Ecclesiological Etching: From Corinth

Scripture: Acts 18:12-17

Now when Gallio was the governor of the province of Achaia, the Jews united in their opposition against Paul and brought him before the court. “This man is persuading others to worship God unlawfully,” they declared. Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If there had been some sort of injury or criminal behavior, I would have reason to accept your complaint. However, since these are squabbles about a message, names, and your own Law, deal with them yourselves. I have no desire to sit in judgment over such things.” He expelled them from the court, but everyone seized Sosthenes, the synagogue leader, and gave him a beating in the presence of the governor. None of this mattered to Gallio.

Thought from Corinth: According to the old scholar, William Barclay, those who chose the water route around the southern part of Greece should make their wills before traveling. It was so dangerous that most made the decision to go by land which brought them through Corinth. For that reason, as you can imagine, it was a true metroplex with all its rich diversity. Into this, the Apostle Paul arrived with the intent of preaching a message not before heard. Looking at what remains of the ancient Temple of Apollo and the Theater of Corinth, it must have been a bit intimidating for Paul. In 18:9-10, we read: “One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Don’t be afraid. Continue speaking. Don’t be silent. I’m with you and no one who attacks you will harm you, for I have many people in this city.’” When Paul was preaching in Corinth, he was brought before the governor whose name was Gallio (Lucius Junius Gallio). This is found in the above passage. According to tradition, the place where Paul was put on trial was called the Bema, a large elevated place in the center of Corinth. Because of the connection to Saint Paul, the Bema has been considered a holy site for centuries. It was powerful to stand there yesterday and to read from Acts 18. So often we make the stories of those martyred for into some cute story where we both glorify and empty their suffering. In the end, the story is sweet and beautiful and makes us happy as we read it. But imagine Paul walking into what he knew would be one tough audience. Imagine all the massive symbols of Roman power and authority that had no use for anyone who might provide a message counter to the traditional line of Caesar. Imagine what it was like to have known beatings, imprisonment and threats of death for doing nothing more than preaching love. Remember, Paul had another line of work. He was a “tent maker” or some think that was a way of describing anyone who worked with leather. Whatever the case, he didn’t need to preach to make a living. In fact, he made his living with his hands and he fashioned his death with his preaching. I’ve always appreciated Paul, but my experiences here in Greece have intensified that appreciation.

Prayer: Merciful God, let my respect continue to grow for those who have given everything to share your simple message of mercy, kindness and love. May the respect I have grow into a life that honors such sacrifice. Amen.

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06-22-19

From Philippi

Scripture: Philippians 1:28-30

That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God. God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

Thoughts and Pictures: Philippi was a dynamic city, with lots of wealth and diversity and challenges. Paul had some mixed feelings about Philippi, for though he loved the people, he was beaten and imprisoned while visiting. He definitely does not paint a rosy picture of discipleship, for though he used the word “privilege” in describing the opportunity to believe in Christ, he also spoke of this privilege when it came to suffering. Think about it for a moment – have you ever thought to yourselves: I truly have the privilege of suffering for the sake of both my friends and enemies. I do so, not seeking anyone harm, but to sacrifice for them no matter what I receive in return. That’s powerful.

I am including a few pictures from my day in Philippi, specifically the Roman Theater which was quite spectacular.

From Thessaloniki

Scripture: Acts 17:14

The brothers and sisters sent Paul away to the seacoast at once, but Silas and Timothy remained at Beroea.

Thought for the Day: Beroea, now Veroia, is about an hour west of Thessaloniki, if you drive along the coast, but more like 1 hour and 20 minutes if you take the northern route. Today, Veroia (Beroea) is known as Little Jerusalem as it has nearly 50 Byzantine and Post-Byzantine chapels and churches and cathedrals. Paul is on his way to Athens (I won’t be going there for another 5 days), but it’s interesting that Silas and Timothy stay behind. It’s uncertain exactly how long they stayed, but eventually they will catch up with Paul in Corinth (where I will be in a couple of days). This is only a Bruce guess, but I find that Paul had a pretty good feel in regard to the communities he started or visited. He knew what was needed, and how some continued direction from his core team could have a dramatic impact. Churches, as you can guess, are unique living and breathing bodies. You cannot take a success in one setting and impose it upon another. It is a different context, different people, different histories and different gifts. I think Paul saw the unique characteristic of Beroea, and he felt that Silas and Timothy could strengthen the community while he continued on his journey. Some folks are not very good at letting go even when God is calling them somewhere else. Too often we cling without recognizing how there are some good and gifted people who are well prepared to take it to the next level…assuming we can walk away. I’m headed to Beroea in day or so, but first Philippi and Neapolis.

Prayer: For all those who have the amazing capacity to hear your invitation, O Lord, and let go. For them, and for you, Lord, I give thanks. Amen.



06-19-19

Scripture: Acts 17:13

The Jews from Thessalonica learned that Paul also proclaimed God’s word in Beroea, so they went there too and were upsetting and disturbing the crowds.

Thought for the Day: Paul’s experience in Thessalonica was not so good. As I am currently in Thessalonica, I am hoping my experience is better than what Paul experienced. He and Silas had to escape with the help of some friends as they feared the mob, and they went to Beroea (another town that has changed names — it is now, Veroia). It is interesting that we have no letters from Paul to the church in Beroea. In the way Paul’s initial encounter is described, it sure sounds like a place where there was immediate excitement and support of the message. Tradition suggest that Onesimus, the slave spoken of in the Letter to Philemon, would eventually become the first Bishop of this area in the decades following the death of Paul. For me, this is a microcosm of Christianity. The great persecutor of the church, Saul, becomes its greatest messenger (as the Apostle Paul). He plants the seeds for a church in Beroea, and later a former slave becomes the leader of this church. The least likely people are those used by God to do some of the most unlikely and unimaginable work of the Gospel.

Prayer: May I never underestimate your capacity, O Spirit of Grace, to lift up and call forth missionaries and advocates of the Good News. The “who” you call is, in part, the essence of your Gospel. Amen.

FYI – I don’t know how many more devotionals I will be writing in the next couple of weeks. I am on Sabbatical, though I do find the task of writing to be helpful as I process these many experiences. I will post as I have time.

Grace & Peace, B



06-18-19

Scripture: Leviticus 25:1-4

The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: Once you enter the land that I am giving you, the land must celebrate a sabbath rest to the LORD. You will plant your fields for six years, and prune your vineyards and gather their crops for six years. But in the seventh year the land will have a special sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the LORD: You must not plant your fields or prune your vineyards.

Thought for the Day: The land, according to Jewish teaching, is to receive a Sabbatical. Even in ancient times, the necessity of soil getting a break was recognized. This passage, set alongside others that speak of honoring the Sabbath day, attempt to communicate a pattern and order to creation. We are all wired – humans, animals and even the natural order – for rest. Even when we love what we do (which I love my job), if we do not pause and allow ourselves to replenish and renew, there might not be much to give. Whether it is soil, a tree or human beings, we are all made of the same basic building blocks. There was some real wisdom in these ancient words long before there were microscopes and atomic theory. All comes from dust and all will return to dust according to Ecclesiastes. This is all to say that if you treat your lawn better than you treat yourself, it is time to recognize that both deserve care and rest.

Prayer: Let me make time, not for other craziness, but for true rest. May I find it in you, Merciful Creator. Amen.



06-17-19

Prayer for the Week: Some of our youth are returning from church camp and others are preparing to go. Some of our youth are making themselves ready for mission trips to serve those they have never met. For every young life that is able to experience you, O Lord of All Creation, we believe in the potential of a changed heart. For every counselor, volunteer, sponsor, donation and supportive prayer, we are thankful. There is simply something unique about stepping away from the day to day stuff of life; there is something about leaving behind video games and tv; there is something about living in community and learning to deal with the quirkiness of others. It can be challenging, even frustrating. Yet you, Merciful God, can take those moments and do something amazing, even miraculous. These young people will return home with bags of stinky and dirty clothing. Parents will find deodorant that was never used. Sponsors, counselors and young people will be exhausted and sore. It is a strange blessing, but it is one of the wonderful ways you work in the lives of people. Among the participants, there will be stories told and retold – stories that will bring both laughter and tears. You are an amazing God, and we celebrate your capacity to do something truly special this summer. With gratitude for you and your gift, Jesus. Amen.

06-16-19

Scripture: Ephesians 1:16

I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers.

Thought for the Day: These are familiar words, but today, they are words I wish to repeat to the people of Cypress Creek Christian Church. This congregation has been incredibly generous and kind to me and my family. I am currently beside myself with excitement as I think about leaving for Greece in the next couple of days. What has impressed me is that I have not heard a single word of complaint about my Sabbatical. It really doesn’t come as a surprise, but I know fellow clergy who were continually browbeaten about their Sabbaticals, a few of them got to the point that they cancelled their Sabbatical all together. Instead, Cypress Creek has been excited for me, offering words of blessing these last few weeks. It means a lot to me. Now I truly believe the church will benefit from my experiences in Greece, but no one has suggested that as a prerequisite. So today, I give thanks to God for you, and I will remember you in my prayers throughout this journey.

Prayer: So often we go from day to day without pausing long enough to appreciate all the amazing people who bless our lives. Confessing that failure, I pause in this moment to express my gratitude to you, Gracious God, for you are the source of all goodness and generosity. Clearly the people of Cypress Creek Christian Church know your grace. Amen.