Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Acts 16:1-25

Lots happens here. We meet Timothy. He has witnesses to his character and ministry in two cities. Even though the council in chapter 15 said it was unnecessary, Paul has him circumcised. I understand that it was not a theological reason (to participate in the covenant, or earn God's approval), it was because the questions it would raise wouldn't be worth it and would distract from the message.

The Holy Spirit prevented them from going to Asia and did not permit them to go to Bithinia. What is the difference between those two and the level of His involvement? What did it look like to Paul? I'll bet he didn't like it at all! But, He did it so they would end up in a prayer place with a bunch of God-fearing women, so that Lydia would get saved. Interesting the Holy Spirit would have to sovereignly direct this band of apostles to a privileged Roman colony for all this to take place.

I didn't realize that Philippi was in Macedonia and that is where Paul went because of his vision.

Again, economics drove the presecution. The afflicted girl could make not profit for her pimps after she was delivered. Interesting.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Acts 15:22-41

Silas had laid down his life for the name of Christ (Acts 15:26).

The decision brought joy to the churches. They encouraged and strengthened churches as they took and read the letter.

The completeness of the resolution to this conflict is remarkable. There is no hint from either side that the decision was in any way inadequate! Wow!

As a result of this conflict and the one at the end of the chapter between Barnabas and Paul, the Holy Spirit directed the church into ways new places and new leaders were raised up. It is so easy to see conflict as always bad, but God uses it in great ways. Silas gained invaluable experience carrying the letter, watching the debates and having responsibility with Paul.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Acts 15:1-21

The bad news is there's a dispute in the church. The good news is that some Pharisees got saved. Throughout most of the New Testament that seemed impossible! The bad news is the church was unsure how to relate to the Old Testament law. The good news is that Gentiles got saved. The bad news does always come with good news. . . and the other way around.

Three different Greek words are used for dispute, debate, and faction. It must be like rain in Oregon. You need a lot of words for it because it happens a lot.

How does the church make decision here about a difficult question?
  1. They heard from those with the concern.
  2. They heard from the apostle with the longest tenure in working with the problem (Peter).
  3. They heard from the most active apostle with the problem (Paul).
  4. They asked what the scriptures said (James).
  5. They rendered a principled opinion.
The guiding principle: Don't add additional obstacles for people to overcome in order to turn to God.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Acts 14

This chapter is one of the two great perils of Christian ministry -- overestimating the servant of God and undervaluing the servant of God -- and of the two, this is the worst. Imagine preaching the living God and people make you out to be the incarnation of their pagan deity! Yikes! We have a breakdown in communication here, for sure.

Paul spent much of the letters to the Corinthians addressing their undervaluing of him. But, of the two problems the one in this chapter is by far the most catastrophic.

A few other things stand out here. God used persecution to move Barnabas and Paul where He wanted them next. It must have felt crummy to be stoned, but good to move to the next fruitful place.

This sermon is interesting. It is the only one so far that does not get to the cross. He refers only to common grace -- rain, bread and joy.

When they were returning they strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith because it was necessary through many afflictions to enter the kingdom of God." I need that encouragement and want to be that kind of encourager. This brought joy to the brothers.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Acts 13:26-52

Paul finishes with the life of Jesus and in this sermon introduces the idea of Justification, which is very characteristic of his letters. He highlights the inability to be righteous through the law. Whoever believes is made righteous.

The persecution came when Paul became too popular. This happens with both Jews and Gentiles. The opposition was led by prominent religious women.

All who were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48)! God makes sure people believe. How encouraging to evangelism!

The theme of 'decay' is interesting. The resurrection means no decay. Yeah!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Acts 13:1-25

The prayer meeting in Antioch was world-changing. It is hard to escape the effectiveness of the prayers of this young church. When they fasted and prayed, the Holy Spirit told them what to do. It doesn't record that they asked, or that they were fasting for direction in this missionary venture. It was God's agenda and He delivered it during their prayer meeting. . . and they followed it.

The proconsul in Cypress believed and was amazed. The magician received some serious consequences for opposing Paul and Barnabas. Twice it records they spoke, "the word of God."

Paul's sermon rehearsed God's promises and faithfulness in order to get the Jesus. This is a key characteristic of apostolic preaching. He started with Moses, not Abraham. The synagogue leader had asked him to speak. He probably got more than he bargained for.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Acts 12

What a fun account of God's answering prayer. They prayed for Peter, God freed him and they thought the servant girl who told them about it was crazy. Peter probably thought that, too, when she left him knocking at the door.

Peter was miraculously delivered from prison --- James wasn't. God could have sent an angel for James, too, but He didn't. Am I okay with God being sovereign and making those kinds decisions?

Herod was planning to kill Peter, then Luke records, "But the church was earnestly praying. . ." That made a ton of difference! May history record for our church. . . "But the church was earnestly praying!"

Herod is eaten by worms! Yeah! And, a little on the gross side. It's interesting there is a Greek word for 'being eaten by worms.'

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Acts 11

The summary statement of Peter's report is rich in doctrinal meaning, "God granted to the gentiles repentance unto life." On the one hand it looked like a unique gift of the Holy Spirit, but it established the lowest common denominator -- they came to faith the same way anyone does. This was sufficient authentication to make all Jerusalem be quiet and praise God.

Barnabas played another significant role. He encouraged then to purpose to remain in the Lord. He did that because he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. That's what faithful, Spirit-filled, good men do! That's what I want to be and do.

This is the first step in the decentralization of the church. The Antioch church sent a gift back to Jerusalem! Wow! God made sure it happened with supernatural prophecy. Interesting!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Acts 10: 24-48

Peter and company were surprised by how many people had gathered to hear. Cornelius had invited his relatives and close friends. This is beautiful. It is what god-fearing people do! He had God's word that he would discover life and he wanted it for his friends and family, too.

Peter's response to the explanation behind his invitation and his own vision was to say, "Now I now there is not favoritism with God!" The he points out that Jesus was not revealed to just anybody, but to those who had been selected beforehand! Those two go together, God's selection and no favoritism. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit sealed the deal and assured them of that truth.

The sermon here is a summary of the gospel being in the Old Testament, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the content Cornelius must have to be saved!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Acts 10:1-23

The description of Cornelius are extremely complimentary. He is godly, god-fearing, righteous, he prays and gives alms. His house follows him in this. Which, BTW, is how it is supposed to work. His prayers came to God as a reminder to God to act on his behalf!

There is a natural explanation for Peter's vision. It was right before dinner and he was hungry. It was much more, however, than hunger pangs. He was puzzled by God's insistence that he eat unclean animals.

Then, the Holy Spirit sent him downstairs, not understanding the vision, to meet strangers at the door. He obeyed first and understood second.

One interesting thing here is that God uses Peter. Why bother with him at all? The angel had already come to Cornelius. Why not just circumvent Peter, he didn't understand anyway? I think the answer is the same as it is every time. When God wants someone to get saved, he always uses another person -- always!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Acts 9:24-43

Paul makes his way to Jerusalem and they're afraid of him. In a narrative like this, I always wonder, "what if?" What if Barnabbas hadn't mediated for Paul? That one move was probably high risk, but made a difference in all human history! I wonder if he thought about it that way when he did it?

Peter goes outside Jerusalem with great success. The church in Jerusalem had peace and still he went. No one had gone out before without being pushed by persecution. Paul disappears from the stage for a short time.

Layne's favorite story to act out during our family "Bible Story Charades" is the story of the resurrection of Dorcas. You should see her distribute clothing then die then get raised. It's probably much cuter than the original story!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Acts 9:1-23

As easy as it seemed in chapter eight for Phillip to introduce the chariot rider to Jesus, it is at least that hard here. Saul had to be knocked off his donkey.

From a human perspective, this was an event behind only the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (and maybe Pentecost) in importance for the church. The whole thing could have been undone if Ananias had not obeyed. He was a poor and a blessed man. No one wanted his job. Ananias was to touch Paul and Jesus was to show him what he would have to suffer! Welcome to being a Christian.

The statement, "Jesus, whom you are persecuting," is a strong and beautiful statement of the identification of Jesus with his church. To persecute her is to persecute him. To serve her is to serve him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Acts 8:27-40

I cannot but notice how easy this whole encounter seems. Phillip listens to the Holy Spirit and takes a trip not knowing what he will encounter. The Spirit directs him to join the chariot. As he obeys, he hears the Eunuch reading the best Messianic text (Isaiah 53) in the Old Testament. The man asks a question that is a lay up. Phillip tells him about Jesus then baptizes him. No fear, no struggle -- just make the next divinely orchestrated move. I long to be that Spirit-led.

Clearly this text teaches the priority of baptism.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Acts 8:1-26

The power of the preaching and the signs of Phillip would have been very impressive. I can see why Simon was attracted -- both for the right and the wrong reasons.

This is the first real preaching, action and church establishment outside Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit did not even come until the Apostles came. The experiences were so subject to misunderstanding and counterfeit that the authentication from the leadership was necessary. This Acts 1:8 expansion of the gospel was forced by persecution, but received very warmly when it came.

What did Peter see in Simon's offer to buy the ability to give the Holy Spirit? Paul accused him of being bound in the gall of bitterness. How doe those two things go together? This should be a warning to all who ask for or offer money for the gospel.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Acts 7:30-60

Stephen's message was NOT received well at all. I guess the people did not fall asleep on him. What was it that provoked the violent reaction? He accused them of being like their fathers who killed the prophets and rejected the law. They perceived themselves to be on the other side, the good side, of the fence with Father Abraham. He skillfully moved from Abraham to rebellion. That's what gave it a punch. It didn't help that he told them he saw the exalted Jesus. They hated Jesus telling them he'd be there, too.

This is a very sad chapter. And, the ending is even more forboding and ominous introducing Saul. . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

Acts 7:1-29

The false witnesses against Stephen said the same thing they said against Jesus, that the temple would be destroyed. Hmm.

His sermon began with Abram, recounted God's promise, the covenant of circumcision, and the move to Caanan. The rest of the speech is about Egypt. Joseph was delivered to Egypt, "But God was with him." That makes everything alright.

Then Moses grew in word and deed. He WAS a good speaker, contrary to his claim. He'd been trained in Egyptian rhetoric.

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and asked him to deliver Israel, Moses repeated the words, the 40-year-old words, of the Israelite that had caused him to flee. He had been playing this over and over in his mind for 40 long years, "Who made you a ruler or judge?"
Then Stephen said, "God made him a ruler and redeemer." Fascinating!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Acts 6

The growth of the church brought problems and complaints. Is anyone surprised? People borrowed trouble from other people. The widows themselves did not fuss to the apostles. This problem represents quite a distance from having everything in common a couple chapters ago.

The restructuring is genius. It maintained the primary apostolic values -- prayer and ministry of the word. It met the needs of the moment. And, it was loved by the crowd.

Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 6:5) and grace and power (Acts 6:8). The opposition couldn't withstand his wisdom and spirit. Wow! That's what I want to be.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Acts 5:17-42

They had just prayed for boldness in Chapter Four and now they were persecuted. Peters response is short and hit all the right buttons that would make them angry -- you killed him, God raised him, he sits exalted, and repent and be forgiven. That message to that audience is a "0" on a scale of 1-10 in terms of popularity. The Apostles stand fearlessly before the same crowd that crucified Jesus and say, "If it is right to obey men rather than God, you decide. We'll obey God."

Gamaliel's speech was persuasive. He cited two historical figures to say that if it is not from God, then it won't last. If it is from God and you oppose it, you'll be opposing God. So, leave them alone. News for them. . . we're still here!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Acts 5:1-16

Two or three times Luke records, "Great fear fell on them. . ." Do you think? What would the church be like if every person who made a pretense of tithing (just 10% not everything like these two) dropped dead? Yikes. I am certain God was more opposed to the pretense than he was the percentage. If they'd said, "This is all, except for what we needed for braces for Jr.," I'm sure they'd have survived the day.

When the church was of one mind, "no one dared to associate with them." You'd have to be pretty sold-out to associate with people who sold everything and then dropped dead when they lie!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Acts 4:23-37

The prayer, "Lord, concern yourself with your servants," is an interesting appeal. They ascribe magnificent sovereignty to God in their prayer. This (Acts 4:28) and Acts 2:22-24 are overwhelming -- that God would purpose to and then deliver Jesus to death. They trusted him because they knew the Scriptures. Both Acts 2 and Acts 4 are saturated with key O.T. promises.

The result of being in the hand of a God like that is deliverance, faith and community, a community full of faith and of one mind. Of course, the earthquake is cool, too.

The "everything in common" part of the church seems to good to be true. And, in chapter 5 we find that it is. There must be a governing by the Holy Spirit, not just on the leaders, but on everyone, if the congregation is to function that way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Acts 4:1-22

Peter spoke, full of the Holy Spirit. The audience took note they had been with Jesus! Cool! I hope people can notice that about me by the way I talk. I think it was because of the way they used the Scriptures. While Peter and John were heading to the slammer, 5000 people responded to the message!

Peter spoke to the same crowd with the same prominent names that crucified Jesus. They are not friends. Their interrogation began with the question, "How did you do this?" Peter told them, by the name of Jesus who is the only way of salvation.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Acts 3

This was not a quiet miracle! The man was jumping around, praising God. He was active and noisy -- the perfect attraction for a large crowd. And Peter exploited it for eternity's sake.

The sermon was amazing. His citations of the Old Testament are masterful. He hits the high points. I'm sure they were points Jesus had hit just days before when he opened their eyes to understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45). He referred to God's covenant with Abraham, he spoke of Moses' promise of a prophet like him. He brought in Samuel. He referenced God's self-revelation in Exodus 3.

His conclusion was the elephant in the room -- or the temple as the case may be -- these people killed the man in whose name the lame man was healed!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Acts 2:22-47

The first thing I notice in this sermon is that Peter is saying the same things to the same crowd that Jesus said. But, the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.

The preaching was rooted in the scripture, fixed on a sovereign God who does whatever he determines, aimed at repentance, and fruitful beyond imagination. That's how I want to preach.

My vision for a church comes from here -- for preaching, for life together, and for relationships with outsiders. It is hard to imagine a more peaceful, simple, joyful church experience than this very first one. What church would not want to emulate this group?

I wonder, though, is it possible for a church to continue in doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer like this and expect similar results? Is this designed to be normal or is it a special work of grace? God, no doubt, intended his church to be this kind of focal point and source of joy.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Acts 2:1-21

I've never really thought much about the timing of Pentecost. It would have been an entirely different start to the church if it had not been during a feast in Jerusalem. The exquisite providence of God brought people who spoke other languages, who would notice and appreciate the tongues spoken that day. The festival collected the seeds of the church throughout the whole region. It selected devout people, who would be most interested in the message, not just some random passerby! God was completely sovereign in the timetable of the birth of his church.

Peter lifted his voice and spoke. It is the same verb, an unusual one, in Acts 2:4 and Acts 2:14. Clearly, we are to understand the connection between being filled with the Spirit and speaking boldly.

Young men will prophesy and old men will dream dreams. Interesting. Isn't it the other way around naturally?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Acts 1

The introduction makes it clear that this book will chronicle what happens after the disciples are baptized with the Holy Spirit according to the initial promise of Jesus. Perhaps it should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

The final question the disciples ever asked to Jesus was a misguided one, "When will you restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus blew by it, "It's not for you to know. . . but you will be my witnesses."

The first prayer in the book of Acts starts, "You, Lord, know the hearts of all!" It changes everything when you realize God is looking into your heart the very moment you pray! They prayed to an omniscient God.

I'm still not sure if the choosing of the 12th person was necessary or not. Why did they feel the need to replace Judas? He was not, after all, a superstar. It would have been very weird to be Matthias!

Friday, June 05, 2009

John 21

I love the way this wraps up the experience of the disciples. It is the same experience they had when they were called (Luke 5:3-8). I love that Nathaniel is mentioned again. I love that they count the fish! I love that at least two of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances involved food!

Peter dove into the water at John's recognition of Jesus, presumably to be near him. He wasn't grieved until Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" I think it finally dawned on him what Jesus was doing. "Do you love me more than these?" Was he talking about the fish? Immediately he went back to his old self, comparing himself with John.

Feeding his sheep is THE way to express love to Jesus. Lord, help me!

A great capstone to the book: The world could not contain the books.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

John 20

I so quickly forget the wonder of the resurrection. The shock of Mary, the wonder of the others, the doubt of Thomas all would be part of my reaction, no doubt, if I were there.

The order of things here seems different than in the other gospels. Mary sees the empty tomb, then she runs to get the others, the Peter and John come, then she sees the angel.

I love the footrace between John and Peter, and that John makes sure we know he wins! The detail about the displacement of the cloths is also an interesting one.

The summary statement for the book is great. Jesus did more than this. I wrote so you would believe and believing you would have life. This is book is a presentation of the gospel.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

John 19

Like Peter, Pilate had violent swings of emotion and resolve during the trial of Jesus. He was ready to let him go; he was mad at Him, he was afraid, and he was fickle! He was impressed with his own authority and wanted Jesus to know it. When Jesus challenge his authority with God's, he snapped, and was ready to destroy Jesus.

John points out the language issues, twice giving the Hebrew translations of things. The sign was written in three languages. Jesus was crucified close to town in a multi-cultural environment. He also records "as was the custom" for those of us who don't know or wouldn't remember.

Joseph and Nicodemus were both secret disciples because of fear. This was quite a sad coming out party for them. Why come out of the closet now? What does a secret follower do when the one he follows dies? I imagine they would give up most likely.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

John 18

What wild swings Peter experiences in these final days of Jesus' life. He pledges his undying devotion, then he falls asleep in prayer (other gospels). He chops of the ear of a servant, flailing in Jesus' defense, then he denies Jesus. The spiritual flailing itself is an indicator of Jesus' words, "Satan has desired to sift you. . ." Spiritual flailing around is characteristic of Satanic influence, I think.

Peter's denial sends chills down my spine. It was causeless. It made no sense for him to deny Jesus.

When Jesus said, "I am." (cf. Exodus 3:14)The cohort of 600 men dropped to the ground! Wow! That's the coolest thing!

John doesn't even mention the kiss, like the other writer's do.

Pilate must have thought Jesus was out of his mind when he said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Who would say that? An alien?

Pilate's response to Jesus is classic, "What is truth?" That has been the question forever! Jesus had just said that those who are are of the truth listen to him. Obviously Pilate wasn't listening to Jesus. . . He condemned himself.

Monday, June 01, 2009

John 17

I am enjoying this part of John so much. Reading it is its own reward. Every moment spent meditating on it meets with some golden vein that is more than worth the effort.

Here is Jesus' outreach strategy: Love between his followers "That the world might know that you sent me." The relationship between the Father and Jesus is essential. You must know that. It is indispensable.

Unity between God and Jesus and between Jesus and us is an end or goal of Jesus ministry. He has given us the word from the Father to the end that He might be one with us like the Father and He are one.

Several other things stand out:
  • The eternal glory of Jesus is about to be restored!
  • The disciples belong to Jesus.
  • Both glory and followers are gifts to Jesus from the Father.
  • That we might reflect a trinitarian love is a priority to God.
  • Our set-apartness is a function of the Word of God.