My Congo Pilgrimage

By Rev. Randy Cooper, Martin First UMC, Martin, Tenn.Randy and friends

TOP PHOTO: Rev. Randy Cooper (right) and his United Methodist clergy friend, John Paul, at the East Congo Episcopal Area Conference Round Table. BOTTOM PHOTO: Cooper (left) and Kinshasa, daughter of Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel.

Two Martin First UMC youth heard Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Nashville Episcopal Area announce last year at the Memphis Annual Conference his goal of raising $87,000 for the East Congo Annual Conference. Our two young people returned to Martin, Tenn., and challenged our congregation to raise $5,000. I thought the goal was beyond our reach, but we surpassed it.

Our interest in the Congo continued. We invited Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel of the East Congo Episcopal Area to our church this past summer. He preached for us on Pentecost Sunday in June when 400 Martin First UMC and McCabe UMC (also in Martin, Tenn.) people crowded into our sanctuary for a service that lasted nearly two hours. We were blessed by Bishop Unda’s presence and spirit.

Four days later I received an email from Bishop Unda, inviting me to come to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to witness firsthand the work and presence of United Methodist people in his land. I accepted the invitation in the full knowledge that those two young people and the youth group of my church deserved all the credit for this unfolding chain of events.

My journey to the Congo in August 2014 was a mixture of adventure, heartbreak and inspiration. Adventures aside, let me share with you a few of those heartbreaking moments and one inspiring moment that has been written onto my heart.

It is one thing to see dying children on television during the evening news. It was quite another to stand in hospital rooms in Kindu and Wembo Nyama, Congo near children who were dying from dysentery as their silently-grieving mothers comforted them. Also, I shook hands with United Methodist preachers who don’t own a Bible and who can’t afford a bicycle. I met a wonderful pastor who lived in forests with his people during the recent civil war in order to escape militias who intended to kill, maim, rape and destroy. I heard a widow of a Methodist pastor express heartfelt gratitude that the new Methodist pension program would keep her from the dangers of starvation. My complaints about the challenges I face as a pastor paled in comparison to theirs. These and other encounters will remain with me.

There was one moment that has come to represent to me the whole of my pilgrimage. Bill Lovell (translator and retired elder from the Tennessee Conference) and I left one of the hospitals with a United Methodist pastor who had been showing us around. I believe he sensed the sorrow weighing upon our hearts as we loaded into the back seat of a car. He sought to comfort us as he said, in his Otetela language and with Bill translating, “When we think of all our challenges and sufferings, if we are not joyful and grateful to God, then we are truly walking in the valley of death.”  I will never forget those words. They have become a sign to me of the hope that United Methodists in the Congo have.

Since my pilgrimage, I have often recalled Paul’s words about faith, hope and love in 1 Corinthians. I must say I don’t believe I saw more faith in Congolese United Methodists than I see in my local congregation. I doubt, too, that United Methodists in that part of the world are any more loving toward one another than we are. Yet I do believe I met people whose hope is richer and deeper than ours. The United Methodists of the Congo are a people who hope in God, who have nothing else and no one else to depend upon. If the apostle Paul were writing to them, I believe he would write to them about hope.

Any ongoing relationship we in the Nashville Area (Memphis and Tennessee Conferences) have with the East Congo Annual Conference in years to come will be a blessing to them, and also to us.


Uniting in prayer for the persecuted church…

UNITING IN PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH, IN THE SPIRIT OF ONENESS THAT CHRIST COMMANDED: ‘FOR IF ONE SUFFERS, WE ALL SUFFER.’

A guest posting by Dr. Joe Geary, Superintendent of the Paris District of the Memphis Annual Conference

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted: you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”
Psalm 10:17-18 ESV

Bishop William T. McAlilly and the Nashville Area Cabinet took action at the most recent cabinet meeting to commend prayer for the persecuted church (especially in the Middle East), and to invite our United Methodist people to address the refugee crisis caused by terror and war through their giving.

According to a statement issued by the General Board of Global Ministries of the UMC, “Alleviation of human suffering and advocacy for justice and peace—two goals of the United Methodist mission, dramatically come together in church responses to thousands of people being displaced and slaughtered by civil conflict in Syria and Iraq.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has targeted ethnic and religious minorities for apparent extinction. To date, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has provided $170,000 in emergency assistance to communities pushed north by IS. The UMCOR assists those in need without regard to religion, race or national origin. The Islamic State is persecuting Christians known in the particular area as Nazarenes, Chaldeans or Assyrians. However, their persecution is not limited to Christians as Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis, Zoroastrians and other branches of Islam are systematically eliminated.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?
Click here to read the GBGM statement and give greater detail to our response. Please view the link to UMCOR INTERNATIONAL DISASTER RESPONSE, ADVANCE #982450 and give your people an opportunity to support the humanitarian response to the needs of the refugees displaced by IS.

Also, view the links related to the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH, NOVEMBER 9, 2014. PLEASE OBSERVE THE IDOP IN YOUR CONGREGATION(S). THESE LINKS PROVIDE WITH YOU WITH PRAYER AND WORSHIP RESOURCES FROM THE GENERAL BOARD OF DISCIPLESHIP OF THE UMC.

Above all, resist the temptation to hate or stereotype another religion or ethnicity. Instead, stand by the persecuted church with prayer and practical assistance and look for every way to commend the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ, to the world through Word and Deed.

Educate your United Methodist people that our leaders do take the persecuted church in the Mideast and everywhere in the world seriously; and are providing leadership to our people in the midst of this crisis. Share with your people the actions aforementioned as evidence of this leadership; and when combined by yours at the local level, it will make a difference.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
-Hebrews 13:3 ESV


Scripture Reading Plan for the week of 8/31/2014

Acts 11
Common English Bible (CEB)

Jerusalem church questions Peter

11 The apostles and the brothers and sisters throughout Judea heard that even the Gentiles had welcomed God’s word. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him.They accused him, “You went into the home of the uncircumcised and ate with them!”

Step-by-step, Peter explained what had happened. “I was in the city of Joppa praying when I had a visionary experience. In my vision, I saw something like a large linen sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. It came all the way down to me. As I stared at it, wondering what it was, I saw four-legged animals—including wild beasts—as well as reptiles and wild birds.[a] I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’ I responded, ‘Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice from heaven spoke a second time, ‘Never consider unclean what God has made pure.’ 10 This happened three times, then everything was pulled back into heaven. 11 At that moment three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them even though they were Gentiles. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered that man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen an angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and summon Simon, who is known as Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and your entire household can be saved.’ 15 When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as the Spirit fell on us in the beginning. 16 I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘John will baptize with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?”

18 Once the apostles and other believers heard this, they calmed down. They praised God and concluded, “So then God has enabled Gentiles to change their hearts and lives so that they might have new life.”

The Antioch church

19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Jews who spoke Greek. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

22 When the church in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw evidence of God’s grace, he was overjoyed and encouraged everyone to remain fully committed to the Lord. 24 Barnabas responded in this way because he was a good man, whom the Holy Spirit had endowed with exceptional faith. A considerable number of people were added to the Lord. 25 Barnabas went to Tarsus in search of Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. They were there for a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching large numbers of people. It was in Antioch where the disciples were first labeled “Christians.”

27 About that time, some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, Agabus, stood up and, inspired by the Spirit, predicted that a severe famine would overtake the entire Roman world. (This occurred during Claudius’ rule.) 29 The disciples decided they would send support to the brothers and sisters in Judea, with everyone contributing to this ministry according to each person’s abundance. 30 They sent Barnabas and Saul to take this gift to the elders.

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 11:6 Or birds in the sky
Common English Bible (CEB)Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible


Stories from the Congo #2

Sunday, August 17
Celebrating a new home

Sunday's Celebration

Sunday’s Celebration

Excitement filled the air as we worshipped and assembled to dedicate the new episcopal residence for Bishop Unda as well as two office buildings. Over 1000 people attended the gathering in Kindu including many government dignitaries. As we shared life together, a number of different choirs sang great music, and many introductions and celebrations took place. I cast our vision in the Nashville Area of “Expecting Greater Things” and presented Bishop Unda one of the special stoles made by the Tennessee Conference for my first annual conference with them. Bishop Peggy Johnson, who speaks sign language with the deaf, was overjoyed when she discovered members of the Church speaking in sign language. It was powerful to see that sign language did not need translation; the language is universal. Complete with ribbon cutting and blessing, Bishop Unda’s home will be very comfortable and adequate for his needs. It is located about 150 yards from the conference offices and situated on the expansive, church owned property where several buildings destroyed during the 15-year war, have been rebuilt through the partnership of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences along with the General Board of Global Ministries.

Monday, August 18
Combatting Malaria

Passing out Bed Nets in Kindu

Bednets in Kindu

We visited a health clinic, located a short distance from the Episcopal residence, where parents can bring their children under age 5 to be treated for malaria and receive bed nets at the same time. The number of patients at the facility overwhelmed us. On that particular morning, the clinic had already seen 26 patients before noon. Some patients were much sicker than others. Many were on IV drips, much like of M*A*S*H* unit rather than a medical clinic. The unforgettable image of those patients makes me realize the importance of our efforts to raise $1,000,000 for Imagine No Malaria. Not only are we equipping them with bed nets that will protect 3-4 people each night, we are also providing, along with the government, essential medicine to combat this killer disease. It was gratifying to know that we are making a difference in a profound way.

Tuesday, August 19
Happy Anniversary to Lynn!
Seeing the Connection

After returning to Lubumbashi, we visited our HIV hospital provided by UMCOR. While there, we spoke with doctors and nurses and saw firsthand, the incredible witness of the United Methodist connection through the Global Aids fund and its provision of much needed health care. Because of this assistance from The United Methodist Church as well as support from other partners, the clinic can offer free health care and medicines. Seeing UNICEF boxes of medicines in the clinic’s warehouse reminded me of the many times I collected money for UNICEF as a teenager. Wednesday, August 20 Experiencing the Connection The night before we were to depart, I realized my passport was missing. I searched high and low and retraced my steps. Our hosts, dear United Methodist sisters and brothers, assisted me in my search by calling the places we had visited. With no success, I resorted to what others do when losing a passport in a foreign country; I called the American Embassy in Kinshasa. As I figured out next steps, I discovered that a member of our group, Evette Richards, National President of the United Methodist Women, had a friend whose sister is the wife of the American Ambassador in Kinshasa. Through that connection, Evette obtained the contact information for the Ambassador’s wife. Before 8:00 a.m. the next day, Evette communicated my dilemma to the Ambassador’s wife and the wheels were put in motion to secure a new passport.

While others worked on the securing the passport, we tried to determine if there was a flight out of Lubumbashi, and received misinformation about it. In the midst of the conflicting information, we experienced a moment of grace, as we learned Vano Kiboko, one of our hosts and United Methodist brothers, had connections with the airline in the Congo. Vano secured for me the last seat on the plane that departed at 7:00 p.m. Flying to Kinshasa Thursday night was critical because the Embassy closed Friday at noon. If I did not make this flight, I couldn’t obtain a new passport on Friday and would be stranded in a Kinshasa until Monday. By this time, I realized I would not arrive home to be present for Bishop Robert Schnase’s presentation on his book, Seven Levers.

Throughout this experience, Bettye Kiboko, the wife of one of our pastors in Iowa, acted as my interpreter. While Bettye helped me report my passport missing to the police and secure a temporary one to fly within the country, the Conference Communications Coordinator worked diligently to obtain my new documentation and ensure our other team members caught their flight.

Over and over again, I was reminded that I was secure, as the good people called Methodists on the other side of the world cared for me because we were one in Christ through our bond as United Methodist sisters and brothers. This journey has been one of the most powerful examples of the United Methodist connection I have experienced.

I am indebted to Bishop Ntembo’s staff for assisting me and to Vano Kiboko for arranging drivers to take me wherever I needed to go, covering our hotel bill, and organizing transportation for from the tarmac in Kinshasa to my hotel. I’m also deeply indebted to Bettye Kiboko for guiding my steps and urging the people securing my temporary passport and flight to persevere.

Today is testimony to God’s amazing grace. I have never been so proud to wear my purple episcopal clergy shirt and collar, as they are helpful in finding a good way to get safe passage on an African Airline. It will be a shame if The United Methodist Church cannot find a way to remain united. The linkages we enjoy will be lost and we will never regain them. We are a Church that sends missionaries from everywhere to everywhere. Because 100 years ago United Methodist missionaries came to the Congo, I was secure in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.

And…we are globally connected because I was able to stay connected to Lynn through the amazing wonder of technology.

Most of all, I had the sense in these days that angels were watching over me. When Vano took me to my hotel in Kinshasa Thursday night, we entered the room, and he said, “Before I leave, we pray.” And we did.

Our prayer reminded me of John Wesley’s definition of a Methodist long ago. He said, “by Methodists I mean, a people who profess to having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”

Vano and I

Vano and I

Vano, a lay person dedicated to the church, a man who lost his wife 9 years ago, and a person who is committed to sharing the gospel, at every point, lived out this definition of John Wesley. As he spoke of his desire to offer his life in service to Jesus Christ, I realized how he is a living testament to 1 John 4:21: “And this commandment I give you, if you love God, you will also love your brother.”

Listening To God

Coming to the Congo, my prayer was for God to show me what I needed to know. My prayer has been answered. God has shown me:

  1. We stand on someone else’s shoulders. Missionaries, who came to Africa 100 years ago, came without fear and served in love. Today, we won’t travel without security. Do I have as much faith as they had?
  2. Our American view of Africa is distorted. While it is true that poverty is rampant in many places, there are places like Lubumbashi, where The United Methodist Church is building up the body with wise stewardship and strategic church planting. Vano’s church is trying to put a roof on their building. In last Sunday’s offering, they raised $150,000 in cash and pledges toward the $250,000 they need for the roof. The roof will not be constructed until all the cash is in hand. As more churches are constructed, they are placed in the centers of communities to serve the greatest number of people and to partner with existing community leaders.
  3. In spite of great obstacles, the passion for serving Christ moves beyond personal comfort. The District Superintendents do not have any means of transportation except a bicycle. They do not have parsonages and their salaries are meager.
  4. Without the United Methodist connection, many, many more people would die from malaria and from HIV. The United Methodist Church is providing healthcare and education, the keys tools for evangelization in Africa. Pastors in the villages know who are sick and visit them. In this way, the pastor brings people into the life of the congregation and thus salvation. This personal way of bringing the gospel to people is making Church in Africa grow. It reminds me of what John Wesley taught us long ago but what we in the United States have forgotten.
  5. Finally, I have learned again, we have a great Church! In spite of our differences and in spite of our challenges, God has brought us this far by faith.
IMG_0825

Brothers in Christ in Africa

I will return soon and invite you to continue in the challenge to support Imagine No Malaria. We will continue to discover ways for the Nashville Area to support the East Congo Area of The United Methodist Church.

Asante Sana! Thank you for blessing our efforts in this place.


Scripture Reading Plan for the week of August 24, 2014

Acts 11

Common English Bible (CEB)

Jerusalem church questions Peter

11 The apostles and the brothers and sisters throughout Judea heard that even the Gentiles had welcomed God’s word. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him.They accused him, “You went into the home of the uncircumcised and ate with them!”

Step-by-step, Peter explained what had happened. “I was in the city of Joppa praying when I had a visionary experience. In my vision, I saw something like a large linen sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. It came all the way down to me. As I stared at it, wondering what it was, I saw four-legged animals—including wild beasts—as well as reptiles and wild birds.[a] I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’ I responded, ‘Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice from heaven spoke a second time, ‘Never consider unclean what God has made pure.’ 10 This happened three times, then everything was pulled back into heaven. 11 At that moment three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them even though they were Gentiles. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered that man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen an angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and summon Simon, who is known as Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and your entire household can be saved.’ 15 When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as the Spirit fell on us in the beginning. 16 I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘John will baptize with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?”

18 Once the apostles and other believers heard this, they calmed down. They praised God and concluded, “So then God has enabled Gentiles to change their hearts and lives so that they might have new life.”

The Antioch church

19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Jews who spoke Greek. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

22 When the church in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw evidence of God’s grace, he was overjoyed and encouraged everyone to remain fully committed to the Lord. 24 Barnabas responded in this way because he was a good man, whom the Holy Spirit had endowed with exceptional faith. A considerable number of people were added to the Lord. 25 Barnabas went to Tarsus in search of Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. They were there for a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching large numbers of people. It was in Antioch where the disciples were first labeled “Christians.”

27 About that time, some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, Agabus, stood up and, inspired by the Spirit, predicted that a severe famine would overtake the entire Roman world. (This occurred during Claudius’ rule.) 29 The disciples decided they would send support to the brothers and sisters in Judea, with everyone contributing to this ministry according to each person’s abundance. 30 They sent Barnabas and Saul to take this gift to the elders.

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 11:6 Or birds in the sky
Common English Bible (CEB)Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible


God at work: stories from the Congo

August 14: Witnessing Growth

After a long flight to Johannesburg, South Africa and a night of rest, our group flew to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We visited the English Speaking School, which has been in existence since 1975, as well as three churches. Two of the three churches have construction projects underway and are advancing as funds are being raised. It is encouraging to see the progress in all three churches. We were filled with hope during our visit to Lubumbashi as there is great effort being made to become self-sufficient congregations, even in those areas where there is great poverty.

August 15: Celebrating as the Body of Christ

Today we boarded the “Wings of the Morning”, a 14-passenger Cessna Blackhawk provided by partnerships across the connection with the General Board of Global Ministries. I was pleased to know we were flying on a plane that the Tennessee Conference helped purchase. We were flown to Kindu where we met Bishop Unda and the United Methodists of East Congo. Our group was greeted with singing, flowers, a brass band, and great joy! It was a beautiful welcoming experience of radical hospitality. After settling our belongings in our hotel, we gathered in one of the Kindu Churches for a service of praise and thanksgiving. Some pastors walked as much as 40 kilometers just to be present at the celebration and later walked home because there was no place to sleep.

August 16: Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

Our morning took us to visit three congregations in various stages of development. The differences in these churches ranged from a new church plant on the edge of the city that is no more than a thatched structure to one that is being upgraded with a tin roof, walls, and concrete floors. During our time here, we learned much about the devastation of the 15-year war and the ways in which women and children were abused. Sadly many continue to be abused by soldiers and police with little intervention. It is overwhelming to comprehend that in this war, 800,000 were killed in Rwanda by genocide and 6,000,000 died in Eastern Congo.

We are asked at every turn to pray for peace and healing of the land. I hope you will join with me in prayer for these people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Looking Ahead

Sunday, August 17 will be a special day as we dedicate the episcopal residence called the “McAlilly House”. This home was built for the Bishop of the Eastern Congo and funded by the generous offerings from the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. It will be a joyous celebration for the people of The United Methodist Church. I have been given the honor of preaching for that service and pray that God will be glorified and the Church will be blessed by my offering of God’s Word.

God is at work here in many ways and I give thanks to God for this opportunity.


Scripture Reading Plan for week of August 17, 2014

Acts 9

Common English Bible (CEB)

Saul encounters the risen Jesus

Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?”

Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,” came the reply. “Now get up and enter the city. You will be told what you must do.”

Those traveling with him stood there speechless; they heard the voice but saw no one. After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank anything.

10 In Damascus there was a certain disciple named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

He answered, “Yes, Lord.”

11 The Lord instructed him, “Go to Judas’ house on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias enter and put his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”

15 The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

17 Ananias went to the house. He placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord sent me—Jesus, who appeared to you on the way as you were coming here. He sent me so that you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. 19 After eating, he regained his strength.

He stayed with the disciples in Damascus for several days. 20 Right away, he began to preach about Jesus in the synagogues. “He is God’s Son,” he declared.

21 Everyone who heard him was baffled. They questioned each other, “Isn’t he the one who was wreaking havoc among those in Jerusalem who called on this name? Hadn’t he come here to take those same people as prisoners to the chief priests?”

22 But Saul grew stronger and stronger. He confused the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

23 After this had gone on for some time, the Jews hatched a plot to kill Saul. 24 However, he found out about their scheme. They were keeping watch at the city gates around the clock so they could assassinate him. 25 But his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the city wall.

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn’t believe he was really a disciple. 27 Then Barnabas brought Saul to the apostles and told them the story about how Saul saw the Lord on the way and that the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them about the confidence with which Saul had preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 After this, Saul moved freely among the disciples in Jerusalem and was speaking with confidence in the name of the Lord. 29 He got into debates with the Greek-speaking Jews as well, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the family of believers learned about this, they escorted him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. God strengthened the church, and its life was marked by reverence for the Lord. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church continued to grow in numbers.

Peter heals and raises the dead

32 As Peter toured the whole region, he went to visit God’s holy people in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and had been confined to his bed for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed.” At once he got up.35 Everyone who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas). Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. 37 About that time, though, she became so ill that she died. After they washed her body, they laid her in an upstairs room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two people to Peter. They urged, “Please come right away!” 39 Peter went with them. Upon his arrival, he was taken to the upstairs room. All the widows stood beside him, crying as they showed the tunics and other clothing Dorcas made when she was alive.

40 Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then he called God’s holy people, including the widows, and presented her alive to them. 42 The news spread throughout Joppa, and many put their faith in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed for some time in Joppa with a certain tanner named Simon.

Common English Bible (CEB)Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible


Join me at the ‘Seven Levers Workshop’ led by Bishop Robert Schnase

Levers – They help us lift things that are heavy. They help us get things done!

SONY DSCBishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church has identified seven levers to help conferences like ours get things done.

This year he published a book to help better understand what he calls the seven levers. Appropriately enough, it’s titled Seven Levers – Missional Strategies for Conferences. There’s also a website with information and resources at www.7levers.org.

Bishop Schnase will lead two offerings of the Seven Levers Workshop, one this month and one in October:

• Saturday, Aug. 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Collierville UMC, Collierville, TN (Memphis Conference) Click here for details.

• Saturday, Oct. 25, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., St. Mark’s UMC, Murfreesboro, TN (Tennessee Conference) Click here for details.

These workshops are for clergy and laity with an interest in what Bishop Schnase calls “prying loose the many ‘stuck’ places in our connectional system.”

The Seven Levers described in the book that will be discussed at each of the two workshops are:
• 1st Lever: Strategy for Starting New Churches
• 2nd Lever: Strategy for Clergy Peer Learning
• 3rd Lever: Strategy for Congregational Intervention
• 4th Lever: Strategy for Cultivating Clergy Excellence
• 5th Lever: Strategy for Aligning Budgets and Resources
• 6th Lever: Strategy for Creating Technically Elegant Governance Systems
• 7th Lever: Strategy for Reconfiguring Conference Sessions

As the book does, these workshops will explore United Methodist conferences in terms of the seven levers: what works, what doesn’t work and what we can learn from experiments and innovation. This is critical information for our two conferences, especially now that we have come through the Nashville Area strategic mapping process and adopted our mission statement: to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”

Each workshop will include three one-hour sessions:

I. Why Working Harder Isn’t Helping
This session focuses on the default assumptions and common operational practices used by conferences and churches that are no longer conducive to our mission. This will challenge people’s thinking and stimulate much conversation in a positive way.

II. The Seven Levers
Levers multiply results. Each lever leads to multiple system-wide consequences. Levers are not necessarily the easiest places to effect change, but successful work in these areas fosters sustainable long-term benefits. These seven levers rise to the top because of the extraordinary consensus of research and experience that has developed on the importance of these strategies.

III. Imagination and Innovation
This session walks through several principles of innovation, describes the importance of creating a culture of experimentation and learning, and culminates with a reminder of the essential boldness of the early Methodists.

Bishop Schnase reminds us as United Methodists that we are blessed with immeasurable resources. It is by effectively using our resources that we can reach our neighborhood mission fields and “fulfill the mission of Christ in ever more faithful and fruitful ways.”

Please join me for one of these two workshops. I am confident the seven levers can help us fulfill our mission.

Deadlines to register for these workshops are Aug. 20 for the Aug. 23 Workshop and Oct. 17 for the Oct. 25 Workshop. Click on the links above to register. Free childcare is available for the August workshop by request with registration and some scholarships are available for the lunch fee.

And thanks to our friends at Cokesbury, copies of the Seven Levers book will be available to purchase at both workshops, but I also hope you might obtain and read a copy before we gather. (Order the book here from Cokesbury.)


Scripture Reading Plan for the week of August 10, 2014

Acts 8

Common English Bible (CEB)

 Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.

The church scatters

At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some pious men buried Stephen and deeply grieved over him. Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.

Philip in Samaria

Those who had been scattered moved on, preaching the good news along the way. Philip went down to a city in Samaria[a] and began to preach Christ to them. The crowds were united by what they heard Philip say and the signs they saw him perform, and they gave him their undivided attention.With loud shrieks, unclean spirits came out of many people, and many who were paralyzed or crippled were healed. There was great rejoicing in that city.

Before Philip’s arrival, a certain man named Simon had practiced sorcery in that city and baffled the people of Samaria. He claimed to be a great person. 10 Everyone, from the least to the greatest, gave him their undivided attention and referred to him as “the power of God called Great.” 11 He had their attention because he had baffled them with sorcery for a long time. 12 After they came to believe Philip, who preached the good news about God’s kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself came to believe and was baptized. Afterward, he became one of Philip’s supporters. As he saw firsthand the signs and great miracles that were happening, he was astonished.

14 When word reached the apostles in Jerusalem that Samaria had accepted God’s word, they commissioned Peter and John to go to Samaria. 15 Peter and John went down to Samaria where they prayed that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit. (16 This was because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 So Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon perceived that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. 19 He said, “Give me this authority too so that anyone on whom I lay my hands will receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter responded, “May your money be condemned to hell along with you because you believed you could buy God’s gift with money! 21 You can have no part or share in God’s word because your heart isn’t right with God. 22 Therefore, change your heart and life! Turn from your wickedness! Plead with the Lord in the hope that your wicked intent can be forgiven, 23 for I see that your bitterness has poisoned you and evil has you in chains.”

24 Simon replied, “All of you, please, plead to the Lord for me so that nothing of what you have said will happen to me!” 25 After the apostles had testified and proclaimed the Lord’s word, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the good news to many Samaritan villages along the way.

Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

26 An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take[b] the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.) 28 He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”

30 Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him. 32 This was the passage of scripture he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent
    so he didn’t open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.
    Who can tell the story of his descendants
        because his life was taken from the earth?[c]

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?” 35 Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. 36 As they went down the road, they came to some water.

The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?”[d] 38 He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip found himself in Azotus. He traveled through that area, preaching the good news in all the cities until he reached Caesarea.

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 8:5 Or the city of Samaria
  2. Acts 8:26 Or travel south along
  3. Acts 8:33 Isa 53:7-8
  4. Acts 8:36 Critical editions of the Gk New Testament do not include 8:37 Philip said to him, “If you believe with all your heart, you can be.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.”
Common English Bible (CEB)Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible


Scripture Reading Plan for the week of August 3, 2014

Acts 7

Common English Bible (CEB)

The high priest asked, “Are these accusations true?”

Stephen responded, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your homeland and kin, and go to the land that I will show you.’[a] So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After Abraham’s father died, God had him resettle in this land where you now live. God didn’t give him an inheritance here, not even a square foot of land. However, God did promise to give the land as his possession to him and to his descendants, even though Abraham had no child. God put it this way: His descendants will be strangers in a land that belongs to others, who will enslave them and abuse them for four hundred years.[b] And I will condemn the nation they serve as slaves, God said, and afterward they will leave[c] that land and serve me in this place. God gave him the covenant confirmed through circumcision. Accordingly, eight days after Isaac’s birth, Abraham circumcised him. Isaac did the same with Jacob, and Jacob with the twelve patriarchs.

“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. God was with him, however, 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. The grace and wisdom he gave Joseph were recognized by Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole palace.11 A famine came upon all Egypt and Canaan, and great hardship came with it. Our ancestors had nothing to eat. 12 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there for the first time. 13 During their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 Joseph sent for his father Jacob and all his relatives—seventy-five in all—and invited them to live with him. 15 So Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died.16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had purchased for a certain sum of money from Hamor’s children, who lived in Shechem.

17 “When it was time for God to keep the promise he made to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly expanded. 18 But then another king rose to power over Egypt who didn’t know anything about Joseph.[d] 19 He exploited our people and abused our ancestors. He even forced them to abandon their newly born babies so they would die. 20 That’s when Moses was born. He was highly favored by God, and for three months his parents cared for him in their home. 21 After he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and cared for him as though he were her own son. 22 Moses learned everything Egyptian wisdom had to offer, and he was a man of powerful words and deeds.

23 “When Moses was 40 years old, he decided to visit his family, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being wronged so he came to his rescue and evened the score by killing the Egyptian. 25 He expected his own kin to understand that God was using him to rescue them, but they didn’t. 26 The next day he came upon some Israelites who were caught up in an argument. He tried to make peace between them by saying, ‘You are brothers! Why are you harming each other?’ 27 The one who started the fight against his neighbor pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who appointed you as our leader and judge?28 Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’[e] 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he lived as an immigrant and had two sons.

30 “Forty years later, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush in the wilderness near Mount Sinai. 31 Enthralled by the sight, Moses approached to get a closer look and he heard the Lord’s voice: 32 I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[f] Trembling with fear, Moses didn’t dare to investigate any further. 33 The Lord continued, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have clearly seen the oppression my people have experienced in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning. I have come down to rescue them. Come! I am sending you to Egypt.’[g]

35 “This is the same Moses whom they rejected when they asked, ‘Who appointed you as our leader and judge?’ This is the Moses whom God sent as leader and deliverer. God did this with the help of the angel who appeared before him in the bush. 36 This man led them out after he performed wonders and signs in Egypt at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. 37 This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.[h] 38 This is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness with our ancestors and with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai. He is the one who received life-giving words to give to us. 39 He’s also the one whom our ancestors refused to obey. Instead, they pushed him aside and, in their thoughts and desires, returned to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods that will lead us. As for this Moses who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him![i] 41 That’s when they made an idol in the shape of a calf, offered a sacrifice to it, and began to celebrate what they had made with their own hands. 42 So God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the stars in the sky, just as it is written in the scroll of the Prophets:

Did you bring sacrifices and offerings to me
    for forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel?
43 No! Instead, you took the tent of Moloch with you,
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made in order to worship them.
        Therefore, I will send you far away, farther than Babylon.[j]

44 “The tent of testimony was with our ancestors in the wilderness. Moses built it just as he had been instructed by the one who spoke to him and according to the pattern he had seen. 45 In time, when they had received the tent, our ancestors carried it with them when, under Joshua’s leadership, they took possession of the land from the nations whom God expelled. This tent remained in the land until the time of David. 46 God approved of David, who asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[k] 47 But it was Solomon who actually built a house for God. 48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in houses built by human hands. As the prophet says,

49 Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
‘What kind of house will you build for me,’ says the Lord,
    ‘or where is my resting place?
50 Didn’t I make all these things with my own hand?’[l]

51 “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did.52 Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! 53 You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”

54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One[m] standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Common English Bible (CEB)Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible


Bishop’s SRP for the week of July 27, 2014

Acts 6

Common English Bible (CEB)

Selection of seven to serve

About that time, while the number of disciples continued to increase, a complaint arose. Greek-speaking disciples accused the Aramaic-speaking disciples because their widows were being overlooked in the daily food service. The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables.Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern. As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” This proposal pleased the entire community. They selected Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith.

Arrest and murder of Stephen

Stephen, who stood out among the believers for the way God’s grace was at work in his life and for his exceptional endowment with divine power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose from some who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Former Slaves. Members from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia entered into debate with Stephen. 10 However, they couldn’t resist the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.11 Then they secretly enticed some people to claim, “We heard him insult Moses and God.”12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the legal experts. They caught Stephen, dragged him away, and brought him before the Jerusalem Council. 13 Before the council, they presented false witnesses who testified, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the Law. 14 In fact, we heard him say that this man Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and alter the customary practices Moses gave us.” 15 Everyone seated in the council stared at Stephen, and they saw that his face was radiant, just like an angel’s.


Bishop’s SRP for the week of July 20, 2014

Acts 5

Common English Bible (CEB)

Pretenders of sharing

However, a man named Ananias, along with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.With his wife’s knowledge, he withheld some of the proceeds from the sale. He brought the rest and placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Peter asked, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has influenced you to lie to the Holy Spirit by withholding some of the proceeds from the sale of your land? Wasn’t that property yours to keep? After you sold it, wasn’t the money yours to do with whatever you wanted? What made you think of such a thing? You haven’t lied to other people but to God!” When Ananias heard these words, he dropped dead. Everyone who heard this conversation was terrified. Some young men stood up, wrapped up his body, carried him out, and buried him.

About three hours later, his wife entered, but she didn’t know what had happened to her husband. Peter asked her, “Tell me, did you and your husband receive this price for the field?”

She responded, “Yes, that’s the amount.”

He replied, “How could you scheme with each other to challenge the Lord’s Spirit? Look! The feet of those who buried your husband are at the door. They will carry you out too.” 10 At that very moment, she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men entered and found her dead, they carried her out and buried her with her husband. 11 Trepidation and dread seized the whole church and all who heard what had happened.

Responses to the church

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. They would come together regularly at Solomon’s Porch. 13 No one from outside the church dared to join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. 14 Indeed, more and more believers in the Lord, large numbers of both men and women, were added to the church. 15 As a result, they would even bring the sick out into the main streets and lay them on cots and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow could fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Even large numbers of persons from towns around Jerusalem would gather, bringing the sick and those harassed by unclean spirits. Everyone was healed.

The Jerusalem Council harasses the apostles

17 The high priest, together with his allies, the Sadducees, was overcome with jealousy.18 They seized the apostles and made a public show of putting them in prison. 19 An angel from the Lord opened the prison doors during the night and led them out. The angel told them, 20 “Go, take your place in the temple, and tell the people everything about this new life.” 21 Early in the morning, they went into the temple as they had been told and began to teach.

When the high priest and his colleagues gathered, they convened the Jerusalem Council, that is, the full assembly of Israel’s elders. They sent word to the prison to have the apostles brought before them. 22 However, the guards didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison locked and well-secured, with guards standing at the doors, but when we opened the doors we found no one inside!” 24 When they received this news, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were baffled and wondered what might be happening. 25 Just then, someone arrived and announced, “Look! The people you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain left with his guards and brought the apostles back. They didn’t use force because they were afraid the people would stone them.

27 The apostles were brought before the council where the high priest confronted them: 28 “In no uncertain terms, we demanded that you not teach in this name. And look at you! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. And you are determined to hold us responsible for this man’s death.”

29 Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than humans! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. 32 We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When the council members heard this, they became furious and wanted to kill the apostles.34 One council member, a Pharisee and teacher of the Law named Gamaliel, well-respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be taken outside for a few moments.35 He said, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you intend to do to these people.36 Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and some four hundred men joined him. After he was killed, all of his followers scattered, and nothing came of that.37 Afterward, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and got some people to follow him in a revolt. He was killed too, and all his followers scattered far and wide. 38 Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. 39 If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” The council was convinced by his reasoning. 40 After calling the apostles back, they had them beaten. They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, then let them go. 41 The apostles left the council rejoicing because they had been regarded as worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of the name. 42 Every day they continued to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, both in the temple and in houses.


Bishop’s SRP for the week of July 13, 2014

Acts 4

Common English Bible (CEB)

Peter and John questioned

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees confronted them. They were incensed that the apostles were teaching the people and announcing that the resurrection of the dead was happening because of Jesus. They seized Peter and John and put them in prison until the next day. (It was already evening.) Many who heard the word became believers, and their number grew to about five thousand.

The next day the leaders, elders, and legal experts gathered in Jerusalem, along with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others from the high priest’s family.They had Peter and John brought before them and asked, “By what power or in what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “Leaders of the people and elders, are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him? 10 If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! 12 Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”

13 The council was caught by surprise by the confidence with which Peter and John spoke. After all, they understood that these apostles were uneducated and inexperienced. They also recognized that they had been followers of Jesus. 14 However, since the healed man was standing with Peter and John before their own eyes, they had no rebuttal. 15 After ordering them to wait outside, the council members began to confer with each other. 16 “What should we do with these men? Everyone living in Jerusalem is aware of the sign performed through them. It’s obvious to everyone and we can’t deny it. 17 To keep it from spreading further among the people, we need to warn them not to speak to anyone in this name.” 18 When they called Peter and John back, they demanded that they stop all speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus.

19 Peter and John responded, “It’s up to you to determine whether it’s right before God to obey you rather than God. 20 As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 They threatened them further, then released them. Because of public support for Peter and John, they couldn’t find a way to punish them. Everyone was praising God for what had happened, 22 because the man who had experienced this sign of healing was over 40 years old.

The believers pray

23 After their release, Peter and John returned to the brothers and sisters and reported everything the chief priests and elders had said. 24 They listened, then lifted their voices in unison to God, “Master, you are the one who created the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 25 You are the one who spoke by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand
    and the rulers gathered together as one
    against the Lord and against his Christ.[a]

27 Indeed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with Gentiles and Israelites, did gather in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and plan had already determined would happen. 29 Now, Lord, take note of their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence. 30 Stretch out your hand to bring healing and enable signs and wonders to be performed through the name of Jesus, your holy servant.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence.

Sharing among the believers

32 The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. 33 The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, 35 and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.

36 Joseph, whom the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (that is, “one who encourages”), was a Levite from Cyprus. 37 He owned a field, sold it, brought the money, and placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles.

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 4:26 Or anointed one; Ps 2:1-2

Bishop’s SRP for the week of July 6, 2014

Acts 3

Common English Bible (CEB)

Healing of a crippled man

Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.

11 While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed. 12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.

17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. 19 Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away. 20 Then the Lord will provide a season of relief from the distress of this age and he will send Jesus, whom he handpicked to be your Christ. 21 Jesus must remain in heaven until the restoration of all things, about which God spoke long ago through his holy prophets. 22 Moses said, The Lord your God will raise up from your own people a prophet like me. Listen to whatever he tells you. 23 Whoever doesn’t listen to that prophet will be totally cut off from the people.[a] 24 All the prophets who spoke—from Samuel forward—announced these days. 25 You are the heirs of the prophets and the covenant that God made with your ancestors when he told Abraham,Through your descendants, all the families on earth will be blessed.[b] 26 After God raised his servant, he sent him to you first—to bless you by enabling each of you to turn from your evil ways.”


Bishop’s SRP for the week of June 29, 2014

Acts 2

Common English Bible (CEB)

Pentecost

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.[a]

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man whose credentials God proved to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God performed through him among you. You yourselves know this. 23 In accordance with God’s established plan and foreknowledge, he was betrayed. You, with the help of wicked men, had Jesus killed by nailing him to a cross. 24 God raised him up! God freed him from death’s dreadful grip, since it was impossible for death to hang on to him. 25 David says about him,

I foresaw that the Lord was always with me;
    because he is at my right hand I won’t be shaken.
26 Therefore, my heart was glad
    and my tongue rejoiced.
Moreover, my body will live in hope,
        
    nor permit your holy one to experience decay.
28 You have shown me the paths of life;
    your presence will fill me with happiness.[b]

29 “Brothers and sisters, I can speak confidently about the patriarch David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this very day. 30 Because he was a prophet, he knew that God promised him with a solemn pledge to seat one of his descendants on his throne.31 Having seen this beforehand, David spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he wasn’t abandoned to the grave, nor did his body experience decay.[c] 32 This Jesus, God raised up. We are all witnesses to that fact. 33 He was exalted to God’s right side and received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit, and you are seeing and hearing the results of his having done so. 34 David didn’t ascend into heaven. Yet he says,

The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right side,
35     until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’[d]

36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.” 40 With many other words he testified to them and encouraged them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.

Community of believers

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.


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