Reflection on Acts 10:34-43

Scripture

“In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.”

Observation
Peter is at the house of Cornelius, having been prepared by a vision to go to a Gentile’s house. He recounts the vision he received from the Lord, and Cornelius then tells of the angelic visitation he had which had prompted him to invite Peter.

Peter realises that God shows no favouritism, that He accepts people from every nation. The Good News that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ is for all people.

The apostles are the witnesses of all that Jesus did, of His death and resurrection.

Application
Jesus is Lord of all, and the peace of His Kingdom is open to all who put their faith in Him.

This is the wonderful message of Easter- Christ was crucified for our sins and He rose again to show He has conquered sin and death for ever.

The promise is to all people. Just put your trust in Him and confess that He is Lord, and you will be saved.

Prayer
Thank you Lord Jesus for the gift of salvation. You bought it with your own death, but now you give freely to all who will receive you. Amen.

“Celebrating” an Execution (by Jeff Cook)

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 8.14.24 PMA good reminder of 1st Century realities.

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. His thoughts on the cross can be found here: Everything New (Subversive 2012). You can connect with himatwww.everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook

Celebrating an Execution

This week Christians all over the world will celebrate an execution.

In the sixth century BC, the Assyrians developed a new way to kill people. Early cultures the world over punished murderers and other scoundrels by hanging them from a cursed tree, but the Assyrians realized when they crucified someone, they commanded respect. The sight of a crucifixion inflicted a horror which the Assyrians found more valuable than simply executing a criminal. Crosses were able to mutilate and dishonor so severely that everyone noticed, everyone was shocked, everyone adapted, everyone was transformed by the power of the cross.

Crosses were the nuclear weapon of the ancient world.

Empires were first created and maintained because of the fear of crucifixion. Because of its power, Alexander the Great adopted crucifixion and brought it to the Mediterranean in the 4th century BC. The Phoenicians introduced it to Rome, and Rome became an empire in part because it perfected the art of crucifying people. Quintilian, an adviser to the emperor, described his own philosophy of crucifixion, “Whenever we crucify the guilty, the crowded roads are chosen, where most people can see and be moved by this fear. For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect.”

If you lived in the ancient world, it’s likely you would have seen scores of people executed on a cross. If someone in your town was crucified, you would have heard them die, seen their agony, and watched their bodies decompose on your way to do business. On a crucifix, the executed often hung for days until their organs failed and their bodies succumbed to shock. In order to maximize its gory effect, victims would often be severely beaten before being tied, or even nailed to a crossbeam. After a victim died, the corpse was left to bake under the sun, and after a few weeks the mangled body of a man, woman or child would simply rot and fall off their cross. Victims often wore signs around their necks displaying the reason for their death, making it clear to all not only what activities ought to be avoided, but also who was in charge—because crucifixion was not about killing someone. Killing a person is easy.

Crosses were billboards. Crosses unveiled who was king.

Looking back on history one truth is certain. In the ancient world, crosses communicated to everyone that the violent, the brutally ambitious, and the merciless reigned over the earth. Crosses were not just the way people died. Crosses were instruments of slavery. Crosses announced the rule of death, evil, dysfunction and despair.

But this is no longer the case.

The world itself has miraculously changed for the cross is no longer an icon of death but a symbol of lasting life. The cross is no longer the tool of a dysfunctional world but a sign that this world is being remade. The cross is no longer a picture of oppression or despair; the cross no longer screams out that God is absent or that death is the future of all.

Because of Jesus, the cross has a different message.

Christians celebrate the death of Jesus this week because his cross announces that all that was once sick can be restored, that evil will not have the last word, that God has not abandoned us like so much trash but has approached us in a fundamentally new way. In the pantheon of potential deities Jesus is unique and worthy of celebration, for he alone took what was most foul and disgusting in the whole history of the world—the crucified man—and through the cross announced his ability and intention to making everything new. 

Full article here

Porcupine unearths 1,400-year-old oil lamp in central Israel

From the ABC:

Porcupine unearths 1,400-year-old oil lamp in central Israel

Updated about an hour ago

A porcupine has unearthed a 1,400-year-old ceramic lamp after digging his burrow at an Israeli site rich with ancient treasures, according to the Israeli antiquities authority.

Archaeological “police” noticed a pile of dirt next to the entrance of a burrow while looking for thieves during a routine visit to the late Roman and Byzantine site of Horbat Siv in central Israel.

There they found the lamp.

“Porcupines are excellent archaeologists who know how to dig,” Ira Horovitz, an antiquities official, said on the authority’s website.

“With the country having numerous archaeological sites, porcupines show up and build their shelters among underground remains.

“They push the soil expertly toward the surface, along with all sorts of objects.”

Despite the lucky find, the authority issued a humorous warning to Israel’s porcupines, telling them to “refrain from digging in archaeological sites without permission, which is a crime”.

Reflection on Philippians 2:5-11

Scripture

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Observation
Christ is the Son of God. He is divine, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.. Yet He did not cling to that position. Instead He let go and humbled Himself, becoming human.

In total obedience to God, He humbled Himself to the place of suffering, the cross.

Then God lifted Him up, raised Him from the grave and up to heaven, giving Him the name above all names so that every tongue will confess He is Lord and every knee bow to Him to the glory of God the Father.

Application
The way up is down!

With God our status or position is not to be held on to tightly.

Satan sought equality with God and failed.

Jesus let go of His equality with God and was lifted up.

Here is a mystery that is also a key to life in God’s kingdom. We win by losing, we gain by serving, we are at our highest when we are most humble.

Whatever source of pride we have we must let go of it and allow God to take it and redeem it.

My attitude must be like Christ, who set aside all heavenly thrones to become the servant of all, dying for our salvation, in order to be exalted above all creation.

Prayer
Father I see that I need to set aside all pride and selfish ambition. Help me to have the heart of a servant so that you will be glorified in me. Amen.

Reflection on Isaiah 50:4-9

O Father

Teacher of my heart
Giver of wisdom
I give myself to you

Ancient of Days
I go to the cross
Knowing this is the eternal plan

I set my face
Hard as flint
Walking to the cross
Suffering ahead
Vindication follows

Salvation for fallen men
Won on my body
Purchased in blood
Lovingly shed

Reflection on Mark 11:1-11

Scripture

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Observation
Jesus sends two of His disciples ahead to collect a colt that is there. If anyone asks, they are to say, “The Lord needs it.”

They go and find the colt. When questioned, they repeat what Jesus had told them. They return with the colt to Jesus who rides it into the city.

As they enter the city, people throw their cloaks and branches on the road ahead of Him, and the crowds call out, “Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus then goes to the Temple and looks at everything before returning to Bethany.

Application
Many people claim Jesus for all kinds of selfish reasons. The crowds see Jesus as a political liberator. Many are not interested in a Saviour- they just want political independence for the Romans.

Many still claim Jesus for self-centred motives. They might be in church for social reaosns or because the music appeals to them.

These are the same people who quickly turned and called for Jesus’ crucifixion a few days later.

It’s fine and understandable to start with Jesus for the wrong reasons. True disciples move on and recognise that it’s not about me, it’s all about Jesus.

Prayer
Lord show me how to follow you for your glory not my own selfish motives. Amen.

Book Review: “Leading Small Groups In The Way of Jesus” by M. Scott Boren

I’ve read dozens of books on small group leadership, group dynamics, cell church principles and so on, but none are quite like this book by Scott Boren.

There are many books that explain cell minsitry from a pragmatic view point and many that talk about groups as a powerful evangelistic strategy, and there are some that show how small groups have always been at the heart of healthy church movements through the ages.

This is the first book that I’ve read that shows how our group leadership practices must reflect the character of Christ so that the groups and the people in them learn to grow in the ways of Jesus.

Boren describes eight “Pracitces” that together lead us in the way of Jesus:

  • Hear the rhythms of the Jesus Way
  • Gather in the Presence
  • Lead collaboratively
  • Be yourself
  • Hang out
  • Make a difference
  • Fight well
  • Point the way to the Cross.

Each chapter left me saying “Wow!” as I picked up new aspects to the ministry of cell leadership, and pastoral ministry for that matter.

This book is descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, the author does not give directions for leading a group. Rather he describes how each practice can be experienced and encouraged in the group. There is no 4-step plan for dealing with the over-talkative member, but there are principles for dealing with conflict in a godly, loving and healing way.

This is a book I will be returning to often, maybe picking up insights from a chapter at a time.

However, it is not a book that I can recommend to my cell leaders, or at least not to all of them. The book is written in a style that people who have had only a High School level of education would struggle with. People who do not read for enjoyment will struggle with this book. That’s not a criticism but an observation about the style, the concepts and the use of language.

It’s a great book even though it’s not for everyone. The content is too important to not share, though. My cell leaders will be learning about this in our meetings and training.