Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rumors and Response



Scripture:

Acts 21:17 ¶ When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly.
Acts 21:18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present.
Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Acts 21:20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.
Acts 21:21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.
Acts 21:22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
Acts 21:23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow.
Acts 21:24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.
Acts 21:25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
Acts 21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Observation:

Paul arrived back in Jerusalem and the inner circle warmly welcomed him. They were excited to hear about the missionary journeys and all that God had been doing among the Gentiles, but there was a problem. Rumors had spread throughout Jerusalem about Paul’s ministry and the group gathered together to talk to Paul about this issue.

They were feeling the pressure of all the lies that were being spread and they thought that something had to be done to address them. They encouraged Paul to tackle the rumors by trying to prove to those who were upset that he was really a committed Jew. We don’t get a feel for the conversation but some commentators believe that Paul reluctantly agreed to the plan of action and probably against his better judgement. How would trying to prove anything to the rumor mill solve anything? But, indeed, they chose to try and respond by showing the people that Paul was committed to Jewish law and customs by joining with four men who had been under a vow. He went through purification with them and paid to have their heads shaved.

Paul’s action of joining with these four did nothing to dispel the talk against him. Those who were spreading rumors about him had made up their minds and nothing that Paul could do would change their opinion. John Wesley said that the response flowed from carnal wisdom and not from the Spirit. In this case, human wisdom tried to prevail and instead of simply being who he was in the Spirit, Paul agreed to try and appease the rumor mongers. It failed.

Application:

Social media has created a medium by which rumors can be fanned into flames in almost a nano-second. There is a great temptation, yes, even among God’s people — to participate in the spreading of rumors.

What are we to do in the midst of a rumor driven world? Let’s try and learn from Paul’s situation.

1) Don’t spread the rumors. Be the one who stops the talk.

2) Live your life in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Holy Spirit to be your guide in all things.

3) Be true to what the Spirit is saying. In other words, keep your eyes on Jesus and live in such a relationship with him that the only thing that matters is him!

4) Don’t react to rumors — even if they are about you! Go back to points 2 and 3 — live in the flow of the Spirit and keep your eyes on Jesus.

5) Don’t react with carnal wisdom — let the Spirit do the work. Writing that letter or response or doing things to appease people may simply make things worse!

The situations in which we find ourselves today are not new — only the tools that are utilized are new. May we learn from the past and put into practice the lessons learned in the present and may God help his people to be bearers of his truth, living lives of holiness on a daily basis.

Prayer:

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14) Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Preaching, Teaching and Healing: A Model for Ministry



Scripture:

Acts 19:8 ¶ He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Acts 19:9 When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
Acts 19:10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
Acts 19:11 ¶ God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,
Acts 19:12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.

Observation:

Paul was beginning his ministry in Ephesus and as usual, he started out by preaching in the synagogue. However, after three months the religious folks were no longer willing to listen to Paul. They were even sabotaging his ministry by speaking poorly of him. Because of this difficulty he moved from preaching to the lecture hall. We don’t know who Tyrannus was but it’s believed that he had a large lecture hall where possibly Philosophy was taught in the morning hours. During the heat of the day the hall would not normally have been used so it’s not difficult to imagine that Paul was able to use the hall from 11am until 3-4pm. The Christians may have paid to rent the hall during these hours, or it may have been donated to them for this purpose, but we do know that it became Paul’s practice to have these “hours” in which he could be found at this location. Daily he would lecture in this hall, possibly teaching the very students who studied philosophy in the morning and bringing them to a new philosophy or understanding of truth during his hours at the lectern.

His teaching began to draw massive crowds. The lecture hall probably held more than the synagogue could have held and now he wasn’t just preaching on the sabbath, but every day he was teaching Greeks and Jews alike. Not only was he preaching and teaching, but God was working miracles through him. People were overwhelmed with what they saw and would bring to him pieces of cloth for him to touch and then they would take that home to their sick friends or relatives and they were healed! What happened was amazing.

Application:


This was Paul’s plan for ministry. He had a strategy for church planting in a new city and it was one which focused on Christ. His preaching focused on Christ. His teaching focused on people getting to know Christ and in the midst of it all we see that Christ was his pattern. Jesus went about teaching, preaching and healing and now Paul is doing the very same thing. Paul admonished the people to follow him as he followed Christ.

Ministry should include the preaching of Christ. He is the one to be lifted up — he is the one to whom all preaching should point.

Ministry must include teaching — a teaching which challenges people to the very core of their understanding and encourages them to take up their cross and follow Jesus. It is a teaching which is robust enough that it can reach the mind of the philosopher and yet, gentle enough to touch the heart of a child.

Ministry must include healing — in the form of the transformative power of God’s Holy Spirit. This may include physical healing, emotional healing and/or spiritual healing but if there is no touch on the life of people then ministry is lacking.

The city of Ephesus was transformed during Paul’s period of ministry which lasted for nearly three years. A city which had worshipped their own personal goddess and had one of the seven wonders of the ancient world in their midst was brought to their knees by the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit through the ministry of Paul and his disciples.

Jesus is our model for ministry. All ministry must be Christ centered! Paul followed Christ. Paul encourages us to follow him as he followed Christ. May all ministry point in the direction of Christ — he is the living model.

Prayer:

Lord, may I seek your face today and may you help me follow in your steps.  Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Turning the World Upside Down



Scripture:

Acts 17:1 ¶ After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
Acts 17:2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,
Acts 17:3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”
Acts 17:4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
Acts 17:5 But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house.
Acts 17:6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,
Acts 17:7 and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”
Acts 17:8 The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this,
Acts 17:9 and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.

Observation:


Paul and Silas were developing a rhythm to their ministry. Paul had a plan for his ministry and this included going to the Jewish synagogue every sabbath. He knew exactly what he was doing and could preach well because he was a well-educated man. In the synagogue he would argue about the Messiah from the scriptures.

As a result of his preaching and apologetics a number of Jews became believers. Devout Greeks were known as “God-fearers” and a number of them kept the Mosaic laws, except for circumcision.

Macedonia was a unique region in regard to women. Here we see that a number of the leading women were coming to Christ and this was significant. Remember that in Philippi it was Lydia who first came to Christ and the church began to meet at her home. The women in Macedonia are significant to helping create a foothold for Christianity in Europe. Macedonia as opposed to Athens had different laws regarding women. The Athenian laws made women little more than the status of a slave and to educate her was to make her a prostitute. In Macedonia public statues were erected in honor of notable women and it was not uncommon for a man to take his last name from his mother. It was into this environment that God sent Paul — to Macedonia to begin the European work of Christianity.

As a result of Paul and Silas’ intentional effort to preach about Christ a number of people became believers and this troubled the religious authorities. They weren’t troubled because of Paul’s theology — they were jealous because of his popularity and that people were following what he had to say. The result of Paul and Silas’ work was that the peaceful little world was being stirred up in Thessalonica. Instead of business as usual on a day to day basis, this new faith in the Messiah was changing things and there were those who did not like change. They wanted the status quo, so much so, that the religious leaders were willing to get some “ruffians” to “ruff” up these men who were preaching about the Messiah. Not being able to find Paul and Silas they still wanted to make a point and drug Jason and some other believers to court claiming that they had turned the world upside down.

Application:

The most important thing for the religious leaders in Thessalonica was the status quo. They didn’t want anything to come along that would change the way in which they lived their lives day in and day out. They had positions of respect in the community. People listened to them and did what they told them to do and life just went on, day in and day out in a particular rhythm. Although they had preached about a coming Messiah, they probably had preconceived notions of what that was supposed to look like.

If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we like the comfort of the status quo. It feels good when life has a particular rhythm and routine and when that gets stirred up we become uncomfortable.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not called to the status quo. We are called to a radical obedience that turns the world upside down.

Our obedience to Christ should make those around us a bit uncomfortable.

Even in today’s world the reason that people don’t want Christians around is because it changes things. Many countries are uncomfortable with people becoming Christians because it changes the rhythm of society. If we think that being a follower of Jesus Christ is always peaceful and doesn’t cause consternation in society, then we don’t really understand what it means to be a Jesus follower. Following Christ has always been counter cultural — even when it came to status quo religion. Phineas F. Bresee, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene used to talk about Christianizing Christianity. There he was — stirring up trouble among the status quo Christians of his day!

We are called to follow the example of Paul and Silas - who turned the world upside down. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s not safe. It’s not comfortable. It’s world changing.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to faithfully serve you in obedience on a daily basis.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Very Much Annoyed



Scripture:


Acts 16:16 ¶ One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
Acts 16:17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Acts 16:18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Observation:

This is an interesting incident where Paul was regularly being confronted by a slave girl who was being used by her owners. Different translations have given us a variety of perspectives on his feelings toward this situation. The King James Version says that he was “grieved.” This conveys a feeling of sympathy, empathy and pain regarding the condition of the girl. She was being exploited by those who owned her and the injustice of the situation grieved him.

The 1984 NIV says that Paul “became so troubled” that he decided to take action. The language here is a little nuanced from the KJV, and not only does he feel a sadness or grief, but he is troubled to the point of intervention.

The latest NIV and NRSV both use the phrase “very much annoyed” to explain how Paul felt at the moment. It seems that we have struggled with English language terminology which is strong enough to convey how Paul was feeling at the time. What Paul was witnessing was a huge injustice. A young girl was being used to make money for her owners and not only was she being exploited, the spirit within her, not from the Lord was taunting Paul and his witness. He didn’t need this kind of support for his ministry. Therefore his response serves two purposes, setting the girl free and disconnecting the power and work of God from that of the men who were engaged in evil.

Application:

Is there anything that very much annoys us today — to the point where we would want to take action? There probably should be!

The injustice of exploitation ought to make us mad! There is a time and place for being grieved, troubled and just plain old annoyed. These are not un-Christlike attributes. Jesus was annoyed at the injustice that he found in the temple. He was moved to do something about it and Paul takes action as well. We are not to tolerate this kind of activity and as followers of Christ we are to help set people free from the bondage.

The ‘muddling’ of the Gospel should also annoy us. When those on the outside seek to ‘help’ us with our message then people will receive mixed messages. Followers of Christ should be responsible for the message that we present. Make sure it is presented clearly and don’t allow by-standers to be the extra support that you need. Proclaim Christ and allow his hand to be at work in the world so that his power is revealed.

There are moments when we will be righteously - very much annoyed and driven to action. Follow the example of Paul and be bold in response.

Prayer:


Lord, please give me discernment for those moments when I am to act.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Joy in the Midst of Defeat



Scripture:

Acts 13:44  ¶ The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
Acts 13:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.
Acts 13:46 Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.
Acts 13:47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
    ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
        so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Acts 13:48 ¶ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.
Acts 13:49 Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.
Acts 13:50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region.
Acts 13:51 So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.
Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Observation:

Paul and Barnabas were out preaching and doing all that God had asked them to do. As they entered a new city they would preach in the synagogue, bringing the good news of the Messiah to the Jews. Unfortunately they were often rejected but, as a result they preached to the Gentiles. They boldly declared that the Gentiles were also recipients of the grace of God. The Gentiles were overwhelmed and many became believers and helped to spread the word about Jesus throughout the entire region. There were, however, very rich and influential Jews within the community who decided to make trouble. They gathered together their friends and began to persecute Paul and Barnabas, making life and ministry extremely difficult for them and eventually driving them out of the region.

Paul and Barnabas could have left in frustration but instead of sulking, they simply chose to move on and used this as a sign from God to go on to the next place of ministry. There was joy in the midst of what some would call defeat. These men were filled with the Holy Spirit and so they rejoiced, trusting God for all that was happening in their lives.

Application:

Paul and Barnabas teach us how to react in difficult situations. Underlying all that happens is the fact that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the driving force in their lives and therefore the things of the world just don’t get them down. They have one difficulty after another, but they always continue to trust that God is in the circumstances. A closed door means that another door is open. No whining or pouting — just a journey with the Lord, moving through the open doors.

This is why they can have joy in the midst of what many might see as defeat because for them, there was no defeat. No matter how difficult the circumstances, God was always victorious. Many people had come to know the Lord in Antioch of Pisidia. Even though the influential people of the city were against them, this was only the case because enough people had become believers to disturb the wealthy leaders. For this Paul and Barnabas would praise the Lord!

Paul and Barnabas didn’t spend time complaining that things didn’t turn out exactly as they had wanted, but shook the dust from their feet and moved on. In other words, they recognized what was going on, they registered a protest and then just moved on. If they would never have experienced difficulties in Antioch — would the Gospel have spread any further? Who knows, but they did not wallow in discouragement and neither should we. When a door closes, then just move on. God through the Holy Spirit may be leading us to the place where he wants us, and who knows what may be in store for us there.  May we find his joy in the midst of what the world would see as defeat.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your wisdom and direction. Please, help me to trust in you and may your Holy Spirit fill me with your joy.  Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

God’s Provision



Scripture:

Acts 12:20 ¶ Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.
Acts 12:21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them.
Acts 12:22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”
Acts 12:23 And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Observation:

Christians would have been living in the region of Tyre and Sidon and would have been suffering the consequence of a strained relationship with Herod. He was certainly no friend to the Christians having already murdered James and put Peter in prison. This man’s continued leadership could, quite possibly, mean terrible persecution for Jesus’ followers.

Evidently there was some kind of a dispute with the people of Tyre and Sidon and while they were autonomous towns, they had were part of the Roman Empire. They were not allowed to go to war but Herod had, for some reason, restricted their economies and they were struggling to have enough food. Wanting to come to some kind of a compromise with the man they probably bribed Blastus. Blastus’ position was that of right-hand assistant to Herod. He was highly influential and so, while Herod was often unreasonable, the leadership of Tyre and Sidon found a reasonable individual in Blastus. He worked to bring about reconciliation between Herod and these cities which included an event at which Herod would try to impress the people with his great wealth and authority.

All of Herod’s power had made him extremely prideful and this became his downfall. He allowed the praise that was due God to be showered on him. He ended up dying a horrible death and not only Tyre and Sidon, but the Christians of that area were set free from his tyranny. God had provided.

Application:

We must be careful not to try and take matters into our own hands, when God can and does make provision for our needs. We don’t know the back story to what happened but I can only imagine it had to do with little prayer meetings of disciples who were crying out to God for his help. The chapter opens with the story of Peter’s release from prison. God had provided! It ends with the death of the one who had orchestrated Peter’s imprisonment. God had provided! Neither Peter’s release from prison nor the death of Herod would have been anticipated.

The ways in which God’s provision is revealed may be different in each and every circumstance and sometimes we simply don’t understand what is really going on. Why is it that James had to die? Where was God’s provision in his life? We don’t know — all we know is that James becomes the first Apostle to be martyred. However, after his death God provides for Peter and then for the Christian community in Tyre and Sidon — and beyond with the death of Herod. We see Herod being punished for his outrageous behavior.

I’ll be honest with you — I don’t know what to do with James in this story. Why does God seem to provide for some and not for others? I don’t know but I know that there is a bigger picture that we don’t understand and my job is to trust in him. Peter trusted in the Lord and was let out of prison so that he could go on to preach to many more people. In the end he was not spared and history tells us that he was crucified upside down.

The people of Tyre and Sidon were spared economic calamity - at least for a time. The Jewish Christians running from the persecutions in Jerusalem were now able to find peace and food in these cities. God had provided and the word about Jesus was spreading.

Ultimately the lesson becomes one of trust — trusting in the God who provides. We may not always understand the ways of God, but we are to trust! We may never expect God to work in particular ways — but he provides.

Prayer:


Lord, may I keep my eyes focused on you and you alone. May I trust you to take care of things around me.  Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sending Relief



Scripture:

Acts 11:27 ¶ At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
Acts 11:28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius.
Acts 11:29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea;
Acts 11:30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Observation:

Prophets were leaving Jerusalem because of persecution and they arrived in Antioch. These prophets were speaking to the church words about the future so that the church could be prepared. It is known that a terrible famine did affect the area in the time mentioned. Much as the vision came and Joseph was able to help Egypt prepare for the famine, so God’s people were responding to the upcoming need. Instead of stockpiling supplies for themselves these Christians sent relief, probably in the form of offerings, to the people in Judea. This was a part of Saul’s discipleship training under Barnabas in Antioch and was, more than likely, Saul’s second trip to Jerusalem since becoming a believer.

Application:

The attitude and spirit of response to need here reflects the growth in Christlikeness among the believers. This entire story can be seen as a parallel to the one in Egypt so very long ago. There are similarities, but there are also differences.

Since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there were prophets who were able to speak regarding the future. They were suffering great persecution in the city of Jerusalem and probably came to Antioch in order to survive. They did not cease to speak about their visions and dreams. God was able to use them in a variety of places as a result of the persecution. More people were hearing about Jesus and Christianity was growing. They were able to speak clearly without the need for interpretation. Remember, it was Joseph who had to interpret the vision of Pharaoh. Now, the vision comes directly to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and they are able to share the vision and its meaning.

Joseph had to organize the people for response to the famine. Immediately God’s people organized to respond to the physical needs of the people. The Egyptians built store-houses so that people could come to them to get what they needed to supply their needs when the famine began to spread. The Christians took an offering and determined to take what they had to the needy. They didn’t collect things for themselves but instead collected with the intent of taking it out to the places where the need was the greatest.

The sending here is important and each person was to send according to their ability. It’s an important concept, that we are each to share as much as we can with others who are in need. Interestingly the aid was sent by Barnabas and Saul. This engagement in relief to the needy became a part of Saul’s formation and discipleship. Participating in the helping of others is important to our own spiritual development. The people who received the aid were blessed, but so were those who participated in the collection and the sending.

Sending relief in times of need is a reflection of our spiritual condition. May God help us to have ears to hear the prophetic words with which he may be challenging us today.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be faithful to helping those who have need.  Amen.