The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What is your choice?


As the early church continued to spread the Good News of God’s forgiveness, the church continued to grow. St. Luke summarizes this growth in this manner:

“God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

What is repentance? To repent is to have a change of mind. Of course, the question must be asked, “Change of mind about what?” In the context of the passage, the change of mind has to do with who do you think Jesus is. Remember the challenge recorded in the 8th Chapter of the Acts of the Holy Spirit – do you worship Caesar or Jesus?

What might be the modern day equivalent? Do you worship the American flag or Jesus? Do you put a flag in a sanctuary dedicated to worship Jesus? Do you try to obfuscate your materialism by putting “In God We Trust” on your money? Do you play patriotic music during your worship service when your country goes to war?

Jesus demands no sharing of our affection. We need redemption from our attachment to the kingdom of this world. We need to repent of our worship of this world and our trust in our nation’s armaments. Jesus told us, But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

God, grant us the gift of a change of mind that leads to LIFE.

Ronald Friesen © 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What about the good people?


A few days ago I wrote about the exclusive claims of Jesus. Today I am challenged by another approach to those exclusive claims of Jesus. In the record of the Acts of the Holy Spirit there is a story of a man who was visited by God in a dream and told to go to Joppa and seek out the apostles. Here is the description of this man: “a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” It is well known that among the non-Jewish community were many people who were considered devout and prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish religious establishment does not question the extent to which these devout people understood they were praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If there was no question in the mind of the Jewish religious leaders as to the accessibility of these devout people to the riches of their faith, there appears to have been some question in the mind of the early church and the apostles. St. Luke records the response of St. Peter, the spokesman of the early church, in these words; “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Even today, for most evangelical followers of Jesus these words seem to contain a generosity of spirit, an outpouring of gracious welcome, which borders a kind of universalism. Is there room for entry into God’s presence without the acknowledgement of the Christ and his death and resurrection? Some will deny such a possibility because Cornelius did come to Joppa and realized that Jesus was the way. (In fact, one of the names of the early church was “people of The Way.”)

The question remains: Is access to God granted by those who exhibit the qualities of a devout faith: fearing God, giving generously especially to the poor and constant prayer or communication with God? The words of St. Paul open the door to this understanding;

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:13-16)

If you are worried about who will get to the pearly gates at the end, please do not worry: you are not the final judge of the living and the dead.

Here is the crunch: you and I are responsible for the light we already have. Jesus was right when he said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Do I matter?


Do you ever wonder if you count in the grand scheme of things?

You may think you are a mere speck in the great work of the world. We might say to ourselves: “No one will remember me after I am gone.”

In the Divine view of human activity, you do matter and you are noticed. In the story of the early church we read about the conversion of St. Paul. In this story is another story is another story: the story of a fearful, obedient follower of Jesus. God visits Ananias and tells him to go to a particular house on a certain street in Damascus where he will be used of God to bring faith to one of the most violent persecutors of the church. Ananias briefly argues with God, then, goes and carries out God’s mission.

Interestingly, we never hear of Ananias again except when St. Paul recounts his conversion to the taunting crowds. Most Christians to this day hardly know the name of this man. The church remembers St. Paul and his letters to the church, recognizing him as the evangelist who brought the Gospel to Europe.

Today, January 25, is the Feast Day of the Conversion of St. Paul in the Roman Catholic Church. Ananias might be mentioned. Regardless, in God’s book, Ananias’ name is recorded.

God notices.

Ronald Friesen © 2015

"Jesus is your problem."


As the church was persecuted, it scattered in to the neighboring countries. St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, summarizes the churches message in this way, “he (Phillip) preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

Why the kingdom or reign of God? In the first century, the reign of God offered a direct challenge to the civil leadership of the day. To follow Jesus you had to decide if you were going to worship Caesar or God. In proclaiming the reign of God, Phillip and the early church were declaring they were not swearing allegiance to any earthly power. Many in the church today have been seduced into a syncretism that melds civic faith and Christian faith. The church would do well to again call itself back to its roots and declare their allegiance to God first and foremost.

There is another challenge addressed in the preaching of the early church: there is only one way found to God and this is through Jesus Christ.  On every front the church is being challenged to think about how she will talk about and live out the claim of Jesus to be the way and truth and life.

Lesslie Newbigin, one of the leading theologians of mission in the 20th Century, tells about an encounter he had when he was preaching at Cambridge. While preaching about the exclusive claims of Christianity he was challenged by a young man, “Why do you say Jesus is the only way?”

Newbigin asked him, “Are you Jewish?

“No.”

“Are you a Hindu?”

“No.”

“Are you a Muslim?”

“No.”

“Are you a Christian?’

“I guess so.’

Newbigin replied, “Then Jesus is your problem.”

If you and I claim to be followers of Jesus, Jesus’s claims are our problem.

Ronald Friesen © 2015


Friday, January 23, 2015

A Faith Worthy of...

In the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Holy Spirit is the record of St. Stephen's defense of his faith before the religious leadership of the Jewish community. I have always been interested in the story of the first martyr of the church.

What interests me is this: What kind of faith is worth dying for? Let's deepen the question: Do I have a faith worth of dying for?

If someone said they were going to kill you because of your faith, do you think they would be justified in their desire?

Most of us will never be asked if we are ready to die for our faith.

Here is another question: Is my faith worth living for? Would I change my life because of my faith? Would I let my faith change my life?

These last questions are much more significant to me than the question, "Are you willing to die for your faith?"

Living out your faith is a daily choice. Jesus said, "Take up my cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Following hard after Jesus is not easy. Sissies need not apply. Are you ready to give up the right to your life and let God take over? We all know EGO means Edging God Out. To follow Jesus is to let go of your ego.

Ron Friesen (c) 2015




Thursday, January 22, 2015

Am I a follower of Jesus?


In the story of the early months of the church’s life is an account of her first martyr, Stephen.

I have always been intrigued by a phenomenon of the modern church. People who are part of the church are asked various questions to determine their legitimacy of their claims to be Christians. The questions often take on this form:

Are you born again?

Are you filled with the Holy Spirit?

When were you saved? Or, Are you saved?

Interestingly, these questions do not appear in the Bible.

Why? Because there is no standard formula for becoming a follower of Jesus. There are no four spiritual laws in the Bible.

In the Biblical record, there is no record of anyone claiming to say, “I am saved.” Or, “I am filled with the Holy Spirit.” Or, “I have been born again.”

What the Bible does record is the observation of those who knew the followers of Jesus. The observation is that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5).

Following Jesus is marked by humility. If anyone of us has experienced a changed life, it is because it is an act of love by a gracious God. Let others recognize what God has done or is doing in you. 

Ron Friesen © 2015