Acts 17

acts-17.jpgGreetings!

This is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  Paul is in Greece, where he gives a winsome, thorough and excellent presentation of the Gospel.  He understands his audiences well and treats them with respect.  Yet he doesn’t patronize them or water down the message.  Those who are interested in hearing more do so, but many reject it and walk away.  Paul doesn’t run and tackle them to make them hear more.

In Thessalonica

17     When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

Once again, the focus is always on the evidence and explanation of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  Also note the notation of women joining Paul and Silas.

5 But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

Christians around the world still suffer from persecution as Jason and his brothers in Christ did.

In Berea

10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

V. 11 speaks volumes about the Christian faith and helps explode the myth of a “blind faith” and that Christians aren’t open-minded.  The Bereans were lauded for questioning Paul to see if what he said lined up with Scripture.  We should all do the same when we listen to or read anything inside or outside the church.  The false teachers would have much smaller followings if people knew the Bible better.

13 When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

In Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

Are you greatly distressed at all the idols in our culture?

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Paul was very well educated and knew how these philosphers thought.  He took that into account with his Gospel presentation but he still preached Jesus and the resurrection. 

 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

Paul could have mocked them for worshiping an unknown God, but he used it to shift to the truth of God.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

That passage is one of the answers to the question of what happens to people who haven’t heard of Jesus.  God is there for everyone.  He knows exactly where each person will live and for how long. 

Paul knew their culture well and even quoted one of their poets.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul didn’t offer cheap grace.  He said that God has commanded that people repent and he preached the death and ressurection of Jesus.  He taught that God will judge the world and resurrect the dead.  We should teach the same things. 

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Somewhere towards the back

lovejoy2.jpgThe Simpsons TV show has countless religious references.  Their main objective, of course, is to garner laughs, but some are insightful (whether the writers meant them to be or not).  Here’s one of my favorites:

Lisa [standing in the pulpit]: I know most of you have already judged my brother guilty without any proof.  But doesn’t the Bible teach us, “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”

Reverend Lovejoy: I think it may be somewhere towards the back.

Many Christians (and non-Christians) pick and choose what they like in the Bible (see Dalmatian Theology for more on that).  Reverend Lovejoy doesn’t like the verse he’s hearing so he downplays it by implying that implying that it is towards the back of the Bible (it is actually in Matthew 7). 

A group calling themselves “Red-letter Christians” claim to focus on the specific quotes of Jesus (typed in red letters in some Bibles).  But there is a big problem with this approach: Jesus is God, and all of the Bible is God’s Word.  The black letters don’t trump the red letters and don’t carry more weight.  They may be special for some reasons, but they are no more authoritative.  (The aforementioned group is twisting the scriptures anyway to suit a political agenda).

Of course, Lisa is interpeting the verse incorrectly as well by making common mistakes – taking the Bible too literally and not in context.  If she would keep reading she would see that Jesus meant not to judge hypocritically. There are plenty of verses teaching that we need to make sound judgments, such as John 7:24 (“Stop judging on mere appearances and make a right judgment.”)

See how many Bible lessons you can glean from The Simpsons?

Will we learn from Europe’s mistakes?

world-map.gifConsider these options:

  • Good: Learn from your mistakes
  • Better: Learn from other people’s mistakes
  • Best: Read the Bible and avoid mistakes

Europe has given the following message to God: Get out.  They are closing churches and opening mosques at a rapid rate.  They naively think that Muslims want to assimilate, but the truth is they have no intention of doing so.  They want to infiltrate and then subject the infidels to Sharia law. 

America’s leaders don’t seem to be learning from this.

Here’s a mystery: In post-9/11 America, why does Islam have favored status and why has its image improved relative to Christianity?  Islam is anti-women’s rights, anti-freedom, virulently anti-gay and anti-abortion, etc.  My hypothesis is that many liberals simply hate Christianity, and they fall victim to the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” line of thinking.

Do you think radical Islamists are serious?  Do you think they will use nuclear weapons if they get them?  I do.  

We will not rest from our Jihad until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have destroyed the dirty black house — which is called the White House” – al-Muhajir

Naivete’ is not a virtue. 

Acts 16

acts-16.jpgGreetings! 

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

16     He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

Paul preaches against the circumcision group in the Book of Galatians and we just read in chapter 15 of the Book of Acts how the church clearly agreed that we are saved by grace and not by works.  Circumcision, a Jewish ritual, was not required to be a Christian.

 So why did Paul have Timothy circumcised?  Was he being inconsistent or adding to the Gospel?  No, Paul’s mission was to advance the Gospel and everything else was subordinated to that.  He realized that if Timothy was uncircumcised it could be a barrier to sharing the Gospel with Jewish people.  It wasn’t required for Timothy to be a Christian, but it was helping in spreading the Good News.

Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia

6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

They received clear supernatural guidance on where to go and where not to go.  Yet other times Paul chose to pursue different ministry opportunities even though a door had been opened for him.  God can still work this way, though we must always test such things in light of scripture.  It is far too easy for us to think God told us something when it is really just what we wanted to hear.

Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

It appears that there was not a synagogue in Philippi, but Paul preached to women who had gathered to pray. 

Paul and Silas in Prison

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

This is such a powerful story!  First, consider how Paul had an “open door” – literally and figuratively – to move on.  Yet he stayed! 

Knowing Paul, he had probably witnessed to the jailer over and over.  When Paul didn’t leave it was the jailer’s final proof that what Paul said was true. 

What a great witness: Paul and his companions were severely beaten and thrown in jail yet they were singing and praying to God.  That is convicting to me, especially when I think of all the blessings we have an how it is so easy to complain about little things or to want more.

And how was the jailer saved?  By believing in the Lord Jesus.  That’s it. 

I have heard this passage used to support infant baptism (“he and all his family were baptized”), but seems like a stretch to me. 

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Bella!

bella.jpgCareNet Pregnancy Center of NW Houston bought a whole showing of the award-winning movie Bella.  It was a terrific movie with a strong pro-life theme.

Here’s an excerpt from one review.

Bella is an unusually intelligent, humane film that reminds us how easy it is to impact one person’s life—and perhaps save another’s—simply by being sensitive to hurting people and carving out time to care. It is a tender tale of grace, faith, redemption and the sanctity of life. It doesn’t showcase A-list stars or wield a multi-gazillion dollar budget. Rather, it’s an intimate narrative that will surely fly well beneath the Hollywood blockbuster radar. But it’s a film that does fly directly in the face of Hollywood’s—and society’s—”it’s all about me” credo.

Eduardo Verástegui knows his little film (he also co-produced it) won’t dominate the box office. But he doesn’t mind. “I was caught up in the stardom and money of this business, like so many actors,” he told us, “But I was drawn to do this. To just do something worthwhile.” Thus, he and his fellow producers stepped away from successful careers to pursue an independent film with no guarantees. He said with emotion, “What I’d love to see happen with this film is to someday have this 12-year-old knock on my door and say that her mother was going to have an abortion. But she saw this film. That would be my Oscar.”

He continued, “This film is for the Ninas of the world. This film is not for the people who already agree that life is personal and has dignity. I want to touch the girls who come from broken families who don’t know anything about all these important issues—and next thing you know they find themselves pregnant and they think it’s fine to just go and have an abortion because that is what they have been taught. I want to reach them and embrace them and love them through the film and then by that they can choose what is best for them, which is to have their baby.”

Bella‘s pondering of love and true values may just be vivid enough to accomplish the things Verástegui hopes it will.

Check it out!

Guest post: Tough decisions

From an email by Sunday School Teacher (long time commenter, first time guest-blogger).  I thought it was worth sharing.

After some of the discussions on abortion on your blog; I want to relate the story of a young friend of mine. I cited this case in a comment before knowing the outcome. I said I could not condemn these kids if they had an abortion, well I am glad (and a little ashamed) that they had more faith than I did. Our families have been friends for four generations and he went through school (K-12) with my oldest son.

Luke (not his real name) got married about a year and a half ago. About nine months ago the couple found out they were going to have a baby. This was a planned pregnancy and they were overjoyed.

About three months into the pregnancy they learned that their baby had serious problems. It was not likely that the baby would survive the pregnancy and if he did he would not live more than 2 weeks in the best case. The doctors recommended an abortion.

I don’t know the young lady Luke married very well, but Luke has gone to church regularly his whole life (not Methodist), with parents and grandparents whose religion involves a lot more that just going to church. So, the young couple did what I would say was the right thing, they talked to their parents, they talked to their pastor, they talked to other Christians, and of course they talked to God. I know they heard many sound and sincere arguments on both sides.

In the end they chose not to have an abortion. As the time for the baby’s birth drew near, there was more bad news. The baby’s kidneys had not developed and his lungs were only partly developed. There was no chance the child could survive his birth.

So the couple decided to have a c-section so that the baby could avoid the trauma of birth. They did so knowing that the child would still not live more than a few hours. The little boy came into the world without having to struggle to breathe with those weak lungs.

The family was prepared, both sets of grandparents were there; everyone held the baby and they tried to put a life-time of love into those few hours they would have. Well they had three precious hours and then the baby died.

I don’t know what happens to these little ones, but I am inclined to believe that if this couple holds on to their faith; one day they will be greeted in heaven by a soul full of love and apreciation for those three hours. They could not choose life, but they could choose not to have their son killed by the violence of abortion or even the trauma of birth. Instead the boy died in the loving arms of his parents.

I think that’s quite a story but it doesn’t quite end yet. Thanks to his parents, the little boy with the weak lungs and no kidneys had a perfect heart. It had not been damaged by the trauma that would have occurred during his birth. So those fine kids donated that heart, so that somewhere some other baby might have a chance to live. I have thought about it a lot and I think that in that sad birthing room, that dying little boy was not the only one with a perfect heart.

I think the key thing here is that they looked for God’s will and tried to follow it. Who could have foreseen the outcome, only God. I know another couple who sought God’s will just as hard and did have the abortion, their child had no brain and could not possibly have survived. I know it sounds strange, but I think both couples made the right decision. When you seek God’s will in these things, I don’t think he makes it hard to find. You just have to have faith that he knows what he is doing.

Feel free to use the story if it will help someone, it is absolutely true. It has certainly made me think, I am not sure if I would have such faith.

God Bless,

“Sunday school teacher”

Weekly roundup

Why Muslims convert to Christianity – an important list of things to be aware of.

Logical consequences of PC “tolerance”

Do you remember the mainstream media covering the death of this woman at a “safe” abortion clinic?  Me neither.

The World Health Organization publishes a study claiming that laws against abortion do nothing to deter them.  And you can trust them, of course, because the group that did the research was a Planned Parenthood affiliate.  And Planned Parenthood would never lie (except when they hide rapists and such).

And don’t forget Planned Parenthood’s warnings about abortion: “An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it.”