Sunday, February 22, 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Among the many stories of the early church is this one found in The Acts of the Holy Spirit, chapter 16:
“One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.
When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood” (The Message).
Following Jesus has economic consequences. Following Jesus will change how you spend money. Following Jesus will change how you earn your money. Why? Because followers of Jesus know their lives are under the reign of King Jesus. There is no room for “I will spend my money the way I want to!” when you decide that your allegiance is to the King of Kings.
Ron Friesen © 2015
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
There is my status update on Facebook from a few minutes ago:
It is Ash Wednesday for the Christian community. I think we should sit in ashes over the increasing violence in our world. The reign of death continues all around us.
Where is God? I am sure some are asking as news report document the violence around us.
The story of Ash Wednesday and its attendant Lenten season of 40 days of reflection provide an answer to this question. God is suffering with us. God has joined us in the violence and received the violence of humanity on the cross. The cross which marks the end of this season of reflection is a the cross of the suffering God.
Christianity is unique among world religions in its belief that God has entered human space and time and taken on human suffering to transform it into meaning and purpose in the cross. If we believe that suffering is meaningless we will soon devolve into Sartre's abyss of absurdity. Is it any wonder that suicide rates continue to rise in the western world? We have lost any belief in the meaning of suffering.
Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent remind us that God is a suffering God.
On this Ash Wednesday as people are senselessly killed, we join those dying that human suffering is not in vain. We weep, as God does, with those who weep.
Ron Friesen (c) 2015
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Reader Warning: The following reflection on Acts 15 will be of specific interest to those who are interested in the internal debates within Christendom. If you do not see yourself as a follower of Jesus you will likely find this discussion to be strange.
What do you have to believe to be a follower of Jesus? Or what do you have to do to demonstrate that you are a follower of Jesus? This issue quickly confronted the early church because the Jewish faith had a number of requirements for those who claimed adherence to the faith. The main issue was circumcision. There were also a number of other issues such as eating meat with blood in it, participating in sexual immorality (participation in the Greek religion’s practice of the use of temple prostitutes), meat or foods dedicated to idols and meat from animals that were not properly killed, e.g. strangled.
The Jerusalem Council, the first council of the church, decided that salvation or the way of faith was by faith in Christ and Christ alone. Circumcision would not be a requirement of those who professed faith in the Christian faith. The council did decide that those who followed the Way of Jesus would: …abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19).
The behaviors required of the new followers of Jesus who came from the Greek community were not intended to help them curry favor with God or to increase their likelihood of entrance into God’s presence. They were requested in order to reduce offense to the followers of Jesus who came from the Jewish community. Careful reading of the text suggests that the leaders of the early church were almost embarrassed to make these requests of the new followers of Jesus from the Greek community.
Over the years the church has always struggled with this issue: Is our faith in God through Jesus the Christ alone? The answer has always been: Yes!
Ronald Friesen © 2015
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
How does God work in the world? Those who pursue a Judeo-Christian perspective are not deists. The historic view of Jews and Christians is that God is actively involved in the world and is known by his self-revelation. The first form of God’s revelation is in nature:
“In past generations he (God) allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17).
While many Christians argue about the “how” of the world’s existence, the issue in the end is this: Does your experience of nature around you lead you to recognize Someone greater than yourself? The Bible is much more interested in the WHO of nature than the HOW of nature. To focus on the how of nature is to miss the point of nature’s witness.
Nature’s witness leads to humility and gratitude. Many people struggle to assume their humility and even more struggle to find anything for which to be grateful. Lack of humility creates the arrogance we see around us every day; lack of gratitude leads to the spiritual drought evident in our culture.
Ron Friesen © 2015
Monday, February 2, 2015
Some of the most interesting sections of the Acts of the Holy Spirit are the sermons given by various apostles. In the thirteenth chapter, St. Peter is giving a defense of the behaviors and beliefs of the early church. Here is one sentence of his sermon:
“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39).
As I have worked with people over the past 40 years one of the greatest quests of these people is freedom, particularly, the freedom from guilt.
There is a long-standing perception that while rules are binding they are also freeing. Rules give you boundaries in which to live. You know what you can and what you cannot do. Rules remove much of the doubt about living. Many people are grateful for rules.
But rules do not take care of the guilt when you violate them. Rules only make you feel worse! What to do?
The proclamation of the Christian message is that you do not need to be a slave of guilt. God is a God of forgiveness. God is a God of boundless grace. Remember when God forgives there are no priors. The slate is wiped clean.
Ron Friesen © 2015
Sunday, February 1, 2015
The story of the persecution continues:
“About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.”
The church has always faced a hostile environment. Followers of Jesus should not assume that they will face a conflict-free world. For over 200 years American Christians have experienced the ability to worship in safety and security. To declare that you worship King Jesus will always put you in conflict with this world.
The story does not end with the hostility the church finds in its environment. The chapter that began with the words we read above, ends with these words:
“On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.”
Do not claim God’s place: God is a jealous God.
Ronald Friesen © 2015