3 May 2019—2nd Friday after Easter

Genesis 47:18–26, Acts 4:34–5:11

In the United States, land has long represented freedom, self-reliance, hope, and self-determination (on one hand), slavery, clearances, eviction, theft, and deceit (on the other hand. How can such divergent perspectives be? Well, for many Native Americans the initial immigration of Europeans may have not been a disaster, but what occurred especially after the Civil War (or the War Between the States) was often cruel and morally questionable (at best). For those trying to escape the crowded East Coast and the memories of the recent war and slavery, it was something to seek.

Even today land is essential. While in the United States the land and the buildings (for example) are part of the value, in places like Japan, the land is the only thing that matter (for cultural reasons). Land has long been a symbol of power. It also is a symbol of life. It can also represent family roots.

When the people of Egypt sell their land and themselves to Pharoah, they are surrendering their lives and that which allowed them to live. They had surrendered their future, their children’s future, and even their grandchildren’s future. In all likelihood, they sold themselves into bonded servitude to pay off the debt they took on to survive. It isn’t clear how long this servitude was to last. Theoretically, it was until the debt was paid off, however, as both the land and the people were sold, we can assume that it would take a while to pay off the debt. How the land would have been purchased back is something else. It would have been a process and a slow one. One’s only hope would be the dim one that one’s children would be free of the debt.

With all the comes to mind in these situations, how people viewed themselves, their (lack of) freedom, or their hope (if any), is anyone’s guess. We can conclude that in desperate times that people surrendered their freedom and the one thing (land) that would allow them to continue to be free.

Land is still pretty important. As we watch property values skyrocket, we are all very much aware of it. As more people move in, rural areas that were once affordable are no longer so. If someone were to just sell their property and give it to the framily (i.e., the church friends and family of Generations Community Church), we would all be grateful, but we would also be a bit confused. If that same person were to sell that property and only give the proceeds to those in need in the church, we would be a bit more understanding, but it would be unusual. This is not a moral judgment, but a recognition of just how strange the First Century Church was. It broke all the traditions.

Tie this back to culture. The land was the family’s legacy and inheritance. Selling it was done only in desperation. Yet, here we are talking about exactly that. While Barnabas is called out in Acts (yes, Ananias and Sapphira are too), the implication is not that Barnabas’ act was unique, but it does imply that it was a significant sale. One of the differences that we can infer (easily) is that Barnabas did it to take care of his church family, while Ananias and Sapphira did it for acclaim. Both land sales took care of the church family, but the hearts of the sales were completely different.

1) What relationship, reflections, and feelings do you have in regards to owning land (not necessarily buildings)?

2) How desperate would you be to sell yourself, your property, and your foreseeable future to someone? How desperate must the Egyptians have been?

3) What does Barnabas’ action tell you about who he viewed as family? What does that tell you about the First Century Church?

2 May 2019—2nd Thursday after Easter

Psalm 66, Revelation 3:14-22

You may not be aware of how the metal you are using comes to be. Most metals are dug up in an unusable form. They have to be made usable. There are three primary methods to get the raw material to be more like the goal: mechanical (e.g., crushing), chemical (i.e., acid), and temperature (i.e., fire). Each of these is used for different metals, and also depends on what the end goal of the metal is. If, for example, you are going to throw it in to mix with a bunch of melted stuff (i.e., not looking for purity), you would use chemicals to break down the bonds. If you just need raw material, you might just smash it until it’s as small as you want (it won’t stick together very well, though).

For purity and cohesion, fire is best. The metal your car is made from (at least some of it) was melted in a huge vat and became molten. Stuff will be added in known quantities to get the end properties desired, such as strong steel. Most gold that is worn is a gold alloy, where gold has stuff added to make it stronger without affecting its beauty. Gold is valued, primarily, because people value it (a circular argument, for sure). It is easily shaped for decorations (and people like to adorn themselves with it). It was used for money (can still be). In our day and age, its greatest value is not jewelry, but electronics. It is a fantastic conductor. Not enough is used in your electronics to try to get it, however, it does improve the abilities of electronics to do their tasks using less electricity. Gold, even in the days of diamonds and platinum, is still the primary precious metal, and it was the best known precious metal in Jesus’ and Paul’s day.

Due to that, gold (along with silver, the second most valued metal) were a good subject lesson in regards to people. In the letter to Laodicea, Jesus talks about the Laodiceans blindness to their own poverty. Jesus is speaking spiritually. The church of Laodicea is lacking in spiritual growth. The Laodiceans think they have it all together and are good to go. Yet, they are lacking. How often are we like they were? Thinking in all our blessings that we have it all together. There are false teachers who teach exactly that. Laodicea is our object lesson that this isn’t so. Laodicea was a wealthy city, but the church was spiritually poor. Laodicea was the home of a medical school known for an eye-balm, yet they were blind. Laodicea was also known for its cloth, yet they were naked.

They needed to be refined. They had no money to buy the refined gold (cleansing and salvation). God would sell it to them anyway. With that gold, they could buy True eye-balm to see their real spiritual state. With that gold, they could buy the clothes that would cover their True nakedness. In other words, God’s got it covered…if they respond. Then we get to the hard part, to receive all of that (which they thought they already had), they had to be rebuked and disciplined (i.e., refined).

1) Have you have thought you had it all together in your life, and then everything came crashing down? How about spiritually? How was your response different between the two events?

2) Why are rebuke and discipline part of the refining process? What other words would you use?

3) It is reasonable to look at ourselves as the “raw material” that God refines. Where do you think God used each of the three methods (mechanical, chemical, temperature) to refine you?

1 May 2019—2nd Wednesday after Easter

Ecclesiastes 4:4–8, Ecclesiastes 5:8–17, Luke 12:13–21
“Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” —John Wesley

Money and all that it can get a person is what drives so much. The worst aspects of capitalism are very visible, and rightly so. The media (capitalistic endeavors) are quick to question many with money. However, not all are questioned equally. Even as certain capitalistic practices are in the spotlight, still others are being hidden or ignored. Capitalism, despite being the current target, isn’t the only one with severe gaps of power.

The wisdom of Ecclesiastes warns that those that pursue money/wealth/power may find themselves to be very lonely people, without companion, children or grandchildren. In this day and age, people consciously make that decision. When Ecclesiastes was written, this was really a huge insult and failure. The family was the primary social group. If you didn’t have a family and seemed to have chosen a path to not have one, you were letting down your parents, ancestors, and tribe. For such people, the value of all the work, all that life working, is lost in an instant. Despite all the wisdom, including secular and other religions, a shiny coin (proverbially) will lead people down a path away from people and God. They miss a lot of the Very Good Life. Very Good Life involves people. Of course, people also can be painful to live with. So, money often becomes a substitute relationship, for it doesn’t emotionally hurt you.

When Jesus speaks to the man about his inheritance, it is not a matter of justice, but a matter of wealth. Obviously, there were some family issues that needed to be resolved. The inheritance was just a sign of the problem. The man had confused gain (wealth) with something completely different. This is why Jesus talks about the landowner who had had a successful crop. The landowner’s first response wasn’t, “Praise God!” It was, “horde more!” It is not that great crops and riches are bad, it is where they fit into our relationship with God and people. In verse 20, Jesus says, “…whose will they be?” The echo of Ecclesiastes is there. “No one you cared for will receive it,” could be said, “because you cared for no one other than yourself.”

1) Have you ever made a decision of money or power or influence over people? If you say no, then you might want to reconsider (we all do it to some degree). If yes, what was that decision? Did you evaluate the decision based on people or something else?

2) Throughout history, there have been people who have had no companion to love. How do you see yourself in such people? Do you know anyone like this? How can you love them?

3) How do you balance God’s blessings (including those you worked for) in comparison to seeking more?