Thursday, June 26, 2014

Can I Also Be Included?

            By all accounts, the story that Luke tells of the Ethiopian eunuch is a strange tale. This man is willing to travel 1,000+ miles in a chariot through the desert to go to Jerusalem to worship. Once he gets to Jerusalem he knows that the chance of his being admitted to the temple is very slim – being Ethiopian, he is not a pure Jew and possibly not Jewish at all. If he can convince the authorities that he is either Jewish or a “god-fearer” he still has that verse from Torah (Deuteronomy 23:1) that works against his desire to worship: “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.” It seems hard to imagine a door being more tightly shut on someone who obviously wants to enter!

            And yet he was returning from Jerusalem where he wanted to worship. He was reading from the prophet Isaiah about the suffering servant: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” This passage likely resonated with a man who also had no descendants! The eunuch had found in Judaism the seeds of faith that he wanted to flourish in his life. But he was plagued by a serious question – “Can I be included?”
            A little further in Isaiah he could have read this amazing passage: “Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.” (Isaiah 56:3-5) In contrast to the door slamming passage from Deuteronomy, this promise from Isaiah was a welcoming breath of fresh air.

            Phillip began with the Isaiah passage and told the eunuch the good news about Jesus. It must have inspired the man with hope and confidence for when they passed some water, he asked: “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” I am sure that this request brought a smile to Phillip’s lips. No doubt his mind also registered complaints he was likely to hear as he reported this story of his mission activity! But to his credit he baptized the eunuch. And then they went their separate ways – Phillip to Azotus, and the eunuch back to Ethiopia. But as he rode for days headed through Egypt to Ethiopia, he rejoiced the whole way.

            Jesus’ love and forgiveness extends to all. That is surely a reason for rejoicing. Amazing Grace!

- Kenny Payne



Monday, June 02, 2014

Resist the Devil, Cling to the God of all Grace

            Peter was once warned by Jesus: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 NIV) Peter likely never forgot what it felt like to be sifted by Satan. But he also never forgot that, even when we are faithless, God is faithful and remains powerful!

            Peter wraps up his letter by reminding Christians that the devil is a dangerous enemy who must be resisted, but God is full of grace and is all about restoration! C.S. Lewis wrote “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight” (C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letter. 1941, p. 3). An over focus on Satan and the power of evil is actually counter-productive for faith. God is not matched against an equal but opposite force, rather Satan is no match for God and God has no equal! But having said that, the encouragement of Scripture is that we must always resist Satan and not fall for his evil schemes.

            Perhaps the best way to resist the devil is to keep moving closer to God. Peter states it this way: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11 NIV) Strong, firm and steadfast – a great description of what we all want to be, but sometimes can’t seem to manage! Notice that this ability to be strong, firm and steadfast comes AFTER God restores us and grants us these gifts.

            I find it powerful that Jesus warned Peter that Satan was after him (and the other disciples), Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith might not fail, and Jesus was prepared to keep up his relationship with Peter after “you have turned back.” Jesus also kept his call to Peter operational. On that horrible night when Peter denied even knowing Jesus, he must have felt anything but strong, firm and steadfast. On his own ability – he simply failed! But he did not have to live on his own ability, rather he could accept the restoration of God – and he did. It made all the difference!

            As an old man with many years experience resisting the devil and trusting the God of all grace, Peter shares his wisdom with us all. Peter’s friend Jesus overcame the adversary, Satan or the devil. Turns out that the roaring lion seeking someone to devour is, in the end, no match for the Lion of Judah, who is also the lamb slain from the foundation of the world! Peter trusted the loving sacrifice of Jesus to make him strong, firm and steadfast. Do you?

- Kenny Payne