Monthly Archives: June 2019

Today’s Scripture – June 28, 2019

Acts 15:1-4 (NIV)
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

 

Everyone has a theology (even atheists!). Some theology is good theology, which means that it is consistent with Scripture, and that it squares with what God has done. Other theology is bad theology, which means that it disregards or is ignorant of important parts of Scripture, that it takes Scripture out of context to support the theology, and that it is held in a corner by prejudices, fear, and refusal to step out of long-held beliefs in the face of concrete challenges. That kind of bad theology even refuses to accept miracles that happen if their foundation goes against what that person believes. (Witness the Pharisees’ refusal to accept Jesus’ miracles that were done on the Sabbath as divine, and their belief that He cast out demons through satan’s power instead of by the power of the Holy Spirit because they disagreed with His stands on numerous issues. John 9:16, Matthew 12:24)

Paul had good theology regarding the salvation of gentiles. It was based on Jesus’ explicit commands, was consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures, and squared with the things that he had personally seen God accomplish. His theology held that the gentiles could be saved purely on the basis of faith in Jesus, and he had seen transformed lives and gentile believers filled with the Holy Spirit to confirm it.

On the other side were Jewish Christians, Bible teachers, who had bad theology in this area. They believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and that He had come to bring salvation to Jews only. Therefore, if a gentile wanted to be saved, they first had to convert to Judaism, including circumcision for the men, and complete conformity to the whole mosaic law, including all the dietary and sacrificial requirements. They rejected the testimony of life transformation among believing gentiles, no matter how genuine it seemed, because it did not square with their theology.

Paul and Barnabas vehemently disagreed with these teaches when they came to Antioch and told the gentile believers there that they might have believed in Jesus, but they weren’t really saved and couldn’t really be Spirit-filled unless and until they converted. But no matter how eloquent their arguments were, Paul and Barnabas were not able to make these teachers see the errors in their theology.

So, the Antioch Church decided that the best course would be to send Paul and Barnabas and a few others to Jerusalem to ask the apostles and elders their opinion. This seemed like a good idea, so the group headed south right away. On the way, they told the believers they met how God was bringing the gentiles in Asia into the kingdom, and they all, both Jew and gentile, rejoiced over this expansion of the harvest.

Father, we really can get wrapped around the axle with our favorite theological beliefs without checking to make sure that they are consistent with ALL Your Scriptures taken in context. I have personally seen the damage that we can do to people when we push bad theology at them, so I understand the pushback that Paul and Barnabas were putting forth. Help me, Lord, to put Your word, Your whole word, at the center of every theological belief I have, so that my words give life and hope to all who hear. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 26, 2019

Acts 14:24-28 (NIV)
After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

Paul and Barnabas had established full-fledged Churches in four cities of Galatia, including selecting and ordaining elders in each city. There were likely several congregations in each town, meeting in homes and public spaces. But all the Christians in each community were considered one Church, one body, working together to move God’s kingdom agenda forward by bringing more and more people to salvation.

Paul and Barnabas’ last stops in Galatia were the coastal towns of Perga and Attalia, where they preached before they sailed back to Syria to report on all that God had done through them.

When they arrived, they gathered the whole Church at Antioch together so that everyone could hear the report and rejoice. There had been at least four Churches started in Galatia, composed not only of Jewish believers, but of gentiles as well! This was unexpected news. The thought of most of the people was that the pair would go to the synagogues and show the Jewish men and women why they should trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. Instead, these Christians, who were predominantly gentile themselves (Acts 11:20-24), rejoiced that God was throwing the doors of the kingdom even wider and bringing in more and more gentiles.

Several years are covered by the phrase “they stayed there a long time with the disciples” in verse 28. Paul and Barnabas were not missionaries in the modern sense who go and live with a people group for many years, often a lifetime. Instead, they were apostles. They would go, make disciples, organize them into a Church, establish leadership, and then move on, staying in touch with the Churches they had established, and sometimes returning for a visit to strengthen the disciples. And in between trips to strengthen the Churches and to open new works, they returned to their home base of Antioch to not only recharge, but to continue their service there.

Father, it is easy to overlook how important it is to have a solid home base from which we can go, and to which we can return to rest, recharge and serve until our next mission. This is as true for those of us who are called to serve primarily in a local area as it is for those who are called to go far away. Help me, Lord, to use the down time with my brothers and sisters more intentionally, to rest, restore, rearm, serve, and to be ready for whatever mission I am called to next. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 25, 2019

Acts 14:21-23 (NIV)
They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Paul and Barnabas had greater success in Derbe than they had had in Lystra. They gained many souls for the kingdom and got them well started in the path of discipleship before starting their return journey to Antioch of Syria.

As they retraced their steps back to the port of Pamphylia on the south coast, they also revisited the towns in which they had gained disciples, encouraged them, and taught them some more that they needed to know about the kingdom of God. There was no outcry or protest from the Jews during these visits, because the pair were not preaching publicly or in the synagogues. They were focused on building up those who were already disciples who would share the good news with their families, friends and neighbors after they had gone. They reminded these new Christians of Jesus’ words that they would face severe trials as disciples, but they also assured them of Jesus’ presence and promise of help.

The other vital thing that Paul and Barnabas did was to appoint elders in each of the towns to oversee the Church there going forward. This was very important because the people in each of those communities still looked at Paul and Barnabas as their leaders, but now they were going away and might never be able to return. By placing responsibility for oversight in the hands of mature, Spirit-filled believers (1 Timothy 3:1-7), the future of the work of the kingdom and the spiritual growth of the believers would be assured.

Father, we sometimes forget that sharing the gospel and making a convert is not the end of the process but only the beginning. We must then help those who believe to go on to maturity in Christ and raise up leadership that will ensure the future of the Church. Help us, Lord, to not only think abut this reality, but to do it with Your strength and power working in and through us. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 24, 2019

Acts 14:19-20 (NIV)
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

Paul and Barnabas had prevented the people of Lystra from offering sacrifices to them, but they had not had the same kind of evangelistic success in Lystra that they had had in Antioch and Iconium. A big part of this was that there was not a strong Jewish base to start from. Paul did have a small group of people who had received Jesus, so he gathered them together and taught them.

That’s when trouble began. Jews from Antioch and Iconium heard that Paul and Barnabas had gone to Lystra. So, they came to town and denounced Paul and Barnabas as dangerous men who divided towns and disturbed the public peace. They denounced them as heretics who preached lies to gain a following for themselves.

That was all that was needed to set public opinion solidly against the evangelists. The townspeople quickly became a mob that stoned Paul. When they were sure he was dead, they dragged his body outside the city gates and left him there.

Paul’s disciples were heartbroken. First, they were ashamed that their fellow citizens had behaved that way, casting aside any semblance of legal process. But they were also heartbroken that they had lost their spiritual father and teacher. They gathered around Paul, figuring that they had better find someplace to bury him.

Imagine their surprise when Paul opened his eyes and spoke. A two-thousand-year-long debate was sparked over whether Paul had just been knocked unconscious, or if he had really been killed and God raised him from the dead. Many believe that Paul really died, and that he had his “third heaven” experience at this time (2 Corinthians 12:1-6) before God sent him back to his body.

But however it happened, Paul was alive. He went back into the city with the disciples and taught them more that they needed to know. The next morning, he and Barnabas left for Derbe, about ninety miles to the east.

Father, I find two things amazing in this account. The first is that You apparently were not done with Paul yet. Whether You preserved his life or restored it, the mob of Lystrans didn’t succeed in snuffing him out. The second is the fact that Paul went back to spend the night in the town again after all this had happened! His disciples, it seems, were that important to him. He wasn’t just going to disappear before he knew that they were going to be okay in his absence, even though his own life was clearly in danger. Such love for his disciples is a reflection of Your own sacrificial love and watchcase over those who serve You. Thank You for this illustration. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 20, 2019

Acts 14:14-18 (NIV)
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

When Paul and Barnabas finally figured out what was happening, they were horrified and filled with grief. They tore their clothes, a Jewish cultural sign of deep emotional anguish, and waded out into the celebrating crowd, Paul raising his voice to be heard over the chanting and singing.

Once Paul had their attention, he tried to correct the misunderstanding. His message contained the following points:

  • First, a crystal-clear denial of being Gods. Despite the miracle that Paul had performed, he and Barnabas were normal human beings, just like the rest of them.
  • They had come to Lystra to bring the good news of the advent of the kingdom of God to them, not to receive worship or adoration for themselves.
  • They urged the people to turn away from the worship of the Greek gods which were mere idols based on ideas of gods created by the minds of human beings.
  • Instead, they needed to turn to the living God, the real God, the one who made the heavens and the earth, and everything in them. He is the only real God, the only one who can provide salvation for them.
  • Up to that point in history God had focused His special revelation on the Jewish people, allowing the gentile nations to go their own way until the coming of the Messiah.
  • But even though these people and the rest of the gentiles had not received God’s special revelation like the Jews had, they had been given a general revelation of God’s existence and who He is through the good gifts that He had poured out on all people: rain, crops that provided food for them to eat, and things that bring joy to their hearts. He also provided the witness of all created things as a general revelation of His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20).

Paul hoped that these persuasive words would have an impact on the crowd, and they did. The people were sorely disappointed that the gods hadn’t come to their town after all and stopped the celebration. But even then, it was a grudging acceptance of the truth, tinged with resentment that would boil under the surface until it was blown into full flame a short time later.

Father, even when our intentions are the best in the world, false steps and misinterpretations can still trip us up and make a mess of things. Help us to keep our eyes and ears open to Your leading so that our missteps are few and the fixes You guide us into are powerful and effective. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 19, 2019

Acts 14:8-13 (NIV)
In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra, and very soon saw an opportunity to demonstrate the power of God. Paul had been teaching in the open air, not in a synagogue, and his listeners in this case were gentiles, believers in the Greek gods, not Jews and God-fearers as he usually began with.

As Paul taught, he noticed a lame man on the edge of the crowd who was listening intently, nodding vigorously, and who seemed to be right on the verge of trusting in Jesus. Paul took the opportunity to demonstrate the power of God with a miracle that would seal the deal for the lame man, and likely move many others in the crowd to believe. So, he called out and told the man to stand up. And he did!

The reaction from the crowd, though, was not what Paul had anticipated. There was lots of excited talking going on, but it was in the Lycaonian language, which neither Paul nor Barnabas understood. There was a rush to the healed man’s side, lots of smiles, and amazed looks at the missionaries, both of whom took this as a positive sign.

But more was going on here than they realized. The Greek religion was full of stories of the gods who had appeared in human form to the people of the past. These gods had blessed those who had treated them well and had cursed those who had not been hospitable to them. Because of the miracle they had just witnessed, the Lystrans figured that that was what was happening to them. They figured that Zeus and Hermes had come to them in human form, and that they needed to put their best foot forward, treat these “gods” well, and thus receive blessings instead of a curse.

So, while Paul and Barnabas basked in the adulation from the crowd, totally misunderstanding where it was coming from, the priest of Zeus hurried from the temple just outside the city with bulls and wreaths in order to make sacrifices to them. As far as they knew, they were doing the right thing, honoring the divine visitors who had dropped in unannounced for a visit.

Father, I’m not sure if this was the first time that Paul and Barnabas had preached to purely gentile crowd, without a beachhead of Jewish believers and God-fearers to act as buffers and interfaces, but it seems to be. And there was a learning curve in reaching out into new areas, even for them. Help us, Lord, as we bring Your good news to those around us who need to hear it, to listen carefully to Your Spirit, and to follow Your lead so that, as much as possible, we can avoid misunderstandings. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 18, 2019

Acts 14:1-7 (NIV)
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.

Iconium was about fifty miles to the east of Antioch. Paul and Barnabas followed their normal process of first taking the gospel to the synagogue. And just as they had in Antioch, many of the people responded with joy from among both Jews and gentiles, much to the consternation of the Jewish leadership.

Again, the unbelieving Jews stirred up the gentiles against the gospel and against the messengers, Paul and Barnabas. But there was no concerted effort at first to kick them out of the city, so they stayed, teaching the disciples and gaining an even larger following because God enabled them to do many miracles, giving powerful credibility to the message they were bringing.

The city was soon divided into two factions whose base worldviews were in exact opposition, as the gospel naturally divides people (Matthew 10:35). On one side were those who believed the gospel and who supported Paul and Barnabas. On the other side were those who opposed the gospel and the missionaries.

Finally, things reached critical mass when the anti-gospel faction developed a plot to stone Paul and Barnabas to death for blasphemy. Jesu’s instructions for this situation were very clear: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” (Matthew 10:23) The Christians were not to stand and oppose their persecutors, but to pray for them (Matthew 5:44), and go back later after things had cooled down.

So, as soon as the pair found out about the plot, they moved further east to Lystra, leaving behind another group of powerful, mature Christians who would continue the work in Iconium.

Father, leaving a place when a murder plot against you has been formed is not cowardice but wisdom, and Jesus Himself did the same on several occasions (Luke 4:30, John 8:59), until it was time for Him to surrender Himself to those who would crucify Him. Help us, Lord, to be faithful, bold in our proclamation of the gospel, unless and until it becomes time for us to move on to a new harvest field. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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