored city of Caesarea, built by Herod the Great in 20 B.C. and named in honor of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus.  Caesarea served as the Roman capital for the province of Judea for nearly 600 years and was the official residence of its governors, including Pontius Pilate who sentenced Jesus to death. It is here that several major events in the formative years of the Christian church took place including the baptism, by Paul, of a Roman military officer named Cornelius (see Acts 10:1-8).

            For two years, the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for preaching Jesus Christ and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. During his imprisonment, King Agrippa and the king’s sister, Bernice, came to Caesarea. During a conversation with Porcius Festus, the current governor of Caesarea, King Agrippa and Bernice learned of this man, Paul, and that he was being held there in that city as a prisoner. Fascinated with the story of Paul, his preaching and teaching and Paul’s imprisonment, Agrippa said to Festus, “I want to hear the man myself.” The very next day, King Agrippa and Bernice entered the auditorium of Caesarea with considerable fanfare and Paul was brought from his prison cell to address the King and honored guest.

  Recently I sat in what remains of that auditorium, a place that can still seat hundreds, and imagined the apostle Paul standing in chains before the King and the city’s most prominent men. Asked to speak, Paul “gestured with his hand and began his defense.” In that day, the hand gesture was a common movement to quiet the audience and signal the beginning of an important speech. In that single movement of his hand, Paul delivered a bold sermon. Though he stood before a King, himself a prisoner in chains, Paul had the audacity to say, with that hand movement, “Listen, and be silent, for I have something of deep importance to say.” Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For whatever reason, I have entered a place in my life where I sense things more deeply than ever before; I am easily brought to a place of tears. Seated in that ancient auditorium, looking down to an empty stage, a place that was once occupied by Paul in chains, I pictured him making that hand gesture and I had to hide my tears from my colleagues. Paul thought nothing of his present humiliation, a prisoner in chains, and placed all his energy into one thing, the message of Jesus and Jesus’ power to change lives.

Joy,

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Not Ashamed of Jesus (Location: Caesarea)


“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You may speak for yourself.’ So Paul gestured with his hand and began his defense.’”

Acts 26:1 (Common English Bible)

            Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, rises the restored city of Caesarea, built by Herod the Great in 20 B.C. and named in honor of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus.  Caesarea served as the Roman capital for the province of Judea for nearly 600 years and was the official residence of its governors, including Pontius Pilate who sentenced Jesus to death. It is here that several major events in the formative years of the Christian church took place including the baptism, by Paul, of a Roman military officer named Cornelius (see Acts 10:1-8).

            For two years, the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for preaching Jesus Christ and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. During his imprisonment, King Agrippa and the king’s sister, Bernice, came to Caesarea. During a conversation with Porcius Festus, the current governor of Caesarea, King Agrippa and Bernice learned of this man, Paul, and that he was being held there in that city as a prisoner. Fascinated with the story of Paul, his preaching and teaching and Paul’s imprisonment, Agrippa said to Festus, “I want to hear the man myself.” The very next day, King Agrippa and Bernice entered the auditorium of Caesarea with considerable fanfare and Paul was brought from his prison cell to address the King and honored guest.

  Recently I sat in what remains of that auditorium, a place that can still seat hundreds, and imagined the apostle Paul standing in chains before the King and the city’s most prominent men. Asked to speak, Paul “gestured with his hand and began his defense.” In that day, the hand gesture was a common movement to quiet the audience and signal the beginning of an important speech. In that single movement of his hand, Paul delivered a bold sermon. Though he stood before a King, himself a prisoner in chains, Paul had the audacity to say, with that hand movement, “Listen, and be silent, for I have something of deep importance to say.” Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For whatever reason, I have entered a place in my life where I sense things more deeply than ever before; I am easily brought to a place of tears. Seated in that ancient auditorium, looking down to an empty stage, a place that was once occupied by Paul in chains, I pictured him making that hand gesture and I had to hide my tears from my colleagues. Paul thought nothing of his present humiliation, a prisoner in chains, and placed all his energy into one thing, the message of Jesus and Jesus’ power to change lives.

Joy,

If you found this meditation helpful, please forward to a friend and invite them to subscribe to this free blog.

           

Not Ashamed of Jesus (Location: Caesarea)


“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You may speak for yourself.’ So Paul gestured with his hand and began his defense.’”

Acts 26:1 (Common English Bible)

            Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, rises the restored city of Caesarea, built by Herod the Great in 20 B.C. and named in honor of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus.  Caesarea served as the Roman capital for the province of Judea for nearly 600 years and was the official residence of its governors, including Pontius Pilate who sentenced Jesus to death. It is here that several major events in the formative years of the Christian church took place including the baptism, by Paul, of a Roman military officer named Cornelius (see Acts 10:1-8)

            For two years, the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for preaching Jesus Christ and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. During his imprisonment, King Agrippa and the king’s sister, Bernice, came to Caesarea. During a conversation with Porcius Festus, the current governor of Caesarea, King Agrippa and Bernice learned of this man, Paul, and that he was being held there in that city as a prisoner. Fascinated with the story of Paul, his preaching and teaching and Paul’s imprisonment, Agrippa said to Festus, “I want to hear the man myself.” The very next day, King Agrippa and Bernice entered the auditorium of Caesarea with considerable fanfare and Paul was brought from his prison cell to address the King and honored guest.
 
           Recently I sat in what remains of that auditorium, a place that can still seat hundreds, and imagined the apostle Paul standing in chains before the King and the city’s most prominent men. Asked to speak, Paul “gestured with his hand and began his defense.” In that day, the hand gesture was a common movement to quiet the audience and signal the beginning of an important speech. In that single movement of his hand, Paul delivered a bold sermon. Though he stood before a King, himself a prisoner in chains, Paul had the audacity to say, with that hand movement, “Listen, and be silent, for I have something of deep importance to say.” Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For whatever reason, I have entered a place in my life where I sense things more deeply than ever before; I am easily brought to a place of tears. Seated in that ancient auditorium, looking down to an empty stage, a place that was once occupied by Paul in chains, I pictured him making that hand gesture and I had to hide my tears from my colleagues. Paul thought nothing of his present humiliation, a prisoner in chains, and placed all his energy into one thing, the message of Jesus and Jesus’ power to change lives.

Joy,

If you found this meditation helpful, please forward to a friend and invite them to subscribe to this free blog.

           

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Doing What We Can (Location: Cana)


“His mother told the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
John 2:5 (Common English Bible)

            Jesus’ first miracle was in Cana, on the occasion of a wedding celebration. David A. Redding, a Presbyterian pastor, declares that this one miracle is a masterpiece to love.[i] Jesus makes an unforgettable impression that he knew how to laugh and have a good time. Though it goes without saying that moments of grief need God’s help, says Redding, this miracle demonstrates that gladness needs it, too. What is dominant in this story is not the miracle, or the wine, but Christ’s presence. Jesus showed-up when people were celebrating and having a good time. This says a great deal about Jesus. Jesus came to live with people and to love them – both in the midst of sorrow and loss, as well as in times of gladness and celebration.

            From this miracle we make another discovery about Christ; Christ has both the power and desire to help people, even ordinary people like you and me. It is important that the wedding couple is never identified by name. Their name is irrelevant. They are, perhaps, ordinary people like us, busy celebrating their wedding with family and friends when something embarrassing happens – they simply run out of wine before the celebration has concluded. So, Jesus’ own mother comes to him and asks for his help. It is the most basic pattern of prayer; simply asking God for help.

            Naturally, Jesus does help. Jesus performs the first miracle of his ministry. But to read this story swiftly, without careful attention to how John, the evangelist, tells the story, is to miss a most powerful dynamic of how Jesus works miracles. Notice, Jesus never touches the six stone water jars mentioned in the story. Jesus turns to servants and asks that they do the work of filling them with water. Notice again, Jesus doesn’t draw water from the six jars. Jesus never touches the water at all. Jesus simply asks the servants to draw some water and deliver it to the headwaiter and they do. When the headwaiter tastes what has been drawn from the jars he comments that it is the finest wine of the celebration! The miracle of Jesus, the miracle of turning water into wine, follows when others first do what they can.

            When there is a need or a problem in our lives, Jesus is concerned and stands ready to help. But this story teaches that we are expected to participate in our own miracle. Before Jesus fed the thousands, Andrew, one of Jesus’ disciples, first brought a little boy, with his lunch, to Jesus. Before a sick woman was healed, she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Before a blind man could see, he obeyed the command of Christ to go and wash his face in a pool. To receive a miracle from Christ, each one of us must do what we can. No person’s situation is so bad that they can’t do something. But it is after we have done what we can, that Jesus does what he needs to do. It is then that miracles happen.

Joy,



[i] David A. Redding, The Miracles of Christ (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1964), 3.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Remembering Who We Are (Location: En-Gedi)

“Look! Today your own eyes have seen that the Lord handed you over to me in the cave. 
But I refused to kill you. I spared you, saying, ‘I won’t lift a hand against my master 
because he is the Lord’s anointed.’”
I Samuel 24:10 (Common English Bible)

            En is a Hebrew word meaning, “spring,” while Gedi means, “young goat” or “kid.” Placed together, the meaning of the name for this location is, “spring of a kid.” Many springs are found throughout this area but only two are fresh water, the others providing water that is tainted with salt or Sulphur. The En-Gedi is one of the freshwater springs and is still visible today, flowing-up from beneath a rock more than four hundred feet above the Dead Sea. This spring of fresh water, flowing down a cliff into a pool before finally emptying into the Dead Sea, is made all the more spectacular by its contrast with the drab, dry desert that surrounds it. During his years as a fugitive, David hid in one of the numerous caves among the cliffs that surround this spring.

            Except for a green oasis immediately surrounding the En-Gedi, the barren mountains and plains that extend out from this spring have been called Israel’s “bad lands” – a place of such desolation that it feels abandoned, even by God. Less than an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, my initial response, upon my first trip here, was that this was the most inhospitable place on earth, a lonely place, a desperate place. Appropriate then, that David sought refuge here while on the run from King Saul who sought David’s life. Hiding in one of the numerous caves that dot the mountains that surround this spring, David’s future was uncertain. He was a wanted man and King Saul commanded a powerful army with one determined mission, the death of David.

            Absorbing all the desolation, loneliness and fear of this land into his own body and spirit, David received a gift from God’s hand. During Saul’s pursuit, he went into one of these dark caves to use the restroom, the very cave where David was in hiding. The good news for David, and one common to our own experience, is that David’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the cave as David looked toward the bright entrance. Saul entering the cave could see nothing, including the man he was pursuing sitting right in front of him. Here was David’s chance to strike first, to kill the man who sought his own life.

            David did not. Rather, David snuck up on him and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe while Saul was relieving himself. After Saul left the cave, David also went out of the cave and yelled after Saul, “My master the king!” Saul looked back, and David bowed low out of respect. Then David showed Saul the piece of the cloth that he had cut from Saul’s robe. This was to demonstrate that David could have chosen to kill Saul and did not. David would not respond to Saul in fear and hatred, even though Saul sought David’s life. David offers Saul his reason, “You are the Lord’s anointed.” Even in fear of his own life, David remembers who he is; David is a man who has given his life to one purpose, the service and glory of almighty God.


Joy,

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Our Sacred Work

“Learn from Me.”
Portion of Matthew 11:29 (Common English Bible)

     I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land. Colleagues in ministry have spoken of how this holy pilgrimage changed their life in deeply profound ways. I accepted their words as sincere. Yet, I had no capacity to understand. Such a trip seemed out of reach for me. Now, through the gracious and generous gift of one family in this congregation, my wife, Grace and I have returned from Israel. In the span of eight days we followed the way of our Lord along the shore of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes, entered the gates of Old Jerusalem and walked the Via Dolorosa – the path taken by Jesus with a cross on His back. The impact of that experience is still emerging. I anticipate it will continue to present surprises – in thought and emotion – for some time.

     There are two impressions, in particular that have pressed against my heart from this sacred pilgrimage: the sense of memory that remains in locations known to our Lord, and the recognition that the Lord has moved on. Both bear the capacity to impress a deeper reflection upon personal discipleship; the personal quest to acquire the Lord’s thought, to carry on the Lord’s spirit, to participate in the Lord’s vision of a new world and to embody that vision in our own lives. The abundant wealth of such a robust discipleship requires attention to three words of our Lord, “Learn from Me.”

     Today people of many different nations make the journey to Israel for just this purpose, to learn more of Jesus. Though motives for the journey may be expressed differently, all come because of a basic curiosity. And curiosity is always the pursuit of information, of deeper understanding.  They have come to learn of Jesus, to learn from Him. Someone once remarked that the secret of learning is to ask much, to remember much and to teach much. This provides a helpful pathway for our own discipleship. It is a fruitful approach to successful learning in the school of Jesus. 

     Each disciple of Jesus must devise their own curriculum to learn from Jesus. But let no one assume that they are alone in the labor of learning. Standing in a footprint of Jesus along the shore of Galilee or walking along the way of the cross may stir remembrances of our Lord and inspire the heart to know more of Him but none of us are alone in this labor to be students of Jesus. The absence of Jesus embodied in flesh at each sacred location reminds us that He has now come in spirit as a great helper in the sacred work of discipleship. That, perhaps, is one of the glories of the ministry of Jesus Christ. While we seek to learn of Jesus, He is at work within us in such a manner that the beauty of the Lord grows upon our vision.

Joy, 


Reprinted from Doug Hood, Heart & Soul: Meditations to Encourage the Heart & Refresh the Soul, (Xulon Press, 2014).