What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Decision: Acts 15:19-35

So, last week in the first part of Acts 15, there was a council in Jerusalem where the issue was whether or not the Gentiles had to follow the Mosaic law in order to become believers. This week in my study, the decision was made.
James gave the final word on the subject in Acts 15:19-21. He basically said that we should “not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles . . .” (verse 19). What they did decide was that there should be some restrictions on the Gentiles with the purpose being to avoid idolatry at all costs. Specifically, James said, “but write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (verse 20).
So a letter was drafted (contents of letter are in verses 23-29) that gave the Gentile believers in Antioch (and surrounding Gentile areas) these encouragements. The letter was delivered to Antioch by Paul and Barnabas, and at least two other men who were witnesses to the authenticity of the letter. Having received the decision, the Gentile believers rejoiced and a compromise was reached that would not offend the Jewish believers or the Gentile believers. And, essentially joined the church together into one whole (instead of causing division).
What struck me was how the apostles and elders focused their response/decision on not associating with idols (which was a big problem in Galatia and the rest of the world at the time). That letter could be sent to us today. We also need to abstain from engaging in any activity that can be construed to be related to idol worship. It’s a little bit trickier today to identify what the idols might be in our lives. But, anything that we place in higher priority than serving God, than meeting with God, than relying on God is an idol to us. I have to be careful not to place television shows ahead of doing my Bible study prep or prayer time. I have to be careful to not let the tragedy of my past influence me to discount the truths God has given me. I have to be careful to not worship other people (mostly my family) instead of doing God’s service. There are other possible idols in our lives. We should abstain from them and focus on the glorious, heavenly Father, before all else.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Another Principle from Acts: Acts 15:1-18

At the beginning of our study in the book of Acts, we were cautioned not to base doctrine on the stories recounted in Acts. However, there are several examples of principles that we should follow. Today I will look at one of those principles. Since it’s based pretty much on the whole story told in Acts 15, I will try to give you an overview of the scene.
It starts with Paul and Barnabas in Antioch (their home church). Things are going fine; people are coming to Christ in response to the gospel message, disciples are being made through the teachings of the apostles, and elders are being appointed into places of leadership of the local church. Many Gentiles are involved in all stages of the ministry.
Then some who had been Pharisees but are now believers came to Antioch and begun teaching the brethren (especially the Gentile believers) the following: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (verse 1). Paul and Barnabas did not agree and were debating with these Jewish believers. They each had their own point of view and no decision was made in Antioch. So the elders and apostles of Antioch decided the issue should be addressed by the church leaders in Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas, along with other believers, some of the Gentiles included, were sent to Jerusalem. Barnabas and Paul shared with the leaders and reported all that God had done with them (verse 4). The elders and apostles heard from both sides, for the sect of the Pharisee believers had also come to Jerusalem to present their side of things. So the issue was before the council in Jerusalem.
The procedure for coming to a decision is the principle here. First, they heard all sides of the issue and presented witnesses/testimony of what the experience had involved. Then Peter, an elder, reminded them of how God had worked through him in the situation with Cornelius, a Roman soldier, that had happened several years before. He was sharing another example where God had given the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised, non-Law abiding Gentiles. As a result, the multitudes listening fell silent and let Barnabas and Paul relate the signs and wonders God had done (verse 12).
Finally, James (a leader in the Jerusalem church) stood up and and said, “Simeon [Paul] has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,” (verses 14-15). Then James quoted Amos the Prophet basically saying that the Jewish people would be restored and that God would restore the temple, “In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name.” (verses 16 -17). James says that the Gentiles were to be included all along according to the Prophets.
The key to this procedure of decision making in the early church was that they sought out Scripture to confirm every experience. Barnes (a Biblical scholar) said that everything  should always [be] compared to the truth of Scripture. Everything must be in accordance with the Bible. If not, then the ideas or experiences should be deemed false and should be vehemently opposed (notes, p. 14). It doesn’t matter if a plan or idea sounds good or not. What matters is if it is accordance with Scripture or not. This takes some effort to honestly seek the Scriptures and to be sure we are not taking concepts or principles out of context of the whole of the Bible. I think we need to do that searching more often and in many areas of our lives.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Enthusiasm For Gospel: Acts 14

Paul is still on his first missionary trip with Barnabas. They’ve just left Pisidian Antioch and continued their journey to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. In each of those places there became division among the people – some stirred up by unbelieving Jews (from Antioch). Some division came about because the people in Lystra and Derbe were thoroughly pagan and worshipped idols (Zeus, Hermes, etc.), but even those were stirred up by the zealous, unbelieving Jews from other places.
In Acts 14:4-7 we get a description of what had happened in Iconium: “But the multitude of the city was divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone thme, they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel.” There are two groups who are zealous and passionate about their tasks.
First, the Jews from Antioch followed Paul and Barnabas, and with zeal continued to stir up leaders and Jews and Gentiles against the preaching of the apostles (Paul and Barnabas in the sense that they had been “sent out”). They traveled long distances on foot to oppose the gospel. They went to extremes to do so – even to the point of stoning them. They did not settle for the apostles leaving their town; they pursued them at great lengths and tried to refute their message wherever they went. That’s having a passion for the work they were doing, although a misguided work.
We also see the zeal and passion in the work of Paul and Barnabas. They continued to preach the Word of God in the midst of persecution, controversy, and death threats and plans. Even as they fled one town to go to another, they “continued to preach the gospel.” (verse 7). Then, when done in Derbe (after a several months of time there preaching and establishing a church), they returned to the towns where they had been driven out. They boldly met with the believers appointing elders and teaching the disciples. They were not deterred by fear, but knew that as long as they continued to do God’s will, they would be protected by God. They would probably have been protected by God if they had chosen to return to their starting point via an easier and shorter way, but God was leading them back to the disciples that existed in the towns they had already visited. This was in order to do follow up.
So my question for myself is, “Am I zealous and passionate enough about my ministry?” I need to be at least as zealous as those who wanted to shut Paul and Barnabas up. I fall far short of that standard. I think many Christians in our world today take it for granted that someone else will carry the message; you know, those whose job is full time ministry. Isn’t that why we have pastors, missionaries, itinerant preachers? But the example for us is to be witnesses, zealous and passionate witnesses, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. I’m going to work on being more passionate about sharing Christ this week. What about you?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Principle Found in Acts 13/16-41

There’s a pattern to the apostles’ preaching. We saw it once in Acts 10:34-43 as Peter spoke with Cornelius and his family and friends. And we see it again as Paul and Barnabas preaches to the people in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. It’s a pattern we can (maybe even should) follow today when sharing the gospel with others.
Both Peter’s and Paul’s/Barnabas’ message start by addressing where the people are at in their spiritual life. They addressed what the listeners already knew and related those things to the gospel (Good News) message. In Cornelius’ situation Peter started with all the happenings in Jerusalem – Jesus’ witness, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the persecution of the disciples, etc. Cornelius, as a God-fearer, would have been interested in hearing about this things. So Peter started with the known interests of those particular people. In the same way, Paul and Barnabas started with what the people in the synagogue in Antioch would already know about. For these Jews and God-fearers, Paul and Barnabas went through the history of Israel highlighting places where God had told Israel to share the message (and the Scriptures) with all nations. The people knew the Scriptures and had a basic understanding of history of Israel. Paul met them where they were at in their spiritual lives.
We, too, must get to know the people with whom we would like to share Christ. We need to know where their interests are, what they know about the Scriptures and Christ (if anything), and what their general beliefs about spirituality and religion are. We need to know these things so we can meet them where they are and begin our message someplace that will be meaningful to the listener(s). This often takes some time, but is well worth it to share a message that will be meaningful to someone who does not (yet) know Christ.
Next, Peter, and Paul and Barnabas, presented a clear picture of Christ; what He had said, what He had done, and what His message was all about. Both used Scriptures or histories that portrayed Jesus as the promised one from of old. They mentioned His life and many of His acts while on the earth. They shared why they follow Him. They shared how Jesus fits into the bigger picture. They acquainted the people with the character of Jesus and with how He met all the conditions set forth in the Old Testament for the Messiah. They gave as clear of a description of Jesus as they possibly could.
Then, finally, to cap off their sermons, they described and explained and gave witness to the resurrection of Christ. This was a key point in the gospel presentation. Without the resurrection, there would be no point to a Messiah. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation. It’s in the resurrection that the hope of eternal life can be found. We need to make sure we also share about the resurrection. It’s not just a passing thought. It’s central to what Jesus Christ has done for us – He’s conquered sin and the death that comes to mankind. That happens because the resurrection happened. We must not leave it out of our sharing. That’s where our hope is founded; the hope of eternal life.
So, to summarize, our gospel messages need to start with where our listeners are at, share Christ clearly and fully, and include the resurrection as it is the starting point of our hope.