Christianity 201

October 1, 2019

Envying the Lost?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once again we return to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. Click the title below to read this at its source.

Let Not Your Heart Envy Sinners

Proverbs 22:17–24:22

Our world is all about pursuit of selfish pleasure, and by worldly standards the most selfish seem to succeed. Brother, Let not your heart envy sinners!

When I came to the following verse in today’s reading, I knew it had to be the focus of today’s commentary.

Proverbs 23:17-18 ESV
“Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”

I have long lamented what I consider to be one of the biggest challenges to American Christians. It seems to me that we American Christians are far more influenced by the world than we influence the world. That is not how it is supposed to be. In the book of Acts, we read of a riot in which Christians were dragged to the town square for stoning because they were turning the world upside down; they were challenging the way the pagan world lived.

Acts 17:6-8 ESV
6 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, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.”

Further on in Acts, we read of another mob dragging Christians before the civil authorities because Christian teachings threaten their way of life. (Acts 19) America, it seems to me, is the Mecca of self-centeredness. Our culture is toxic. Just view our television, movies, or video games. Listen to the lyrics of our music and read the content of our books and magazines. Sex and violence, money and debauchery seem to be the man-made gods of our society. What happens when Christians stand up and share Christ, share Christian values? Christians are dragged before the media, our modern town square, with outraged cries demanding we be silenced. This in itself is enough to cause many Christians to avoid sharing Christ, and we need to address our fears of such treatment if we are to be obedient followers of our Lord and Savior. Before we can even deal with that, however, we must deal with the fact that our society has infected us with the fleshly disease of self-centeredness. We are influenced by the culture around us and, wishing to be like everyone else, we allow ourselves to become infected and this sickness to distract us from who we are and our purpose for being here.

Brothers, let not your heart envy sinners! They pursue filth! You are meant for greater things! The wealth of eternity is yours as a child of The Living God! Why would you want anything less? You have a future and your hope will not be cut off. Stop letting the world influence you. Start influencing the world for Christ. Expect to be dragged before the public for verbal stoning, but also expect to be joyously escorted before your Lord and Savior to receive your eternal reward! I can withstand the slings and arrows of this dark and dying world because I know what I have in eternity. How about you?

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

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.

June 17, 2019

The Early Church Moment Where Fear Overtook Love

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. He is the author of several books, including Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God; and the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

Great Love or Great Fear?

It’s one of the weirdest things in the book of Acts. One minute you’re reading about how love filled the community of Christ; how everyone shared what they had in common with people who only days before were total strangers; selling land and property to buy food for their hungry brothers and sisters in Christ, meeting daily in homes, breaking bread together; they “ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” and devoted themselves to the fellowship of the Saints and the Way of Christ,….and then…

Well, then we read the very next chapter about how two people are struck down dead for not giving as much money to the community as they said they were giving, and then we read this:

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events…(and) no one else dared join them…” [Acts 5:11-13]

So, in just one chapter, the early Christian community went from being filled with great love to being seized with great fear.

What is it that we’ve learned about fear and love? They cancel one another out.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” [1 John 4:18]

Sadly, just at the moment when the love of Christ had broken through the darkness; when the light of Christ had filled their hearts and opened their fists to share all that they had with one another, when the unconditional love of Christ had just started to blossom in their hearts, this great fear seized them and crushed the flow of unity and trust.

Now, people were afraid – both within the Body of Christ, and outside the Church. Love was not the driving force. Fear was.

Maybe it was this flash of fear that cast out the perfect love of Christ and prevented the Apostles from remembering what Jesus had told them the night he was betrayed; when he took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and knelt down to wash their feet, exactly as a slave would have done.

Maybe it was momentary lapse of love the kept them from recalling the words of Jesus as he asked them,

“Do you know what I have done for you? I am your Teacher and your Lord, and yet I knelt down to wash your feet. I have set you an example that you should was one another’s feet.”

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D.

I think this is why one of those lowly servants they selected to wait tables – a job the Apostles were too important to keep doing – is suddenly filled with the Spirit of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak powerfully to preach the Gospel – even greater than the Apostles themselves. We read that whenever engaged with those who opposed the Gospel of Christ, …they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke,” [Acts 6:10] and that when he is taken before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy, “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” [v.15]

And then Stephen gives one of the most moving [and one of the longest] testimonies of Christ to the Jewish leaders and onlookers, and at the end of it, he is martyred for his witness and stoned to death. Yet even as he is dying, he forgives his murders – just as Jesus had done – and his eyes are opened to see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.

It’s a glorious and troubling testimony, and yet I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

Stephen is not only the first martyr of the Church, he’s not one of the Twelve. He’s no one. And yet, that seems to be the point: God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.

Love – not fear – is what drives us.

Humility – not fame – is where our true strength is found.

Service to one another, and to those in need around us IS the ministry of the Word of God, who is Christ.

Christ is revealed in us when we are like Christ: Humble, loving, compassionate and willing to wait tables in obscurity for the rest of our lives without ever seeking, or needing, any other recognition from anyone.

This challenges me. It makes me pause and rethink my own life, and my own mindset.

Sometimes we have to take a few steps backwards to move forward.

 

May 24, 2019

Urgently Wanting Something May Be a Sign of Bitterness

We’ve previously run some devotional articles by Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him, and for today’s selection, I wrestled with three equally interesting pieces. The one below I read three times and each time through I was impressed by how the Biblical text weaved in and out of the application, and how the paragraph that one might expect to come first came at the end.

But more than the writing, I wondered if there were times in my life when I was like the character in the Biblical narrative. As always, click the title below to read this at source. There’s also a bonus article and each one is accompanied by a Christian music video at his site.

Provoked by Bitterness and Bound by Sin

If you blessed to be around a newborn baby or infant eager to start crawling, you will witness periodical tantrums. Some will signal moms that it’s time to breast feed or change a dirty diaper. Prior to being able to speak, crying, fussing and screaming are signs of displeasure and unhappiness. When you examine these fits of rage from a biblical perspective, knee jerk reactions from any human being are often provoked by bitterness.

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this authority and power too, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit,” Acts 8:18-19.

There is where parenting will influence and shape the character of a child. If parents allow children to get everything they want as soon as he or she cries, the more spoiled this individual will become over time. This display of bitterness is a sign that the human flesh, known as the sinful nature is alive and well. Anyone not trained or taught to resist this urge, will be provoked by bitterness and bound to sin.

20 But Peter said to him, “May your money be destroyed along with you, because you thought you could buy the [free] gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart (motive, purpose) is not right before God. 22 So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, this thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are provoked by bitterness and bound by sin,” Acts 8:20-23.

During a trip to Samaria, Luke records an interesting conversation between Peter and a magician called Simon. Based upon the passage above, Simon appears to have been spoiled in his younger years, normally getting whatever he wants. Subsequently, Simon offers Peter a bribe, attempting to receive the Holy Spirit through a cash exchange. However, this isn’t how God works. When motives are impure, prayer is necessary to get yourself right before God. Yet, unless you deal with bitterness and sin in a biblical manner, healing won’t occur. Fasting, prayer and seeking godly counsel are steps on the road to recovery. The best therapy to overcome the root of bitterness is meditating on the Word of God. Exercising spiritual disciplines will release you from the bondage of sin.


Here’s a bonus article by the same author:

The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction. In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea. One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen. These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene. Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus. Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced. Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus. Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen. This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

51 “You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him. It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants. Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit. Any type of change is difficult. However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible. Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted. As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains. For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

March 30, 2019

Spiritually, Don’t Wander Off

Tomorrow is the last day of year nine here at Christianity 201. Monday begins our tenth year. This is also our ninth time featuring the writing of Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day. He’s currently working through the book of Hebrews. This article is part one of two, there’s a link to the second one at the end. Or…simply click the title below to arrive at the site.

Drifters

Hebrews teems with promises and encouragements, wonderful reminders and strong theology. But it also holds a number of stern warnings. With the promises, it delivers consequences that need to be reckoned with. When taken as a whole, the book disrupts any leanings we have toward universalism and even shines the spotlight on eternal security for our scrutiny.

Aside: Don’t hang up on me. I’m not saying I don’t believe in eternal security, but our study will uncover some weakness in our pray-a-prayer-and-forget-it gospel.

Warning #1

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1

First – notice the “for.” Again, this militates against chapter breaks, since clearly what follows belongs with chapter one.

But what part of chapter one are we “for”-ing back to? …pay attention to what we have heard. What have we heard? Let’s read a couple more verses and see if we get some more clues.

For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.Hebrews 2:2-4

The writer is taking us back to the first four verses of chapter one, in particular, verse two.

in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.Hebrews 1:2

Jesus, who is superior in every way to the angels and prophets spoke to us through His words and His life. He continues to speak to us through the testimony of those who walked with Him. Further, this testimony is confirmed to us by signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

These four verses actually hold two warnings.

1) Don’t drift.

I love that he uses such a visual word, drift. He’s not warning against a turn-and-run rejection of the gospel. He’s not warning about scoffers and skeptics. He’s warning about the kind of Christian that warms the pew every week but does not walk by faith.

He’s talking about dusty-Bible Christians.
He’s talking about when-it’s-convienient Christians.
He’s talking about Sunday-morning-only Christians.

They are drifters. They have not left the church or the basic belief system. But their life is not marked by faith. They live life with minds set on the things of the flesh. Every problem gets the natural solution, and prayer is the furthest thing from their mind until it’s the only thing left.

Paul talks about this in Romans 8.

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.Romans 8:5-8

Don’t skip over that. Here Paul speaks some of the most sobering words in all of the Bible.

This carnal mind, mind set on the flesh, is not indifferent toward the things of God. This drifter is actively hostile toward God himself.

Paul makes it clear in Romans 8 that this one who fills his or her mind with the natural world and its thoughts and priorities CANNOT please God.

Later in Hebrews, we will learn that only the life lived by faith and not by sight can please God.

Have you been drifting? Have you been walking by sight and relying on natural solutions for your day to day needs?

Get out of those waves that wash to and fro. Step out of that sandy-bottomed trap and get on the Rock today.

You can please God. You can hear those wonderful words – “Well done.” But it’s not going to happen by itself. You’re going to have to put your faith in Jesus.

Walk in the light.


  • Looking to catch up? You can find all of Ben’s posts on Hebrews chapter 1 here.
  • The second part of this article — Warning # 2 — is called Neglectors.

October 2, 2018

Murder in the Early Church?

Honestly, in all the years I’ve studied the Book of James, I never really picked up on that word: Murder! (Yikes!)

Today we’re back with Peter Corak who we featured here in a Sunday Worship column a year ago and who has been very faithfully writing excellent devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009. Click the title below to read this at source and then use his archives menu to find other material.

More Grace

His letter is written to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” So James’ epistle was penned for believers but with a particular Hebrew flavor. Maybe not surprising given that it’s thought this could be the first NT book written, and thus written to a church that was still largely Jewish.

So it’s for those who are born again. Those who are new creations in Christ. And maybe that’s what makes the opening verses of chapter 4 a bit disturbing.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

What? Quarrels? Fights? Murder? And all this among the believers?!? Say it ain’t so!

What happened to “and all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44)? Or, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32)? Even if you understand that James isn’t referring to murder in the literal sense but in the Sermon on the Mount sense, that of intense anger towards someone (Mt. 5:21-22), you’re still asking yourself, what’s going on?

What could so corrupt the unity of the Spirit believers were born again into (1Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:1-3)? What could so mar the testimony of love for one another that Jesus said would mark His disciples (Jn. 13:35)?

Two things, apparently. Passions at war within us, and love for the world around us. Evidently a lethal combo for the church being the church.

The nature of the flesh is to want. To desire what it thinks it must have to be satisfied. What it feels it needs in order to experience pleasure. And when someone else has that something, there can be a tendency to turn on that person. Either out of jealousy, or of trying to compete for it. Cue a catalyst for conflict.

And what feeds the flesh? The world. The system of values, priorities, and prizes that man has built up for themselves in order to satisfy “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1Jn. 2:16). The world feeds the flesh. And flesh wars against others driven by flesh. And then you have quarrels, and fightings, and murders . . . oh my!!!

What’s the answer? Stop it!!!

It’s that simple, says James. Stop coveting and start praying, asking for what you think you need. And if you don’t get it, then know that you ask amiss.

What’s more, stop befriending the world (by the way, that’s not BFF type of befriending, that’s getting into bed with type of “friends” . . . you adulterous people). For to befriend the world is to set yourself up as an enemy of God. Why would believers hang the enemies flag in front of their homes? Oh yeah, the flesh!

Ugly mirror to be looking into this morning. Bitter food to be chewing on. But thank God for the word but.

But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

(James 4:6 ESV)

More grace. Greater grace. Larger grace. Stronger grace. That’s the grace our God dispenses . . . and dispenses freely and abundantly.

And it’s available to the humble. To those who look in the mirror of Scripture and see their own reflection in the twelve tribes of the dispersion. Who refuse to say, “Not me! That’s someone else,” but know the battle between the flesh and the Spirit is their daily reality. Who, by the Spirit’s enabling power, say, “No!” to the flesh, and “Forgive me” to God. Who preach the gospel to themselves — the blood’s power to forgive and cleanse, the empty tomb’s power to allow those once in bondage to the flesh to live in newness of life. To believe in, and avail themselves of, “but He gives more grace.”

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(James 4:10 ESV)

Yes He will.

Because of more grace. And that for His glory.

Amen?

July 28, 2018

Final Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This appeared last month at DailyEncouragement.net. Stephen and Brooksyne Weber told the story of a friend who, in his final blog post wrote, “We may not be in contact with you again on this side of eternity. But remember that if you have placed your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, we will meet with you again in heaven.”

They then continued this theme…

Ending Well

“And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face” (Acts 20:25).

…Of course that’s true, in a sense it’s always true, for we never know when our time with those we love will be over.

It also brought to mind Paul’s words in our daily text. He is saying farewell to the Ephesian elders after his ministry among them in a very moving sermon (Acts 20). Early in the message he informed them, “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face”.

As Paul prepares to finally leave we have these words,

“When he (Paul) had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).

One lesson I learned early in life and have sought to practice all the years following is to “end well”. I believe this should apply to all our relationships in life, especially our spiritual ones. Our daily verse may seem a bit unusual without its fuller context. Paul had just preached a dynamic sermon to the Ephesian elders, a moving and challenging farewell before his trip to Jerusalem. (I have used this portion of Scripture in bidding farewell on our final Sunday to each church I’ve pastored.)

After his message they knelt and prayed together and “they all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.” Can you picture the emotions of those gathered with Paul in this setting? Have you had similar experiences in life? I hope so.

What really moved the group to tears was a statement Paul had made in the sermon that he would never see them again (v. 25). Consider how we would react in the fellowship transactions of life if we knew we would never see someone again. Normally, except in the case of gathering around a deathbed, we anticipate that sometime in the future we will meet together again, especially in our day of modern communications and transportation.

I’m sure we would go to extraordinary means to express our love and to show how much that person has meant to us if it was a final good-bye. The fact is, we really don’t know when we bid a loved one “farewell” whether we will see them again (at least on this side of eternity). I don’t want to sound morbid, but it’s a fact of life. Live in such a way that those who mean a great deal to you will know of your love and appreciation, not just during farewells.

Thankfully, Paul did keep contact with this church through his letter to the Ephesians!

 

 

July 2, 2018

The Enemy Targets Spiritual Play-Makers

The website Dust Off the Bible has been running a detailed series of posts on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Specifically these include:

 

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 6:8-15] Stephen Seized

Acts 6:8-15

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.


Reflections & Commentary


The seizing of Saint Stephen is a story that Luke tells with enough detail that one needs to read slowly through the passage, as to not miss an important facet of the story.

The first detail that Luke provides is that Stephen was not just another ordinary member of the Christian community. He was known throughout the people.

“a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”

So, the Jewish leaders were not picking people indiscriminately to harass. They were looking to take out the play makers. Like dealing with the disciples, they assume that taking out the leaders of a movement will help dissolve it. This tactic thus far has not proven to be effective. Why they think it will work still, even after they’ve seen it fail, is difficult to know.

Luke’s second area of detail is about the people who rose up to complain about Stephen. Luke refers to them as “members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen“. Who exactly was Luke referring to? Were these Roman slaves that were now free? Were they Jews who believed in hedonism? Were they prisoners set free? Luke gives a little help to answering this question in the next sentence; “Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia“. These Freedmen were part of the North African and Western Asian Jewish diaspora. The people named by Luke are two different synagogues, as they are thousands of miles apart, yet they both contained Jewish Freedmen. The diasporic Freedmen existed in both synagogues, as they were the natural product of the diaspora.

Philo speaks of these Jews as former slaved brought into Rome who lived near the Tiber River.

How then did he look upon the great division of Rome which is on the other side of the river Tiber, which he was well aware was occupied and inhabited by the Jews? And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated; for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were manumitted by those who had bought them for slaves, without ever having been compelled to alter any of their hereditary or national observances. (156) Therefore, he knew that they had synagogues, and that they were in the habit of visiting them, and most especially on the sacred sabbath days, when they publicly cultivate their national philosophy. He knew also that they were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their first fruits and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices. (157) But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea…. (Philo, Legato ad Gaium 13:155-156)

These Jews were likely part of the Jewish expulsion from Rome that took place under Tiberius, in 19 CE. Tacitus describes them as being “tainted with superstition” which was a reference to their religion. They were expelled to Sardinia.

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites. (Tacitus 2.85)

The Island of Sardinia was west of Italy, nowhere near near Northern Africa or Western Asia. So were the Freedmen of this island the same as the Freedmen that rose up against Stephen? It’s quite possible that Luke is referring to 3 groups of people, or that the Freedmen from Sardinia migrated after being expelled to the island. Some of the Jews were also later expelled from Rome who were partly made up of Freedmen. Where they ended up in the diaspora is hard to know except that it appears that some ended up in Northern Africa and South West Asia (Turkey).

But why would these Freedmen start a quarrel with Stephen? I think the answer is more obvious than it might first appear. They were already enslaved by Rome. They wanted no beef with the leaders that had set them free. The preaching of Jesus in any location near the Jewish Freedmen would have set off alarm bells, and aroused fear that another Roman crackdown was coming. So, they did what anyone would do in that situation; they took Stephen to the Sanhedrin for court.

However, Stephen uses his platform (despite it being in captivity) to preach the gospel (yet again) to the men in the Sanhedrin council. A gospel they surely are tired of hearing about.

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.

 

January 23, 2018

We Must Obey God

A year ago we paid our first visit to The Life Project written by Don Merritt who was at that time working his way through the Gospel of Luke. We caught up with him yesterday to find him in the Acts of the Apostles. If you’re looking for more in your Bible study time, this would be a great journey to join. They’re still in early chapters so you can catch up. Click the title below to read this one at source. (With yesterday’s cliff-hanger ending, you might want to go back again today!)

The Apostles Before the Sanhedrin

When Peter and John had first appeared before the Sanhedrin (4:1-22), they were not guilty of any particular offense against the Jewish leadership, but this time they were guilty of continuing to preach Christ after they had been ordered to cease and desist. In addition, there was the matter of their little escape from custody; surely the Twelve had cause for concern, and ample reason to be very careful about what they said.

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (5:27-28)

So, here is the scene: They have been brought forward to be questioned by the high priest in front of the full leadership, only the high priest has no questions for them; look at what he said, there was no question asked at all. Any lawyer would tell the apostles to remain silent at this point.

The high priest, rather than ask a question, has made accusation without asking a question which I would suggest is a rather ominous sign that he has already made up his mind about what happens next. In fact, his accusation that the apostles have acted in disobedience to his previous command is accurate, for they have most assuredly disobeyed his order to cease and desist. Of course, there is a rather humorous note to all of this when he accuses the apostles of being “determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” which of course everyone in the room knows that they are guilty of.

If you were in the apostles’ sandals, what would you do at this point?

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (5:29-32)

Well, “in for a penny, in for a pound” as the saying goes; Peter and the others fire a full broadside at their attackers, who by the way are also their judges. That they must obey God and not humans is about the equivalent of telling the court that it lacks competent jurisdiction to judge them, not usually a wise assertion for a defendant to make. Then, they make their assertion that the Jewish leaders were in fact guilty of Jesus’ blood, which in this instance would be essentially a guilty plea considering what they’ve been accused of. Finally, they claim that Jesus sits at the right hand of Almighty God and is ready to forgive the Jewish leaders of their sins if they will only repent of their misdeeds.

At this point, we must remember who these leaders are; they consider themselves the most righteous and holy of all Creation, they keep the Law of God best of all, just ask them. Forgiveness − they don’t need forgiveness; they keep the Law.

At this point, we must come to grips with the real facts of the matter, which are that the apostles have only just begun to carry out their Commission from our Lord, and that Commission is God’s eternal purpose to build up a Body of believers on the earth. As long as the apostles still have work to do on the earth, no human authority is going to stop them.

Yet if we look upon this scene from an earthly perspective, the apostles are doomed:

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. (5:33)

It was now time for God to make His next move…

January 22, 2018

And They’ll Know We Are Christians…Or Will They?

Many times here we’ve included the work of J. Lee Grady at Charisma Blogs; this time we want to introduce you to Bert M. Farias, revivalist and founder of Holy Fire Ministries, author of several books with an emphasis on helping to restore the true spirit of Christianity in the Church today. Click the title below to read this at source.

Why Is It Difficult to Tell the Difference Between a Christian and Non-Christian?

This is God’s heart for His people:

“O that there were such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deut. 5:29).

“He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is His treasure” (Isa. 33:6).

A heart to truly obey Him is what the Lord has always looked for in His people. This heart is cultivated through our love for the Lord and holy fear. This fear is birthed in God’s people primarily through a knowledge of His judgments. Notice in the early days of the church, the effect the judgment that fell on Ananias and Sapphira had on the people.

“In hearing these words, Ananias fell down and died. And great fear came on all those who heard these things” (Acts 5:5).

“At once she fell down at his feet and died. Upon entering, the young men found her dead and carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear came on the entire church and on all those who heard these things. Many signs and wonders were performed among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Porch. No one else dared join them, but the people respected them. Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, crowds of both men and women” (Acts 5:10-14).

We often forget these portions of Scripture and how this component of the fear of the Lord greatly impacted and contributed to the glory, power and growth of the early church: “NO one else dared join them (the disciples), but the people respected them” (Acts 5:13).

The Message Bible says it this way: “But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both.”

Polarization: One Effect of God’s Judgments and the Fear of the Lord 

The judgment that fell on Ananias and Sapphira caused sinners to be leery of joining themselves to the apostles and the church while at the same time gaining public respect and influence. This divided or polarized those who were not interested in genuine repentance and living whole-heartedly for the Lord from the multitudes that were being genuinely converted and being added to the church. The dividing line was very distinct. In many places today, it is difficult to tell the difference between the Christian and non-Christian, but not in the early church. God wants to restore this polarization in the church today.

The great fear that came on the entire church and those who heard of these events is a necessary component for the overall health of the church, and it is also a precursor to actual revival and spiritual awakening in the nations. What many Christians don’t understand is that these kinds of judgments in the church are a manifestation of God’s mercy to the masses, because when the church is judged and cleansed that is when we have the greatest impact on the world. Conversely, when there is lack of judgment in the church, it means a widespread judgment to the masses and mercy reserved for only a small righteous remnant.

Imagine the impact of this judgment, not only upon that present early apostolic generation but upon their children and grandchildren and the ensuing generations who witnessed these things and/or heard them. When Ananias’ and Sapphira’s dead bodies were carried out by the young men, it was a dreadful object lesson of the fear of the Lord to future generations. I’m sure this event was voiced abroad for years to come. This was, in fact, a judgment against counterfeit Christianity that greatly impacted the church and the world. As I said, it was an act of mercy to the world in preserving the mighty influence, glory and power of the church from moral compromise and tainted motives enveloped in personal selfish ambition through Ananias and Sapphira. It was important to preserve the purity of the church in the early days of its conception since it was located only in Jerusalem at that time.

Notice the ultimate result that the fear of the Lord had on the early church. The church had rest and peace, was strengthened and encouraged, and also grew numerically.

“Then the churches throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and were built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, MEV).

Can you see how as the polarization in the early church increased, so did the power and impact increase simultaneously? One of the definitions of polarization is a division into two opposites. Polarization happens when people are divided into contesting groups. Polarization is a concept that comes from science, and it involves light, radiation or magnetism moving in specific directions. Outside of this scientific concept, polarization usually refers to how people think, especially when two views emerge that drive people apart, kind of like two opposing magnets. As an example, when Democrats and Republicans fight, it can cause polarization. A Civil War is also a serious form of polarization. Polarization involves people moving in two directions—becoming almost as separate as the North and South Pole.

In this postmodern day of church growth, which tends to focus more on peripheral and demographic elements, these verses show us the importance of the inward character and holiness of believers and how it relates to both spiritual and numerical growth.

When we fail to include the judgments of God and the fear of the Lord in our doctrine, lifestyle and teaching, we are building with flimsy materials of wood, hay and stubble that will not stand up under the trials, pressures and hardships of life (1 Cor. 3:12-15). The fear of the Lord, which is nurtured through the eternal judgments of God, is a great contributor and foundational to a healthy growing church.

June 24, 2017

Paul as Mediator

This year instead of simply paying a return visit to Bible Study Magazine, I decided to look into the website more clearly. This is actually print magazine to which you can subscribe, and seems to feature a number of name-recognizable writers. This article is by Michael F. Bird, author of Jesus the Eternal Son, What Christians Ought to Believe and Jesus is the Christ. Click the title to read it at source, and then look around; we had a hard time choosing among several great items.

Paul the Pastoral Mediator

The challenges that faced the church in Rome would be staggering for any leader to deal with—deep ethnic and legal battles were threatening to split the community. Paul addressed these issues in a letter—to a church he had never visited.

Paul had been through vitriolic debates before in Antioch, Galatia and Corinth, and he didn’t want the Roman churches to experience the same conflict. He needed to show them that, despite their different convictions, they could still accept one another and serve God together.

Romans 14 and 15 are often treated like an after-dinner mint to a theological feast. But these chapters are the pastoral climax of Paul’s letter. Here, we find Paul’s picture of the church becoming a reality.

Several issues fed the conflict in Rome. Originally, the gospel had come to Rome, independently of Paul, through Jewish Christians. An influx of Gentiles (non-Jews) into the church had resulted in tensions over issues like vegetarianism (because meat could be tainted with pagan religion), wine consumption (because of its use in drink offerings to Roman gods), and observance of special days (like the Sabbath).

Paul identifies the “weak” and “strong” in this conflict. While it’s easy to assume that the weak were exclusively Jewish Christians and the “strong” were exclusively Gentiles, Paul (a Jewish Christian) numbers himself among the strong (Rom 14:14). Also, some Gentile converts to Judaism may have had conservative views on Law observance.

But however the lines were drawn, they were drawn. Those who were weak in the congregation were easily offended by those who were strong. The strong looked down on the weak.

Paul addresses this internal conflict by differentiating between areas of conviction and areas of command. Paul encouraged the Romans to allow flexibility and withhold judgment in matters where the gospel was not threatened: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (14:2–3).

While Paul allows freedom for matters that are “indifferent,” he says that each person should judge their own convictions: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5).

He also encourages the strong to exercise convictions in wisdom. They still had the responsibility of not causing the weak to stumble in their faith: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (14:15).

Ultimately, Paul wanted those who disagreed to mutually affirm each other: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” (14:19). The basis of this was their status as fellow servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul points them to Him as the ultimate example of how we should act and why we should accept others: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (15:7). God is glorified when we accept each other as Christ accepts us—despite our differences.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

June 15, 2017

Investigating Jesus. A Lie?

I Cor 15:3 (NRSV) For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

by Clarke Dixon

Today we conclude our [weekly] series “Investigating Jesus” following the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold-Case Christianity. On this journey of we have considered

There is one more thing to look at which we have not addressed in depth yet. Though we can demonstrate that what was passed on by the early Christians was legitimately from the eyewitnesses of Jesus, what if they themselves were lying in the first place? What if the disciples stole the body, which would account for the empty tomb, and then made up the story about Jesus being raised from the dead? How do we know the disciples were not lying about Jesus’ resurrection?

J. Warner Wallace has experience with conspiracies which will help us answer this question. As usual, we are only scratching the surface here and I encourage you to read chapter 7 of Cold-Case Christianity. Wallace lists several characterizations of conspiracies:

  1. A conspiracy requires a small number of conspirators. The fewer conspirators there are, the easier it is to pull off a lie.
  2. A conspiracy requires great communication between the conspirators so that it is not broken up. This is why the police like to isolate people quickly.
  3. A conspiracy requires a short time span. To quote from Cold-Case Christianity: “The ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime.”
  4. A conspiracy requires close friendships or “significant relational connections” so that one does not give the rest up.
  5. A conspiracy requires low pressure, because people will always tend to throw others under the bus to save their own bacon.

Do the disciples make good conspirators?

  1. There were too many of them. The eleven closest disciples are already too many. However, there were far more and according to Acts 1:15 there were 120 eyewitnesses all gathered together in one place following the resurrection. Additionally, Paul speaks in 1st Corinthians 15:6 of 500 eyewitnesses, “most of whom are still living”, (1 Corinthians 15:6 NIV).
  2. There was not the opportunity for great communication. The disciples eventually became scattered due to persecution and a drive to evangelize. Remember, this was the days of snail mail and “sail” mail. 
  3. The disciples kept to the story for the long haul, living out their lives dedicated to telling the “good news”.
  4. Some of the eleven close disciples did not know each other before Jesus called them to follow him. The 120 and the 500 mentioned earlier would undoubtedly have included many strangers.
  5. The disciples were persecuted and most of the “big names” were known to be martyred. You might point out here that people are willing to blow themselves up for the sake of religion, and so the martyrdom of the disciples does not necessarily point to the truth of what they were claiming. However, that is a very different thing. Modern day martyrs are not trying to knowingly keep a lie, but die for what they think is true. If the disciples were lying about the resurrection, then they would be dying for a lie. To quote Wallace: “While it’s reasonable to believe that you and I might die for what we mistakingly thought was true, it’s unreasonable to believe that these men died for what they definitely knew to be untrue.” Further, “None of these eyewitnesses ever recanted, none was ever trotted out by the enemies of Christianity in an effort to expose the Christian ‘lie’.”

We can also add that a conspiracy requires a desire to deceive. Why would the disciples want to be anything other than good Jews? They were waiting for the Messiah. If Jesus turned out to not be the Messiah, which would be the logical conclusion if the Romans killed him off, they would not turn him into one, they would go back to waiting for the real Messiah to show up. Something happened that convinced them that Jesus was and still is the real Messiah. They were so convinced they were willing to die for their conviction. What was that something?

Let us remember the “minimal facts” that are broadly agreed upon:

  • Jesus died on a cross and was buried.
  • Jesus’ tomb was found empty and no one ever produced His body.
  • Jesus’ disciples said they saw and interacted with Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Jesus’ disciples were so committed to their testimony that they were willing to die for it and they never changed their story.

What is the best explanation of that evidence? Keep in mind the things we have learned from Wallace; Jesus really died on the cross, the disciples did not hallucinate or imagine the resurrection,  the story of the resurrection went back to the disciples and was not a fabrication by later Christians, the disciples were not conspiring together and lying about the resurrection. So what accounts for all the evidence? The best explanation of the evidence is also the key reason the disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah even though he was killed; He rose from the dead.

One More thing we learn from Wallace as we conclude this series. It is important to go “from belief that to belief in.” Christianity is not just a belief that Jesus rose from the dead, it is a belief in the fact that Jesus is Lord and Saviour as demonstrated in his rising from the dead. It goes beyond a changed opinion on one thing, Jesus’ resurection, to a changed perspective on everything. It goes beyond an intellectual assessment of the facts, to an emotional engagement with the One who is the Truth. It goes beyond a belief that God exists, to a knowledge that God loves and loves you. It goes beyond knowing in your head that Jesus is alive, to knowing in your heart that you need God’s grace. J. Warner Wallace as an atheist followed the evidence as one who knows how to follow the evidence. It changed his life. Will it change yours?

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.

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

During the week of March 13th, Andy Elmes from the UK Ministry Great Big Life ran a series of five devotionals that he called “Characteristics of a Blueprint Church.” Space doesn’t permit us to run all five here, but I wanted to include some highlights from each day. See the bottom of today’s piece for information on how you can get material like this in your inbox each weekday.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

Acts 2:41-43, NIV
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

They devoted themselves

Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

So much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Apostles Doctrine

…The Dictionary says that Doctrine is, “Teaching, instruction, the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Basically, the Apostles’ doctrine was the teaching of the first Church Leaders (apostles). The foundational teaching for the new testament church was based on their teaching, especially Paul’s. Their teaching formed the “branch of belief” for what we still believe, live by and hold to as true today in regard to everything including God, His Church and how we are to live.

I suppose the challenge today is, do we teach and personally live by the truths found in the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching)? Does it still form the margins of what we believe today to be truth or do we attempt to mix it with other doctrines (teachings)? Notice that it does not say they devoted themselves to the doctrine of Moses or the doctrine of religion; no, it clearly says they devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles (leaders of the early church).

The doctrine of Moses was not wrong for its time or dispensation, but as Paul stood up to preach daily everything had indeed changed. Christ had now died for the sins of the world, the old covenant was no longer effective or relevant because a new covenant had been established and had replaced it – a covenant (agreement) cut with the very blood of God’s only Son, not of bulls and goats that could only provide a mere covering for sin that would last a moment. Full punishment for sin had now been placed on Christ as He hung on the cross as our substitute; full forgiveness had now been given and God’s wrath towards us settled because of His one-time redemptive work. So much had now changed. It wasn’t that Paul could not or did not refer to Moses, the law or the previous covenant, but now what he taught, and the doctrine he was establishing, was based on the grace of God and the perfect finished work of the cross, and nothing else. The doctrine he now preached and established would leave a person redeemed and free outside of their own performance or merit; it would give the offer of a new beginning to all who would believe based on faith not works; it would reveal God’s eternal plan to get His life inside the life of the believer, to empower a person to overcome and live the new life they had been freely given…

…[A]re you living and building by the Apostles’ teaching or are you trying to add a bit of Moses, or maybe a bit of law, maybe a dash of your reasoning?

…When I started to think about “the Apostles Doctrine” I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was, to make sure I was not guilty of mixing covenants in a wrong way, or of believing partial or diluted truth. I studied a bit deeper than normal and found out what the epicenter of the Apostles Doctrine was. I was not surprised but certainly encouraged as I discovered the Apostles Doctrine orbited and found its strength in a couple of basic truths or realities. Firstly the finished redemptive work of Christ and secondly the reality of the new creation.

Think about that: everything that Paul taught and established was based and rooted in the simple yet profound truth that when anyone believes in Jesus as Saviour they become a “new creation” – they are born again, and it is as if they had never lived before or ever sinned in the sight of God.

One of Paul’s foundational truths for all he taught in regard to this reality was of course this one found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. The NIV translation puts it like this: “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. Paul had a deep set revelation that the new creation was God’s master plan – not a patch up job of the old man, behaviour modification or a rust maintenance program, rather a brand new beginning for a person based on God’s unfailing grace.

The truth is when a person believes in Christ they identify with His death, burial and resurrection and come in by faith to a brand new existence based on Christ alone (Romans 6:3-6). As God’s word says in Romans 6, the old man is crucified with Christ and, as Paul said so well, our only boast is in the cross where we were separated from the world and who we were to be who God has called us to be (Galatians 6:14). As you read on in that verse you actually see Paul defy or replace the doctrine of Moses with this new creation reality.

Galatians 6:15, NIV
Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

…Are you attending meetings or doing life with the church?

We have been looking at what the first church devoted themselves to. We saw that the Apostles’ teaching was a very high priority and that each person who called that first church home had a personal devotion to it. Next on the list comes the word fellowship, this was another high priority to them and needs to be to us. So what does it mean by fellowship? I love the way The Message translation puts this verse:

“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”

I love that statement and the image it creates: they devoted themselves to “the life together”. The early church put great emphasis on simply “doing life together”, they never defined their church experience as two hours on Sunday but rather committed to live more community-minded in their relationship with the Church…

Acts 2:42-44, AMP
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.

We have looked at how the original blueprint church devoted itself to doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (doing life together); next on the list comes the breaking of bread. Did this mean that they spent all day doing communion? I don’t think it did. I like the way that the Amplified version puts it: “to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper]”. Personally I think this fits well with the culture of Israel at that time and links well with previous value and priority of doing life together. Remember, when Jesus instituted the original communion, or breaking of bread as we know it today, where was He? In a synagogue? No, He was at a meal with His friends, hanging out with them, eating and breaking bread with them, then He takes the bread and wine and talked His friends through what has become a significant ordinance still in His Church today.

Is God saying in this verse that we are to devote ourselves to the act or ordinance of communion? That we are to do it all day and everyday? Or, like the Amplified version says, that we are to be taking time to eat and fellowship together and, in the midst of that ongoing fellowship, we are to make time to take bread and wine to specifically remember what He has done like He instructed us to do). This feels more natural and ‘lifestyle’ to me than just making the bread and wine something we do in certain meetings we hold together?

Again, I don’t think it is an issue of “either, or”, rather “both”. I think we should still have significant Bread and Wine (communion) times together when we meet corporately, but also as we build the community side of the church. As we meet together not just to pray but to fellowship and eat, in the midst of us doing that we take time to give thanks and remember what He did for us when He gave His Body (represented by the bread) and shed His Blood (represented by the wine or grape juice)…


I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click the link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

 

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