Aug 102020

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Growing up in the church, I was always taught to individualize this culturally-familiar verse. To personalize it, Sunday School teachers, Youth Group leaders, and motivational speakers would tell us to replace the word “world” with our names; the impact was that the love of God was specifically for me. “For God so loved [R.C.] . . .”

But when Jesus talks to Nicodemus, he does not say, “For God so loved [you] . . .” He says, “For God so loved the world . . .” He says, “For God so loved the cosmos . . .” He says, “For God so loved the entire order of all of creation – how it fits together, how it holds together, how it exhibits perfect peace and harmony together . . .” It’s not unlike what God speaks at the dawn of time – “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). God’s love for this cosmos (including you and me) then grants us comfort and call: the comfort to know that we are indeed loved by God and the call to love the world as God loves the world. – rc

Aug 062020

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

By now, as the story has unfolded in the Book of Acts, Peter and John (and the rest of the disciples) have spoken in diverse languages, they have healed a man crippled since birth, they have been thrown in prison and subsequently released. But none of these things are what amaze the people. “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . they were amazed” (v. 13); “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . they recognized them as companions of Jesus” (v. 13). When they see our boldness, they will be amazed and recognize us as Christ-followers as well. – rc

Aug 062020

He said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43b)

“Come and see” (John 1:39a). “Follow me” (v. 43b). These are the words of Jesus that summon the first disciples toward a new life of faith. “Come and see” – because coming to where Jesus is allows us to see Jesus’ life and ministry, a life and ministry that offer a new model for how to live life in this world. But “Follow me” is a bit more difficult. “Follow me” requires a whole-life commitment to go into the unknown without readily recognizing any underlying purpose. “Follow me” involves active participation in the mystery of faith. “Follow me” demands a level of courage and confidence to face whatever we might face.

But it is good to know who it is we’re following. It is he who grants us the courage and confidence to follow faithfully. – rc

Aug 052020

He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1:39a)

Jesus’ call in our lives has a double impact. On the one hand, we are called away from the life we once knew, the life that was once comfortable for us. On the other hand, we are also called to a new life, a new adventure of discipleship. For those first disciples – and for us – the emphasis is the call is the forward-looking future. “Come and see,” Jesus says (v. 39a); leave behind what was once comfortable and take on something new, something unknown, something daunting, something exciting. “Come and see,” Jesus said to Andrew and his friend . . . and the two followed Jesus into their new, unknown future. “Come and see,” Jesus calls to us . . . To where, to whom, will Christ lead us?              – rc

Aug 042020

When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” (Acts 3:3–4)

Healing comes in many forms. In this case, a man, having had a crippling disability since birth, was carried by his friends and placed at the gateway to the Temple complex so that he could make his living. Little did he know that Peter and John, freshly infused with the power of God’s Spirit, would change his life forever. With this power, they (of course) healed the man so that he could walk around by his own power and he (of course) praised God for the gift he had received.

But I find it interesting that Peter and John “looked intently” (v. 4) at the man and commanded him, “Look at us” (v. 4) even after the story clearly states that the man “saw” them already (v. 3). Seeing one another is important to the story, really seeing one another. Peter and John offered this man not only the gift of physical healing, but the gift of dignity, the gift of respect, the gift of recognizing their common humanness because healing comes in many forms. We too can offer this healing. – rc

Aug 032020

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  (Acts 2:46–47a)

This story follows on the heels of the first Pentecost story (Acts 2:1–41) as the early Christ-followers set their priorities as a community of faith: they learned from one another (v. 42), they shared fellowship with each other (v. 42), they ate together (v. 42, 46), they prayed together (v. 42), they shared with one another (v. 44), they worshipped together (v. 46), and they developed a deep love and commitment for their local community (v. 47a). Such practices call us to remember that even though we spend a good deal of time emphasizing the internal togetherness of our own group, mission and outreach are also an important part of our core values, central to our identity as Christ-followers. The Church is a missional community, rooted in its particular place, concerned about local issues, and “having the goodwill of all the people” (v.47a) in mind. – rc

Jul 292020

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12)

The first Pentecost story is not only about God’s Spirit endowing the disciples with the gift of languages. It is also about the astonishment and confusion of people when God’s ways are made manifest among them; it’s a story about how the establishment of God’s kingdom threatens the status quo (in both good and difficult ways). When we do things to bring about God’s desires here on earth, here in these towns of ours, we should expect that people will be “amazed and perplexed” – amazed because experiencing the world the way God intended it is life-changing, life-sustaining and perplexed because experiencing the world the way God intended it summons everyone to give up our personal interests for the good of others. This type of discipleship is surely counter-cultural, but it’s also they type of discipleship we need right now.               – rc

Jul 292020

And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias . . . (Acts 1:26a)

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b) – these are the last words utter by the disciples before Jesus is taken from them. “It is not for you to know . . . But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7–8) – these are the last words uttered by Jesus before he is taken away; this was Jesus’ response to his friends’ inquiry.

So I find it interesting that the first thing the disciples do is to take it upon themselves to select a new member to their group in order to fill the vacancy left by Judas. Yes, they had criteria that the potential replacement had to meet. Yes, they prayed about it. Yes, they cast lots for him. Yes, they seemed to conduct their business decently and in proper order. But Jesus told them that they would begin to fulfill their mission once they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, eager to move forward and anxious to conduct their business in their way, the disciples made the hasty decision to act on their own. I pray that we learn from the error of their ways and always take the time to wait for God’s Spirit to guide us.            – rc

Jul 292020

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

These are the last words that the remaining disciples speak before the resurrected Jesus ascends into heaven and is physically gone from their lives. It’s a question that reveals the deepest desire of their hearts (the restoration of the free kingdom of Israel), but it’s also a question that reveals their deep ignorance and complete misunderstanding of what Jesus actually came to do. The point of the Jesus story was never to re-establish the kingdom of Israel but to establish the kingdom of God here on earth, a kingdom that spreads out from Jerusalem, to all Judea and Samaria, and on to the ends of the earth. And now, it is up to the disciples – it’s up to you and me – to help establish this kingdom.                      – rc

Jul 282020

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites . . . I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. (Romans 16:17–18a, 19b)

Paul closes his letter to his friends in Rome with one final plea for unity. He calls them to avoid unnecessary dissention, to refrain from unnecessary offense, and to keep a watchful eye out for those who seek to satisfy themselves at the expense of the community. But at the root of Paul’s call is wisdom; he summons his friends to know the difference between the ways of God and the appetites of people. According to Paul, God’s desire is for unity in the community, but it will take a wise and discerning mind to live together as one. May such wisdom come to us, not only in our community of faith, but in our county and country as well. – rc