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God’s People, part 177: Matthias

Read Acts 1:12-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.”  (Act 2:1, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MatthiasPart 177: Matthias. When looking to secure the future of a movement, one would hardly be inclined to leave it up to “chance”. One would, no doubt, do everything in his or her power to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that all things were in order. If a leader in the movement died, one would choose among the people a worthy replacement for that position. Nothing, if at all possible, would be left to chance.

Yet, when one pays close attention to what the Apostles did at the beginning of Acts, he or she will notice that the Apostles left the replacement of Judas up to the drawing of lots. Judas had killed himself due to the dishonor he felt in his betrayal of Jesus. Too guilty to continue on, Judas tragically took his own life. Need to replace him, the 11 remaining Apostles nominated two men out of 120 of Jesus’ disciples who had assembled to meet.

Yes, that is right, Jesus had far more than just 12 disciples. The 12 were Jesus’ inner circle whom he mentored to continue the movement on without him. From that can be gathered this fact: Jesus knew that he would not always be around to lead his disciples and, as a matter of fact, that was never his plan. From the time he called the 12 until the time he died and resurrected, Jesus had been preparing his disciples to be the Apostles who would carry his mission and ministry forward.

Out of those 2 men, Joseph Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias were nominated. Then to make the final decision, they drew lots. “Wait,” one might think, “they left the fate of Jesus’ mission and ministry up to chance?” The answer is, no. They did not; rather, they left the decision up to God. They trusted that whoever won out in the casting of lots was being selected by God. That was a sign of their faith and, clearly, something that Jesus must have conveyed to them along the way. It was not their decision, it was God’s.

As for Matthias, he was among those who had followed Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. He was, more than likely, among disciples who witnessed the resurrected Lord before he ascended. It is clear from Scripture that he did not witness the Lord ascend; however, he was among the 12 Apostles who received the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room in Jerusalem during Pentecost.

Not much more is known about him. Aside from that brief mention in the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias disappears off of the page without a trace and into legend. According to Greek tradition, Matthias planted the faith around Cappadocia and the region of the Caspian Sea. According to Nicephorus, he first preached the Gospel in Judaea and then in Aethiopia (modern-day Georgia) where he was stoned to death. According to Coptic tradition, Matthias brought to to The City of Cannibals in Aethiopia.

In another tradition, he traveled to the barbarians and “meat-eaters” in Ethiopia. Again, another tradition has Matthias being stoned to death in Jerusalem. Making a long and disjointed story short, no one really knows what became of Matthias following his being selected as Apostle. Chances are that, regardless of where he took the Good News to, he was likely martyred for doing so.

All of this should challenge us in the following ways. First, how goes it with your faith? Do you have faith in God enough to leave major decisions up to him? Sometimes you may, sometimes you may not? This was clearly the case with the Apostles as well. Sometimes they cast lots seeking God’s will, other times they vied for their own will and way of doing things.

Second, do you take the time to discern what God’s will is for you and/or those around you? Do you prayerfully consider God in your decisions and do you follow God regardless of the cost. Matthias and the other eleven Apostles came to understand Jesus Christ as the Lord and they followed him to the ends of the earth, forsaking all else for the sake of the Gospel. That is what we are all called to do. Reflect on this and challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith and more faithful in your response to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” ­— Saint Peter in The Act of the Apostles 2:36, New Living Translation

PRAYER
Lord, grow me deeper in my faith and more faithful in my response to you. Apart from you this is not possible, but with you all things are possible. Amen.

Lord and Savior

Read Mark 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know You are the Holy One of God. ” (John 6:68-69 NLT)

Peter-upside-down02The danger with reading stories, or even watching them on the television or in the movies, is that we tend to turn the people those stories into two-dimensional caricatures at best. This is especially true when we look at historical figures in true stories. Take Abraham Lincoln, for instance. There is so much to that particular president for us to read on and learn about. We can learn about all of his failures, his chronic depression, his doubts regarding his faith, his troubled childhood, his tumultuous marriage, his lack of self-confidence. We can learn about his courage, his rising up out of the bare-bones frontier life to become a lawyer, a politician and one of the most beloved presidents. We could read about how vastly unpopular his presidency was, how scrutinized he was, and all of the resistance he met as he led a country through a bloody civil war.

And that wouldn’t cover even a fracture of the man. Yet, even so, when we think of Abraham Lincoln, we only think of a fraction of what I just mentioned. In essence, we see good old Abe as a fraction of a fraction of who he actually is. We think of him being tall, lanky, with a weird beard. We call him “honest” abe, and mythologize him as the single man who saved the union and brought an end to slavery. That would sum up our common understanding of him is but a mere caricature.

We do the same with the people in the Bible. For instance, take Jesus’ disciple Simon. We see him as bold and brash fisherman, who may or may not have been illiterate, who often put his foot in his mouth, and who Jesus renamed Peter and is the “rock” upon which the church is built. If we add anything else to that, it is usually Peter’s fear on the water and his denial before the crowing of the rooster on Good Friday morning. In fact, we caricaturize Peter and the other Apostles so much that we think, “Well of course they followed Jesus and did nothing else. They had nothing else going for them anyway, besides fishing and collecting taxes.”

Yet, there was so much more to the disciples than that. In fact, if we look at today’s suggested Scripture reading, we find out that Peter was married and was responsible for not only supporting his wife, but also his mother-in-law. Though it isn’t mentioned, he more than likely also had children. When he said yes to follow Jesus, and through down his nets, he wasn’t just leaving fishing behind; rather, he was leaving his ENTIRE FAMILY behind. He was leaving his wife, his mother-in-law, and his children to fend for themselves. He was leaving them without any source of income, and without any means of getting food. What’s more, what happens when taxes are due and they have no means of paying those taxes.

In other words, Peter was leaving behind HIS ENTIRE LIFE because Jesus’ claim on his life was THAT IMPORTANT. Peter devotion to Christ, albeit flawed and wavering at times, was rooted deep. Jesus wasn’t just the next best prophet to him, he wasn’t just Peter’s teacher, he wasn’t just the messiah come to liberate Israel, or any such thing. JESUS WAS LORD TO PETER, and Peter submitted his life to his Lord at all costs. Ultimately, many years later, Peter ended up giving that life up literally as he was, by tradition, crucified upside down in Rome.

Today’s reflection is this: what are you leaving behind to follow Jesus? What are you willing to give up, to part ways with, to sacrifice in order to follow THE ONE WHO HAS CALLED YOU? Do you see Jesus as neat and nice guy? Do you see Jesus as a wise, sagely teacher? Do you see Jesus as a warm and fuzzy “pick-me-up” at the beginning of your week? Or do you see Jesus as YOUR LORD and SAVIOR, the one you would cross land and sea to follow at all costs? Today’s challenge is to evaluate yourself, to evaluate your faith, and to move toward more fully devoting yourself to Jesus, who is Lord of all Creation.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:24a NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, work in my heart that I may devote myself wholly to you. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Easter Sunday – The Resurrection of the Lord

SCRIPTURE

Mark 16; Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Kings 19:10-12

ResurrectionAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

My friend and I were traveling back home after a long and terrible weekend. Our rabbi, our Lord, had been crucified like a common thief. What a sad and terrible event. What were we to do now that he was gone? Everything he taught, everything he called us to do, seemed to all be in vain.

While traveling we ran into a person who happened to be traveling alone and wanted to join us for some company. We certainly were in no mood for conversation, but it seemed harmless to let him join us. We said very little, for what could really be said? After sometime, the man broke the silence by asking us why we looked so down in the dumps. We told him the whole story.

He told us we were foolish for being upset that the one we believed to be the Messiah had died. How could he say that? He then started giving us his interpretation of the Scriptures, about how the Messiah would be the suffering servant and that the prophets foretold that this would happen.

We were amazed at this man’s confidence that all was well despite the circumstances. As we approached our home we invited him in to share dinner with us. It was the least we could do and we were interested to hear more of what this stranger had to say. He was going to keep going, but after insisting he agreed to stay. We gave him the honors of blessing the food and breaking the bread. It was then that we realized who this man was…he was our Lord…he was Jesus the Christ…risen from the dead!

REFLECTION

Often times we are looking for the Lord to manifest in miraculous ways. We are looking for the clouds to open and to see the Son of Man descending like God from the sky. We are looking for the earth to shake and lightning to flash across the sky. We are looking for a major, earth shattering event!

Yet, as can be seen in the various accounts of the resurrection, each person experienced Jesus’ resurrection in different ways. In Luke, the men traveling to Emmaus saw Jesus in a stranger passing by. They carried conversations with him, talked with him, listened to him and DID NOT recognize him. Yet, through the act of breaking bread together, they realized who he was.

Reflect on all of the times you have felt the presence of the risen Lord. Perhaps you were lonely and someone was present for you in just the right time…or perhaps you were afraid only to find that the fear had been lifted. Perhaps you were helping someone out only to find out you were the one who was helped. Remember that Elijah did not see God in the fire, or the in the earthquake, or in the raging wind…rather, it was in the sound of a gentle whisper (or the sound of sheer silence as the NRSV translates it) that God’s presence was known. This Easter, open your heart to the subtlety of the Resurrection and be transformed by it. Know that Christ is with you always, and where you go…so too Christ follows. Perhaps in you, the risen Lord will be revealed to someone else.

PRAYER

Lord, be present in me, through me and in spite of me for the transformation of this world. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Good Friday

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18:28 – 19:42

Good_FridayAN EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT

I cannot believe that this has happened! Where is my friend, O Lord, that I may once again laugh with him? Where is my teacher, O Lord, that may one again learn from him? Where is my, King, O Lord, that I may lay down my palm branches in praise before him again? Hope eternal seems to have finally died.

Early this morning, the chief priests sent Jesus to Pilate who tried Jesus as a traitor. He put on a dog and pony show, a mock trial, feeding off of the crowd.  He patronized them and got them to give him the verdict that he would’ve come to anyway. Jesus was to be flogged, beaten, mocked, spit upon, and crucified. They made his broken body carry the cross beam up to Golgotha. What a terrible, terrible day.

He looked so disfigured, so bruised and bloodied. His flesh was torn and there was blood everywhere. They even put a crown of thorns on his head, calling out in mockery, “Hail to the King of the Jews!” When they got him here to Golgotha, they laid his body down and drove nails into his hands and his feet and rose him up on the cross. I will never be able to erase the shrieking sounds of horrid pain and agony that came out of his mouth.

Wait a second…I believe he is trying to speak. Yes, he’s having a hard time, but he is trying to speak. “Forgive them…Father…f-f-for they know n-n-not what th-th-they do.” Even now, he is still forgiving. How can he forgive them for what they’ve done? Even in the face of senseless evil, he is showing the grace he always talked about. “My G-G-God, my God, wh-why have you f-f-forsaken m-m-me! It…is…f-f-finished. In…to your…h-h-hands…I c-c-commit m-my s-s-spirit.”

O dear God. I think he has died. His head just dropped to his chest and his body is slouched and lifeless. O, my Lord, could you have abandoned your servant in his hour of need? Couldn’t you have done something, anything, to bring life back to your Son? Why are you so silent in his hour of need. Why are you hidden behind the dark veil of clouds that ominously loom above us? “You have seen, O LORD; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me!” (Psalm 35:22)

REFLECTION

Can you imagine the pain and the suffering that Jesus felt in his last hours on earth? Can you imagine the feeling of abandonment, hopelessness and loss? Can you put yourself in the shoes of Mary Magdalene who stood at the foot of the cross and watched her teacher, who numbered her equally as among his disciples, slowly suffocate to death and succumb to the brutality that was mercilessly inflicted upon him? Can you put yourself in the shoes of his mother who was left to do the one thing that every parent hopes will never pass…to bury her son?

We all have moments where this world seems to deal blows that are far too much for us to handle. We have all had our share of darkness, doubts, and despair. We have all tasted the bitter flavor of Sheol, in one way or another. We have all found ourselves staring down into the pit, wondering if there is any hope of escape.

Let not your heart be troubled, for there is hope.  The story does not end with Sheol, the story does not end in death. Just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so too are we resurrected him.  And the beauty of it is that you do not have to wait to die to share in that resurrection. You can experience the new life God has awaiting for you right here and right now. You can inherit the Kingdom of God in this life as well as in the next.

All you have to do is surrender all of yourself to God and breathe in the hope, the healing and the wholeness that comes in knowing that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Die to the despair and hopelessness that this world has to offer. Die to the inner trappings of the minutia we find ourselves caught up in and take a long, deep breath.  Breathe in through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Breathe in the life that God is offering you and carry that life, and the good news of it, to those in need around you.

PRAYER

Take this moment to meditate and pray.

 

Journey with Jesus: Holy Wednesday

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 26:6-16

30 Pieces of SilverAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Today I did something that I am not sure I should have done. I have been following Jesus for three long years, waiting for the time when he would step up and become the Messiah we are so longing for! With all of the miracles and signs, I just knew that this man must be the one God is sending to liberate our people from the foreign oppressors.

But I fear that these past three years have been in vain. On Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and there was such a crowd! He could have easily inspired that crowd to rise up against the Romans! And who would stop this man who can control the winds and the seas? Who would be able to stop this man who can raise the dead to life and cause the paralyzed to walk again! Surely, Jesus has the power to crush Rome at the snap of his fingers, but instead he does nothing by causes division among our leaders and teaches about his coming death.

I fear that I have been mistaken these past few years. Today I went to the chief priests and spoke with them. They told me that this Jesus was dangerous and that he needed to be dealt with before Rome crushed us all. They said that all Jesus would offer me is Roman punishment and death; however, they said that if I brought them to Jesus, they would give me thirty pieces of silver. Though I am still uncertain as to whether I should or not, I agreed to lead them to Jesus tomorrow night. At least they are offering me something tangible.

REFLECTION

How long have you traveled with Jesus? How long have you listened to him and learned from his teachings? Are you sure you know him as well as you think you do? Are you sure that you understand all that he has been teaching you?

It is easy for us to look at Judas as being different than we are. It is easy to see him as the scapegoat, as the ONE who betrayed Jesus. Yet, are we free from that betrayal? Do we sacrifice our loyalty when Jesus doesn’t fit into our worldview? The truth is that Judas is not alone in the department of betrayal. When we preach the Good News, but don’t live it…are we not betraying Jesus? When we ignore the poor, avoid the sick, judge the “sinner”, and put our own theologies before the LOVE of God, are we not betraying Jesus

Hear the Good News: in whatever ways you have betrayed Jesus, he as forgiven you! Now, move on from the past and allow God to transform you. Embrace Jesus mission of hope, healing and wholeness (Luke 4:18-19) and go forth into the world bearing it!

PRAYER

Lord, Create in me a clean heart and renew a righteous spirit within me. Use me in a way that bears hope, healing and wholeness to those around me who need it. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Tuesday

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 21:23 – 24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37; Luke 20:1-21:36

Matthew 231322AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Wow, and I thought yesterday was tense! I was shaking from head to toe when Jesus started to overturn those tables and was shouting like a madman! Part of me was scared that the Romans, perched in towers overlooking the Temple complex, would descend on us and crush us right then and right there. The other part of me was excited because Jesus was finally showing the zeal that we have been taught that the Messiah would have. I began to wonder if, perhaps Jesus was this Messiah…cleansing the House of God before purging Israel of her enemies.

But today Jesus started teaching really strange things! He spoke in parables that were set up to make the Pharisees look bad. He compared the Pharisees to a group of murderous farm tenants who refused to give the farm owner his due and killed anyone the farm owner sent them…including his own son! Jesus went on to flat-out curse the Pharisees and the scribes shouting, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

You could just feel the tension in the air. The religious leaders looked beyond mad. If looks could kill…well you know how the phrase goes. Then, Jesus questioned their knowledge of the very scriptures they are well versed in. He asked them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” I got the real sense that he was referring to himself! Was he saying that he was going to be rejected and die? How could he be the Messiah and die? How was that even possible if the Messiah was supposed to free Israel from oppression? Why would this “Messiah” curse our religious leaders? Wouldn’t the Messiah focus his energy on Rome?

REFLECTION

What are your expectations of Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? Do you find that your “Jesus” falls in line with what you think he should be? When you hear or read Jesus’ words of chastisement, who do you envision Jesus talking to? Is he talking about “them”, or is he talking about “us”? Is he talking about “you” or is he talking about “me”?

On this Holy Tuesday, let us remember Jesus’ warnings to the religious leaders of the day. Will we continue to cross land and sea to create converts to OUR way? Will we look like we are righteous on the outside, when in reality we are dead on the inside? Will we be the ones who reject the stone only to be crushed by it? Or will we lay down OUR way and make GOD’s way the cornerstone of our faith? What is God’s way, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

PRAYER

Lord, humble me and become the cornerstone of my faith. Let me drop my religion and pick up your love, compassion and mercy in its stead. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Monday

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48

AN EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT:

Second_TempleTalk about taking a turn for the worse! It was just yesterday that we were celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry! The palms were scattered around the road, and being waved ecstatically in our hands! “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” We shouted even louder, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna!”

Yet, it is only a day later and this same “messiah” does something beyond what any of us could have predicted. He enters into our sacred Temple and starts ranting and raving. He screams, “You have heard it said that, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” Can he really mean it?!? He is supposed to protect us against our enemies! He is supposed to overthrow the ones who are threatening us! He isn’t supposed to come into our very Temple and attack us! How dare he!

Then this Jesus starts violently overturning the tables of the bankers in the Temple market. Money is flying everywhere and he opens up the animal pens and lets them loose. It is utter chaos. This way man is going too far! Someone needs to stop him before he brings ruin upon us all. Doesn’t he know that there are certain rules that need to be followed? Doesn’t he realize that we do things a certain way here, that we are not the ones who need cleansing!

REFLECTION:

What in your life is sacred? What do you cherish the most? What is it that you cling to and refuse to let go of? What is your sacred Temple? Do these things stand in your way of God? Are these sacred things holy because you have deemed them so, or because God has called you to them?

Just as Jesus entered the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and cleansed it of the things that were distracting it from it’s true purpose, so too Jesus is entering into your life and driving out those things that distract you from serving your true purpose.  What is that purpose? To be a living Temple of the living God, to be the house of the living God, to be the bearer of the presence of the Living God to all of those who are around you.

This Holy Monday, recognize that God is calling you to cleanse your Temple so that it may be filled with the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that God is calling you to bring to others. Anything that gets in the way of that purpose has got to go.

PRAYER:

Lord, drive out the impurities that keep me from being your true, and living Temple. Amen.

The Key to a Peaceful New Year

Read Philippians 4:11-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

diceWell, it is officially a New Year. The holidays are past, the festivities are over and the beginning of another twelve month period has officially began. This year it seems that we will be visited by a monster snow storm to kick us off for the new year. Uh oh! Is this an omen? Is this a sign of an ominous and troubled year?

Have you ever noticed that each New Year’s Eve and, subsequently, each New Year people celebrate the waning of the previous year and the dawning of the new year as if the last year was the absolute worst year ever? This year was certainly no different. “Good riddance 2013” I saw signs and people exclaiming on television during the new year celebrations going on. “Hello 2014! You’re going to rock!”

But did 2013 stink and will 2014 rock? Or will we, by this time next year, be exclaiming “Good riddance 2014!”, while completely forgetting how excited we were to usher it in. Are we ever satisfied with anything, or is every year absolutely the worst year EVER? Have you ever stopped to notice how negative we are of where we are, and absolutely how giddy we are at the prospect of getting what we want in the future.

But the reality is that, more than likely, we will not get everything we WANT. The reality is that there will be things that WILL go wrong and against what we planned. The reality is that life will continue to be challenging and that growth will continue to have its moments of pain. That is just life. If you’ve ever watched the first five minutes of up, then you’ve seen the summary of life in a nutshell. Things happen, time keeps moving, we age and then, no matter what year it is, at some point we will end up dying. That is the cycle of life and we all go through it.

The question is, just as it was in the movie UP, what are you going to while your time is still here on this earth. Are you going to lock yourself up in your house and sulk over time gone by. Are you going to relentlessly wish the coming of every new year only to hastily usher in that year’s end when things aren’t going your way? Are you you going to be childish in your approach to life, throwing temper tantrums and conniption fits when you don’t get your way? Or are you going to take a deep breath, realize that you DO NOT NEED all of the things you REALLY WANT and be content with what you have.

The apostle Paul knew what contentment was. He stated that whether he was sick or healthy, beaten or loved, imprisoned or free, hungry or full, he was content in all situations. Paul was a person who was filled with the PEACE that God has to offer us. I am sure he would have rather not been in prison, and starving, and poor, and beaten; however, many of those things were outside of his control and he trusted that, no matter what, God would provide for him what he NEEDED. And that trust…that faith…gave him PEACE.

The challenge for you today, and for every day, is to be content. If a bad situation occurs, certainly try to work your way out of it…even seeking help if need be…so that you can move forward and grow; however, don’t lament and sulk over your situation. That does absolutely no good. Don’t be selfish and shallow like the people on New Year’s Eve wishing for the new year to bring them THEIR WAY. Rather, EXPECT the new year to bring you GOD’s WAY and you will NEVER be disappointed; rather, you will be content and will have God’s PEACE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“[People fall] from the pursuit of the ideal of plan living and high thinking the moment [they] want to multiply [their] daily wants. [People’s] happiness really lies in contentment.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be content in all things, this year and all of the years to come. Amen.