Acts 16:1-10

a41

Paul and Silas are visiting the churches established on Paul and Barnabus’ first trip. When they get to Lystra, Paul meets Timothy. Paul sees something remarkable in Timothy who has been taught in the faith by his believing mother. He is highly spoken of by the local brothers and Paul wants Timothy to accompany him and Silas.

While Timothy’s mother is Jewish it is well known his father is Greek. Paul decides this might be a stumbling block for the Jewish people in the area so he has Timothy circumcised. (Sometimes an unnecessary act of humility and sensitivity opens doors to relationships that would have likely remained closed.)

As they travel from town to town, they make the Gentile believers aware of the decisions made by the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem. With this news and the encouragement of Paul and Co. the churches are strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. (To me, the acceptance of the Jerusalem council’s decision must have also been a great encouragement to those leaders who made it!)

Paul and friends are being led by the Holy Spirit, traveling throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia and hindered from going to the province of Asia. They are also stopped from entering Bithynia so they turn to Troas. It is here Paul has the vision of the Macedonian man begging him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke records they believe this to be God calling them to preach in that area so they prepare to go right away.

Open doors and closed doors – We like the former – the “yes, go for it” but are often frustrated when we get a “no”. Don’t know if Paul felt that way but if he did, he didn’t spend much time lamenting, he just pressed on in another direction. I have always believed a “no” is as good as a “yes” when it comes to God’s leading. If you think about it, none of us really wants to be somewhere God doesn’t lead us. So, if He closes a door we have been spared wasting time in the wrong place. 🙂

When I find myself kicking the door, picking the lock or searching for an open window, it’s time to take a step back and ask myself who exactly am I following? In those cases I’ve usually become way too attached to my own plans.

Sometimes it’s easier for me to see this in others than in myself – I call it “wheelin’ and dealin’” when a person just refuses to take no for an answer. But you know what they say – “if you can spot it you’ve got it.” Forgive me Lord – now which way did you say?

About God?
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

About Me?
Sheep need a Shepherd’s voice – listen for Him.

About the World?
Help is on the way.

Advertisements

Acts 15:19-41

a40

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

Possibly a lesson James learned here in Acts 15 for certainly as they sought the Lord this is what they were given.

After much deliberation James stands and outlines specifically how the question of circumcision will be addressed.

1. They would seek to put as few limitations on Gentile believers as possible. (Abstain from meat offered to idols or meat that still contains blood and don’t be involved in sexual sin.) It was not because these things were needed for salvation but rather because these practices would be a stumbling block to anyone who knew the Law of Moses.

2. They would write an official letter and send their own personal emissaries along with Paul & Barnabas to deliver it. There would be every effort made to make their decision clear to all. Written for future reference; delivered by Antioch’s people and their own.

3. The communication would spell out how their relationships stood. We are brothers. We did not send the men who disturbed you. Barnabas and Paul are our dear friends who given their lives to serve our Lord Jesus Christ. We are sending Judas and Silas to speak for us. We have been led by the Holy Spirit in our response. (Let it be clear we do not wish any division among us or any burden on you except what is absolutely needed.)

James had a grasp of the big picture!

I imagine the church at Antioch was apprehensive as they waited for a reply – I mean there was no email or conference calling. They were happy and comforted by the response – and I might add they knew they were accepted as vital members of the body believers.

Judas and Silas stayed a while to encourage and strengthened their new brothers. Paul and Barnabas continued to preach and teach in that area.

After a while, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” They were in agreement they should go but not about the details and there was such a sharp disagreement that they separated from each other.

The conflict was over John Mark. Barnabas wanted to take him along. Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. They each had their reasons I suppose, and we will never know what else might have been at play. Still, even in this they continued the work. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus – where in fact Mark had been with them. Paul got Silas and they went to Syria and Cilicia to the churches there.

Strive for unity – I say “strive” because unity is hard and deliberate work for human beings. But the Lord seeks it in us and in the church so it must be possible – by His grace.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18) is what Paul later wrote. Sometimes “unity” looks like the outcome of the Jerusalem council. Sometimes it looks like deciding to take separate ways to do God’s work. Sometimes it looks like including a brother that has run before.

About God?
God’s desire: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”

About Me?
Seek wisdom. Strive for unity.

About the World?
Wisdom, Compassion and Unity are irresistible.

Acts 15:1-18

a39

Just when Paul and Barnabas are resting the in afterglow of the Gentiles coming to Christ, some Jewish believers from Judea come down to try and tell the Gentile believers “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

This flies in the face of all Paul and Barnabas have just experienced. When the conflict can’t be resolved the church at Antioch sends them and a few others to get advice from the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem. On the way, P &B – just happen to be passing through Gentile territory and decide to tell all about what God had done on their missionary trip.

In Jerusalem, they are welcomed and get to tell their whole story to the church. Here, again there are a group of Pharisee believers who want to hold to the old ways: “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The Apostles and Elders meet to consider the problem. After much debate Peter stands to speak. Basically he reminds everyone that salvation has come to everyone by the grace of the Lord Jesus. They listen again to Barnabas and Paul and to how God affirmed the message to the Gentile by signs and wonders. After this, James wraps it up by showing how the things which have occurred lines up with exactly what had been written by the prophets.

Guard against division – I can imagine the frustration Paul and Barnabas must be feeling. They have just risked their lives bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles, God has worked in amazing ways and now there is opposition from within their own ranks! I’m impressed they can be so calm and willing to defer to the Apostles. This seeking of peace can only come from their desire to be led by the Lord and not cling to their own understanding. 

Seek the Lord’s direction. This is not always an easy thing to do as a group but the leadership was willing to take on the task. They also knew “truth” when they heard it from Peter, P & B and James. To me this speaks to wanting to know God’s answer…whatever it is.

Be willing to trade the old for the new. I love that the circumcision bunch brought up their objections.  That was brave and they probably thought they were doing the right thing. I think we should do that too.  But I also think we have to be willing to trade them in if that is not where God is leading.

About God?
He is able to guide those who seek Him – even a committee!

About Me?
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Prov. 3:5

About the World?
Salvation comes by Grace through Faith – it is the gift of God.

Acts 14:19-28

a38

Let’s see…we left Paul hanging off a cliff in Lystra. The crowd is trying to make P & B out to be Greek gods. Enter the Jews who had followed them over from Antioch and Iconium. These guys have a different view and they talk the locals into stoning them. My, my how quickly the whims of people change.

So in fact Paul is stoned and dragged out of the city. The rebel rousers think they have killed Paul so they dust off their hands and go home.

But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

In Derbe P & B preached the Gospel just like nothing bad had happened! Many people became disciples. Praise God for a positive day! This was the end of the trip so they turned around and headed home right back the way they had come – through every town – the ones who were friendly and the ones who were not!

People had believed all along the way and this was not the Salvation Bible Bus – “drag’em in, get’em saved and walk away.” Here while the good news was fresh, Paul and Barnabas were looking for fruit that remained.

So they set about strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of god. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

They returned home to Antioch. By the Grace of God, they had fulfilled the work for which they had been appointed by the Holy Spirit. The Debrief must have been thrilling as P & B told the church everything God had done with them and how God had opened the door to the Gentiles.

They were ready for some R ‘n’ R and remained with the church there for a long time.

Perseverance is the first thing that comes to mind. P & B met every kind of obstacle – some up (how would you like to be a god?) and some down (kill him!) But they stayed on mission – and both tasks of the mission at that.

Follow up – it was not enough that the Gospel was received but it was important to organize churches and strengthen the new converts in their faith. Set up a community where they could grow and support each other. Times were going to be tough. Their new faith would be tested.

Glory – All the glory went to God. They saw themselves as His instruments. They did not take credit for all the good stuff nor did they elevate their own trials into some drama that distracted from God (as we are want to do.)

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us is the encouragement found in Hebrews. I believe I have been commissioned and so has anyone else who follows Jesus. We are to take off on that course and run until the task is fulfilled. None of us can do that without the support of our community of believers. So we must strengthen, encourage and pray for each other. I want to run by His grace and for His Glory!

About God?
The course has a few water hazards and sand traps but His grace is sufficient.

About Me?
“By His Grace and For His Glory” – I’m thinking new t-shirt!

About the World?
There is always an open door of faith – walk right in.

Acts 14:8-18

a37

Paul and Barnabas saunter into Lystra and begin speaking about Christ. It doesn’t say anything about a synagogue so they are probably in the streets or a public square. As Paul is speaking he notices a particular crippled man – most likely a local beggar because we are told he had been lame from birth and had never walked.

The man was listening to Paul and Paul could tell faith was building within the man – (Is this something you can see or sense or maybe the Holy Spirit reveals?) Regardless Paul is sure – sure enough to shout directly to the man, “Stand upright on your feet.”

And in response the man sprang up and began walking! Okay now here’s a sight to behold and the crowds take notice. They lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”

They quickly call Barnabus Zeus and name Paul Hermes. Well, they gotta go with what they know and they knew about Greek gods. How else does one explain the super natural? There was a temple to Hermes at the gate of the city. Legends state this father and son pair had visited the area before as “men” and had found no one to welcome them. It did not turn out well for the townsfolk then. I’m sure that was not a mistake they were prepared to let happen again. Ergo… they brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.

I don’t think Paul and Barnabas were expecting this. Being from a Jewish culture they were appalled – they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things?

Having to think quickly they tried to focus the conversation on God and not themselves. We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living god.

Though they described God in terms they believed the Lycaonians would understand, they could hardly restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

What a predicament! The text for today stops here in a cliff hanger. So what impresses me to this point?

There is the tendency to think P & B might have been unprepared to address this Gentile culture. We make assumptions based on our own understanding and naively think cultures, completely unknown to us, will make the right connections. NOT! So, for future reference – take some time to know the person I want to tell about Jesus.

Makes me wonder, at this point, what happens to the crippled man? He was leaning toward faith – did he get lost in the crowd? Maybe he was not the only one who actually heard the Gospel. There had been some proclaiming going on before the “crowd went wild” and spun off into crazy land. So, for future reference – even if things go bonkers the Good News is out there; it is God’s business to make it live.

About God?
Nothing is a surprise to Him.

About Me?
“Be prepared” is not just for Boy Scouts.

About the World?
Sometimes the crowd goes wild.

Acts 14:1-7

a36

Chased out of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas go singing and rejoicing down the road to Iconium. They are on the big city tour and Iconium is on a major road between Ephesus and Rome. Per usual, they enter the Jewish synagogue and start talking. It was powerful and a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.

But…and there always seems to be one…But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

So they packed it up and moved on….NO, not exactly!

They REMAINED for a long time! So they set up shop and continued to speak boldly for the Lord. And the Lord, who bore witness to the word of His grace granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (They were speaking and the Lord was affirming the truth of His Word by the signs and wonders. I love how this partnership works – my job to speak the truth boldly and God’s job to do the super natural work of faith and believing.)

But the people of the city were divided – and that is the reality – not everyone will believe.

Some people don’t want to hear it and they go to extraordinary measures to turn off the sound. An attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, and now was the time to exit – stage left.

They were not at all disheartened – they just moved on to Lystra and Derbe and all around that area where they continued to preach the Gospel. (I think P&B had a perspective that is easy to lose sight of. Opposition was to be expected. It did not indicate failure. In fact it was a guarantee the Truth was being heard. There is a time to stay at it and a time to leave. God’s Word is not thwarted – it seeps in, to every open crevice – seen and unseen. Apply liberally – it will take root where the soil is right.)

About God?
He superintends the Word of His grace.

About Me?
The antidote for poison is to apply the Word of Grace liberally.

About the World?
And though the curse has long be broken
Adams’ sons are still the prisoners of their fears
Rushing helter-skelter to destruction with their fingers in their ears

“Adam Where Are You?” by Don Francisco: Performance or Lyrics

Acts 13:13-52

d35

Notice the emphasis on who’s in charge – instead of Barnabas, Paul is listed first. In fact he is now referred to as Paul instead of Saul. God did not change his name as He is want to do but rather Paul has chosen his Roman name over his Jewish one. Maybe because he believes he will be better received and appreciated in the countries he is visiting.

So, Paul and Co. sail north from Cyprus to Asia Minor (Turkey specifically). In Perga John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem – no explanation but remember this- it’s going to come up later. They move on to Antioch in Pisidia, the capital city of the Romans in Galatia. There are Jews living there and on the Sabbath, Paul and friends go to the synagogue. After the usual readings, etc. the rulers send a message inviting these new “brothers” to speak for the encouragement of the people. (Ever have someone just come right out and ask you about Jesus? Paul must have been elated!)

Paul stood up and preached – the whole story of God and Israel – right up to the punch line: Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man (Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Pretty strong stuff but the people loved it and invited them back next Sabbath! As they were leaving many Jews and devout converts to Judaism encouraged them to continue in the grace of God. (I think that it is remarkable that these people sensed Paul and Barnabas were walking in the grace of God and not in their own power. Oh to have that aroma!) 

Next Sabbath almost the entire city comes to hear the word of the Lord. Here’s where the local Jewish leaders get jealous and try to “out speak” Paul and bad mouth them to the people. So much for the nice welcome! (Jealousy is a quick and effective tool of the enemy. It consumes your thinking and plays on every negative emotion – suspicion, fear, resentment, possessiveness, envy. It creates exactly the divisiveness the Enemy seeks. I have never been able to overcome an attack apart from a sincere diligence to continually ask the Lord to constantly and methodically renew my thinking and cleanse my heart.)

Interestingly this rejection by the Jews is a turning point in Paul’s ministry.

It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.”

(I can’t get over this phrase – you have judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life. Paul did not judge them unworthy. God did not judge them unworthy. They judged themselves unworthy. Boy, sadly this reeks with pride – to hold one’s own view above the view of God. How often do I judge myself unworthy? Jealousy is one way but how many other ways do I flaunt my “knowing” over the truth of what God says about me? A lot to ponder here.)

Of course, God had planned this open door policy from the beginning.
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Is.49:6)

…when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.

Spreading but not without opposition. Remember the word that I said to you: …’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. Jesus had spoken these words to His disciples.

So these leaders, devout women of high standing and leading men of the city, drove Paul and Barnabas out of town. But P & B were not dampened or distressed – they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit! You gotta love it!

About God?
He opens the doors. When we walk through them – joy awaits.

About Me?
You are not unworthy; you are beloved.

About the World?
Let it be known…that through Jesus…forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.

Acts 13:1-12

d34

The church formed at Antioch was made up of Jewish believers who had scattered from Jerusalem and also Gentiles who had come to believe. This is where Barnabas and Saul had been living and teaching for the last year. They were numbered with other prophets and teachers: Simeon, Lucius and Manaen.

These brothers seem like an accountable small group. They get together to worship, fast and pray. On this particular day the Holy Spirit speaks quite clearly to them. “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” They knew it was God speaking but they didn’t know quite what to do with this information so they continued to seek the Lord. The Lord expanded their understanding: Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (God is a vision giver – and it comes with enough details to get you started.)

So, here we go. These are the first missionaries sent out on purpose by the church.

Their route is spelled out – Antioch to the seaport at Seleucia, boat over to the island of Cyprus. In the first big city of Salamis they preach in the Jewish synagogues. From there, they cross Cyprus to its other coast, to the city of Paphos.

It’s here they encounter Bar-Jesus, the magician. He has attached himself to the Proconsul of the city, Sergius Paulus. Interestingly the proconsul – an intelligent man – is very eager to hear from Barnabas and Paul about the Word of God. Of course, Bar-Jesus is not too happy about this and he does whatever he can to keep the proconsul from believing.

But Paul, via the Holy Spirit, speaks harshly to the magician. “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.”

Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Paul has come face to face with a representative of Satan. He has discerned exactly what is going on because he listened to the Holy Spirit.

About God?
God is a vision giver.

About Me?
The Lord will give clarity if you ask.

About the World?
God can win, even in Enemy territory.

Acts 12:6-19

d33

Peter, of course, has been sitting in jail surely pondering his ultimate fate at the hands of Herod. Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, (Often typical of God, we are left waiting out our destiny until the last screaming edge minute!)

It’s the middle of the night. Peter is sleeping between 2 guards, chained up and locked behind a guarded prison door, locked inside the iron city gates. Sounds like all the extra precautions placed on Houdini before he attempts an escape underwater.

(I have to pause here to note that Peter is sleeping. These last few nights I have had been worried – it has disrupted my sleep. Peter is enviable in this regard. I have a new sleep number bed. He has a stone floor, rattle-y chains and probably two snoring guards. I am staring at the ceiling. He’s having a comfortable dream. What does that say about my ability to “rest in Jesus”?)

So, in Peter’s dream, an angel sneaks in, zaps off the chains, and tells him to get dressed and to “follow my lead.” They waltz out of the prison, two-step pass the guards, wait for the magic city gate to silently swing open and then do the boot-scootin’ boogie down the first street – angel disappears. Peter realizes “hey this is no dream!”

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

Peter decided he better tell somebody so he goes to John Mark’s mother’s house where people happen to be praying for him. The servant girl is so shocked to find him knocking she forgets to let him in! The brothers and sisters think she’s nuts when she announces Peter’s arrival. Peter keeps knocking because he doesn’t want to be found and recaptured. (The whole scene reminds me of Mission Impossible meets Obi Wan Kenobi!)

Eventually they get it together and let him in. Peter cuts to the chase and describes how the Lord has rescued him out of prison and very likely spared his life. “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place. Someplace off the beaten path no doubt until the dust settles.

Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. I love that line! 🙂 Herod can’t find him so he takes it all out on the guards and has them executed. Nice guy. He now has a miserable head ache and decides to take some time off down in Caesarea.

This is a classic Bible Story and I’m likely to chuckle at how God ruled the day.

But, if I had been Peter.”I remember how I thought I was going to die for Jesus – just like James. And how God sent an angel for me…for me… I thought it was a dream but it was real. God just saved me. My heart was pounding so loudly I was sure it would give me away… I thought I would be safe at Mary’s house… I couldn’t get in right away… And when, I did get in…we were all in shock but glad. Amazed. We were in awe of God answering our prayers and of His rescuing me. We knew we had to get word to James and the brothers. They needed to be encouraged too. God is with us! He is surely with us!”

About God?
His miracles make a lasting impression.

About Me?
Those who have been rescued have some story to tell.

About the World?
Jer. 33:3 – that’s God’s phone number.
Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Acts 12:1-5, 20-25

d32

Some history books tell that King Herod, the Roman ruler over Judea, ruled with compassion and friendliness – he kept the Law of the Jews and even participated as one of them. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/912-agrippa-i) But it seems the Scripture speaks to his darker side.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also…

(Herod’s actions are affirmed when he received the accolades of man. For a man who embraced the Law he spent no small amount of time breaking it.)

He puts Peter in prison and decides he will bring him out on display after the Passover. No doubt another execution – especially of such a known leader of the church, will please the Jews. Little does he know that while Peter sits in prison the gates of heaven are being bombarded on his behalf.

Herod has other political issues at hand. His chamberlain, Blastus has been persuaded to arrange an audience between him and the people of Tyre and Sidon. Herod is angry with them for some reason but they have come to beg for peace. Remember the food shortage? They are dependent on Herod’s country for food. (Do you think having a terrible need is something God uses to draw us to Himself? No duh! Jesus had walked in these cities, healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter because of her faith but they appealed to Herod. How often do I forget that only Jesus is able to meet my needs?)

King Herod dresses up in a fine display of his royalty and position and mounts the throne. It says he delivered an oration to them. Doesn’t sound like much listening is happening – it’s just an opportunity for him to strut his feathers.

The visitors begin shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” I think they had his number…Herod wanted the praise of men and they were playing exactly those cards in their efforts to seek his favor.

Succumbing to just this arrogance was what the Bible tells is his downfall. Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory. In Isaiah says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else…” Herod stepped over the line when he began to court the glory that rightly belonged to God. (Here is the cautionary tale – do not strive for the praise of man. It is a poisonous worm that left unattended will wreak havoc on my relationship with God.)

In contrast to Herod’s death, Barnabas and Saul have added a man, John Mark.

The Word of Life is increasing and multiplying. Man’s attempts to stop or control it are feeble – killing and arresting Jesus’ followers will not slow it down. (The enemy uses such tactics to keep his own people in line, but we who follow Jesus have no reason to fear death – Death is swallowed up in victory.)

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Cor. 15:58

About God?
God will not allow His glory to be stolen but willingly shares it with those who love Him.

About Me?
My needs will draw me closer to Jesus – welcome them.

About the World?
Beware the praise of men.