Monthly Archives: February 2015

Acts 17:1-9

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews[a] were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

 

Two facts jump out as incredibly pertinent in this pericope: Paul’s activity in Thessalonica and the response of some Jews. The team has moved on from Philippi, and landed in Thessalonica, where there is a Jewish synagogue. So even though Paul will come to be known as the apostle to the Gentiles, here he has a chance to talk with his own people—to put his training to use in a constructive way for the gospel. And so does: for three straight weeks, he reasoned, explained, and proved that Jesus was the Christ. Notice that he did not just show up wearing Jesus t-shirts and try to weasel his way into a conversation. He did not lay out the Romans Road for them and then move on. He engaged in an activity that was a two-way street: he reasoned, explained, and proved.

 

Reason. Explanation. Proof.

 

This sounds suspiciously intellectual. This sounds like a lot of effort and preparation was put into this. This doesn’t sound at all like the cornpone gospel we may have been led to believe—something so easy a caveman could do it. This sounds like, after Christ got ahold of his life, Paul believed it was important to engage in this type of activity.

 

The other fact that seems germane is the reaction of some of the Jews: they described the gospel advance as a force that had “turned the world upside down.” That’s what the gospel does—it turns the world upside down.

 

So are you and I involved in the turning upside-down of our world? Or are we sneaking stealthily through it, hoping to never have to reason, explain or prove? As you go about your business in your modern-day Thessalonica, think about your preparation, and how involved you are in engagement.

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Acts 16:16-40

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. 35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

 

 

Paul and his entourage remain in Philippi for a time, preaching to the new church there and discipling its members, making them evangelists who will carry on the work. But while they are going about their business, they were bothered by a demon-possessed slave girl. Her owners made money off her fortune-telling. The text tells us that Paul was “greatly annoyed” (16.18). At what was he annoyed, we might ask? At the incessant fortune-telling of the girl? At the presence of demonic activity? Or perhaps at the knowledge that this fellow bearer of the image of God Almighty was being “owned” and exploited by other image-bearers? Whatever the cause, Paul was having none of it any more. He cast the demon out of the girl, freeing her from not only the prison of demonic possession but also making her of no use to the owners. As a consequence of this, an angry mob threw Paul and Silas in jail at Philippi. The beat them publically and held them overnight. But during the night, an angel of the Lord effected a spectacular rescue, shaking the foundations of the jail. The jailer, recognizing the power of God in these proceedings, fell to his knees in surrender of his personal autonomy and asked “what must I do to be saved?” (16.30). Paul’s answer—believe—is acted upon immediately by the man, and he and his household are saved. He was baptized along with his family. God has wrought a great victory in the midst of the dark moment in Philippi. But Paul is not finished with victory yet; when the magistrates decide that they’ve had their fun with the apostles and are ready to let them go, Paul reminds them that he is a Roman citizen—a very dangerous person to imprison unjustly—and demands that their public humiliation be met with a very public apology. And that’s exactly what they got.

 

Once again, Paul is in the right place at the right time. Of course, in his mind, every place is the right place and every time is the right time. There is nothing more vital to him than the gospel, and he’s spreading it everywhere he goes. From the slave girl to the jailer, Paul’s conversation is about the liberty of Christ, and he introduces them to it. Little wonder that healings, exorcisms, and earthquakes follow the guy wherever he goes—he’s walking in the power of Almighty God, and it’s all he thinks about. Every moment and every place is the right time and place to share the gospel—the perfect opportunity to introduce someone else to the freeing power of Jesus Christ’s gift of eternal life.

 

What are you about today? Are you about your own business, sprinkling in some religious hints here and there to mark yourself? Or is the gospel so vital to you that you are motivated by nothing else? Most of us are more motivated by our jobs than we are by the urgency of the gospel. There will be no healings, exorcisms or earthquakes for us—because the gospel is not vital to us.

 

Lord, return the gospel of Jesus Christ back to its rightful place of prominence in our lives and in our daily walks. May our very presence mean danger to the enemy and freedom for the captive.

Acts 16:1-15

1Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

 

 

As Paul and Silas continued on their journey, they picked up a young man named Timothy. Timothy’s mother was a Jewish believer, but his father had been a Greek. Paul knew that circumcision was nothing and non-circumcision was nothing—but he also knew that he’d never get past the door of a synagogue or a church full of Jewish Christians unless he circumcised Timothy. So, out of love for the Church, Paul circumcised him—giving him the credibility to preach to Jews. Next, the missionaries felt the call of God to Macedonia, so they traveled that way. They came to Philippi, where they spent the Sabbath day at a place of prayer where they met Lydia. Lydia was a worshiper of God and a woman of some means—a manufacturer of purple dye for clothing. She trusted Christ for her salvation, and immediately opened her house to the apostles for the purposes of church. And so the church at Philippi was born in Lydia’s living room, so to speak.

 

We are not righteous by the things we do. Your music, your taste in art, your clothes, your car, or your haircut—none of these things brings you righteousness. But sometimes those things can help or harm your credibility with weaker-faithed Christians. Out of love for them, it’s never a bad idea to adopt their customs long enough to witness to them.

 

Moreover, let’s take note of Lydia. She was in a place of prayer. She was willing to hear. She was willing to believe. And then she was willing to give for the sake of the gospel. This is the model church member—and she was also a church planter!

 

Be wise in your exercise of your freedoms today. Is your freedom killing your credibility with someone Christ wants you to reach? And how devoted to the local church are you? If the pattern we see in Acts is the complete giving of oneself in devotion to the local church, how close to that model do you and I come? Food for thought today.

Acts 15:36-41

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

 

 

A disagreement has sprung up between the brothers. Barnabas wants to take the young John Mark with them; he has the energy and vitality of a young evangelist, and can be taught and discipled. Paul hasn’t forgotten that John Mark left them in Pamphylia rather than continue in their evangelistic work. Paul has a point: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and John Mark’s isn’t exemplary in his eyes. But Barnabas also has a point: brothers make mistakes, and it is better to restore them and teach them and give them the opportunity rise above those mistakes in maturity. Paul and Barnabas don’t resolve this conflict at this time, and so they go their separate ways.

 

The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who are our “heroes” of the faith. But a closer examination of all of them will reveal a commonality: fallibility. Abraham became known as the one who believed God and had righteousness credited to him—except when he didn’t believe God and tried to provide an heir for himself through Hagar, causing untold misery in his own household. Isaac is a patriarch of God’s people—even when he lies about his wife. Jacob’s very name means “deceiver,” and he lives down to it. David is an adulterer and murderer. Moses is a murderer. Samson is a womanizer. And Paul and Barnabas feed the fires of their own conflict at this time rather than resolve it.

 

Jesus taught that if you have anything against your brother, you are to go to him and fix it—BEFORE you do anything ostensibly “religious.” Paul’s missionary journey was less important than fixing things with Barnabas, although God brought great good from this evil. But the model of our faith is Jesus, not Paul and Barnabas. Resolve your tension with others; don’t nurse it, or sit on it, or sweep it under the rug and hope that it will go away. Don’t let it fester. And don’t deny it, either: if your brother is coming to you and attempting to resolve conflict, don’t pretend that there’s not any just so you don’t have to have the conversation. Conflict divides the Church; love resolves conflict.

 

And be patient with the John Marks in your life; everyone makes mistakes…but with the right discipleship, they can grow up in the faith. John Mark himself would go on to be Peter’s amanuensis, writing the gospel of Mark—most likely at Peter’s dictation. Be patient and invest yourself in the teaching and discipleship of others.

Acts 14:24-28

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

 

 

Paul and Barnabas returned to their base of operations in Antioch after the eventful journey, and two things happened: they had a testimony service of all God had done for the spread of the gospel. It was a time of rest for them, and they enjoyed it. They had labored diligently and passionately for the cause of Christ and this was a time of well-deserved vacation, if that word may be used here. The other thing that happened is that they stayed a while with their companions in the Church. One of the greatest comforts to them is the company of their peeps.

 

I left my home church in San Antonio to pastor First Assembly of God in Stockdale, Texas, in 2007. There was a special service in which my pastor and the church sent me out into the world to do ministry. I stayed there two years before God called me to Dallas to seminary, and a few years after that I was invited to come preach at my old home church back in San Antonio. It was among the top five most pleasurable experiences of the last 10 years for me: going home. This was my family. This was the crowd that prayed me through a terminal illness. These were the people who’d put up with my stubbornness while I grew in Christ. This was family.

 

Is your church a meeting place for sermon-hearers, or a family? Do you miss these folks when you’re not with them? Are you motivated to spend time with them? They are your rest; they are part of the balance of diligent labor and rest that God has granted you. Love your church; you can’t be a Christian without them, and they aren’t right without you. You need the Body, and the Body needs you.

Acts 15:1-35

1But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” 22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

 

 

Here we have the Jerusalem Council—that august gathering of all the Church officials in the first generation. The first controversy that threatens the Church from within is upon it, and they just meet and make a decision that will affect all the congregations. The controversy: some of the converts had been Pharisees and still thought way as they discipled others. The term “Pharisee” meant “separated one,” and they lived it. The idea was to be separate from the Babylon-ish culture around them and live a holy (also means “separate”) life. It’s easy to see their concern that the new Gentile Christians weren’t separated enough. As Pharisees, it’s all they understood—and so they had begun requiring them to be circumcised and observe other separatists ideas and customs as well. Paul, who will spend his career as an apostle to the Gentiles, will spend a great amount of time in his epistles arguing against his opponents the Judaizers—Christians who believed in separatism in the forms of Jewish ritual. But as the Council hears the stories of Gentile conversion and Holy Spirit manifestations among the outsiders, the Church comes to a decision: separatism and legalism are not the way to go. The gospel is by faith, and it is from everyone. The Church shouldn’t require circumcision. It looks as if there was some sort of compromise with the Judaizers in some other ritualistic areas; I call this compromise because one of the abstention rules is to avoid meat offered to idols, which Paul will later argue is completely irrelevant to spirituality. The idea behind this tiny cluster of “rules” is to teach the theretofore pagan Gentiles that there are some things that are universally immoral, such as sexual sin, and that one who trust in Christ will avoid that. After the Council’s decision, apostles are sent out to continue preaching.

 

It’s odd how this “Judaizer” controversy stays with us still. When I was a child, I remember the Pentecostal Holiness people who wouldn’t wear makeup or jeans and only listened to Southern Gospel music. I know of Christians who shake their heads sadly at anyone who listens to “secular” music of any kind. There are Christian organizations who ban their members from participating in any activity that they deem sinful—it is an attempt to create a separatist movement in the Body. But God never desired that His Church be a separatist movement; Jesus willingly engaged the culture, eating and drinking with them, going to their functions and houses. He ignored the Pharisaic separatist customs of the day and blended right in with the culture of the day. He preached that His followers should be “salt” and “light.” A careful few moments of thought about those two entities should reveal to you that both PERMEATE their environment by blending into it…they do not remain separate. In fact, when salt is kept separate from food, it does no good. When light is kept hidden, there is still darkness.

 

Why does it always feel so controversial to suggest that Christians exegete the culture as much as they do the Scripture? If you don’t know your audience, you won’t reach them. Immerse yourself in life so that you may shine light on the lives of others. By being “separatist,” you are tacitly arguing that you are capable of holiness with your works. And no one is buying your salt or light that way.

 

Engage. Blend. Flavor. Light up. Be part of your culture, not a quaint flavor that doesn’t go well with it.

Acts 14:19-28

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

 

 

Paul and Barnabas preached in Lystra in yesterday’s readings; in today’s, Jewish opponents from Antioch and Iconium showed up to kill them. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. The hand of God was on him, though, raising him up for further preaching. After making disciples in Derbe (which does take time), he actually returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch—telling the disciples that Christians would suffer much tribulation on the way to the kingdom.

 

This is a very different message than the one we’ve heard in evangelicalism for some time. For a good part of the last two centuries, we’ve heard a sort of triumphalism—a dogged belief that God wants to give us comfort in this life. This view would not have passed muster with Paul, the innocent victim of a stoning. He assumed tribulation and even death as part of his walk with Christ. As American evangelicals, we are so steeped in comfort that we cannot conceive of a God Who would allow us to live through adversity. Our biggest problems are attitudes…not enough money in the savings account…cars that won’t run…extended family troubles….the flu. Who can be surprised that we’ve raised a generation of young people who aren’t particularly devoted to the church and the gospel? We’ve taught them that their best lives are NOW. They are wholly unprepared for a world that is opposed to Christ, and by proxy them.

 

If we stop to imagine being beaten and stoned for discipling others, will our attitude toward discipleship change? If you knew that elsewhere in the world people are still being stoned and beaten for the gospel, would it change the frequency and nature of your discipleship efforts here? Until we prepare the Church for the tribulation she was designed to endure, we do her harm.