Christianity 201

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.

 

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

September 13, 2016

What is Meant by Binding and Loosing

NIV Matthew 18:18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

binding-and-loosingThere are many variances on the meaning of this particular verse, as outlined below.

Barnes Notes:

He employs them here to signify that they all had the same power; that in ordering the affairs of the church he did not intend to give Peter any supremacy or any exclusive right to regulate it. The meaning of this verse is, whatever you shall do in the discipline of the church shall be approved by God or bound in heaven. This promise, therefore, cannot be understood as extending to all Christians or ministers, for all others but the apostles may err.

Equip.org:

[no quotation available; commentary focuses on what it does not mean — binding demons — but does not provide a clear explanation]

Pulpit Commentary:

The Lord solemnly confers the grant made to Peter (Matthew 16:19) on the whole apostolate. The binding and loosing, in a restricted sense, and in logical connection with what precedes, refer to the confirmation and authorization of the sentence of the Ecclesia, which is not valid, so to speak, in the heavenly court till endorsed by Christ’s representatives – the apostles. Whether the verdict was the excommunication of the offender (“bind”) or his pardon and restoration (“loose”), the ratification of the apostles was required, and would be made good in heaven. The treatment of the incestuous Christian by St. Paul is a practical comment on this passage. The congregation decides on the man’s guilt, but St. Paul “binds” him, retains his sins, and delivers him to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:1-5); and when on his repentance he is forgiven, it is the apostle who “looses” him, acting as the representative of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:10). In a general sense, the judicial and disciplinary powers of the Christian priesthood have been founded on this passage, which from early times has been used in the service of ordination. Each body of Christians has its own way of interpreting the promise. While some opine that, speaking in Christ’s name and with his authority, the priest can pronounce or withhold pardon; others believe that external discipline is all that is intended; others again think that the terms are satisfied by the ministration of the Word and sacraments, as a physician gives health by prescribing remedies.

GreatBibleStudy.com

Binding is like a temporary spiritual handcuffing. You can bind a demon spirit, much like tying something up with rope or chains. You cannot bind a person’s free will, but you can bind the demons affecting or influencing that person. Binding is NOT the same practice as casting out demons, casting out demons brings fourth lasting results, whereas binding is only to tie them down for a period of time. If you are trying to talk to or minister to somebody, and they seem impossible to get through to it can be helpful to bind up the spirits inside that person, which will handcuff the enemy so you can directly and effectively minister to that person without having them continually held back by the enemy’s interference. Another good time to bind is when the person isn’t ready for a deliverance and you are not willing to put up with their demonic personality.  (emphasis in original)

Loosing, like binding, can be done here on earth, and takes effect in the spiritual realm. Loosing however, refers to the loosing of a captive or person in bondage. You bind demons, and you loose the captives. When Jesus set free the woman with the issue of blood, He said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)

GotQuestions.org

Jesus is speaking directly to the apostle Peter and indirectly to the other apostles. Jesus’ words meant that Peter would have the right to enter the kingdom himself, that he would have general authority symbolized by the possession of the keys, and that preaching the gospel would be the means of opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers and shutting it against unbelievers. The book of Acts shows us this process at work. By his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40), Peter opened the door of the kingdom for the first time. The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common to Jewish legal phraseology meaning to declare something forbidden or to declare it allowed.

Peter and the other disciples were to continue Christ’s work on earth in preaching the gospel and declaring God’s will to men, and they were armed with the same authority as He possessed. In Matthew 18:18, there is also a definite reference to the binding and loosing in the context of church discipline. The apostles do not usurp Christ’s lordship and authority over individual believers and their eternal destiny, but they do exercise the authority to discipline and, if necessary, excommunicate disobedient church members.

Christ in heaven ratifies what is done in His name and in obedience to His Word on earth.

IVP New Testament Commentary

Bind and loose refer to the judicial authority of gathered Christians to decide cases on the basis of God’s law. Most scholars thus recognize that this passage applies to church discipline (Cullmann 1953:204-5; R. Fuller 1971:141). The more popular use of “binding” today in many circles (exercising authority over the devil) resembles instead an ancient practice in the magical papyri-also called “binding” (see note on 12:29)-of manipulating demons to carry out a magician’s will. (The Bible does support Christians’ authority to cast out real demons-compare comment on 17:17-but the only “devils” in this passage are fully human ones, and they are being cast out of the church!)

Not found

One version I did not find online was that this passage is referring to the yoke of a rabbi, and refers to whatever you forbid and whatever you permit. That’s possibly closer to the context than you might at first realize, but it has a completely different nuance.

Translation comparison

A look at various translations however is more supportive of what you just saw in the preceding paragraph. The Amplified Bible has, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth shall have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth shall have [already] been loosed in heaven.” This meaning may appear to be ‘bound’ (for lack of a better word) to what is first established in heaven (by the inclusion of the word already.)

The HCSB also is unique in its time-frame with the phrases “is already bound in heaven,” and “…is already loosed in heaven;” as opposed to the more broadly used “will be.”

The ICB renders this as “I tell you the truth. The things you don’t allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. The things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows.”

The Message Bible is very different on this “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.”

Finally, Young’s Literal Translation expresses the verb-tense challenge, “Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Sometimes in our Bible study we have to accept that certain passages are challenging in terms of meaning. For many years, the KJV dominated the English Bible landscape, and often their word choices became set in stone as far as the meaning of the words goes.

But I don’t believe God intends us to be confused or bewildered. Don’t feel you need to buy into what a particular pastor says on this. Ask God to give you wisdom as you read, so that you might end up with an interpretation which you own. Dig into the whole chapter and see what God shows you.


Go Deeper: Today’s graphic image appears at a much longer article than anything we’ve linked to here and from a Pentecostal perspective. (Appropriate, since this verse is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics.)

Click to read the article Enrichment Journal of the Assemblies of God Church.

 

September 12, 2016

The Apostle Paul’s Two-Year Study Program

Someone peeking in the bookstore window!

Someone peeking in the bookstore window!

A few months ago, my wife was out for a walk near our oldest son’s house, and told me she noticed a Christian bookstore, Tyrannus Books. We returned several weeks later when the store was open and discovered it to be an Asian-languages store with a few English titles. Such is the diversity of Toronto, Canada.

I never asked them about the name. We tried to find it later and couldn’t remember it clearly. I kept wanting to call it Tyrannosaurus Books. But then last week I heard a radio preacher quote this passage:

Acts 19:8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

So we see that:

  • He begins publicly, in the synagogue
  • He then separates his core group for a more intensive discipleship process
  • It’s no crash course, the commitment is for two years (or more, see below)
  • The result is the evangelization of both Jews and Greeks across a wide area.

Also:

  • Some translations use preached and reasoned; while many use discussed (or discussions), disputed, debated, and argued. Paul was a master of rhetoric, but I like to think that discussions is best, as it describes an interactive format. This is something lost in many of our modern churches, although small groups fill the void.

The NIV Study Bible fills us in on the name

Probably a school used regularly by Tyrannus, a philosopher or rhetorician. Instruction was probably given in the cooler, morning hours [although] one Greek manuscript of this verse adds that Paul did his instructing from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. This would have been the hot time of the day, but the hall was available and people were not at their regular work.

The Reformation Study Bible adds that, “Nothing further is known about Tyrannus.”

This story takes place in Corinth. The NIV Study Bible also tells us:

Much longer than the three Sabbaths in Thessalonica (17:2), but the same approach: Jews first, then Greeks (see note on 13:14). kingdom of God. See notes on Mt 3:2; Lk 4:43.

Two years and three months (see v. 8) was the longest stay in one missionary location that Luke records. By Jewish reckoning, any part of a year is considered a year; so this period can be spoken of as three years… One of the elements of Paul’s missionary strategy is seen here. Many of the cities where Paul planted churches were strategic center that, when evangelized, served as  focal points from which the gospel radiated out to the surrounding areas…

The IVP Bible Commentary offers this, which leads into the more familiar verses which follow:

The Jews’ reaction—becoming obstinate (literally, “being hardened” or “hardening themselves”; compare Ex 8:15; 9:35; Ps 95:8; Acts 7:51) and refusing to believe (literally, “disobeying”; see comment at 14:2)—shows the negative effects of rejecting the gospel over a period of time. We cannot remain neutral; we are either softened toward or hardened against an oft-repeated message. Their rejection was expressed in a public maligning of Christianity (the Way). This may mean a formal rejection, since publicly translates a phrase that literally means “before the assembly.” Paul’s withdrawal is also described in semiformal terms. He took the disciples may present a type of self-excommunication (aphorizo; Lk 6:22).

As always, Paul’s withdrawal leads to further advance, for he now reasons daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (either the teacher or the proprietor)…This gives us a picture of a tireless apostle and an eager audience. Each is willing to give up the normal time of rest in order to speak and hear of the kingdom.

Only where there is such commitment to teach and such hunger to receive the word of the Lord will there be advances like that portrayed in the next verse. [11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…]


Read the full chapter at Bible Gateway

 

July 16, 2016

The Faith Among You

EphesusToday we pay another visit to Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog. This time as we catch up with him, he is working his way through Ephesians; there are a large number of articles which precede this one, and no doubt several to follow in this particular series. Click the title below to read at source and then navigate the site to read more commentary. (We had a hard time choosing which one to feature today.)

Ephesians 1:15

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, Ephesians 1:15

Paul’s wording here is very close to the wording of Colossians 1:4. It is known that Paul had visited Ephesus and that he had not visited Colossae. For this reason, some look at this letter as not being written exclusively to the saints at Ephesus. However, he uses similar terminology in Philemon 1:5 also, and so the address solely to the Ephesians is not necessarily to be considered a later addition, nor is this a reason to dismiss this letter as a forgery.

“Therefore” is based on verse 13 which concerns their having “heard the word of truth” and then “having believed.” Based on this, they were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Because of these things, he says, “I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…” He will state in the next verse what the result of these things are. For now, it is sufficient to concentrate on the words at hand.

“After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus” are the words scholars lean on to state that the address “to the saints who are in Ephesus” is a later addition. As Paul had been there and personally seen the faith of those in Ephesus, the logic is that there would be no point in stating this. But as was seen above, he uses the same terminology in Philemon. Instead, this is speaking of their faith which obviously continued to grow, both in number and in maturity. Paul had not been to Ephesus for some time. When hearing of their status, his words of elation make complete sense.

The words translated here as “your faith” are literally, “the faith among you.” It is the only time he uses this phase, and it therefore lends credence to the thought that this letter was actually addressed to the Ephesians. As he has been gone, and as “the faith among” them had expanded, it is natural to think that he would have heard of it after it occurred. He is pleased to have learned of the state of the Ephesian church.

The words, “in the Lord Jesus” do not give the same idea as “towards the Lord Jesus.” Faith towards Jesus is centered on Jesus; whereas, faith “in the Lord Jesus” embodies much more. It signifies a faith which acknowledges God’s work, in Christ, and thus it is a faith which includes the plan of God the Father as well as the work of the Spirit. Each of these have already been noted in his opening words (e.g. see verses 3 & 13).

Paul is especially elated to hear of both this faith as well as their “love for all the saints.” This is an evidence of their faith in Christ. It is the expression of that faith being worked out among those who are also “in Christ.” It is the mutual respect that all believers should have, but which is sorely lacking among the redeemed in today’s world. Doctrinal differences lead to immense divides in the church. Among the Ephesians, such problems may have existed, but their love remained strong towards all believers. It was, therefore, of exceptional note.

Life application: With the Bible written, we have our source of doctrine for proper Christian conduct and belief. Because of this, divisions within the faith are certainly more pronounced. When a congregation practices something which clearly violates Scripture, it is rather hard to continue to show them fraternal love. They are demonstrating disregard for the word, and thus for God who gave the word. It will be good when Christ returns and sorts out our many differences, both petty and great.

Lord God, You ask us to demonstrate love towards all, especially those who are of the household of faith. But it sure can be hard when they refuse to heed Your word. It can be even more difficult when their doctrine isn’t in accord with Your word. Such willful disobedience to the precepts You have laid down shows a lack of care for You who gave that same word. It will be marvelous when You come back for us and sort us out. May that day be soon. Until then, give us hearts to love others, knowing that we too are not perfect in our faith and practice. Amen.

 

 

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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