Christianity 201

July 15, 2021

Parallels Between the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Story And Ours

NIV.Acts.8.30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31a “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

This article is based on a sermon that was a sequel to the one which presented here last week and appeared under the title below. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in one of several Canadian denominations of Baptist.  We hope some of the good things he has to say about his faith family apply to yours as well. The scripture focus today is the story of the eunuch who was some type of government official as well, so I’m not sure why we focus on his eunuchicity. (Like that word?) He was riding in a chariot when the encounter took place. Clarke has linked the scripture text in the article.

What I Love About Being a Baptist Despite My Misgivings About Baptists

by Clarke Dixon

Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.

First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.

People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.

People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.

We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”

Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganized, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.

What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.

In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.

I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.

The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptized was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.

We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.

We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.

We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.

I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.

I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.

The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.

We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.

Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.

I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organization wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!

I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”

We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.

I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalized in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.

Conclusion

If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”

At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even more so may we be like Jesus.

February 2, 2021

Living New Covenant Means Welcoming New People

The transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant involves the story of a man named Cornelius. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, click the link which appears at the beginning of today’s devotional.

A year ago we introduced you to Paul T. Reynolds who lives in the Cayman Islands, where he oversees Children’s Ministry at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. You can read more of his writing at his blog, where he’s currently working through the Book of Acts. He is the author of 66 Books, One Story.

Living for God for People

Acts 10:1-23a (AD 42)

Verse two is not a comprehensive statement of what it means to be a good Christian, but neither is it incidental.

The Roman Centurion Cornelius was a “devout and God-fearing” man (not just him, but also his family). Furthermore, he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (v.2).

God repeated the point for emphasis, two verses later: Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.

James shared similar thoughts from God when decrying moral hypocrisy, stating that Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world(James 1:27).

In both instances, a point of emphasis is a dual perspective on what being a Christian looks like: holy living (involving personal relationship with God and behaviour) and caring for those in need.

Cornelius – a righteous Gentile and a man of authority – was then told by God to send for a nobody; a mere fisherman, a poor man with no-one under his command. Cornelius had no problem with what God said, and did as he was told.

Peter, on the other hand, did not immediately do as he was told. In his vision (v.11-16), God told him what Jesus told him – that the old civil and ritual codes were fulfilled and therefore no longer relevant. He needed to change his understand of right and wrong.

Does that mean that other aspects of God’s teaching might have reached their sell-by date and need to be traded in for more enlightened perspectives?

Well, that depends.

Is the teaching in question, part of the system of civil and ritual law that Jesus said was fulfilled and therefore ended? Or is it part of the moral law, the nature of God himself, reaffirmed by Jesus or the apostles?

Cornelius, with his upbringing surrounded by idol-worship and sexual immorality, knew that his culture didn’t change God’s nature. God’s nature must and did change him.

Peter, with his upbringing dominated by hypocritical leaders, was struggling to understand that his nature wasn’t exactly the same as God’s nature. God’s nature must, and would eventually, over time, change him.

Fight the part of you that doesn’t care about the eternal destiny of people you don’t like.

And hold firm to God’s calling on your life; pursuing your relationship with Him in prayer and holy living, and helping the needy.


What happened next? The continuation of the story in the rest of Acts 10 and Acts 11 is important. Click to read the next blog post in this series: Even to the Gentiles.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Two posts might appear on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives, or from different parts of the world. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

January 17, 2021

Riot in Washington; Riot in Thessalonica; Riot in Ephesus

NIV.Acts.17.1. When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.
 (v. 6  NKJV)

Today we have another new writer to introduced to you. Jonathan E. Mills writes at Living in the Present Tense. We’ve introduced today’s thoughts with words from Acts 17 (in Thessalonica), but note it is a subsequent chapter, Acts 19 (in Ephesus) to which he refers.

NIV.Acts.19.32 [two chapters later]The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.

You’re encouraged to send some link encouragement by clicking the header below and reading this at its source.

Jesus and the Mob

As the scores of images and video footage from the occupation of the US Capitol came in a fortnight ago, I started thinking about the power of mobs and the weakness of the individual. I’m not going to give a hot take on what happened, for far wiser people than I have already done that, but I want to explore for a moment the terror of The Crowd.

Mobs scare me, not the thought of facing them alone (though that is horrifying to contemplate) but the knowledge that I would most likely join them. The pictures of the mob scare us because they reveal that we as a species have a lot less autonomy than we’d like to think. The West has built her self-image upon the ideal of individualism, but too often that seems like a very shaky foundation.

I was in Year 11 when the Arab Spring began in 2010. I have such clear memories of following the various conflicts and the hoards of opinion writers who claimed democracy could now flourish in the Middle East. We’d just studied the French Revolution and I was fascinated by its contrasts and similarities with what was happening live. But one thing that puzzled me was how quickly protests could fall into violent riots. I couldn’t understand how a few leaders could utterly change the direction of a crowd and that everyone would go along with it. Perhaps I prided myself on my individuality, thinking I’d never succumb to the crowd.

I was walking around uni a few years later, just after a lecture on some obscure South American poet. I had no place to be, so I let myself wander. Soon I found myself headed in an unexpected direction, herded by a hoard of students exiting a building. I didn’t think where I was walking, I just followed.

It’s easy to follow the crowd. Or perhaps it’s easy to follow than to try to resist. At 27 I have a lot less confidence in my individuality than I did at 17, and a lot more awe in the power of The Crowd. Back then I imagined myself being a sole voice of reason in a riot, today I know I more likely would be just another sheep.

In his account of the early church, Luke, a follower of Jesus, records a riot that happened in the city of Ephesus. You can read the full story in Acts 19, but here’s the gist:

Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, and got a lot of its income from worshippers who’d flock from everywhere to purchase and to prostrate. You’d go there to worship the big shrine and then buy a little ‘silver shrine’ to take home (Acts 19:24). Paul’s ministry in Ephesus leads to many becoming Christians and then discarding their religious/witch-crafting scrolls and trinkets (see Acts 18). A successful silversmith named Demetrius realizes the threat Christianity might make to his business and so gives an impassioned speech to the traders, working them up into a religious frenzy. Soon the whole city is in an uproar.

Like most mobs, it’s a very confused one. Luke tells us ‘some were shouting one thing, some another. Most… did not even know why they were there’ (vs 32). The fearsome mob meets an abrupt anticlimax when a city clerk tells everyone to go home and appeal to the court system to meet their perceived injustices.

The crowd is confused, yet violent. The mob is powerful, yet easily dismissed. People are drawn into her without knowing what she’s arguing about. But does that excuse their behaviour? If individuals in a mob commit violent acts they’d never do if they were acting alone, does that excuse their behaviour?

Is there such thing as ‘good’ mob? Can Christians ever be part of one without compromising? And what does God think of it all?

I’m going to attempt to answer most of these questions over the next few posts.

[…at this point Jonathan invites readers to join the discussion; “but please keep it civil. Don’t give into the violence of the mob.” Because this was posted just a few hours ago, readers here are invited to go to his blog and comment, and I’ll close comments here…]

 

 

 

December 11, 2020

“Not by Works…” but Works Count!

Earlier today, Lee Grady, who we’ve often featured here, posted this on his Twitter account:

Hebrews 6:10 says: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name.”

He added,

God sees the little things you do: The kindnesses you offer, the encouraging words you give, the sacrifices you make and the prayers you pray.

The website BibleHub is one I frequently use because it can, as in today’s case, offer an endless trail of related verses such as,

Kindness to the poor is a loan to the LORD, and he will give a reward to the lender.
 – Proverbs 19:7 (CSB)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 – Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.
 – Proverbs 22:9 (NASB)

This is what the LORD says: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for the reward for your work will come, declares the LORD
  – Jeremiah 31:16a (BSB)

Just as it takes several points to define a line, some find it helpful to see two or more scriptures as verifying a scriptural principle. However, this type of “verse-mining” is no substitute for reading a little extra context such as we find in Acts:

NIV.Acts.10.1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God…”

So what does Cornelius receive? Nothing material or tangible. Instead he becomes the instrument by which the Apostle Peter is going to orchestrate the inclusion of the Gentile believers into one single family. He becomes the gateway of the followers of “The Way” (followers of Jesus) entering into a whole new chapter which is the beginning of the first century Christian church.

The website BibleRef.com notes that in some respects, our opening verse from Hebrews is a study in contrasts: (I’ve highlighted sections of this.)

…Their good deeds, on behalf of God, are obvious… The idea that God is absolutely fair—or “just”—in His attitude towards their good deeds is a preview of the next passage. The people who were criticized for being spiritually immature, and in danger of “falling away,” are at the same time living out a very Christ-like love for others.

This is a useful point to remember when discussing spiritual maturity. According to this passage, a person can serve God, loving others with good works, and yet still suffer from an immature approach to Christian truth. The intent of Scripture here is not to dismiss love and service, of course, but it is also not meant to relax the threat of “falling away.” Service to God is a good thing, and a sign of sincerity. But it’s important to love truth, and grow in wisdom, just as much as it’s important to live out our love for other people.

In other words, acts of kindness and service are not an end in themselves. They are simply good, but they are also just the beginning.

In some respects the verse is a pause from what the writer has been saying. It’s a deep breath before he continues with what he has been saying before. It’s not unlike the messages to the churches in Revelation in that respect, some of which begin with something quite positive but then comes the “However…” It’s not a good practice to berate people in teaching without finding places to offer encouragement to those who are sincerely seeking after God.

The website KnowingJesus.com notes this as well:

The verse in question, which immediately follows an important warning against spiritual immaturity and some elementary instructions on reaching full maturity, gives some great encouragement to believers.. who are seeking to stand firm in the faith, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

God sees our good works and remembers them. EnduringWord.com notes:

When we are discouraged we sometimes think God forgets us and all we have done for Him and for His people. But God would deny His own nature if He forgot such things (He would be unjust). God sees and remembers.

We must however take this principle alongside the overarching concept that we are not saved by works. We have to find the balance between these two truths: God sees our deeds, but our deeds aren’t key to our salvation.

…There is also a warning as to how the opposite of this principle applies:

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.
 – Proverbs 28:27 (NLT)

And of course there is also a practical, pragmatic side to all of this:

Share what you have with seven or eight others, because you never know when disaster may strike.
 – Ecclesiastes 11:2 (CEV)

…So there we have it. About 900 words, all inspired today from a single post on Twitter! Thanks, Lee!


Wondering what you can do? An hour later Lee wrote,

Do you know what your primary areas of ministry are? Ask your closest friends and mentors to list what gifts they see in you. You may be surprised. Sometimes our fears and insecurities prevent us from seeing what others see clearly.

Not all my spiritual gifts began operating at the same time. I began writing for Jesus at age 22, but I didn’t start preaching until I was 42. Just because a gift hasn’t surfaced yet doesn’t mean it won’t. Keep growing spiritually and you’ll be surprised by the way He uses you!

November 20, 2020

Know Any Sorcerers?

Have you ever met someone whose God-following seems motivated by self-interest? Or recognized mix motives in your own life?

This article is by Penny Gadd who is featured here for the first time. Her blog is Seeking the Light. Click the the title which follows to read this at her site.

Acts 8: 9 – 25 Simon the sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; They had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’

Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’

Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’

After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Sorcery was strictly forbidden under Mosaic Law. Perhaps the most emphatic statement against it is this:

“A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20: 27)

It would seem that Simon concealed the occult nature of his practices, for Luke reports that “all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ ”

Then Philip arrived in Samaria, chased out of Jerusalem when the church there was persecuted. He was one of the seven who had been appointed to oversee food distribution, and had been a co-worker with Stephen. He preached to the Samaritans about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, and his ministry was validated by many healings. People flocked to be baptized.

This must have had a bad effect on Simon’s prestige – and his income.

Nevertheless, Simon joined the congregation, and was himself baptized. Luke says “And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

I wonder if it was only the signs and miracles that attracted him? Maybe he was also drawn to Jesus by Philip’s witness to him?

Simon’s self-interest was threatened by the miracles worked by God through Philip. A threat to self-interest often prompted the violent rejection of Jesus, as we’ve just seen in the stoning of Stephen. Yet Simon became baptized and followed Philip everywhere.

News of Philip’s success in preaching the word to the Samaritans was reported to the apostles in Jerusalem, who sent Peter and John to Samaria. They found that Philip had simply baptized the new believers in the name of Jesus; the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them.

Peter and John prayed for the Holy Spirit to be given to the new believers, placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke doesn’t describe the scene, but it must have been quite dramatic. In fact, it was so powerful that Simon immediately identified it as the source of the signs done by Philip and the apostles.

“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

Peter’s reply bears close study.

“ ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’ ”

The gift of God is the forgiveness of sins. It is free; it can’t be bought, or earned, or in any way deserved. Belief in Jesus is all that you need.

“You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

Simon had seen that the presence of the Holy Spirit had brought power, and he desired that power. But he hadn’t realized that the real gift of God wasn’t the power, but the forgiveness of his sins. He didn’t believe in Jesus, he believed in the power he saw. Simon had not sought and received forgiveness; how, then, could he have any share in the ministry?

“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”

What was the sin that needed repentance? Well, it was actually a very common sin, the one that underlies most sin. Simon wanted to retain control of his life. He wanted God’s power, but not God’s direction. He had been through the ritual of baptism but had not surrendered his life to Jesus.

“For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ ”

Peter could see clearly that Simon wanted to retain control of his life and was therefore captive to sin.

Simon’s reply to Peter is intriguing

“ ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’ ”

He clearly trusts what Peter has told him. He fears the consequences of his sin. He’s some way short of repentance and belief, but he’s moving in the right direction, I think.

Meanwhile, Peter and John return to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. The good news of Jesus has started to spread!

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you that I can turn to you for guidance when I need to know your will. Please help me to allow you to direct my life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

August 23, 2020

Churches: Leverage the Massive Disruption of the COVID-19 Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Acts.11.19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.

Read full chapter


Two years ago we introduced you to the New Wineskins blog at Patheos by Josh Draffern. Today we’re back with a timely article. Click the header below to read this at his page, or click the link in the first sentence to find other articles containing valuable help for pastors and churches.

This is the Moment for the Church at Antioch to Rise Up

In Acts 8, a massive disruption upset the Christian world. Led by Saul of Tarsus, massive persecution drove Christians from their home base of Jerusalem. Up to that time the new Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and was confined to Jews. By the end of the book of Acts the church was more Gentile than Jewish and the church at Jerusalem was a side note. What made the difference? During the disruption, one church used it as an opportunity to innovate, and innovation changes the world.

In Acts 11:19 we see the Jewish Christians scattering from Jerusalem, telling only other Jews about Jesus. But in Antioch it was different. The Christians there spread the gospel and opened their doors to both Jews and Greeks (innovation #1, Acts 11:20-21). Not only was this church open to non-Jews, they sought out Jews with scandalous pasts, creating an opportunity for the same Saul of Tarsus to provide leadership now that he had become a follower of Jesus (innovation #2, Acts 11:25-26). When a famine struck Judea, the church at Antioch is the first church recorded in Scripture to voluntarily collect resources and intentionally send it off to assist another church (innovation #3, Acts 11:27-30).

So it should be no surprise that the church at Antioch, not the church at Jerusalem, was the one the Holy Spirit directed to change the world through intentional gospel-spreading, church-planting mission trips (innovation #4, Acts 13:1-3). What was the church at Jerusalem doing during that time? Forcing Peter to defend his actions of entering a Gentile’s home (Acts 10-11) and trying to get the Gentile Christians to become Jewish (Acts 15).

Admittedly painting with a broad brush here, the church at Jerusalem treated the dispersion of their people as an interruption. They kept waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’ and the way things were (centered in Jerusalem and around the Jews). The church at Antioch correctly saw the persecution as a massive disruption. Disruption leads to innovation. Innovation changes the world, and that’s exactly what the church at Antioch did almost 2000 years ago.

The COVID-19 crisis is another massive disruption (not interruption). This is the moment for the church at Antioch to rise up, to blaze boldly into the hybrid digital world we all now live in and spread the gospel in new and powerful ways. As church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof accurately questioned, “are churches behaving like malls in the age of Amazon?” I believe that churches that treat the COVID-19 crisis like a minor interruption are like malls, like the church at Jerusalem.

If your church is waiting for this crisis to pass so that things can go back to normal, you might be waiting awhile. There will be a new normal we will eventually settle into, but it won’t be the old normal. A worldwide pandemic disrupts the world in ways that will forever change us. I believe that churches that leverage the massive disruption of the COVID-19 crisis are innovating in the age of Amazon, like the church of Antioch.

Where are the churches at Antioch? Rise up, innovate, and change our world with the gospel!


Josh also blogs on Beliefnet as Next Steps: Inspiration From Scripture for Your Next Step of Faith and you can find links to all his content on joshdaffern.com.

May 28, 2020

What Do You Have to Have, to Have a Church?

Readers: This week you’re getting a double dose of Clarke Dixon’s writing. This was an extra item he posted on his blog, and then tomorrow, we’ll pick up where Clarke left us working our way through Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

When I wrote this back in 2016 I did not realize that in 2020 we would not have what we normally have. Thank the Lord we still have what we have to have to have a church!

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork … or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

What does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

There are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Scripture references today are taken from the NRSV.

 

 

May 22, 2020

Getting Close to The Church of Acts

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
-Acts 5:42

House Churches

Mary’s:When he [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer” (Acts 12:12).

Lydia’s:When they [Paul and Silas] had come out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and then they left” (Acts 16:40).

Prisca and Aquila’s:Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus…greet also the church at their house” (Romans 16:3,5).

Nympha’s:Give greetings to the brothers in Laodicea and to Nympha and to the church in her house” (Colossians 4:15).

Philemon and Apphia’s:Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon, our beloved and our co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church at your house” (Philemon verses 1-2).

-condensed references; click here for full article at Franciscan Media.


This is our tenth time with John Fischer at The Catch. Click the title below for the full article:

Church, 2020

Think about the amount of trust in the Holy Spirit there had to be in the formation of the early church. Especially after the persecution scattered believers all over the region. Groups of believers were springing up everywhere. All of them were preaching the Good News about Jesus and people were being added daily to the faith. It would have been impossible to monitor all those groups. These were not Bible Study Cell Groups with a form of centralized leadership and a notebook and video for the host to follow. There was no curriculum. There was no New Testament, at least in the very beginning. Later on Paul would write his letters to the young churches, and I’m sure those were copied and passed around, but in the beginning the church was made up of informal groups of people meeting in homes, many of them separated from sanctioned leadership. And if the book of Acts says they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, that means there was an apostle there teaching them! Kid you not.

I have a feeling it was something like this that the Lord had in mind for the church all along — an organic group of people coming together to pray, share whatever they knew of the apostles’ teaching, eat together, meet each other’s needs, and remember the Lord’s death and resurrection until He returns. Buildings and budgets, bishops and bureaucracies were nowhere in the original plan. I know that sounds pretty loosey-goosey, but that’s why the Holy Spirit was holding it all together. They could feel the reality of the Holy Spirit. Is church a praise band and a sermon, or four or five people around a table at Starbucks? It may not necessarily be either one, but the one around the table is closer to the earliest model.

Marti has had numerous discipleship groups over the years and lately, she’s been able to do it over Google hangout on the Internet. I’ve walked in on the tail end of this a number of nights and I can tell you it’s the closest thing to church I know of. They are learning and growing, crying and laughing, and depending on the Holy Spirit through each other’s gifts. You can go to a megachurch and never have this. You can go to an ornate cathedral and never have this. This is why we’re looking again at the formation of the early church. It’s renewal time. It’s honesty time. It’s raw. It’s real time. It’s strip-down-to-the-basics time. It’s what we want. It’s what the millennials want, and I believe it’s what the Lord wanted all along. Whatever else we have that has come to be identified as “church” are the trappings of church we’ve created over the years — little of it biblical, much of it cultural and traditional. Even what we have on Sunday nights on Facebook is closer to the Acts church than what you can experience each week in a typical church service today. If you don’t need the Holy Spirit to hold it together, then it’s going to be held together by something else. Wouldn’t you rather have the Holy Spirit?

Church, 2020 is not going to be much different than Church, 31, and that’s the way it should be.


Bonus item: Here’s a classic John Fischer song, Righteous Man.

May 16, 2020

The Peril of Pretending

Acts.5.1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died…

Once again we’re back with John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog.  Click the header below to read this at source. Are we guilty of this on any level?

When pretense is deadly

Acts 13:11  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, had conspired to sell some land, give part of the proceeds to the cause of Jesus and keep some of it for themselves.  But their story was that they were giving the entire sum, which was a lie.

First Ananias, then Sapphira, testified before Peter that they had given the entire amount.  He pronounced judgment on each of them, for they had “not lied just to human beings but to God.”  They each instantly fell down dead.

This is a seemingly radical departure from a ministry and movement that featured so much healing and blessing.  If you lie you die?  How could it be?

There was and is a practice of toy religion – human doings and sayings that supposedly win the approval and appeasement of God.  It’s commercial – you say a few prescribed words, perhaps 1000 times to really be impressive, and you get the blessing.  You pretend to be “all in” and are actually only partly “in”.

It’s very clear from the context that the pretense (or acting – hypocrisy) was the problem here – Ananias and Sapphira likely thought everyone pretended just like they had under the Law of Moses.  Not now.  Doing things just for show turned out to be fatal for them, and the fear of that being exposed “seized the whole church”.  Following Christ was not to be a sideshow to the real event – personal, secret life.

Let me know this – they could have kept part of the money and told the truth about it and not undergone the judgment. It was about being honest. Turning greed into generosity is discipleship that often takes time, but turning what is fake into what is real needs to be called out right away, and in this case at the expense of the lives of this couple.

So where am I pretending? How and where do I give only lip service to the things of God, giving part and saying it’s all (or even making that allusion), boasting (even in subtlety) or doing anything that lacks integrity? Do I sin? It’s with no pride that I say “yes”. Do I lie about my shortcomings? Well, I won’t say I advertise them, but let me be quick to confess them to any and all who ask.

Let grace define me – not just receiving it but being open that I need it. Every single day.


David Jeremiah:

Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin unto death (1 John 5:16). The undertakers might be busy in our churches today if we were judged for the motives of our hearts. When you serve the church — teaching, singing, serving in a leadership role — are you putting God to the test? It’s risky business to fake spirituality. Make your heart’s desire for God and God alone.

Augustine:

It is not the being seen of men that is wrong, but doing these things for the purpose of being seen of men. The problem with the hypocrite is his motivation.

Bert Farias:

Both Ananias and Sapphira, together with Simon the sorcerer, attempted to introduce into the glory of the early Church corrupt values that would have defiled and greatly diminished her glory. However, it was stopped at the door and the glory was protected and allowed to increase.

In like manner, the true judgments of the Lord that produce holy fear and genuine repentance, along with prevailing prayer, must return to the Church, so there can be a thorough cleansing and the glory of the Lord can be restored.  (from Cleansing the Temple.)


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

July 13, 2019

God’s Answers Arrive God’s Way

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Mark.11.24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Rom.4.17b …the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.


Is.55.9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.


Read the full story on which today’s devotional is based at this link, of which the following is an excerpt.

Acts.12.5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.


The site Awakened to Grace, is a relatively recent find for us. The author of today’s piece again is Joy Bollinger. Please read this content at the original source by clicking the header below.

Unexpected Answers

Have you prayed for an answer, but the answer has not yet arrived? Will you recognize the answer when it comes?

The story of Peter’s supernatural rescue from prison gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and how His ways and thoughts are so much higher than our ways and thoughts. He answers prayer, but not always according to our timing and expectations.

We learn in Acts 12 that Peter was arrested and delivered to four squads of soldiers. Typically, a squad included eight soldiers. So, it took thirty-two soldiers to guard one non-violent man. Meanwhile, the Church was earnestly praying for Peter’s release.

Peter was bound with two chains and asleep between two soldiers with sentries posted at the door of the prison. An angel of the Lord stood next to Peter, struck him on the side, and woke him saying, “Get up quickly.” His chains fell off and the angel ordered him to dress, wrap a cloak around himself, and follow him past the two guards. As they approached an iron gate, it opened of its own accord and they went out along a street, and the angel left.

Peter quickly went to the house of Mary, the mother of John where they were all gathered together praying for Peter. When he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice and instead of opening the door ran to tell the others that Peter was at the door. They responded, “You are out of your mind.” Despite her insistence that Peter was at the door, they argued, “It is his angel!” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking on the door. When they finally opened the door, they were shocked to see him standing before them.

How often do we pray and either we do not fully expect our prayer to be answered, or we have our own ideas of how that prayer should be answered? So, when the answer comes, we, like those who prayed for Peter, fail to recognize it.

We have the blessed assurance that if we abide in Him and His Words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish, and it will be done for us (John 15:7). God tells us that before we even call to Him, He will answer. While we are yet speaking, He will hear us (Isaiah 65:24). And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him (I John 5:14-15).

Jesus said, “…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  For God calls into existence the things that do not exist (Mark 11:24; Romans 4:17).

BELIEF is the key to faith. To believe means to be convinced, to trust, and have total confidence in God. Paul had such great confidence in God that he was able to sleep peacefully, in chains, between two soldiers!

Like Peter, are you caught in a prison of circumstances that you have no control over?

If you have been praying and waiting, yet you have not seen an answer, keep believing and trusting God, so that when the answer arrives, you will recognize its appearing.

PRAYER: FATHER, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Help me to trust and focus on You and not my circumstances. Prepare me to recognize and receive Your answer. Thank you for Your unwavering love and the fulfillment of Your promises. In Jesus’ name, amen.

May 14, 2018

Having a Revival in the Parking Lot of Another Church

Today we’re back at Dust Off The Bible, a website I first introduced you to at the time last year and this entry features the writing of Justin and Lydia who are working their way through the Revised Common Lectionary.

Apostles Do Many Signs and Wonders

Text: Acts 5: 12-16

Apostles Do Many Signs and Wonders


12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.


Observations and Reflections


It appears that the apostles are continuing to preach and heal people and what’s even more impressive is that it’s happening in Solomon’s Portico, right inside of the Temple walls. This would be the equivalent of having a revival in the parking lot of another church. I would imagine that most pastors would not be impressed with people trying to steal the attention of church-goers as they entered into the church. It’s likely that this enraged the religious leaders and the temple guard even more so than before.

However, since Peter was healing people and displaying great signs, a renewed interest in traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem was revived, as people would travel from afar to seek healing. It would seems as though Peter’s ministry was mimicking Jesus’, right in the face of the Jewish leaders. But, many of those same people would have likely also participated in the temple services so there is a possibility that it was not all negative for the Jewish leaders. Is it possible that the ministry of Peter and the apostles could have provided a side benefit to the Jews? It’s is possible but the religious leaders would have still been bothered at the notion that Jesus was being preached and the narrative that the religious leaders killed the messiah. Any side benefits would have been negated by such preaching.

The only answer to this problem is to get rid of the apostles, which will be the subject of the next passage.

– Justin


The Church is on the move to spread the Gospel and serve others. Peter and the rest of the apostles are standing strong despite the previous attempts to stop them and scare them from speaking the name of Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful display we see of faith and devotion to doing God’s work. The Holy Spirit is pricking at the hearts of many believers and lost souls are being saved.

Preaching the Gospel is so much more then just using words. It is absolutely necessary to speak the truth and yet is still just as important to follow up with action. Peter and His apostles are putting their words of Jesus’s love on fully display. In healing the sick and freeing those of unclean spirits, they are showcasing the truth of God’s power and love at work.

Their actions are not of their own doing and accord. It is what God has called them to do and it is by His power alone that they are able to do these things.

Being bold for the name of Jesus Christ can create and amazing ripple affect. The healing of the crippled man in the previous chapter set off a widespread eagerness to many who sought to follow after Jesus Christ. It stirred up a hunger in those who were seeking to know more about Jesus and the price He paid on the cross for our sins.

The only way in which the disciples were able to do this successfully was through faith and prayer. As the Church it was their role to continually seek God’s hand in all that they do and here we are witnessing faith and prayer at work.

– Lydia


Apologies to subscribers for the confusion on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday’s devotions got posted 2-minutes apart. Not noticing this until Sunday morning, I re-released Sunday’s devotional at the regular time. I’m just curious if any of you received it twice. Let me know.

 

June 14, 2017

A Gospel Riot

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re again returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. As happened in December, I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take several minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source. It’s longer than usual, but is great reading.

Sidewalk Peddlers

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

December 29, 2016

Acts 28: 28 Acts of Generosity in the Book of Acts

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog Preacher Smith, written by David Smith who is a pastor in Baytown, Texas. This appeared in November, and I’ve left the date reference intact. Click on the title below to read at source. (Check out other posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series.)

Sermon Follow-up: 28 Acts of Generously Giving Good in Acts

My sermon this past Sunday morning (Nov. 6) was in regard to the sixth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: generosity/goodness.

Each of my sermons in the series of which this sermon was a part (Acts: The Way, It Works) makes some connection with the fruit of the Spirit and the lives of Christ-followers in the book of Acts. However, I deliberately left the connection with Acts missing from this past Sunday’s sermon … until now.

Even just a quick skim of Acts reveals a multitude of instances of generosity/goodness recorded by the book’s author (Luke). Following are twenty-eight examples, one from each of the Acts’ twenty-eight chapters.

1. Giving the community of faith your presence for the sake of united prayer.

“They all joined together constantly in prayer …” (Acts 1.14)

2. Giving your heart and your possessions to those in need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2.45)

3. Giving your attention to those who have become virtually invisible to others.

“Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him …” (Acts 3.2-4a)

4. Giving the word of God to others, freely and without fear.

“… they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4.31)

5. Giving encouragement to others by having a healthy attitude about the things you suffer.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5.41)

6. Giving welcome and acceptance to those new to faith in Christ.

“The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6.7)

7. Giving grace to those who misunderstand you, hate you, and work your harm.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed … ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7.59-60)

8. Giving obvious evidence of your faith by sticking with God and taking your faith with you through all of life’s changes.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. … Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8.1,4)

9. Giving your talents and skills over to the Lord’s disposal for the blessing of others.

“… showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made …” (Acts 9.39)

10. Giving your mind over to God for him to teach you new things as to your perspective of, and way toward, others who are very much unlike you.

“… God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10.28)

11. Giving others the gift of an open mind as to their understanding of things.

“… when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him … Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story … When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God …” (Acts 11.1,4,18)

12. Giving room for others to join you in your service to Christ.

“When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.” (Acts 12.25)

13. Giving energy and motivation to others to keep on keeping on with God.

“… Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13.43)

14. Giving inspiration to fellow Christ-followers by sharing the generous good you have experienced thru God in your life.

“… they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them …” (Acts 14.27)

15. Giving well-timed use of conciliatory statements in moments of tension.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15.11)

16. Giving of your home to bless other believers.

“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16.15)

17. Giving credit where credit is due, particularly when you see those yet to believe catch a glimpse of what is true and right about God and people.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17.26-28)

18. Giving the grace of real connection and helpful guidance rather than the world’s way of criticism and complaining, which only breeds problems and distance.

“Apollos … was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. … When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18.24-27)

19. Giving your sinful habits up in public confession and repentance so as to solidify your commitment and to give testimony of the Lord’s work in your life.

“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. [nearly 150 years’ wages for the average worker] In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19.18-20)

20. Giving your daily existence completely over to the Lord so as to not only free yourself from fear and dread, but to lead others to do likewise.

“… I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20.24)

21. Giving yourself over to full establishment of faith in the lives of your children.

“… Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven … had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (Acts 21.8-9)

22. Giving clear thought as to how you can best share with those who could benefit from knowing why you are a Christian and how you became one.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22.15-16)

23. Giving yourself over to intervening for the lives of others.

“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. … But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (Acts 23.12,16)

24. Giving respect to whom respect his due.

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.’” (Acts 24.10)

25. Giving others the courage of your convictions and standing up for your true rights.

“Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’” (Acts 25.10-11)

26. Giving prayer to God for others come to faith in God, to become disciples of Christ.

“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” (Acts 26.28-29)

27. Giving thanks to God, openly and sincerely, whether in the presence of believers or not.

“… he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.” (Acts 27.35)

28. Giving kindness to others in the ways they need most in the moment.

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28.1-2)

And so, let us make our faith practical. Let us practice what we preach, namely that “God is good, all of the time.” Let us do and give good, generously so, to others, every day, in the name of, and by, the Spirit of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. For his glory, not our own.

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

June 9, 2016

Believing in God, But Not Being Part of Any Particular Church

NASB Acts 17:17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

This is a really interesting article by Chelica Hiltunen from Bible Study Magazine, a source I don’t think we’ve visited before. It involves a word used in Acts that we could easily skip over, and it has application to us today in terms of where we might find people interested in being part of our local fellowships. Click the title to read at source.

Who were the God Fearers?

The meanings of English words change over time. For an older generation, a vampire was a demonic, predatory being that was to be feared and destroyed. But due to the Twilight book series and movies, for many people today a vampire is a handsome, affluent man who has the ability to be forever young—and, oh, he drinks some blood from time to time.

The same is true for ancient languages. This is why we need to consider the original historical, social and religious contexts of New Testament terms, like ‘Godfearer.’ We will utilize both the Dictionary of New Testament Background (DNTB) and the Dictionary of Deities and Demons (DDD) to decipher what ‘Godfearer’ meant to the author and the audience of Acts. These dictionaries will help us delve into the Graeco-Roman context.

The term ‘Godfearer’ is applied to diverse people in disparate localities: women of esteem in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50), Greeks from Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), people found in synagogues in Athens (Acts 17:17), and a man from Corinth (Acts 18:7).1

Despite their dissimilarities, they have one thing in common: they were not ethnically Jewish but revered the Jewish God. Details about their standing and function in the Jewish community are nebulous. In DNTB the term Godfearer shares an entry with ‘proselytes.’ DNTB, though, maintains that Godfearers were distinctive from proselytes. Proselytes were those who had made a full commitment to the requirements of Judaism, especially the Law. Godfearers expressed enough interest in Judaism to attend synagogue and possibly give alms, but did not fully embrace the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy).

Godfearers had a polytheistic background. DDD notes that the New Testament use of God/god (theos, θεος) primarily refers to the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh. However, “in pagan Greek literature the use of the word theos is markedly different from what we find in the Bible.”2 Throughout the wider Graeco-Roman world, theos was used to refer to divine figures and abstract concepts like love. An example of cultural confusion occurs in Acts 17:19. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers misunderstood Paul’s teaching, believing him to be preaching two new deities: Jesus and Resurrection.

It is difficult to know what Godfearers thought of the God of Israel, Yahweh. Did they understand Him to be the only God/god, the chief God/god, or just one of many divine beings? The answer is not clear. However, we do know that Godfearers were passionate enough to come to the defense of the Jewish faith (Acts 13:50).

Socially, many of the Godfearers in Acts were among the wealthy class who donated money to Jewish communities (Acts 10:2). DNTB says that such statements in Acts have been corroborated by archaeological evidence, including the discovery of a stele dating to circa 200 AD in Aphrodisias (located in what is now Turkey). Upon this monument is a listing of those who gave to a local Jewish institution. One side of the stele lists 54 Jewish names, “after a break [is] a list of fifty Godfearers whose names are either Greek or Greco-Roman, suggesting a Gentile origin for the group.”3

Godfearers were among the first members of the early church. They were intricately involved in its growth, hosting house churches, and providing shelter for missionaries (Acts 16:40). Their acceptance of Jesus as the Christ and their subsequent receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:33–34) radically altered the church’s mission—opening the way for the Gospel to be preached to Gentiles (like most of us).

A Godfearer, then, in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, was someone who sincerely revered the God of Israel, but was not necessarily a practicing Jew. Today, the analogy of someone who believes in a personal God, but who isn’t committed to any particular faith, would be on target.


1. Also see Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:17; 18:7.
2. McKnight, “Proselytism and Godfearers,” (DNTB): pgs. 840–47. Logos.com/DNTB
3. P. W. van der Horst, “God (II),” (ddd 2nd ed.): pgs. 365–69. Logos.com/DDD

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 2

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