Monday, June 26, 2006

Contemplation #160
Her leaders judge for a bride, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord among us?” Micah 3:11

The prophet is describing the conditions that prompted God’s people to come under the purifying judgment of God. They had a type of faith in God, a trusting in God, but not that led the people to imitate God. They were trusting God to help them though they chose to live contrary to his nature. When everything has a price and is done out of a profit motive, all that is left is selfishness. God becomes the pursuit of what we can acquire, and the accumulation of wealth. What is “right” becomes “what makes money”. Jesus admonishes us to adopt the proper perspective of seeking to live according the God’s reality (kingdom) while trusting God to provide for our needs. We do what is consistent with who God is – what is just, righteous, and holy – to which no price can be attached.

Contemplation #161
. . . who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:5-6

Paul’s teaching here turns on the importance of the deep motivations of the heart. The question is whether godliness is a means to another end, or an end in and of itself. Some believed even in Paul’s day that godliness was simply the best and most logical route to financial gain. What moved them was the desire for wealth. Following God was simply an expedient way to get to their real god. Paul turns this quite nicely on its head: godliness is the end to which we strive. To discover godliness itself, and be content with the imitation of God, this is what is great gain. All thoughts of financial advantage must be put aside lest we simply use the Lord as a means to Mammon.

Contemplation #162
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1 Timothy 6:9

We want to soften Paul’s words by adding “may” so he says “may fall”. However, he is not suggesting what might occur but announcing what is happening. As soon as we set for ourselves the goal of accumulating wealth, we fall into temptation and a trap which ends in ruin and destruction. Of course, to the person seeking wealth he sees no ruin and destruction – for all that would qualify in his eyes as disaster is financial ruin and destruction. No, such a person may succeed in becoming rich, but the ruin and destruction is entirely unrelated to the financial security he covets. Rich in his own pursuits, he remains impoverished toward God – a ruin he neither recognizes nor fears.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Contemplation #157
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. 2 Corinthians 1:24

Why does Paul say he wants to work with others for their joy? His own joy in Christ was rooted in faith (2 Corinthians 2:3), and he continually wanted others to share in that same joy of the faith (Philippians 1:25-26). He knew from personal experience that his own standing firm in faith wasn’t based in being lorded over by any religious leaders. The opposite is actually true. Coercion and forced submission to human authorities does not lead us to joy in the faith. Understanding that joy cannot exist under authoritarianism, and that having joy in the faith is crucial to standing firm, will then lead us to work with others for their joy.

Contemplation #158
And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:52

This statement follows the story of how persecution was stirred up against Paul and Barnabas and they were expelled from the city. In other words, the existence of the disciples’ joy is without any explanation except the presence of the Spirit. Despite their circumstances, in the face of opposition, and without any logical reason . . . the believers were joyful. Only something transcendent, beyond the rational and physically tangible, could be the source of such joy. The Spirit is joy and the source of joy. People of faith can anticipate receiving this joy as a grace from God.

Contemplation #159
He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. Acts 14:17

These words from Paul and Barnabas were addressed to idolatrous, pagan, heathen people. Those to whom they were speaking were ready to offer sacrifice and worship the disciples as gods. But even to these who had no faith in God nor belief in Jesus the disciples testify to God’s work among them. God’s work was not only in the external blessings of rain and food, but also the inward blessing of joy in their hearts. Though the gift of joy from God through the Spirit is the expectation of those who believe, by God’s mercy even those who do not believe receive a gift of joy that testifies to God’s kindness and grace.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Contemplation #154
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

What does it mean to be on our guard? Often we assume that the greatest dangers come from without us, but truly we must be on guard first against ourselves. If I focus on what I suppose to be great external enemies, and neglect the more real inner dangers, then I am on guard in the wrong way. If I view others or situations as the threat to my spiritual condition I am blind to the fact that it is me, and how I respond and live toward others and within circumstances, that is key. The potential is inner, as is the danger.

Contemplation #155
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

The fact that the danger is inward is illustrated by Paul’s admonitions which follow his call to be on guard. Our stand in the faith, our finding courage and strength, and our living in love are all inward disciplines. We guard ourselves through holding close to the faith – our trust in the good news of God’s kingdom come near and given to us by Christ. We protect our own lives by seeking courage against fearfulness, and by looking for strength to oppose out weakness. When all this is done in selfless love, we are guarding ourselves well.

Contemplation #156
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Our final contemplation on these verses involves recognizing the source for what Paul advocates. Where does faith, courage, strength, and love come from but God himself? We guard ourselves against our inward dangers by thorough reliance on God for the gifts of his grace. We must be close to God, dependent on God, and certainly not on ourselves, if we want to guard our lives against all the dangers that lie within. To do everything in love is to do everything in God.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Contemplation #151
“Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophecy.” Acts 2:18

In quoting Joel to explain the Spirit’s descent on Pentecost, Peter chooses a passage that speaks about “prophecy” and not “tongues.” The emphasis is not on that the disciples were speaking other languages, but what they were saying- “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own language.” Being “Pentecostal” should be about the message, and not the method. In the tradition of the disciples on Pentecost we become those who explain the world from the viewpoint of faith. We reinterpret the criminal conviction of a peasant carpenter as the divine purpose that won the redemption of humanity. We show how the hand of God is at work in what seems meaningless, and without faith, will remain so.

Contemplation #152
“Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Acts 2:33

The descent of the Spirit on the people of God is a gift of the Son to enable us to be what we could never become without this grace. This gift comes with purpose and our responsibility. Our work of receiving the Spirit with all humility is the proper response of thankfulness. But we ask, what will receiving this Spirit mean? Repentance. The first place that the Spirit calls us to is to abandon all that we have been, have trusted in, have hoped for, and how we have thought of ourselves, so to prepare and open us to the ways of God. The Spirit has been poured out on us to make us like God by filling us with God.

Contemplation #153
“Those who accepted his message . . .” Acts 2:41

The message was simple: Jesus is the messiah, and now raised from the dead has poured out the Spirit of God to change us into people of his messianic reign. Those who accepted this message adopted a new lifestyle defined by the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, holy communion, and prayer. We should note that these practices are the very core of spiritual formation. The Spirit shapes us through apostolic teaching, communal life, communion with Christ, and the discipline of prayer. Our persistent participation in these shaping-activities is how we continue in the way of Pentecost.