Friday, February 25, 2011

Romans 5:1 (NLT)
Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

- Christians today may have heard this message so often that we are in danger of losing the meaning - like a word that is repeated so often it just becomes a meaningless sound.

What is this "faith" all about? How do we know we really "have" it ... Faith in what or who, exactly? I guess that is a huge topic because tons of books have been written on this over the years. But for me two verses from the bible echo in my head right away because they are part of the answer.

Somewhere in Hebrews (11:6) It says that: "...Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him." (the reward of course is the realization and presence of God himself).

This verse was a cornerstone for me when I had to rebuild my faith in God's existence from the ground up as a mature adult... (long story for another time). It made me realize that in order to "prove or disprove" God's existence, I had to start with a leap of faith.

I had to begin by assuming God was actually real, giving him the benefit of the doubt, as it were, then start watching for the evidence He would provide.

This was not an easy thing for me to do, considering that I generally require very hard, rational evidence for believing anything. But I told myself that I could start with a presumption... A "what if," ... A sort of thought experiment then see what happens.

What this led to was a very long slow process of reinterpreting reality. My rational, critical mind says perhaps all I have done is to delude myself. That I'm living in a strange fantasy world of my own creation, encouraged by many other like-minded crazy people.

But when I compare the evidence of who I was before and what I was becoming to the person I am now and becoming even more like (with faith), I am forced to conclude that something very right and good is going on.

It is significant though to mention here that what and who I become are dependent upon which "version" of God I believe and have faith in. This is crucial, and explains, at least to me, why so much religion often leads to big trouble. C.S. Lewis said it well:
I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse...

Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst. --C.S. Lewis

There are many other confirmations that my faith actually has me living in a closer harmony with the reality of this world we all occupy, but that is another topic for another day.

The other faith-related text that comes to mind is by the apostle Paul who said, somewhere: "the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love."

I don't have the chapter/verse handy for this but you can google it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Romans 4:1 (NLT)
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God?

- Paul goes back to the very beginnings of their national identity to make his point about faith as the basis of a relationship with YAWEH.

Romans 4:5 (NLT)
But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.

- Paul begins to "connect the dots." The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the ultimate act by which God demonstrated this fact to humans. This was the outward expression of God's promise of forgiveness.

Romans 4:25 (NLT)
He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Romans 3:2 (NLT)
Yes, there are great benefits! First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God.

- it occurs to me that this is referring to Jesus Christ himself (not just the written scripts and history, etc.), born as a Jew bringing God's whole revelation first to the Jews and then through them to the entire world.

This raises the concept that if Jews have the whole revelation of God, then other peoples in the world could have valid, (but less complete) revelations of God.

Romans 3:8 (NLT)
And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, "The more we sin, the better it is!" Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.

- Paul seems to be dealing with arguments some people raise against salvation by God's grace alone. Little has changed in two thousand years. We still hear these same claims today saying that grace isn't sufficient or will be abused. Something in our human nature seems to prefer Performance-Based relationships, even though they ulimately trap us in an endless cycle of trying and failing, or worse - trying and succeeding, and then taking the credit for ourselves.

Romans 3:9 (NLT)
Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin.

- I love how pertinant Paul's remarks are for today. Nothing turns people away from God more than a holier-than-thou, know-it-all attitude amongst those who claim to know and represent him. (ask me how I know! D'oh!!)

Romans 3:20 (NLT)
For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

- A reiteration of my point about performance-based relationships.

Romans 3:22 (NLT)
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
- Now Paul lays out a very clear and succinct explanation of The Good News!...

Romans 3:30 (NLT)
There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.

--- But wait! Is Paul now taking back all he just said? How do we comprehend this next statement?

Romans 3:31 (NLT)
Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

- Paul is about to delve into the difference between "keeping the law" as a contractual obligation to appease God as opposed to the larger spiritual intentions. He is about to expound God's greatest Law of all - the Law of Love, as expressed and demostrated through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Romans 2:1 (NLT)
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.
... Wow! Clobberama! Talk about a direct frontal assault on our ingrained human tendency to see the shortcomings of others while over-looking our own.

Paul is basically reiterating Jesus' humorous teaching that we should be too busy tending to the beam of lumber in our own eye to fret much over the speck of sawdust in our neighbour's eye. (Matt: 5?)

Romans 2:4 (NLT)
Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can't you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

- And that's another great way to express the heart of the gospel of Jesus. God loves us so much that he willingly covers our shortcomings, seeking to over-whelm our broken nature with generosity and kindness, that we might become like him and adopt this same nature towards one another.

Romans 2:5 (NLT)
But ... you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself.
Romans 2:8 (NLT)
... he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness

- I used to understand this warning as referring to eternal damnation in hell, thanks to my conservative Baptist upbringing. But I no longer see God's anger and punishment in this context.

Let's see if I can explain:

First off, this about-face from the description of how God seeks to save us through love and by faith to suddenly throwing us away in wrath and anger doesn't parse with what we are told elsewhere in the bible about his nature - that God IS love, and he desires eternal life for all of us.

Second, it doesn't jive with God's nature and intent expressed all through the bible books, that many people (and I say many because Paul has just reminded us that we are all, on some level, wicked sinners) would be brought into existence merely to end up being destroyed. Talk about the Ultimate Fail!

Third, my cocept of what Godly wrath looks like and how it plays out has been shaped by my experience with the broken and unrighteous indignation of human beings. But this doesn't make sense. In a very real way, viewing God's anger on us in that way is like picturing a mature adult parent being violently enraged at a new-born infant for messing in his diaper. It just doesn't match the reality of our smallness and frailness compared to God's omnipotence and awesomeness.

I now believe that everything God does with us is ultimately salvific, intended to bring us to our senses and toward a loving relationship with him. I believe that some of us will "get it" more easily than others, and that when we insist on denying God and doing things "the hard way" we encounter the fruits of our own choices. I believe this reality we occupy expresses God's wrath against sin and we experience this in such things as fear, anxiety, confusion, sorrow, broken relationships disease, disaster and ultimately death.

And through all this God cries out to us, "Come here! Come this way and see how much sweeter the journey becomes!"

There's so much more I could write about this topic, but poking out characters one-by-one on my iPad is getting tedious.

In summary, I believe that the results of our own choices, everthing we experience in this life and beyond, and even death itself, is intended for our ultimate salvation into a love-based relationship with God. Some folks will be smart enough to catch onto who God is early on and some of us others will need to go through a few more trials until the penny drops and we see The Light.

Romans 2:24 (NLT)
No wonder the Scriptures say, "The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you."

- Paul continues his extremely direct statements! I'm struck by the similarity with what I see today in western culture when one of the greatest impediments keeping people from Jesus, is the antics of Christians themselves.

Romans 2:28 (NLT)
For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God's Spirit. ...

- Paul's term "a true Jew" is indicating anyone who fully belongs to God.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Paul's Letter to the Roman church was written in the mid-to-late 50s C.E.. It was probably written at Corinth and is considered to be one of his strongest theological annunciations of the gospel (good news!) message of Jesus the Christ (Messiah).

Romans 1:10 (NLT)
One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you.

- Knowing as we do, how Paul's trip to Rome would eventually come about, this as an example of the tongue-in-cheek adage to "be careful what you pray for!"

Romans 1:17 (NLT)
This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.

- The heart of the Christian message truly is good news to everone who is bound up in religious prescriptions, institutions, and practices that strive to put the power of salvation into our hands instead of God's. What a relief to realize that The One who loves us perfectly holds our future in his hands alone!

Romans 1:20 (NLT)
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

- Many early Christian scholars actually referred to the created universe around us as a "second scripture." Early scientists often explored reality and our existence as another way to discover the mind of God.

Romans 1:21 (NLT)
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.

- This entire section obviously applies to some people in Paul's era, but it is timeless. This passage describes human beings to one degree or another since the very beginning until now.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Paul's Final Chapter...

Acts 28:15 (NLT)
The brothers and sisters in Rome had heard we were coming, ...

- I wonder how they heard? It's not like someone received a phone call or telegram. I guess because Paul's journey had taken longer than expected, a letter or traveller from Jerusalem had arrived by land?

Acts 28:21-22 (NLT)
They replied, "We have had no letters from Judea or reports against you from anyone who has come here.

- This seems to shoot down my theory above about how they heard. Another option might be that word came via the Romans who were expecting Paul as an "official guest." So perhaps a military or aministrative dispatch was the source for the statement in vs. 15...

[22] ...the only thing we know about this movement is that it is denounced everywhere."

- Interesting glimpse into the situation for believers of that day.

Acts 28:30-31 (NLT)
For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, [31] boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

- During his confinement, Paul wrote many of his letters which have become important parts of our New Testament. He must have had a lot of time to digest the implications of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and to expound these insights in his letters.

It is believed that Paul was eventually executed in Rome, which is strange considering the lack of any serious charge against him under Roman law.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sailing Aventures With Paul

Acts 27:1 (NLT)
When the time came, we set sail for Italy. Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of a Roman officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment.

- So begins Paul's last journey to his fate in Rome. It has been almost thirty years since the crucifixion of Jesus and Paul's life-changing encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus. He has already suffered much for the Good News of Christ, and there is more to come, culminating in his execution in Rome. In the few years he has left he will dictate his letters to the churches that now form such an important part of our New Testament bible.

This website includes a map of Paul's long and adventure-filled voyage to Rome:

Acts 27:17 (NLT)
... they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind.

- A sea anchor is a sort of bucket that acts as a drag chute in the water. It is streamed on a line from the stern to stabilize the ship against strong winds and large waves.

Acts 27:21 (NLT)
...Paul called the crew together and said, "Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss.

- This line makes me smile. Though Paul was a great man of God, his social instincts may have been lacking. Did the men really appreciate his "I told you so" lecture at this point? I doubt it.

Acts 27:24-25 (NLT)
... What's more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.'
Acts 27:26 (NLT)
But we will be shipwrecked on an island."

- This reads like the first recorded "good news - bad news" joke.

Acts 27:44 (NLT)
The others held onto planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.

- Phew! What an adventure. This is certainly one of the more exciting parts of the New Testament.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paul appeal to King Agrippa:

Acts 26:8 (NLT)
Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?

- The basic questions, doubts and issues surrounding life and faith haven't changed much.

Acts 26:16 (NLT)
... I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. ...

- Jesus certainly knows how to make an impact - bringing about a dramatic conversion in the life of his most vehement enemy. I've seen a similar thing even today. Often people who are most strongly opposed to Jesus have, upon encountering him, become his most avid followers.

Acts 26:32 (NLT)
And Agrippa said to Festus, "He could have been set free if he hadn't appealed to Caesar."

- However, Paul's destiny is set for Rome (Acts 23:11).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Acts 25:3 (NLT)
They asked Festus as a favor to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way).

- When I read this detail - that there was another plot to kill Paul - I am impressed by the level of knowledge and research that Dr. Luke displays. I wonder how closely he was associated with these events himself? Was he among the friends that lived with Paul at Caesarea and tended to his needs during his confinement?

Acts 25:12 (NLT)
Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, "Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!"

- earlier Paul expressed a desire to visit the believers in Rome. He is now officially on the way, though probably not in the wa he'd imagined. By exercising his rights as a Roman citizen he has provided the governor with a way to pass on this messy situation to someone else. An opportunity no good bureaucrat could pass up.

- Isn't it fascinating that although Paul is technically a prisoner, he has been able to live and communicate openly with friends during this time, no doubt continuing his preaching and teaching, and he has been given opportunities to present the gospel to governors and kings!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Acts 24:5 (NLT)
... He is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes.

- Interesting to find another name used to identify early followers of Jesus.

Acts 24:14 (NLT)
"But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets.

- Paul is not a bad lawyer himself. He knows the charge against him involves the way he is teaching the laws and customs of Judaism and the impact Christ has had on these. So he undermines their case by reaffirming his beliefs. How one chooses to put ones beliefs into practice... Now that's a different matter.

Acts 24:27 (NLT)
After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prison.

- The wheels of justice grind slowly... I'm always impressed by the patience of the Bible's central characters. Do we wait so patiently today on God? Seems to me if we did we'd have fewer church splits and offended believers, and ex-believers.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Acts 23:10 (NLT)
As the conflict grew more violent, the commander was afraid they would tear Paul apart. So he ordered his soldiers to go and rescue him by force and take him back to the fortress.

- Now that's a "lively" meeting!

Acts 23:12 (NLT)
The next morning a group of Jews got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.

- I recall when Jesus was taken before Pilate, the Jewish leaders claimed they didn't have the authority to execute Jesus, only the Romans did. Since then, Stephen has been stoned to death by these same people, and now they are arranging to assassinate Paul.

This leads me to believe that in the case of Jesus' trial there was a hidden agenda at work to shift responsibility onto Rome.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Acts 22:18 (NLT)
I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, 'Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won't accept your testimony about me.'

"'But Lord,' I argued, 'they certainly know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.

- This is an interesting testimony from Paul. It re-emphasizes just how deeply ingrained in the synagogues and Judaism the early believers were.

Acts 22:23 (NLT)?..
They yelled, threw off their coats, and tossed handfuls of dust into the air. The commander brought Paul inside and ordered him lashed with whips to make him confess his crime. He wanted to find out why the crowd had become so furious.

- There's nothing like religious zeal for producing "righteous" anger and violence. It is most ironic when even today we sometimes see Christians "defending the faith" in a similar angry spirit.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Acts 21:4 (NASB)
After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

- Interesting warning in light of the fact that before long, we know, Paul ends up going purposefully down to Jerusalem...

Acts 21:13 (NASB)
Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!"

After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem.


Acts 21:20 (NASB)
... "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

- The rift is growing over the issue of "religious traditions" and pious practice. Apparently Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem are offended that Paul might be teaching that the traditions of Moses no longer are required for salvation. Which he probably was. The full implications of Christ's sacrifice and salvation by grace alone are clear to Paul, but not so all Christians.

This sort of controversy continues until today, often in a similar spirit of anger and righteous indignation. The warning of Jesus comes to mind, that one day his disciples would be killed by people thinking they were doing this for God.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Acts 20:6 (NASB)
We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.

- The Days of Unleavened Bread is the week long period preceding Passover, so we know this is springtime.

Jewish followers of Jesus (Messianic Jews; Jews For Jesus, etc.) still keep these traditionals feasts today, but see them as symbolic of Jesus Christ.

I've been a member of a church which used to do so as well. There is a danger in celebrating any particular days or liturgies as if they have value in and of themselves. All this "stuff" must be useful for our celebration of what Jesus has done and is doing, or it is "worse than filthy rags."

Furthermore if our practices make Jesus look confusing, "pious," or in any way inaccesible to the community around us, we are misrepresenting him.

Acts 20:9 (NASB)
And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.

- Many a pastor today has been teased about his sermons, based on this event!

Acts 20:12 (NASB)
They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.

- Phew! At least there!s a happy ending.

Acts 20:16 (NASB)
... he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

- Pentecost falls fifty days after Passover, so this again helps fix the timing. For Jews it is a celebration of the first fruits of the spring harvest. For Christians it is the day we commemorate the giving of the Holy Spirit, the foundation of this current age of the Church, and a diiferent sort of "spring harvest."

Acts 20:23 (NASB)
except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.

- Paul knows he is heading for some climatic, hard times, and onward he goes.

Acts 20:24 (NASB)
"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

- What follows is an inspiring and challenging exhortation to the church, down through the ages!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Acts 19:2 (NLT)
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" he asked them. "No," they replied, "we haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

- This is not the first time that we've seen this... Belief and baptism without evidence of the Holy Spirit being present...
Acts 19:6 (NLT)

Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied.

- I'm curious about this. Such overt evidence of the Holy Spirit is not common today as far as I know.

Acts 19:9 (NLT)
But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus.

- Disputes and church splits are not a new thing. It think it is ironic when Christians today talk about becoming like the first century church, as if those folks had it all "together" and didn't struggle and muddle along just as we do now.

I suspect this, as much as anything, tells us that whatever success we have as The Church, is always a sign that God accomplishes his work in spite of us. He has always managed to advance his beautiful kingdom through imperfect followers and that is reason to celebrate!

Acts 19:21 (NLT)
Afterward Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. "And after that," he said, "I must go on to Rome!"

- We have good records of Pauls missions, but it's interesting to think that all around Paul, other missionaries are also at work. We were told that Barnabus and Mark headed out on a mission earlier on, we've learned that Priscilla and Aquilla are known all over these regions for their work, and we recently encountered the ministry of Apollos. Wouldn't it be fascinating to have such complete records of all these missions as well?

Acts 19:32 (NLT)
Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn't even know why they were there.

- Yup. Not much has changed in two thousand years. Human nature is still human nature...

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Growing Mission

Acts 18:2 (NLT)
... They had left Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all Jews from Rome.

- By including details Like this Luke makes it possible to connect his story to the timeline of history and our current dating system, (which did not exist when he wrote.)

Acts 18:6 (NLT)
But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, "Your blood is upon your own heads-I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles."

- A shifting emphasis in Paul's mission now as Jewish followers of God are less responsive to Paul's message than are the non-Jewish converts to Judaism. Paul's preaching is still centered around the synagogue, and he is still appealing mainly to converts to Judaism.

Acts 18:13 (NLT)
They accused Paul of "persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law."

- We see the growing rift between Jews following the traditions of the faith, and those Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah and divine son of God, and are beginning to 'get' all that this implies.

We also encounter some potential confusion linguistically about who the new Christians are, as some seem to be cultural Jews (from various deportations from Judea over the years), while others are culturally non-Jews (mainly Greeks in this region, I presume.)

Acts 18:15 (NLT)
But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters."

- To an outsider, the differences between Jews and Followers of Jesus seem inconsequential.

Acts 18:18 (NLT)
... There he shaved his head according to Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow.

- It's curious that Luke reports this without having mentioned the time when this vow began or the reason for it. It sounds like a Nazarite vow, described in the Old Testament.

Acts 18:24 (NLT)
Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt.

- A strong Jewish community existed in Egypt, at Alexandria, for many centuries by then. If Apollos was born there, it's interesting that his Greek name shows the influence of Hellenization all around the Mediteranean.

Acts 18:28 (NLT)
... Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah.

- His mission and method seem very similar to Paul's.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Paul's Pattern For Preaching

Acts 17:12 (NLT)
As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.

We see Paul's methodology for preaching Christ:

- find people at a time and place when they are open to spiritual matters.

- using scripture and reasoning, explain that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ).

Acts 17:27 (NLT)
"His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him-though he is not far from any one of us.

- this translation uses "nation," but most others use "people." The underlying Greek word is usually 'ethnos' meaning groups of peoples of all sorts.

- Here are some longer notes on this:

Acts 17:32 (NLT)
When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, "We want to hear more about this later."

- The variety of ways in which people respond to the message hasn't changed much in two thousand years.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Second Journey

Acts 16:3 (NLT)
so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.

- This passage fascinates me because it shows how accomodating Paul was towards those to whom he is appealing. Somewhere else he writes that " the Jews I became a Jew. To the Greeks, Greek; that I might win some to Christ Jesus... (my fractured paraphrase from memory.)

But, we also know that with believers, Paul was absolutely adamant that all this tradition and religious baggage was worse than useless in comparison to salvation by faith in Christ alone. (for example he publicly clashes with Peter over Peter's behaviour and appeasement of Judean Christians and their rules about eating.)

Such controversies over how to accomodate people's issues to win a hearing for the gospel, without compromising the essence of the gospel are very much alive today. A light-hearted example I enjoy is how the founder of the Salvation Army used the favorite drinking songs from the local taverns to draw listeners to his street band ministry.

Acts 16:6 (NLT)
... the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.

- We see the intimate leadership of the Holy Spirit, but interestingly, in this case, he holds back proclamation of the Good News in this place at this time. I wonder why? And what does this kind of direct interaction with The Holy Spirit look, sound and feel like?

Acts 16:13 (NLT)
On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.

- I like the insight we get about Paul's methods here. First, he tracks down a place where Jewish followers who keep Sabbath are gathered to pray - so presumably they are genuinely interested and serious about spiritual matters already.

Second, he does not hesitate to speak to women on an equal footing spiritually as men. I suspect that this was much easier within a Greek cultural setting as opposed to a traditional middle eastern Jewish setting where women were truly second-class citizens in religious matters (at least this is my understanding of the two cultures.)

Acts 16:15 (NLT)
She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. "If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my home." And she urged us until we agreed.

- More interesting details I see here:

Lydia is not only a spiritual leader for this group, she is also obviously a successful business woman and leader of a houshold.

The writer Luke, slips into first person narration here so we learn that their mission team comprised at least Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke himself.

Acts 16:18,21 (NLT)
This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And instantly it left her.

- I notice that casting out demons in Jesus' authority is a straight forward matter, unlike some modern ministries which claim to to such work, but with great hulabaloo, struggle and showmanship. Makes me wonder...

Acts 16:21 (NLT)
"They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice."

- Probably this is a valid charge as under various Roman Emerors, only Ceasar was "lord."

Acts 16:37 (NLT)
But Paul replied, "They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison-and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!"

- Paul doesn't hesitate to claim the privileges of his Roman citizenship when it becomes useful.

Friday, February 4, 2011

God's "cracked pots."

Acts 15:1 (NLT)
While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: "Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved."

- And here we are two thousand years later and some Christians still promote old covenant practices such as keeping the ten commandments, tithing, and myriad legalistic formulas to appease God in one way or another. So strange.

Acts 15:11 (NLT)
We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus."

- The core doctrine of salvation by God's grace is already clearly understood.

- Paul and Barnabus must have had a real "dust up." There is no recorded reconciliation between these two old friends.

Acts 15:39 (NLT)
Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.

- So again we see that the early church was no more "saintly" than we are today. Frictions, arguements and disputes still occur, yet somehow God accomplishes his work through us anyway.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paul's first mission complete...

Acts 14:3 (NLT)
...And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.

- one of the clearest statements about the reason for miracles.

- and the reactions sturred up in people are never lukwarm!

Acts 14:18 (NLT)
But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.

Acts 14:19 (NLT)
Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.

Acts 14:27-28 (NLT)
Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. [28] And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.

- Even today it can be a great blessing for a church to receive back and continue supporting missionaries. Without this kind of vital link to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, many churches have fallen asleep

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A New Phase Begins...

Acts 13:2 (NLT)
One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them."

- This is an example of why I view this book as "the Acts of the Holy Spirit.". He's been working continually to spread faith in Jesus Christ, here in a very direct and obvious way!

Acts 13:9 (NLT)
Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, ...

- First the sorcerer's name and now Saul's are rendered in Greek as this first missionary journey heads off into Greek territory. From here on I think we see "Paul" used consistently by the New Testament writers.

Acts 13:27 (NLT)
The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets' words that are read every Sabbath.

- A powereful testimony to the divinity of Jesus - that through his being denied and executed the prophecies were fulfilled. Not the kind of thing that anyone was trying to accomplish on their own or was even aware of.

Acts 13:31 (NLT)
And over a period of many days he appeared to those who had gone with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people of Israel.

- The fact that most of the original eye-witnesses are still alive - and radically changed - boldly speaking these truths despite threats on their lives from the same enemies who killed Jesus, makes this testimomy very powerful!

Acts 13:33 (NLT)
... This is what the second psalm says about Jesus: 'You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.'

- This is just one of the many examples of Jesus' followers using the Old Testament scriptures to expound Christ's reality in Jesus. I wonder if we shouldn't be doing more of this ourselves even today...

Acts 13:39 (NLT)
Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God-something the law of Moses could never do.

- And there's the heart of the matter! And a warning...:

Acts 13:40-41 (NLT)
Be careful! Don't let the prophets' words apply to you. For they said, 'Look, you mockers, be amazed and die! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn't believe even if someone told you about it.'"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What a decade!

Acts 12:1,4 (NLT)
About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church.

This reference to King Herod Agrippa provides us with a time frame for all that has been happening in the life of the early church. Agrippa's death occured in 44 AD. If we place Jesus' crucifixion at around 30 to 33 AD (various scholars make a case for dates generally in that range, I believe), then the church is about ten or eleven years old.

In this time we've seen it spreading under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to include Jews and Gentiles (outsiders) from all walks of life: rich and poor, soldiers, priests and civilians, scholars and the "unschooled."

Somehow the miraculous story of God's work as a carpenter's Son from Galilee has transformed them all. Over a decade or so, people have endured pursecutions and witnessed miracles. They've lost leaders to execution, and seen one of the executioners become their boldest ally!

They've seen people struck down, and others raised up - even from death! They've been thrown into prison yet also seen miraculous escapes from prison.

The church's influence has only begun to be felt in Jerusalem, and along the shores of the eastern Mediteranean, yet already the world is being turned upside down.

And the story is just beginning!