Reflecting and Recounting

US-Storm-Hercules-2014“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” – Acts 11:15‭-‬18

This is a retelling or recounting of the events at Cornelius’ house when he and all those present received the Holy Spirit poured out. In this recounting Peter has had time to reflect on the event and perhaps do a better job of remembering what Jesus said about baptism with water and the Holy Spirit.

Since this story is repeated it must be an important moment for Peter and the disciples. It is really the point at which they realize that God is not exclusive. Despite the special relationship with these disciples and the nation of Israel I suspect God was never really exclusive.  God and Jesus has alluded to this many times, even in the old testament.

What God wants is, theophilus, God-lovers the addressee of the book of Acts. I suspect there have been, and probably always will be, God-lovers scattered among those outside Judaism and Christianity. Just like Cornelius and the Ethiopian there are those whose souls are seeking and hearts are burning to know God in a more intimate way.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit provide this intimacy for all those who choose to accept it.

The take home for me from this “circling back” passage is that we should be doing what Peter is doing, reflecting on what Jesus said about who God is seeking and who is seeking God.  Perhaps sometimes we just need to get out of the way and let people find Him.

Prayer: God help us to be open to all who seek You and those You are in the process of seeking.

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Holy Spirit Poured Out

st-peterinthehouseofcornelius.jpg!Large“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. – Acts 10:39‭-‬48

Simon Peter has travelled with the men sent by Cornelius the Roman Centurion. Before the men arrived to retrieve Peter he had his famous vision:

“He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” – Acts 10:11‭-‬15

God and the Holy Spirit made it clear that God loves and wants to be in relationship with everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation or history. He wants courageous and curious God seekers like the Ethiopian converted by the Holy Spirit with the help of Philip and Cornelius who is welcoming Peter into his house because he wants to learn more about the God whose unseen hand has been reaching out to him.

Prior to the vision about the animals and unclean versus clean foods Peter clearly had a limited view of who God invites into relationship. Despite many experiences and spiritual squalls that made it clear Jesus welcomed all those who were willing to seek Him out. This experience with Cornelius is a key turning point for Peter. He finally understands that God reaches out His arm to everyone, not just the righteous and religious.

After his arrival Peter launches into a monologue about Jesus’ life and resurrection.  In Peters defense this is probably what he felt he was supposed to be doing.  I do wonder whether the same miraculous moment would have occurred if he had simply prayed or talked with Cornelius about his faith. It does seem to be part of a pattern with Peter of speaking when silence would be just as effective.  When Peter reaches the part about forgiveness of sins: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” the Holy Spirit intercedes and is poured out and into all those who were listening, both Jews and gentiles.

The Jewish followers with Peter are surprised by this indiscriminate outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They also had something to learn about the size and doorways to God’s house. Peter, also somewhat surprised, says “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”.

Peter’s statement about people being baptized with water implies that there were some followers that were preventing people from being baptized with water. These gatekeepers probably had good intentions, and felt they were trying to keep the faith pure and free of pagan poisons, but I think they missed the point.  The change in heart and direction is what is being commemorated through baptizing with water.  This transformation and beginning of a new relationship with God is open to every human being.  Full stop.  No one should be able to restrict or limit our love for God or His love for us.

Prayer: God thank you for loving us and pouring out your Holy Spirit freely. 

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Simon by the Sea

IMG_20210109_134625060_HDRAt Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. – Acts 10:1‭-‬8

This passage shows that the Holy Spirit is at work even in those who are not fully aware of it. Cornelius, who is apparently a gentile and a Roman Centurion is a “devout and God-fearing” man. He was apparently in tune with the Holy Spirit despite his outward appearance as a person who would probably be feared and reviled by many Christians.  You can’t judge a book by its cover or a soul by its body.

This passage is a reminder that we should approach everyone with love and grace.  No matter what their outward appearance would suggest about their spiritual state.  They may be much closer to God than we realize. We are not able to view where this person is on their journey home the way that God can from His perspective.  He is able to see all of the wandering and wondering souls.  Our job is to love them all and let God sort them out.

Cornelius gets a surprise visit from an angel of the Lord who tells him that “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”. Cornelius got God’s attention. His outward actions were a clue to his inner readiness to become a faithful follower of Jesus.

The angel tells Cornelius to “send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.” Apparently Cesarea and Joppa are about 35 miles apart. Both are coastal cities on the Mediterranean. Simon Peter is staying with another Simon the tanner who lives by the sea. That is the water reference here.

Interestingly, the sea has often been used up to this point in the bible to metaphorically refer to the unseen spiritual world around us.  Jesus was the bridge to this world while He was on earth and now His followers must take on this role.  So Peter by sea will go visit Cornelius to represent the risen savior.  In the part of the story that follows the men will arrive at Peter’s house just after he has received a vision in which God make is clear that salvation is for everyone and Peter should not call anyone impure or unclean.  Cornelius becomes the means for Peter to learn a very important lesson.  No one is lost beyond God’s arm to retrieve.

I think the key take away for me from this passage is that we need to be really careful when we are interacting with those who we might consider “lost”.  They may be much less lost than we think and they may also have really important things to teach us along the way.

Prayer: God help us to see people the way you do full of grace and potential

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Curiosity, Conversion, and Closers

the-baptism-of-the-eunuch-1641.jpg!LargeNow an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.” [Isaiah 53:7,8].   The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.   When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.  Acts 8:26-40

I am not a baseball fan and I will definitely not wade into the whole MLB debate and debacle about boycotts and voting rights, but there is a baseball concept that comes into today’s passage.  My rudimentary baseball understanding is that a “closer” is a pitcher that is brought in toward the end of a game to win the game.  This pitcher apparently is not usually the best or most valued pitcher but they have the right skills at the right time to “close the deal”.  Philip is the “closer” for the God and the Holy Spirit in this story.

The main character of today’s passage is really the Holy Spirit, with Philip and an Ethiopian Eunuch in strong supporting roles.  Philip has been sent out by the disciples to share the Good News about Jesus.  Crucial to this witnessing are the insights and promptings provided by the Holy Spirit. The passage begins with the Holy Spirit prompting Philip to “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  There is no indication that Philip knew why he was prompted to do this only that he was supposed to go and find out along the way.  This is faithful following at its finest, striking out because we feel led to do so even before we know where or why we are going.

The scene then shifts to the Ethiopian Eunuch who was apparently a very important and respected person in charge of treasures and wealth.  His is apparently a wondering soul because he was on his way back from worshiping in Jerusalem.  I am not sure how common it was for a person who was not Jewish to travel to Jerusalem to worship.  It seems like it was probably not a common thing, but I could be wrong.  In any case the Ethiopian Eunuch was clearly a curious God seeker who was looking for answers to some big questions.  God was reaching through time, and the words of Isaiah, to speak to this Ethiopian man (I am going to drop the eunuch part as it seems somewhat unfair to define the man in this way).

Along comes Philip, the closer, listening intently to the Holy Spirit to figure out why he is supposed to be on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  The Spirit tells Philip “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  The account is not specific about the way the Spirit communicated with Philip so we do not know if this was an audible voice, an inner sense, or merely a decision that Philip made which he later understood to be prompted by the Holy Spirit.  I am not sure it really matters.   

Philip got close enough to the Ethiopian’s chariot to overhear him reading this passage from Isaiah: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.” I reflected on this passage in Isaiah back on November 19, 2015 in a post entitled “Pierced for our Transgressions”.

The Ethiopian is wondering who this passage is talking about and Philip helps him to understand that Jesus is the man described in the prophecy. Clearly God had been at work in this man’s heart and soul for some time before Philip showed up to “close the deal”.

The Ethiopian’s is ready to commemorate his conversion right away by being baptized with water.  This outward act of an inner change has been common practice since John began doing it by the Jordan River.  Philip has the privilege and honor of baptizing this unnamed Ethiopian man then is whisked away by the Holy Spirit.

I have to be honest here the last part about the spirit miraculously whisking him away seems overly dramatic and out of sync with the rest of the story.  It is certainly within God’s power to transport Philip away like this, but it seems unnecessary and a bit like showing off.  As if the repentance and recovery of a lost sheep is not miracle enough.  I could be totally wrong but this just seems like decorating the altar to me.  Almost as if the author felt the need to make Philip more supernatural and spiritual. 

It would have been just as meaningful to me, perhaps more so, if the author had described Philip hugging the Ethiopian and walking off down the road to other Holy Spirit inspired encounters.

Prayer: God help us to listen and look intently for where the Holy Spirit leads.

 

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Stephen at the Sanhedrin

“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’ “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. – Acts 7:30‭-‬38

Today’s passage recounts Stephen bearing witness at the Sanhedrin through the Holy Spirit. Apparently the Sanhedrin was sort of the Jewish version of the United States Supreme Court. A group of learned rabbis, priests, and elders would arbitrate and rule on religious matters and questions.

Stephen had been brought before this body of rabbis or elders because he was speaking about Jesus.  The Jewish leaders felt threatened by this so they accused him of blasphemy against Moses “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” (Acts 6:11)

Stephen responds to this charge by recounting the history of the Jewish people and making connections from Abraham to Moses, and eventually to Jesus. The water reference comes when Stephen gets to the part about parting the Red Sea, “He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.”

When I reflected on the account of the Red Sea parting back on August 2, 2014 it struck me that this miraculous event actually took some time and was part of a pattern of God standing between the enemies of Israel and the Israelites. Stephen is building the case that Jesus coming to share about the Kingdom of God was the fulfillment of these early promises to have our back in times of trouble and when we are facing enemiesGod did the same thing through sending Jesus. He is protecting His people from an enemy, in the case of Jesus the ultimate enemy, the deceiver, Satan, and death itself.

Well needless to say the elders were not very receptive to being schooled by Stephen an “uneducated” follower of the radical and resurrected Jesus. I can practically see the steam coming out of their ears like in a cartoon.  In the passages that follow Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, lays out the case for how these religious leaders have missed the long awaited Messiah. This pushed them over the top and they take Stephen out and stone him to death for his supposed blasphemy.

From a secular perspective it might seem like they won by stoning Stephen, but what appeared to be a victory was in fact part of God’s plan and a big win for God.  Looking on as Stephen is stoned to death is a young man named Saul who will later convert to the way of Jesus, take the name Paul, and become one of the most radical and effective witnesses for Jesus that have ever existed.  Big things can take time but in the end God wins.

Prayer: God thank you for sending your Spirit to help us be a witness to Your Son and His impact in our lives.

Posted in Acts, Christianity, Conflict, Death and Dying, Discernment, Discipleship, Following God, God's Love for Us, Gospel, Holy Spirit, Messiah, Stephen, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged | Leave a comment

Raging Nations

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Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “ ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. – Acts 4:18-‬26

A lot has happened since Jesus ascended into heaven leaving His disciples wondering what to do next. Peter and John have been released by the religious leaders after getting a serious grilling about this resurrection ruckus they are causing by “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead”. They are also healing people in Jesus’ name.  How dare they do something so radical as to heal the sick and lame in Jesus’ name.

The religious leaders have a problem, this Jesus thing is spreading despite the leader’s crucifixion. They try to convince Peter and John to stop doing things in Jesus’s name, they rightly refuse.  This is about power and control.  They want to be able to be the ones who can take credit for healing and forgiveness from God.

They are released from prison and tell about their experience to the fellow disciples and believers that have gathered. This must have been a bit of a “David and Goliath” moment. Challenging the chief priests and the elders and winning. Their ace in the hole was the Holy Spirit which they had made room for in their hearts. This, and the fact that they were bearing witness to Jesus and healing in His name, is why they were effective and more powerful than the religious leaders. To quote Yoda from Star Wars :  

They have the correct posture and perspective, they pray and thank God for His wisdom and provision, “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” This is the water reference here, “the sea” which God made. They are acknowledging that God made everything! They go on to say something a bit strange “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David”. Certainly at the time of David there was no recognition or realization of the Holy Spirit, yet John and Peter are saying that the Holy Spirit was guiding David. The same Spirit that is guiding them, ultimately God.

The prayer then take a somewhat convicting and confusing turn, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one”. I suppose on one level they are praying about the obstinate chief priest and elders that recently imprisoned them for following God, but I think their prayer bends time a bit and really applies to all nations and forms of government that attempt to control people’s hearts and souls. Their rhetorical question “Why do the nations rage?” is profound, and one that has been playing out pretty much since human history began.

I think the answer is equally profound, confusing, and convicting – because the nations (and individuals) can get away with it, at least for now. God has given us, and to some extent nations, the freedom to choose. We, and the nations, can rage all we want but in the end God wins. We can plot a course wherever we want in this land of oblivion, god just hopes that it is toward Him. He has made some amazing sacrifices to convince us that our journey home begins and ends with Him.

Prayer: God help us trust in You and not rage as individuals or as nations in ways that lead us away from You.

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Making Room in our Hearts

dscn05781877828894.jpgThen they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Acts 1:6-‬11

Today’s passage is really a continuation of yesterday’s passage about the Easter gift to all those who choose to receive it. This passage describes an encounter between Jesus and His followers after He has risen from the dead. Jesus was eating with His disciples and telling them more about the coming Holy Spirit and what they could expect in the journey ahead.

The disciples are demonstrating once again a profound ability to to ask the wrong questions. They are wondering “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”. Even now, after witnessing His death and resurrection, they miss the message and the purpose of the Messiah.  They want Jesus to stick around and lead them to an earthly victory, when the reality if that His very presence in the room is a victory over the death and darkness of this world. They still don’t get it.

Jesus’ response to their question is really interesting, he does not answer the question they asked but rather the questions they should have asked “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” So basically Jesus is saying mind your own business and I will take care of the rest. He goes on to help the disciples to understand what their “business” is to be, “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  No military campaigns to restore Israel. No restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Only empty vessels ready to receive the promised Holy Spirit so that they can be Jesus’ witnesses to the world, near and far.

So the first part, being an empty vessel to receive the Holy Spirit sounds easy, but in practice I think it is hard.  We have to flush out all the ego and self-centered parts of our soul to make room.  Then we need to us this new guide or co-pilot to be a witness.  In my experience a witness is one who has seen or experienced something, in this case the life and teachings of Jesus. The disciples are to be part story teller, part cheer leader, part historian, to spread news of their encounter with the Living Water that flowed on earth for a time and would soon ascend into the heavens.

Interestingly just after this Jesus is “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight”. He is taken up into heaven and hidden by a cloud.  A cloud is paradoxically the way God used to appear to the Israelites between the walks in the Garden of Eden and the arrival of Jesus.  The puzzled disciples are looking skyward when two figures show up and ask “why do you stand here looking up at the sky?”  Jesus already told them where to look and it was within themselves to make room for the coming Holy Spirit.  These men go on to explain “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  They do not say when.

So we are left with the same choice as the disciples, we can look to the sky and wonder where Jesus went, or we can make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit and bear witness to the ways we find Jesus there.

Prayer: Go help us to make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit and bear witness to ways we encounter Jesus.

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Easter Gift

Cheviot_lamb_on_the_Isle_of_LewisIn my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:1‭-‬5

Happy Easter 2021!  Well it seems fitting that after a long time off the water this is the day, Easter, that God has prompted and prodded me to get back on the water and continue my journey with water in the bible.  I am not sure why the book of Acts presented such a daunting bit of water, but I have been camped on shore for several months.  I think as I previewed some of the passages that lie ahead, sort of like scouting rapids on a raft trip, I got the sense that the waters were about to get muddied by a bunch of flawed followers, like myself, trying to make sense of what Jesus came and did.  I think in many ways the complex job of faithfully following in the midst of a sometimes confusing world is the same today as it was for these early followers of the way.  This is especially true as we begin 2021 and leave 2020, the year without hugs, behind as a troublesome memory.

All evidence points to Luke as the author of the book of Acts, and he basically says this in the first part of this passage.  It has been noted by many that Luke addresses this account of the early followers of Jesus to Theophilus, which in Greek means essentially God-lover, beloved of God, or friend of God.  This is the ultimate “big tent”.  All those who are willing to accept and return God’s love are “in”.  Only those who choose to be free of God are truly “out”, and even those who choose to be “out” can turn around and meet the loving arms of the Father at any time.

So Let’s see where this entry into the book of Acts leads.  The water reference here is the water baptism of John, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  This is a recognition of something that Jesus spoke of many times – that the change that is required is fundamentally a spiritual one.  The change that John was commemorating with water baptism was only an outward celebration of an internal change in our relationship with God.

This relationship will take on new meaning as God’s presence on earth changes from a physical “condensate” in the form of Jesus to a spiritual “vapor” or wind in the form of the Holy Spirit that can permeate and infuse our souls.  This is an interesting “circling back” to the form God took as a cloud for much of the early interactions with the Israelites.  The crucial difference here is that instead of a cloud high above us the Holy Spirit will in some sense dwell within us.  This is both amazing and terrifying.

Our baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a single act of commemoration like water baptism, but rather an immersion in a new way of being and seeing the world.  It is a partial cure for the spiritual blindness that seems to afflict us here in the land of oblivion.  It is also the fulfillment of a promise that Jesus made to give sight to the blind, in this case the spiritually blind.  All those wandering and wondering about God are invited to use this set of night vision goggles to navigate the spiritual darkness that can threaten to envelope us if we let it.  We have but to ask.

He is Risen!

Prayer: God thank you for the Holy Spirit and the light in provides in the darkness.

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Jumping into the Lake

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. – John 21:7‭-‬14

This is the last water-related passage in John, and the last one in the gospels. The Living Water has been crystal clear in the Gospels up to this point despite the inability of many, including the disciples at times, to see it. This past summer I had the opportunity to check an item off of my bucket list – to swim in Crater Lake, the deepest in the United States. The water was incredibly clear and not as cold as I would have expected. Jumping in was the hardest part, once I was in the lake the scenery and shear magnitude of where I was made me forget any chill in the water.

My father used to say “go jump in the lake”. I do not think this is what he meant when he said it. Peter and the others had just figured out where to cast their nets, but not why they were doing it. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” recognized this Man on the shore and only after that did Peter see Jesus.

Peter’s reaction was typical, jump in the lake first, think second. In a scene reminiscent of Forrest Gump when he saw Lieutenant Dan Peter just wraps himself in his cloak and jumps overboard. I am a bit perplexed by Peter’s wrapping himself in his garment before jumping in the water. This would seem counter intuitive and unwise. How does one swim wrapped in a garment? Perhaps that is the point. Peter was often wrapped up in things that distracted and kept him from swimming and walking on water.

The passage does not describe Peter’s thrashing about to get to shore wrapped in his garment, but that is the picture that my imagination conjures. The others, perhaps wisely, remained in the boat and arrived at the shore to meet up with this mysterious Man and the probably wet, cold, and tired Peter. Fortunately Jesus has a warm fire going with some fish and bread for them to eat. Jesus says something profoundly ordinary to the somewhat confused men “Come and have breakfast.” He did not say who He was or why He was there just come and eat.

This seemingly banal breakfast with their Lord alive and well must have been somewhat surreal and “spiritual squall” inducing. They were afraid to ask Him who He was “None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” Why did they not dare and ask Him? Would Jesus have minded them asking? My impression from the rest of the gospel interactions is that Jesus would have been happy to have them say what Mary said “Rabboni” “teacher”. These men, with the exception of Peter, were really afraid to reach out and Love their Lord. Peter had His own issues with acknowledging Jesus in front of others which Jesus will deal with shortly.

So which is better to be unsure and unwilling to “see” Jesus or to jump out of the boat and swim for it like Peter? I think the surprising answer is actually neither. The true journey home requires neither swimming skills or independent insights. It requires a humble servant willing to faithfully follow and love Jesus even when we are not sure He is even there.

Prayer: God help us to faithfully follow You even when it is difficult to see you.

Posted in Christianity, Discernment, Discipleship, Faith, Following God, God's Love for Us, Jesus, John, Miracles, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where to Cast our Nets

Pacific Ocean Near Depoe Bay, Oregon

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. – John 21:1‭-‬6

Well since my last post of I have traversed the country with my daughter and two cats in a Toyota Matrix. These are adventure cats and they weathered our adventures well, including one close call in Wyoming where they closed the highway just after we had passed through.  I was also blessed to  spend 4 days on the coast of Oregon marveling at the beauty and power of the Pacific Ocean. I was reminded once again how big God is and how His voice can be heard over such mighty waters.

I am back where I began my journey and ready to get back to “normal” life again with my walk on water.  In today’s passage the disciples have also gotten back to their “normal” lives as fisherman. I am not sure what impact their time with Jesus really had on them at this point. They don’t seem to be seeking in the way Mary was seeking Jesus. Yet He shows up anyway.  They apparently still need some more fishing lessons from the Master.

Jesus appears to these men, albeit in a slightly different mode than His previous experiences by, and on, the lake. The disciples are apparently busy fishing and forgetting all the spiritual squalls and signs Jesus shared with them.  It is interesting that they were out fishing all night and their efforts were fruitless.  It was only with the coming of the day and Jesus that they were successful.  Of course to be successful they had to listen to this anonymous man on the shore and “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”  This worked so well they had more fish than they knew what to do with.

This story leaves me wondering why they did not recognize Jesus. Were they so caught up in their “normal” lives again that they simply were not looking?  This is easy to do.  I think it takes spiritual whiskers and keen eyes to see God “on the shore”.  Another question that occurs to me is “what is the “right side” of the boat?” How will we know? It seems the fisherman have provided the answers: 1) admit you have no fish; and 2) be willing to listen when God tells you where to cast your net.

Admitting you have no fish is hard in our success-based culture.  We all want to have it together and come across as independent and in no need of help.  If we are unwilling to admit we have no fish we may never get the direction we need about where to cast our net.  In the larger sense “casting our net” is really figuring out what we are supposed to be doing as we make our way along the journey to that River that no one can cross.  It is how we invest the 24 hours we have each day.  We all have the same time, but as Gandalf said “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Prayer: God help us to both admit we have no fish and seek Your guidance about where to cast our nets.

Posted in Christian Community, Christianity, Death and Dying, Discernment, Discipleship, eternal life, Faith, Following God, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Jesus, John, Miracles, Nature, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment