Outsiders

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Outsiders

Acts 7:6-11

The Ascension of Jesus1

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1 Peter 4:12-14

Suffering as a Christian

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”

It makes a huge difference whether your Savior is standing right with you or not. We have some difficulty imagining just how the disciples felt when Jesus met them on that mountain one last time, gave them the Great Commission, and then disappeared into the heavens above them. Having been through the emotional rollercoaster of Holy Week, I suspect some were quite frustrated that, having not long receiver Jesus back from death, here they were losing him again. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the mission, it was that it made more sense when Jesus was there. Or at least they felt braver taking it on knowing Jesus had their backs.

Something else changed this moment as well …something absolutely fundamental to the faith. This moment changed the way we could determine who was inside and who was outside the faith.2 The subject was important enough to make it into Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount not just once, but twice3! You see, following Jesus teaching on insiders and outsiders was as simple as following His example when He was with them. How did you know who was considered part of the “in” crowd? It was whoever was physically close to Jesus. The disciples, the poor, the hurting always had front-row seats, while the Pharisees usually sat in the back and grumbled. Sure, their were moments during His arrest and crucifixion where the bad guys got closer, and perhaps that strange incident with the unnamed woman at the well in Samaria, but overall, Jesus tended to keep His friends closest to Him. Now that He was gone, how could they, and we, tell who was really part of the kingdom?

It is more than identifying who is different and who does not agree with us. It means discerning who does or does not follow Jesus. We look to real action, not just empty promises. We look for grace. We look for transformed lives. Where there are differences between us and Jesus, we seek understanding (although not always acceptance) and we look for ways to connect in Christ’s love and learn from one another. It is what Jesus did. He constantly brought the outsiders in. We ourselves were once outsiders, and sometimes we revert back to our outsider ways, but now we are His people.So what do we do with Outsiders? We learn to love them.

Who are the Outsiders in your life?

What are some heathy ways you can show Christ’s love to them today?


  1. (Mk 16:19–20; Lk 24:50–53)
  2. and for the connection between the insiders and outsiders, see: https://myabishai.blog/2017/01/page/2/
  3. Loving your enemies and refraining from judging others.

7 Godly Sins? – the Lust of God 

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7 Godly Sins? – the Lust of God

If God intends on being party to every marriage, is it Lust?

Song of Solomon 7

Expressions of Praise

How graceful are your feet in sandals,

O queenly maiden!

Your rounded thighs are like jewels,

the work of a master hand.

Your navel is a rounded bowl

that never lacks mixed wine.

Your belly is a heap of wheat,

encircled with lilies.

Your two breasts are like two fawns,

twins of a gazelle.

Your neck is like an ivory tower.

Your eyes are pools in Heshbon,

by the gate of Bath-rabbim.

Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon,

overlooking Damascus.

Your head crowns you like Carmel,

and your flowing locks are like purple;

a king is held captive in the tresses.

How fair and pleasant you are,

O loved one, delectable maiden!

You are stately as a palm tree,

and your breasts are like its clusters.

I say I will climb the palm tree

and lay hold of its branches.

O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,

and the scent of your breath like apples,

and your kisses like the best wine

that goes down smoothly,

gliding over lips and teeth.

I am my beloved’s,

and his desire is for me.

Come, my beloved,

let us go forth into the fields,

and lodge in the villages;

let us go out early to the vineyards,

and see whether the vines have budded,

whether the grape blossoms have opened

and the pomegranates are in bloom.

There I will give you my love.

The mandrakes give forth fragrance,

and over our doors are all choice fruits,

new as well as old,

which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.

1 Peter 1:3-9

A Living Hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

One cannot consider a connection between God and lust without looking at Song of Solomon. It may not be the only example of lust, nor the worst example of it… but it is one of the longest and most spiritually approved instances of physical attraction. There is no way around it. Song of Solomon is a strange book to be in the Holy Bible.

The root of this peculiarity comes from its inclusion as scripture as we understand it. By and large, since the time of the [Reformation] we have expected scripture to be historically accurate accounts of God’s work in creation and words of praise or prayers dedicated to Him. In the case of Proverbs, they may be short teachings related to worshipping and following God. There is another kind of ancient literature as well though: allegory.

Allegory is when you write or speak about one thing and use it as a comparison to something else. C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia in part as an allegory of the Christian faith. It does not matter if the stories are true or not. It only shows the relationship of the values being presented. Another biblical example is the book of Job. While we, by today’s standards would expect Job to be at least based upon a historical event. However, prior to the Reformation it was acceptable to use allegory as a means of communicating truth.

Song of Solomon was included into the Old Testament cannon because it served as an allegory to the kind of deeply personal and intimate love of God. That is to say, if a man and woman can desire one another this much, God can desire us even more. That really does not settle the weirdness though, unless we get it through our heads that allegory shows connection between two normally unlike things.

The word “love” itself falls prey to this instance all the time. We say we love our romantic partners. We love or children. We love pizza. If love meant the same thing in all three of these categories it would be criminal. So yes, God loves us like Song of Solomon describes, in terms of passion and desire, but not in the same way.

What then, does that have to do with His involvement in marriage? Well, first, let’s be honest and admit that marriages always involve more than just two people. If it were not so, there would be no such thing as mother-in-laws, and particular relationship created by marriage involving an outside person. Friends and family are all involved. Sometimes children are involved.

God becomes involved in marriages as a benefactor, or perhaps more simply as the Father of both bride and groom. He has expectations for both of them and gifts for both of them as well. 1 Peter tells us about an inheritance He is hoping to give us in that. He does not have a sexual agenda for us Himself, and His only contributions to sex are for our benefit, not His. Again, (think allegory) God does not want to be our mate. He wants to be our Lord, which is an entirely different relationship. The alternative of course is to have a marriage without His involvement. There is a long history of people who cast aside their families and friends to get married, and sometimes it works out for them in the end – particularly if they have unhealthy family systems. However, if God is a blessing to you, why would you not want to share Him with your spouse?

How is God involved in your marriage?

In what ways do you want God to be more involved?

Good Neighbors

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Good Neighbors

Ephesians 4:25-32

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

I’m not normally one to dig into the Greek text and focus on individual words much, but I was surprised in finding the word translated “neighbor” here in this passage. I expected the word “brother”. The word Paul uses here – πλησίον (plēsion) does not refer to someone you share kinship with, it refers to someone with whom you share space. It means the person nearby. So, here Paul means neighbour in the same sense that Jesus meant neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

I have heard a lot of talk about diversity and cultural boundaries the last few years, but I have heard a lot less about being good neighbors. Perhaps we have been more dependant upon peyote like Fred Rogers to keep us neighborly, and in his absence we have reverted back to our natural state of suspicion towards those nearby. I don’t know. I’m not a very good neighbor myself. It might not look like it, but I live in a neighborhood that has drugs, prostitution, meth labs, and plenty of scenes that could have made it into the old television series “Cops”. When I get suspicious of neighbors it is not only due to issues of diversity, it is because I hear the shouting in the middle of the night as they fight in the street and I can remember the house next to us burning down when the meth lab exploded. Those memories are all challenges to my small attempts at being a “good neighbor”.I can understand Robert Frost‘s admonition about building fences and by extension, I can understand the nation’s desire to build walks around ourselves.

Maybe Paul had neighbors like me. I appreciate that he did not begin this passage with a generic slogan to love our neighbors. No, instead he challenges us to speak the truth to them. Building a fence is a way of speaking about separation and disconnect. This is where I end and you begin. Yet the next sentence from Paul says that is not truth but a lie. Paul claims we are all members of one another. Again, remember this is not family or even church family. He is shedding about the person nearby… your neighbors. Either the walls are lies our Paul is lying (or just wrong on this account).

He continues on and writes that it is ok to be angry, but not ok to keep that anger in without speaking about if. Could it be that this treasured piece if marriage advice was actually intended to be used between neighbors?
Paul writes that we should not steal from one another, taking advantage of one another, but instead we should use our words in particular and our deeds also to build up our neighbors. We need to put away our bitterness and forgive our neighbors as Christ forgave us.

What do you communicate to your neighbors?

How do you build them up?

How do you show them forgiveness as Christ had shown you?

 

 

Rote

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“The Lord said:

Because these people draw near with their mouths

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

so I will again do

amazing things with this people,

shocking and amazing.

The wisdom of their wise shall perish,

and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,

whose deeds are in the dark,

and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”

You turn things upside down!

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?

Shall the thing made say of its maker,

“He did not make me”;

or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

Hope for the Future

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while

become a fruitful field,

and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?

On that day the deaf shall hear

the words of a scroll,

and out of their gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,

and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more,

and the scoffer shall cease to be;

all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—

those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,

who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,

and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,

no longer shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,

the work of my hands, in his midst,

they will sanctify my name;

they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,

and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,

and those who grumble will accept instruction.” Isaiah 29.13-24 (NRSV)

What do you think about memorizing scripture? I struggle with it.

I learned scripture first in Sunday school, where we were taught it by rote – that is, a repeated exercise or ritual meant to help you internalize something. Some of the first scriptures I learned through song (a kind of rote). I remember learning Proverbs 3:5-6 as a song that blessed my life many years later and helped lead me to God.

In between that first lesson and the moment I decided to surrender my life to God, there was a lot of unfaithful living and outright running from God. There is very little unique about this part of my story… most of us have been there/done that. However, what I have noticed is that it was during these very rebellious years that I could probably recite the most scripture from memory. I knew the bible – I just did not follow it with my life at all.

20 years later, I find that my memory is not quite as sharp as it was back then and I stumble over the words more. It’s not near as impressive. Yet my understanding of those scriptures has grown deep and wide. I may not be able to recall the specific words, but I often tell you who wrote them, who they were first written to, why, and how they apply to us today. Even more than that “preacher knowledge” I can give personal testimony about how they apply to my life today as a personal witness.

My wonderful teachers, taught me to memorize the scriptures, but only half the job was done. I’ll claim it was because of my own stubbornness. What I needed, more than rote memorization was a relationship with God. Perhaps my teachers thought I was too young to have a relationship with God, so they gave me rote instead. Maybe they just did not know how to explain it. Or maybe I was not listening.

It was during the year of Christ’s birth, we are told, that those who had memorized the scripture missed the Messiah. They knew where to find Him… indeed they knew enough to send the Gentile Magi to meet Him, but they would not follow the scriptures themselves. For them, knowing the bible was enough. They did not think they needed to know God.

Regardless of what happened in my own life, God makes it clear that our connection with him needs to be deeper than something we just memorize and recite. There needs to be a spiritual understanding underneath and through it all. As Isaiah wrote: we need to do more than memorize the commandments. We need to trust and obey our commander.

  • What spiritual lessons did you learn by memorization?
  • How have they blessed your life over the years?
  • How has God brought deeper meaning to them ?

Surely goodness, surely mercy

right beside me all my days

and I will dwell in Your house forever

and bless Your Holy Name

Thursday December 22, 2016

to Nocturne in Black and Gold (Whistler)

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Never so brightly had she shone

above the Weimar, cold with eyes

left peering, fearing dark advancing

down from heav’n to earth tonight.

 

Alas, my lady would not budge

nor cease nor brake nor even veer

her flight to greener grass and softer

sands to toil, soil to turn.

 

So sad to see her go, I was

alone and left beside myself

to numbly stare above and wonder

what more could be done.

 

…What more could be done?

 

So in secret I made haste

I drew my kite-string ’round her waist

and tied it tight within a knot

with skill so sleek… she knew it not.

Thus I planned to hold her back

from freedom and dangerous attack!

 

Off she took without a care

headstrong and headed straight towards

the sky, and starlets in her hair

were gleaming as the night approached.

 

They met mid-way with such a clash

(the kite string drawn, pulled tight, and snapped)

she vanished then within a flash –

and ash came floating down.

 

I weakly watched without a sound

as starlets trickled to the ground

and wondered if she still would live

had I not held her back.

 

…had I not held her back