Monday, November 30, 2009

Commercialism vs. Christianity

As I visit Christians around the world, I am amazed at the power and passion of Christians in other lands.

And I am constantly hit with the powerlessness and indiference of Christians in North America.

I think the answer is the wholesale acceptance of commercialism by the North American church. No where is that more evident than at Christmas time. Christians try to out do their neighbors in putting up lights, doing the Christmas tree, buying gifts. What does any of that have to do with Christ?

In today's passage there is a clash between Christianity and commercialism. It is severe, and intense. But at least both sides understand that there are irreconcilable differences...

21 -22 "After all this had come to a head, Paul decided it was time to move on to Macedonia and Achaia provinces, and from there to Jerusalem. "Then," he said, "I'm off to Rome. I've got to see Rome!" He sent two of his assistants, Timothy and Erastus, on to Macedonia and then stayed for a while and wrapped things up in Asia.

Here it comes. If Christianity is the right way, then there is no need for idols. What then, happens to all the idol makers?

23 -26 "But before he got away, a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as "the Way." A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, "Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you've seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we're doing by telling people that there's no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.
27 "Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!"
28 -31 "That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, "Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!" They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul's associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus."

It's Christians (followers of "The Way") vs the commercializers.

"Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn't let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: "By no means go near that mob!"
32 -34 "Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down:
"Great Artemis of the Ephesians!
Great Artemis of the Ephesians!"—on and on and on, for over two hours.
35 -37 "Finally, the town clerk got the mob quieted down and said, "Fellow citizens, is there anyone anywhere who doesn't know that our dear city Ephesus is protector of glorious Artemis and her sacred stone image that fell straight out of heaven? Since this is beyond contradiction, you had better get hold of yourselves. This is conduct unworthy of Artemis. These men you've dragged in here have done nothing to harm either our temple or our goddess.
38 -41"So if Demetrius and his guild of artisans have a complaint, they can take it to court and make all the accusations they want. If anything else is bothering you, bring it to the regularly scheduled town meeting and let it be settled there. There is no excuse for what's happened today. We're putting our city in serious danger. Rome, remember, does not look kindly on rioters." With that, he sent them home."

The difference between then and now?
Well, it was clear that there WAS a difference between the Christians and the commercializers...

Naked Exorcists on the Run

This is a dramatic and even funny passage. God's power had always been evident in His followers. It even got to where something that had touched Paul would then cause healing in people!

11 -12 "God did powerful things through Paul, things quite out of the ordinary. The word got around and people started taking pieces of clothing—handkerchiefs and scarves and the like—that had touched Paul's skin and then touching the sick with them. The touch did it—they were healed and whole."
o
Pretty weird! (And wonderful)
That kind of power and the attention and fame it got was irresistible...

13 -16 "Some itinerant Jewish exorcists who happened to be in town at the time tried their hand at what they assumed to be Paul's "game." They pronounced the name of the Master Jesus over victims of evil spirits, saying, "I command you by the Jesus preached by Paul!"
o
So were they legit? I would say not.
They were willing to use the second hand power of invoking Paul's name, thinking that would give them the power too.
It didn't work out so well.
o
This is one of the funniest passages in the Bible to me...
o
"The seven sons of a certain Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were trying to do this on a man when the evil spirit talked back: "I know Jesus and I've heard of Paul, but who are you?" Then the possessed man went berserk—jumped the exorcists, beat them up, and tore off their clothes. Naked and bloody, they got away as best they could."
o
I am very visual. I can see them running for their lives - going in all directions. Not only a botched exorcism, but the ultimate embarrassment. They are powerless, naked and on the run in public view!
o
This little incident hit the tabloids right away! First page stuff!!

17 -20 "It was soon news all over Ephesus among both Jews and Greeks. The realization spread that God was in and behind this. Curiosity about Paul developed into reverence for the Master Jesus."
o
Notice that it didn't lead to "Paul worship." He didn't start wearing $2000 suits and put up his family in $12,000 a night hotel suites...
No. It lead to "Jesus worship."
o
"Many of those who thus believed came out of the closet and made a clean break with their secret sorceries. All kinds of witches and warlocks came out of the woodwork with their books of spells and incantations and made a huge bonfire of them."
"Someone estimated their worth at fifty thousand silver coins. In such ways it became evident that the Word of the Master was now sovereign and prevailed in Ephesus."
o

God did dramatic things.

But the players gave God all the glory.
o
And corralled none of it for themselves.

Did you recieve the Holy Spirit?


It didn't seem like Paul could sit still.
Acts 19
1 -2 "Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there."
He is doing evangelism and discipleship. His first question seems odd...
"The first thing he said was, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?"
"We've never even heard of that—a Holy Spirit? God within us?"
These were simple, sincere believers.

3"How were you baptized, then?" asked Paul.
"In John's baptism."
4"That explains it," said Paul. "John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you've been baptized in John's baptism, you're ready now for the real thing, for Jesus."
5 -7And they were. As soon as they heard of it, they were baptized in the name of the Master Jesus."
So Paul's teaching was Jesus centered. But look what happens next...
"Paul put his hands on their heads and the Holy Spirit entered them. From that moment on, they were praising God in tongues and talking about God's actions. Altogether there were about twelve people there that day."
What a joyful event! They get Jesus. They get the Holy Spirit.
This was 2000 years before the tragic 100 year long split in the Evangelical Church between the Holy Spirit centered Christians and the Holy Spirit averse Christians. This passage is taught as theology by the one side, and a one time event by the other side. Regardless, it is here. And the folks rejoiced in their new found relationship with God.

8 -10 "Paul then went straight to the meeting place. He had the run of the place for three months, doing his best to make the things of the kingdom of God real and convincing to them. But then resistance began to form as some of them began spreading evil rumors through the congregation about the Christian way of life. So Paul left, taking the disciples with him, and set up shop in the school of Tyrannus, holding class there daily. He did this for two years, giving everyone in the province of Asia, Jews as well as Greeks, ample opportunity to hear the Message of the Master."
The big story is that folks continued to accept the Good News, whether they were Jew or Greek.
That is still the big story today...

a living, spirited dance


Here is how we are to live, to love, to work.
Not as an obligation.
But as a living, spirited dance...

1 Thessalonians 4
You're God-Taught
o
Live:
1 -3 "One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.
Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.
4 -5 "Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God."
o
Love:
6 -7 "Don't run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God's concerns, and he will take care of them. We've warned you about this before. God hasn't invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.
8 "If you disregard this advice, you're not offending your neighbors; you're rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit."
9 -10 "Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don't need me to tell you what to do. You're God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You're already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it."
o
Work:
11 -12 "Stay calm;
mind your own business;
do your own job.
You've heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts.
We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends."
o
Here is how we are to live,
to love,
to work.
Not a legalistic set of rules to follow.
But as a living, spirited dance...

Private Emails Published


On September 16, 2008, the private Yahoo! Mail account of Sarah Palin was hacked by a 4chan user. The hacker known as "Rubico" targeted Palin because he wanted to "derail her campaign."
o
After reading through Palin's emails Rubico wrote "There was nothing there, nothing incriminating — all I saw was personal stuff, some clerical stuff from when she was governor." Rubico wrote that he used the Sarah Palin Wikipedia article to find out Palin's birthday in "15 seconds", one of the standard security questions used by Yahoo!. The hacker posted the account's password on /b/, an image board on 4chan, and screenshots from within the account to Wikileaks.

John McCain's campaign condemned the incident saying it was a "shocking invasion of the governor's privacy and a violation of law".
o
The FBI and Secret Service began investigating the incident and on September 20, it was revealed that they were questioning David Kernell, a 20-year-old economics student at the University of Tennessee and the son of Democratic Tennessee State Representative Mike Kernell from Memphis.
o
Today we get to read one of Paul's private letters.
His were not published and then deleted and prosecuted as criminal behavior. No, his have become part of the best selling book of all time.
But they started out as private letters to some of his friends...
o
1 Thessalonians
"I, Paul, together here with Silas and Timothy, send greetings to the church at Thessalonica, Christians assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ. God's amazing grace be with you! God's robust peace!"
2 -5Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you're in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn't just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.
5 -6You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.
7 -10Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master's Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don't even have to say anything anymore—you're the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom."
o
I'm so glad THESE private letters got published!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Lawsuit


Things settle down for Paul.
He meets some great friends.
They let him stay with him.
He establishes his business.
Life is good...

Acts 18
Corinth
1 -4After Athens, Paul went to Corinth. That is where he discovered Aquila, a Jew born in Pontus, and his wife, Priscilla. They had just arrived from Italy, part of the general expulsion of Jews from Rome ordered by Claudius. Paul moved in with them, and they worked together at their common trade of tentmaking. But every Sabbath he was at the meeting place, doing his best to convince both Jews and Greeks about Jesus."

A couple of his friends come over to Corinth. Then he can devote all his time to preaching and teaching. Why? Did they take over the business? Doesn't say exactly...

5 -6When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was able to give all his time to preaching and teaching, doing everything he could to persuade the Jews that Jesus was in fact God's Messiah. But no such luck. All they did was argue contentiously and contradict him at every turn. Totally exasperated, Paul had finally had it with them and gave it up as a bad job. "Have it your way, then," he said. "You've made your bed; now lie in it. From now on I'm spending my time with the other nations."

Can you see that God is taking the Good News to all peoples?

7 -8 "He walked out and went to the home of Titius Justus, a God-fearing man who lived right next to the Jews' meeting place. But Paul's efforts with the Jews weren't a total loss, for Crispus, the meeting-place president, put his trust in the Master. His entire family believed with him.
8 -11 "In the course of listening to Paul, a great many Corinthians believed and were baptized. One night the Master spoke to Paul in a dream: "Keep it up, and don't let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I'm with you and no one is going to be able to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city." That was all he needed to stick it out. He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians.

A Lawsuit is Filed...

12 -13But when Gallio was governor of Achaia province, the Jews got up a campaign against Paul, hauled him into court, and filed charges: "This man is seducing people into acts of worship that are illegal."
14 -16Just as Paul was about to defend himself, Gallio interrupted and said to the Jews, "If this was a matter of criminal conduct, I would gladly hear you out."

The lawsuit is thrown out of court...

"But it sounds to me like one more Jewish squabble, another of your endless hairsplitting quarrels over religion. Take care of it on your own time. I can't be bothered with this nonsense," and he cleared them out of the courtroom."

So they beat up Sosthenes...

17Now the street rabble turned on Sosthenes, the new meeting-place president, and beat him up in plain sight of the court. Gallio didn't raise a finger. He could not have cared less."

And the Gospel continues to spread...

Examining the Scriptures

Paul is on the move again. He flees Thessalonica and goes to Berea.
There he got what I would consider the perfect reception.

10 -12 "That night, under cover of darkness, their friends got Paul and Silas out of town as fast as they could. They sent them to Berea, where they again met with the Jewish community. They were treated a lot better there than in Thessalonica. The Jews received Paul's message with enthusiasm and met with him daily, examining the Scriptures to see if they supported what he said. A lot of them became believers, including many Greeks who were prominent in the community, women and men of influence."

They were interested in the message. And they examined the Scriptures they had, to make sure they weren't being decieved. Many believed...
Oh Oh! Trouble again...

13 -15 "But it wasn't long before reports got back to the Thessalonian hardline Jews that Paul was at it again, preaching the Word of God, this time in Berea. They lost no time responding, and created a mob scene there, too. With the help of his friends, Paul gave them the slip—caught a boat and put out to sea. Silas and Timothy stayed behind. The men who helped Paul escape got him as far as Athens and left him there. Paul sent word back with them to Silas and Timothy: "Come as quickly as you can!"

Did someone say the Christian life is dull?

The Cost of Spreading Good News


November 24, 2009
XINJIANG--"Uyghur Christian house church leader Wusiman Yiming was officially released on Wednesday November 18, 2009 (Beijing Time). After serving two years in Laogai (labor) camp, he has been finally reunited with his wife and two young children. Because of his Christian leadership among the Uyghur people, Wusiman Yiming was sentenced to criminal detention "for the crime of divulging State secrets" by the State Security Bureau of Southern Xinjiang, Hetian City, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in September of 2007. He was then secretly sentenced in November, 2007, to two years of 're-education through labor' by the Re-education Labor Committee of Hetian City.
A source who spoke with brother Wusiman informed ChinaAid that brother Wusiman "looks fragile but has a very strong spirit." Wusiman reportedly asked ChinaAid to extend his heartfelt thanks to all those who have been providing care and help to his family members during the past two difficult years.

"We are very glad to hear this news of brother Wusiman's release, " said Bob Fu. "We call upon the Xinjiang government to stop religious persecution against these innocent Christians. We ask the Chinese central government authority to order the release of the other innocent Uyghur Christian brother, Alimujiang Yimiti, who has been illegally detained in the same case without a verdict for over two years already. The persecutors of these two individuals should be held accountable."

There is a cost of spreading the Good News. Even today...

It's ironic. Paul was just busted out of jail and he writes Galatians - about Freedom in Christ, and the New Way instead of the Old Way.

Today some others pay a price for promoting the Good News of Jesus Christ. As you read this think about what it would be like to be Jason, or a member of his family.

Acts 17
Thessalonica
1 -3 They took the road south through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, where there was a community of Jews. Paul went to their meeting place, as he usually did when he came to a town, and for three Sabbaths running he preached to them from the Scriptures. He opened up the texts so they understood what they'd been reading all their lives: that the Messiah absolutely had to be put to death and raised from the dead—there were no other options—and that "this Jesus I'm introducing you to is that Messiah."
4 -5Some of them were won over and joined ranks with Paul and Silas, among them a great many God-fearing Greeks and a considerable number of women from the aristocracy. But the hard-line Jews became furious over the conversions. Mad with jealousy, they rounded up a bunch of brawlers off the streets and soon had an ugly mob terrorizing the city as they hunted down Paul and Silas.
5 -7They broke into Jason's house, thinking that Paul and Silas were there. When they couldn't find them, they collared Jason and his friends instead and dragged them before the city fathers, yelling hysterically, "These people are out to destroy the world, and now they've shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear! And Jason is hiding them, these traitors and turncoats who say Jesus is king and Caesar is nothing!"
8 -9The city fathers and the crowd of people were totally alarmed by what they heard. They made Jason and his friends post heavy bail and let them go while they investigated the charges."
o
ps. - The picture is one I took of the Uyghur church in Khazakstan on a mission trip.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Self Way vs The God Way


Galatians 5
The Life of Freedom
1 Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.
2 -3I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ's hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. 4 -6I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love...
13 -15It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
16 -18My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
19 -21It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn't the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God's kingdom.
22 -23But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23 -24Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25 -26Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Freedom in Christ!


In my chronological reading, the book of Galatians is plopped into the story right here.

Interesting, in that Paul's theme in Galatians is freedom in Christ, and he just got out of jail!

He is fighting for the teaching that it is not adherance to rules that wins God's favor. Here is a snippet of his plea...

15 -16 "We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over "non-Jewish sinners." We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.
17 -18Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren't perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was "trying to be good," I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan."

How do you become a "good" Christian? Do you have to become GOOD to be a follower of Christ? How does it work? Christians seem to be really good people. If I don't measure up, can I ever become a Christian? Listen as Paul makes his case...

19 -21 "What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily."

He goes on.

We come as we are. He takes us as we come.

Then something happens to us. More on that later.

Our pastor says something shocking -
"No perfect people allowed!"

He says that in CHURCH, no less!

Rescuers are enslaved!

The reward for freeing the slave girl was rapid and violent.

Paul and Silas were beaten and put into jail. It was unjust. It was unfair. They had been beaten.

They responded by praying and singing loudly in their dungeon!!

25 -26 "Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn't believe their ears."

God responded too!

"Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

27 -28Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: "Don't do that! We're all still here! Nobody's run away!"

This is actually pretty funny. The latest prisoner is now in charge. The prison warden is trying to commit suicide. The inmate is telling him not to...

29 -31 "The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, "Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?"

The warden has seen a lot of prisoners. He wants what these two have.

"They said, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!"
32 -34They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn't wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration."

Now THAT is an amazing story! The jailer feeds and ministers to the prisoners. The prisoners keep the family up all night, telling them about the Scriptures, and Jesus. They all convert to Christianity and are baptized.

The funny part continues.

35 -36 "At daybreak, the court judges sent officers with the instructions, "Release these men." The jailer gave Paul the message, "The judges sent word that you're free to go on your way. Congratulations! Go in peace!"

Everything is fine. Jailer keeps his job, and his life. Prisoners are set free. They can go on their way. And what stories they can tell.
o
Oh Oh! Paul is feisty! He is not about to slink quietly away!!

37 "But Paul wouldn't budge. He told the officers, "They beat us up in public and threw us in jail, Roman citizens in good standing! And now they want to get us out of the way on the sly without anyone knowing? Nothing doing! If they want us out of here, let them come themselves and lead us out in broad daylight."
o
Did he just mention the "C" word?
The itinerant evangelist with the strage ideas is a ROMAN CITIZEN?

Why did no one check this out before he was beaten and jailed? This could end up being bad. Really bad...

38 -40 "When the officers reported this, the judges panicked. They had no idea that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. They hurried over and apologized, personally escorted them from the jail, and then asked them if they wouldn't please leave the city."

Now THAT would make a great movie!
o
"Walking out of the jail, Paul and Silas went straight to Lydia's house, saw their friends again, encouraged them in the faith, and only then went on their way. "

If your Christian life is boring, maybe you aren't hanging out with the likes of Paul...

Slavery!


The way to maximize your earning potential is to have people work for you for free. In fact it works best if they can be made to work hard, with no consideration, no pay ever, no benefits, and if a system can be created where they don't answer back, don't consider their own health or safety but just do what you say - that would indeed be great!

Its called slavery.
It's not so great for the slave.
o
I read a book a few years ago that so gripped me I bought 45 copies and gave it to family, friends, people at church - everyone! It brought me to tears many times. It has impacted my wife strongly, and our church as well. It is called "Terrify No More". It states that there are more slaves right now today than at any time in the history of the world! Wow!
o
Today we read about a slave girl, the money she was making for her handlers, and the punishment they meted out to those who would interfere with that money stream...

Step 1 - the slave
16 -18 "One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone's attention to us by yelling out, "These men are working for the Most High God. They're laying out the road of salvation for you!"

Step 2 - deliverance
"She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, "Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!" And it was gone, just like that."

The girl is now free! Delivered of this horrible demon that had her possessed for all those years. Good news...

Step 3 - the punishment
19 -22 "When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, "These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order." By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.
22 -24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas's clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them."

So there you go!
Slave is freed. The freedom fighters are beaten and put into jail.
End of story...

Well, there's actually more...

The Holy Spirit blocked that route...


What??

The Bible says clearly - "The Holy Spirit blocked that route."
What does that mean? Did they try to go and ran into an invisible wall? Did their planned transportation break down? Did the contacts they had lined up not show? Were they given strong and persistent internal guidance not to go?

I wish I knew...

Acts 16
A Dream Gave Paul His Map
1 -3Paul came first to Derbe, then Lystra. He found a disciple there by the name of Timothy, son of a devout Jewish mother and Greek father. Friends in Lystra and Iconium all said what a fine young man he was. Paul wanted to recruit him for their mission, but first took him aside and circumcised him so he wouldn't offend the Jews who lived in those parts. They all knew that his father was Greek.
4 -5As they traveled from town to town, they presented the simple guidelines the Jerusalem apostles and leaders had come up with. That turned out to be most helpful. Day after day the congregations became stronger in faith and larger in size.
6 -8They went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route."

So the route is blocked. How, we don't know. So they decided they must be supposed to go north instead...

"So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn't let them go there either."

Blocked again!

"Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas. "

So they head south. How their way was UNBLOCKED is just as intriguing!

9 -10 "That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans."

So there you have it. Europe got the Gospel because of a dream.
(Things you never knew before...)

11 -12 "Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.
13 -14On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!
15After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, "If you're confident that I'm in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests." We hesitated, but she wouldn't take no for an answer."

Was God doing overtime, or is this leading available to all of us all the time?

Conflict among missionaries


Conflict among missionaries?

No way! They are filled with the Holy Spirit! They have given their lives to promote God's kingdom and his character. THEY have conflict?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact they do. Conflict among missionaries is the single most common reason why a missionary returns to his native land. The reasons are many.

In today's story it is performance vs. grace...

36After a few days of this, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let's see how they're doing."
37 -41Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. But Paul wouldn't have him; he wasn't about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia."

Do you remember John Mark? Probably not. He was just casually mentioned as an add on to their first trip together. He quit long before the journey was over, and went back home.

Why did he quit? Was he immature? Was he not really called? It may be that the upper room was in his home where the disciples had the last supper. Does that mean he was rich and pampered? Were the rigors of travel too hard for him? Did he not get along with Paul? Paul was a hard head. Definately a "my way or the highway" kind of guy. Did he decide the highway it was, then?

Regardless, what to do about him became a serious contention between gentle Barnabas and fiery Paul.

"Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus; Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master, went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations. "

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

It is interesting to note that God used these men in spite of themselves. There ended up being two missionary teams instead of one.

It might give you odd comfort to know the great apostle Paul wasn't perfect.

Neither are you!

So let's drop all pretenses and be real with each other...

Change is Hard

We have attended the same church for the past 19 years.
In the 70s and 80s it was a dynamic church, very attuned to the culture and how to reach our area for Christ.

In the 90s it went through an 8 year transition.

Now it is a dynamic church again, attuned to the new millenia culture, with the direction, music, preaching style and methods of communication all in synch.

Both transitions were hard, with lots of complaining along the way.

In the early church there was also some hard changes.

Acts 15
To Let Outsiders Inside
1 -2 It wasn't long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: "If you're not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can't be saved."

This wasn't new. This was as old as Abraham himself. They didn't expect a reaction, they expected nods of affirmation.

"Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem."

So the battle of correct teaching was on...

3 "After they were sent off and on their way, they told everyone they met as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria about the breakthrough to the non-Jewish outsiders. Everyone who heard the news cheered—it was terrific news!
4 -5When they got to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were graciously received by the whole church, including the apostles and leaders. They reported on their recent journey and how God had used them to open things up to the outsiders. Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. "You have to circumcise the pagan converts," they said. "You must make them keep the Law of Moses."

This has gone on in the church ever since. What is true Christianity? What is the correct way to live? How do you best honor God?

6 -9The apostles and leaders called a special meeting to consider the matter. The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: "Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it—and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth. And God, who can't be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person's thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us. He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him.
10 -11"So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too? Don't we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?"

These are huge themes:
Who is included in God's plan for the world?
What does proper belief look like?
How do we win outsiders?
What are the rules we should live by?

12 -13 "There was dead silence. No one said a word. With the room quiet, Barnabas and Paul reported matter-of-factly on the miracles and wonders God had done among the other nations through their ministry. The silence deepened; you could hear a pin drop.
13 -18James broke the silence. "Friends, listen. Simeon has told us the story of how God at the very outset made sure that racial outsiders were included. This is in perfect agreement with the words of the prophets:
After this, I'm coming back;
I'll rebuild David's ruined house;
I'll put all the pieces together again;
I'll make it look like new
So outsiders who seek will find,
so they'll have a place to come to,
All the pagan peoples
included in what I'm doing.
"God said it and now he's doing it. It's no afterthought; he's always known he would do this.
19 -21"So here is my decision: We're not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master. We'll write them a letter and tell them, 'Be careful to not get involved in activities connected with idols, to guard the morality of sex and marriage, to not serve food offensive to Jewish Christians—blood, for instance.' This is basic wisdom from Moses, preached and honored for centuries now in city after city as we have met and kept the Sabbath."
22 -23Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas—they both carried considerable weight in the church—and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with this letter:
From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Hello! ...
30 -33And so off they went to Antioch. On arrival, they gathered the church and read the letter. The people were greatly relieved and pleased. Judas and Silas, good preachers both of them, strengthened their new friends with many words of courage and hope. Then it was time to go home. They were sent off by their new friends with laughter and embraces all around to report back to those who had sent them.
35Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren't alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch."

Change is hard!
God's purposes don't change even when his methods change constantly to adapt to new cultures and new times...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Worshipped! Then Wounded! By the same people...


Acts 14
1 -3 "When they got to Iconium they went, as they always did, to the meeting place of the Jews and gave their message. The Message convinced both Jews and non-Jews—and not just a few, either. But the unbelieving Jews worked up a whispering campaign against Paul and Barnabas, sowing mistrust and suspicion in the minds of the people in the street. The two apostles were there a long time, speaking freely, openly, and confidently as they presented the clear evidence of God's gifts, God corroborating their work with miracles and wonders.
4 -7But then there was a split in public opinion, some siding with the Jews, some with the apostles. One day, learning that both the Jews and non-Jews had been organized by their leaders to beat them up, they escaped as best they could to the next towns—Lyconia, Lystra, Derbe, and that neighborhood—but then were right back at it again, getting out the Message."
o
When is it right to flee like cowards, and when is it right to stand, bold and confident in God's power, strength and provision?
I think no one can judge. God gives wisdom to those involved, and grace to those looking on.

8 -10 "There was a man in Lystra who couldn't walk. He sat there, crippled since the day of his birth. He heard Paul talking, and Paul, looking him in the eye, saw that he was ripe for God's work, ready to believe. So he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Up on your feet!" The man was up in a flash—jumped up and walked around as if he'd been walking all his life.
11 -13When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they went wild, calling out in their Lyconian dialect, "The gods have come down! These men are gods!" They called Barnabas "Zeus" and Paul "Hermes" (since Paul did most of the speaking). The priest of the local Zeus shrine got up a parade—bulls and banners and people lined right up to the gates, ready for the ritual of sacrifice."
o
Oh the power of Divine healing! Now the missionaries are going to be crowned as gods-on-earth!

14 -15 "When Barnabas and Paul finally realized what was going on, they stopped them. Waving their arms, they interrupted the parade, calling out, "What do you think you're doing! We're not gods! We are men just like you, and we're here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God. We don't make God; he makes us, and all of this—sky, earth, sea, and everything in them.
16 -18"In the generations before us, God let all the different nations go their own way. But even then he didn't leave them without a clue, for he made a good creation, poured down rain and gave bumper crops. When your bellies were full and your hearts happy, there was evidence of good beyond your doing." Talking fast and hard like this, they prevented them from carrying out the sacrifice that would have honored them as gods—but just barely.
19 -20Then some Jews from Antioch and Iconium caught up with them and turned the fickle crowd against them."
o
Well. The glory was short lived. No wonder Jesus said he did not trust public opinion to be a barometer of God at work... Now they are beaten to within an inch of their life!
o
"They beat Paul unconscious, dragged him outside the town and left him for dead. But as the disciples gathered around him, he came to and got up. He went back into town and the next day left with Barnabas for Derbe. "

21 -22 After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn't be easy: "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times."
o
They retraced their steps. Did they not know the controversy between whether they should evangelize or disciple? Obviously not! They got busy and did both!!!

23 -26 "Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying— their prayers intensified by fasting—they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives. Working their way back through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia and preached in Perga. Finally, they made it to Attalia and caught a ship back to Antioch, where it had all started—launched by God's grace and now safely home by God's grace. A good piece of work."
o
They were heroes. And rightly so...

27 -28 "On arrival, they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God had used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in. Then they settled down for a long, leisurely visit with the disciples."

A Sermon from Paul


Today's passage is long.
An entire sermon from Paul is recorded (in synopsis form, I'm sure)
At first there was joy.
The city was electrified!
Then they were run out of town!

13 -14From Paphos, Paul and company put out to sea, sailing on to Perga in Pamphylia. That's where John called it quits and went back to Jerusalem. From Perga the rest of them traveled on to Antioch in Pisidia.
14 -15On the Sabbath they went to the meeting place and took their places. After the reading of the Scriptures—God's Law and the Prophets—the president of the meeting asked them, "Friends, do you have anything you want to say? A word of encouragement, perhaps?"
16 -20Paul stood up, paused and took a deep breath, then said, "Fellow Israelites and friends of God, listen. God took a special interest in our ancestors, pulled our people who were beaten down in Egyptian exile to their feet, and led them out of there in grand style. He took good care of them for nearly forty years in that godforsaken wilderness and then, having wiped out seven enemies who stood in the way, gave them the land of Canaan for their very own—a span in all of about 450 years.
20 -22"Up to the time of Samuel the prophet, God provided judges to lead them. But then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul, son of Kish, out of the tribe of Benjamin. After Saul had ruled forty years, God removed him from office and put King David in his place, with this commendation: 'I've searched the land and found this David, son of Jesse. He's a man whose heart beats to my heart, a man who will do what I tell him.'
23 -25"From out of David's descendants God produced a Savior for Israel, Jesus, exactly as he promised—but only after John had thoroughly alerted the people to his arrival by preparing them for a total life-change. As John was finishing up his work, he said, 'Did you think I was the One? No, I'm not the One. But the One you've been waiting for all these years is just around the corner, about to appear. And I'm about to disappear.'
26 -29"Dear brothers and sisters, children of Abraham, and friends of God, this message of salvation has been precisely targeted to you. The citizens and rulers in Jerusalem didn't recognize who he was and condemned him to death. They couldn't find a good reason, but demanded that Pilate execute him anyway. They did just what the prophets said they would do, but had no idea they were following to the letter the script of the prophets, even though those same prophets are read every Sabbath in their meeting places.
29 -31"After they had done everything the prophets said they would do, they took him down from the cross and buried him. And then God raised him from death. There is no disputing that—he appeared over and over again many times and places to those who had known him well in the Galilean years, and these same people continue to give witness that he is alive.
32 -35"And we're here today bringing you good news: the Message that what God promised the fathers has come true for the children—for us! He raised Jesus, exactly as described in the second Psalm: My Son! My very own Son! Today I celebrate you! "When he raised him from the dead, he did it for good—no going back to that rot and decay for him. That's why Isaiah said, 'I'll give to all of you David's guaranteed blessings.' So also the psalmist's prayer: 'You'll never let your Holy One see death's rot and decay.'
36 -39"David, of course, having completed the work God set out for him, has been in the grave, dust and ashes, a long time now. But the One God raised up—no dust and ashes for him! I want you to know, my very dear friends, that it is on account of this resurrected Jesus that the forgiveness of your sins can be promised. He accomplishes, in those who believe, everything that the Law of Moses could never make good on. But everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God.
40 -41"Don't take this lightly. You don't want the prophet's sermon to describe you: Watch out, cynics; Look hard—watch your world fall to pieces. I'm doing something right before your eyes That you won't believe, though it's staring you in the face."
42 -43When the service was over, Paul and Barnabas were invited back to preach again the next Sabbath. As the meeting broke up, a good many Jews and converts to Judaism went along with Paul and Barnabas, who urged them in long conversations to stick with what they'd started, this living in and by God's grace.
44 -45When the next Sabbath came around, practically the whole city showed up to hear the Word of God. Some of the Jews, seeing the crowds, went wild with jealousy and tore into Paul, contradicting everything he was saying, making an ugly scene.
46 -47But Paul and Barnabas didn't back down. Standing their ground they said, "It was required that God's Word be spoken first of all to you, the Jews. But seeing that you want no part of it—you've made it quite clear that you have no taste or inclination for eternal life—the door is open to all the outsiders. And we're on our way through it, following orders, doing what God commanded when he said,
I've set you up
as light to all nations.
You'll proclaim salvation
to the four winds and seven seas!"
48 -49When the non-Jewish outsiders heard this, they could hardly believe their good fortune. All who were marked out for real life put their trust in God—they honored God's Word by receiving that life. And this Message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region.
50 -52Some of the Jews convinced the most respected women and leading men of the town that their precious way of life was about to be destroyed. Alarmed, they turned on Paul and Barnabas and forced them to leave. Paul and Barnabas shrugged their shoulders and went on to the next town, Iconium, brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit, two happy disciples.

The Missionaries


I wanted to say "The First Missionaries"
But that would be so wrong.
God used persecution to send every believer out as an emmissary of the Gospel.
He is shortly going to use famine to unite and grow the believers.
(What a mixed up way to accomplish his purposes!)

But now there are three believers who are going out very purposefully, under the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

1 -2The congregation in Antioch was blessed with a number of prophet-preachers and teachers:
Barnabas,
Simon, nicknamed Niger,
Lucius the Cyrenian,
Manaen, an advisor to the ruler Herod,
Saul.
One day as they were worshiping God
—they were also fasting as they waited for guidance—
the Holy Spirit spoke:
"Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do."
3So they commissioned them. In that circle of intensity and obedience, of fasting and praying, they laid hands on their heads and sent them off."

This has been happening ever since.

The Holy Spirit calls. People respond. And the Gospel spreads around the world.

4 -5 "Sent off on their new assignment by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went down to Seleucia and caught a ship for Cyprus. The first thing they did when they put in at Salamis was preach God's Word in the Jewish meeting places. They had John along to help out as needed.
6 -7They traveled the length of the island"

Their goal? Spread the good news.

Their method? Speak to believing Jews, in the places and at the times they were used to gathering to celebrate and learn about God.

Soon they have a power encounter...

"at Paphos (they) came upon a Jewish wizard who had worked himself into the confidence of the governor, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man not easily taken in by charlatans. The wizard's name was Bar-Jesus. He was as crooked as a corkscrew.
7 -11The governor invited Barnabas and Saul in, wanting to hear God's Word firsthand from them. But Dr. Know-It-All (that's the wizard's name in plain English) stirred up a ruckus, trying to divert the governor from becoming a believer. But Saul (or Paul), full of the Holy Spirit and looking him straight in the eye, said, "You bag of wind, you parody of a devil—why, you stay up nights inventing schemes to cheat people out of God. But now you've come up against God himself, and your game is up. You're about to go blind—no sunlight for you for a good long stretch." He was plunged immediately into a shadowy mist and stumbled around, begging people to take his hand and show him the way."

The governor already had an ear for spiritual things.

12"When the governor saw what happened, he became a believer, full of enthusiasm over what they were saying about the Master. "

Thus ends the first formal missionary visit.

But there were many before.
And there will be many more to come...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Herod vs God. Which one wins???

The Gospel was opposed by the religious heirarchy.
It was opposed by religious zealots.
It was coopted by people trying to make money off of it.
Now it is opposed by the government.

Acts 12
1 -4 "That's when King Herod got it into his head to go after some of the church members. He murdered James, John's brother. When he saw how much it raised his popularity ratings with the Jews, he arrested Peter—all this during Passover Week, mind you—and had him thrown in jail, putting four squads of four soldiers each to guard him. He was planning a public lynching after Passover.
5All the time that Peter was under heavy guard in the jailhouse, the church prayed for him most strenuously.
6Then the time came for Herod to bring him out for the kill. That night, even though shackled to two soldiers, one on either side, Peter slept like a baby. And there were guards at the door keeping their eyes on the place. Herod was taking no chances!
7 -9Suddenly there was an angel at his side and light flooding the room. The angel shook Peter and got him up: "Hurry!" The handcuffs fell off his wrists. The angel said, "Get dressed. Put on your shoes." Peter did it. Then, "Grab your coat and let's get out of here." Peter followed him, but didn't believe it was really an angel—he thought he was dreaming.
10 -11Past the first guard and then the second, they came to the iron gate that led into the city. It swung open before them on its own, and they were out on the street, free as the breeze. At the first intersection the angel left him, going his own way. That's when Peter realized it was no dream. "I can't believe it—this really happened! The Master sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's vicious little production and the spectacle the Jewish mob was looking forward to."

Peter is entirely trusting in God. If he lives he lives. If he dies he dies. He wasn't losing sleep over the outcome.

This pleasant dream he was having was nice. Nice indeed.

But suddenly the angel is gone - the cold chill of the night air is real - and he is standing, alone, in a Jerusalem street in the middle of the night!

12 -14 "Still shaking his head, amazed, he went to Mary's house, the Mary who was John Mark's mother. The house was packed with praying friends."

OK. I have to set this up for you. It is one of the funniest stories in the Bible. Mary's house is the scene of an all night prayer meeting. This is the middle of the night, and the whole group is praying, fervently, for the release of Peter from jail.

"When he knocked on the door to the courtyard, a young woman named Rhoda came to see who it was. But when she recognized his voice—Peter's voice!—she was so excited and eager to tell everyone Peter was there that she forgot to open the door and left him standing in the street.
15 -16But they wouldn't believe her, dismissing her, dismissing her report. "You're crazy," they said. She stuck by her story, insisting. They still wouldn't believe her and said, "It must be his angel." All this time poor Peter was standing out in the street, knocking away.
16 -17Finally they opened up and saw him—and went wild! Peter put his hands up and calmed them down. He described how the Master had gotten him out of jail, then said, "Tell James and the brothers what's happened." He left them and went off to another place."

Doesn't that strike you as funny? They are praying for his release. He is knocking on the door of the house. Young Rhoda is so excited she won't let him in. And no one will believe that their prayers were actually answered!!!

18 -19 "At daybreak the jail was in an uproar. "Where is Peter? What's happened to Peter?" When Herod sent for him and they could neither produce him nor explain why not, he ordered their execution: "Off with their heads!" Fed up with Judea and Jews, he went for a vacation to Caesarea."

So old Herod dies and no one really cares...

20 -22 "But things went from bad to worse for Herod. Now people from Tyre and Sidon put him on the warpath. But they got Blastus, King Herod's right-hand man, to put in a good word for them and got a delegation together to iron things out. Because they were dependent on Judea for food supplies, they couldn't afford to let this go on too long. On the day set for their meeting, Herod, robed in pomposity, took his place on the throne and regaled them with a lot of hot air. The people played their part to the hilt and shouted flatteries: "The voice of God! The voice of God!"
23That was the last straw. God had had enough of Herod's arrogance and sent an angel to strike him down. Herod had given God no credit for anything. Down he went. Rotten to the core, a maggoty old man if there ever was one, he died."

Herod vs God.
Who wins? God wins.
Not always as quickly as we wish. But he always wins...

24 "Meanwhile, the ministry of God's Word grew by leaps and bounds."

The Good News is for everyone!


Acts 10
Peter's Vision
1 -3 There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer. One day about three o'clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next-door neighbor, came in and said, "Cornelius."
4 -6Cornelius stared hard, wondering if he was seeing things. Then he said, "What do you want, sir?"
The angel said, "Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God's attention. Here's what you are to do. Send men to Joppa to get Simon, the one everyone calls Peter. He is staying with Simon the Tanner, whose house is down by the sea."
7 -8As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two servants and one particularly devout soldier from the guard. He went over with them in great detail everything that had just happened, and then sent them off to Joppa.
9 -13The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: "Go to it, Peter—kill and eat."
14Peter said, "Oh, no, Lord. I've never so much as tasted food that was not kosher."
15The voice came a second time: "If God says it's okay, it's okay."
16This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.
17 -20As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon's front door. They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought, didn't hear them, so the Spirit whispered to him, "Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don't ask any questions. I sent them to get you."
21Peter went down and said to the men, "I think I'm the man you're looking for. What's up?"
22 -23They said, "Captain Cornelius, a God-fearing man well-known for his fair play—ask any Jew in this part of the country—was commanded by a holy angel to get you and bring you to his house so he could hear what you had to say." Peter invited them in and made them feel at home.
God Plays No Favorites

23 -26The next morning he got up and went with them. Some of his friends from Joppa went along. A day later they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had his relatives and close friends waiting with him. The minute Peter came through the door, Cornelius was up on his feet greeting him—and then down on his face worshiping him! Peter pulled him up and said, "None of that—I'm a man and only a man, no different from you."
27 -29Talking things over, they went on into the house, where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come. Peter addressed them, "You know, I'm sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don't do this—visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other. So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. But now I'd like to know why you sent for me."
30 -32Cornelius said, "Four days ago at about this time, midafternoon, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man right in front of me, flooding the room with light. He said, 'Cornelius, your daily prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God's attention. I want you to send to Joppa to get Simon, the one they call Peter. He's staying with Simon the Tanner down by the sea.'
33"So I did it—I sent for you. And you've been good enough to come. And now we're all here in God's presence, ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us."
34 -36Peter fairly exploded with his good news: "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you're from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he's doing it everywhere, among everyone.
37 -38"You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.
39 -43"And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn't put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we're not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets."
44 -46No sooner were these words out of Peter's mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on "outsider" non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.
46 -48Then Peter said, "Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They've received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did." Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days."
The good news is not for a certain select group of people. It is for everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tabitha!


Beautiful name - Tabitha!

Beautiful woman too.

She was well-known for doing good and helping out.

31 "Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for a while. All over the country—Judea, Samaria, Galilee—the church grew. They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully."

32 -35 "Peter went off on a mission to visit all the churches. In the course of his travels he arrived in Lydda and met with the believers there. He came across a man—his name was Aeneas—who had been in bed eight years paralyzed. Peter said, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed!" And he did it—jumped right out of bed. Everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him walking around and woke up to the fact that God was alive and active among them. "

That was pretty amazing.

An even more amazing story is coming up...

36 -37 "Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, "Gazelle" in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.
38 -40Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha's body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them."

What was going on in Peter's head?
Did he know God was going to heal her?
Was he just praying to God, for God to do his will?

"Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body:

"Tabitha, get up."
40 -41 "She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive."

One of the most amazing miracles in the entire Bible! It is presented in such a matter of fact way.

42 -43 "When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner."

What does God want to do through me today?

Most Famous Conversion


Saul was passionate.

Determined to wipe this religious blight off the face of the planet.

Then God got his attention.

And he met Jesus.

History was changed that day...

Acts 9
The Blinding of Saul
1 -2 All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master's disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.
3 -4 He set off. When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice: "Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?"
5 -6 He said, "Who are you, Master?"
"I am Jesus, the One you're hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you'll be told what to do next."
7 -9 His companions stood there dumbstruck—they could hear the sound, but couldn't see anyone—while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone-blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing."

Violent acts for violent men. God had to grab Saul's attention in a dramatic fashion. No quiet voice for this guy. God blinds him. Knocks him off his horse. Speaks audibly to him (only he understood the words)

And he met Jesus that day...

10 "There was a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. The Master spoke to him in a vision: "Ananias."
"Yes, Master?" he answered.
11 -12"Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He's there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again."
13 -14Ananias protested, "Master, you can't be serious. Everybody's talking about this man and the terrible things he's been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he's shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us."
15 -16But the Master said, "Don't argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I'm about to show him what he's in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job."

Gentle Ananias was afraid.

But he obeyed.

17 -19 "So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said, "Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul's eyes—he could see again! He got to his feet, was baptized, and sat down with them to a hearty meal."

What is God telling you today?

Obey.

Don't be afraid.

6,000,000 muslims convert to Christianity every year


Yesterday was the conversion of the government Minister from Ethiopia.
Today is a snippet of a TV program between two Muslim clerics.

The topic?
How is it that 6,000,000 muslims convert to Christianity every year?
Just in Africa alone?
And this has been going on for the last 50 years?

Maher Abdallah:
Dear viewers, peace of Allah be upon you, greetings and welcome to a new episode of the program Islamic Law and Life.
Our topic this evening will be Christianization in the Dark Continent ... Africa. For after Islam was the religion of the majority, the great majority of that continent, the number of Muslims now is no greater than a third of the population.
This is taking into consideration, of course, that a large portion of this group are Arab Muslims. No doubt that the missions of evangelization and Christianization played a great role in this demographic shift of Muslims in the continent.
To discuss this topic, it is my pleasure to introduce today a man who is an expert on the issue of evangelization and Christianization in Africa, even though he will concentrate on the issue of Christianization first and foremost?.

Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani; the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, which is an institution specializing in graduating imams and Islamic preachers. Sheikh Ahmad, welcome to you on the program.

Ahmad Al Katani:
Greeting to you.

Maher Abdallah:
If we start by inquiring about your strict stance against the Christian missions in Africa, don't the followers of every religion have the right to seek new converts, exactly as you train and graduate young Muslims to propagate Islam?

Ahmad Al Katani:
I seek refuge in Allah the Seer, the Knower, from the stoned devil. In the name of Allah the Merciful the Beneficent. Thanks to Allah the One, the Only, the Permanent One...
The question that you pose is a result of not comprehending the difference between the concept of Christianization and the concept of evangelism. The concept of evangelism: is inviting the non-Christians to the Christian or Nazarene religion, and this is the right of every Christian and the right of every believer to call others to his faith.
However, we are talking about a different matter; which is Christianization. Christianization means the following: preparing plans, and executing these plans and evolving these plans to change Muslims into Christians by taking advantage of the ignorance and poverty (of the people) and whatever necessitates from similar circumstances.
So, we are faced with the issue of taking advantage of circumstances, taking advantage of humanitarian needs, taking advantage of the lack of education for example, that these people (missionaries) use to take Muslims out of their religion."

The interview goes on... You can read it here:
http://www.formermuslims.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=972

But it started with the conversion of a spiritually seeking government Minister who was met by a man on a dusty road...
(see yesterday's blog)

The most famous african

Who is the most famous African?

Cloepatra? Queen of Sheba? Idi Amin, the madman? Nelson Mandela, known for peace?

I would submit that a man with no name is the most famous African.

Acts 8:26 -28 "Later God's angel spoke to Philip: "At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza." He got up and went."

What if Philip did not go? It was inconvenient. It was hot. He was busy. His ministry was going great. How did he know, really, if he was being told to leave a very successful ministry and go out to a desert spot in the middle of the day, when the sun was at its hottest?

There were lots of reasons for him NOT to go.
But he went.

"He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
29 -30The Spirit told Philip, "Climb into the chariot." Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, "Do you understand what you're reading?"
31 -33He answered, "How can I without some help?" and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to slaughter,
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
since he's been taken from the earth?
34 -35The eunuch said, "Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?" Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
36 -39As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, "Here's water. Why can't I be baptized?" He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot."

That's it. Philip went. The government Minister was a man who wanted to know God. His heart was prepared. There was status difference between the two. Cultural difference. Language barriers. Ethnic difference. Different countries. Different governments. Different habits.

"When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn't mind. He had what he'd come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be."

The government Minister found God that day. It transformed his life. And the history of Ethiopia was changed from that day forward.

40 "Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea."

Philip obeyed God.
Will I?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What joy in the city!


Do you remember the blog I did called "The Huddle?" Go back and read that one. The huddle is comfortable. Defensive. Protective. Even today, the majority of Christians in America want to be in a huddle. But that doesn't accomplish God's purposes.

Acts 8: "Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus."

They were forced to leave home base (the happy, holy huddle) because of persecution. God spread them all over the place.

"Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God's action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!"

And what joy in the city! God wants to spread us all over the globe and spread joy in the midst of extreme repression, persecution and injustice.

9 -11 "Previous to Philip's arrival, a certain Simon had practiced magic in the city, posing as a famous man and dazzling all the Samaritans with his wizardry. He had them all, from little children to old men, eating out of his hand. They all thought he had supernatural powers, and called him "the Great Wizard." He had been around a long time and everyone was more or less in awe of him.
12 -13But when Philip came to town announcing the news of God's kingdom and proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, they forgot Simon and were baptized, becoming believers right and left! Even Simon himself believed and was baptized."

Was this conversion genuine? Who are we to judge? Did he have alterior motives? Gimme a break! Who doesn't have some alterior motives?

"From that moment he was like Philip's shadow, so fascinated with all the God-signs and miracles that he wouldn't leave Philip's side.
14 -17When the apostles in Jerusalem received the report that Samaria had accepted God's Message, they sent Peter and John down to pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Up to this point they had only been baptized in the name of the Master Jesus; the Holy Spirit hadn't yet fallen on them. Then the apostles laid their hands on them and they did receive the Holy Spirit.
18 -19When Simon saw that the apostles by merely laying on hands conferred the Spirit, he pulled out his money, excited, and said, "Sell me your secret! Show me how you did that! How much do you want? Name your price!"
20 -23Peter said, "To hell with your money! And you along with it. Why, that's unthinkable—trying to buy God's gift! You'll never be part of what God is doing by striking bargains and offering bribes. Change your ways—and now! Ask the Master to forgive you for trying to use God to make money. I can see this is an old habit with you; you reek with money-lust."
24"Oh!" said Simon, "pray for me! Pray to the Master that nothing like that will ever happen to me!"

And the good news of the gospel continued to spread.

25 "And with that, the apostles were on their way, continuing to witness and spread the Message of God's salvation, preaching in every Samaritan town they passed through on their return to Jerusalem."