Monday, October 27, 2008

This Week's Schedule 10/26/2008

Tuesday October 28th-
Women of Faith Bible Study: Encouraging One Another 7:00pm

Wednesday October 29th- Kids Club 5:30

November 2nd- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Monday November 3rd- Run for Missions Starts at 6:30 am at the Ministry Center!

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.
October is Missions Emphasis Month--pray about how God wants to use you to share the gospel with people everywhere!

This week's sermon: Unexpected Protection

Acts 18:1-17.
We see Paul here settling into a familiar pattern of reasoning in the synagogue. He was a tentmaker, and when he came to Corinth, he met a fellow tentmaker and his wife. These people are mentioned here casually, but they become instrumental in the spread of the Gospel message. They disciple a man named Apollos and are mentioned by name in Paul's letters to the churches. When he meets them here, we don't know if they have accepted the gospel message, or even if they have heard it. Luke identifies Aquila as a Jew, not a believer, so I am inclined to believe that they were not followers of Jesus at this time.

Aquila and Priscilla were from Rome, but had to leave when Claudius, the Roman Emperor, ordered that all Jews be expelled. This puts the time of their meeting after AD 49—the earliest date given by scholars of the expulsion of Jews from Rome. They had made their way to Corinth, and here we see Paul sharing a common craft with them—tentmaking, and Luke tells us that he stayed and worked with them. So, he finds a niche in business, and settles in with friends in the Jewish community to whom he is bringing the message of the Messiah's coming.

Silas and Timothy had not caught up with Paul in Athens as planned because Paul moved on to Corinth before they got there. When they arrived, Paul was able to devote more time to preaching. Before they came, he had needed to work to provide for his physical needs and now he was free to preach and testify about Jesus. Paul did not receive a great response of faith from the Jewish community, in fact they so opposed him that he stopped reasoning with them. If we think about what Paul had been through up to this point and he continued to try to share the gospel, and here he is shaking out his robes and clearing himself of any responsibility for their lack of conversion; it must have been bad. What would they have had to do? He had already been run out of several towns, he had been stoned, and he still went back into that town. What would these Corinthians have had to do in order for Paul to give up on their salvation? He washed his hands of them and told them he was going to preach the message to the Gentiles!

Paul left the synagogue and didn't make it far, just next door. I wonder if that was just to spite the Jews in the synagogue. He left them and went next door to the house of a Gentile. But even though he was a Gentile, Titius Justus was a worshiper of God, and Paul probably met him at the synagogue. So, not only does Paul leave the Jews and go next door, not only to the house of a Gentile, but to the house of a frequent visitor to the synagogue. If I was a teenager, I'd say “Oh, snap!” Paul preached the gospel message there, and won several converts, including the leader of the synagogue, and his whole family. We had better believe that this was not acceptable to the synagogue crowd.

In spite of this situation where the message and Paul had been rejected and his moving on to the Greeks and the kind of escalating tension in Corinth between Paul and the Jewish community, God tells Paul to stay put. God had Paul in Corinth for a reason. He had him talking to these people for a reason. And he told Paul to trust him to provide protection if necessary to spread the message of the gospel to those who would receive it. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.” These are God's commands to Paul in spite of the fact that he is facing fierce opposition. In spite of the fact that they so abused him that he told them he wasn't going to talk to them anymore. God said, “I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

God showed Paul his hand. He said, I have this one covered, you don't have to be afraid. Now for some of us, this is surprising. Why would God have to tell Paul he would protect him? Wouldn't Paul-Super Missionary know that already? Hadn't God protected him enough for Paul to just intuitively know that God was watching out for him? Maybe, but since God had to come to him in a vision, I am going to go out on a limb and say that he was not altogether confident that God was going to protect him here. He might have decided to move on because of the conflict. He had done that in the past few cities, moved on when the tension was too high. Maybe Paul was discouraged. Maybe he thought he would always be the Missionary on the run. God tells him here that he can relax and simply preach the word and trust God to protect him. Paul did, and he stayed with the Corinthian believers for a year and a half. This is the longest he has stayed anywhere except for Antioch.

When the unsettled people in the Jewish community decide to make a united attack against him, God proves his promise to Paul in an unusual way. The men brought Paul to court and made charges against him. Paul has been in places like this before and has probably been thinking about what he needs to say in his own defense, but before he can say anything, the proconsul makes a surprising statement. Gallio tells the complainants that they are wasting his time. The charges being brought, he tells them are not even a misdemeanor. They are disputes over their own law and religious practice and he refuses to hear them out. With that statement he is done with them and the trial is over. He had them thrown out of his court.

When they hit the street, the men who had come to prosecute Paul turn on their own leader and beat him up in front of the court, but Gallio ignores them. God protected Paul by means of an unconcerned Roman official, who could not be bothered by internal matters of a strange monotheistic religion. You can't get much more unexpected than that.

So what do we take home with us from this passage?

The first application we can take with us is that it is not bad to make friends and work with people who are not believers. That may seem obvious, but there are many people who avoid unbelievers like the plague. Paul lived with some. Aquila and Priscilla were just common tentmakers. Paul was too and he needed a way to supplement his income while he was separated from his travel companions. So, he stayed with them and worked with them. And guess what God did, he worked in the lives of Aquila and Priscilla to make them into a leadership training team like no other. When we encounter people who don't know Christ in the workplace or in our neighborhood, we may be tempted to shy away from them. I understand that we don't want to condone their sinful behavior or pick it up ourselves, but if we don't bear a little discomfort and reach outside of our bubble, we may miss out on the opportunity of leading them to Christ and watching them grow into their God-given potential. Don't be afraid to live and work with people who are outside the body of Christ, it may be the only way that they will become a part of it.

Another application in these verses is trusting the protection and provision of God. There may be times when we need to back off or move on from one witnessing opportunity or another, but when God is moving in your heart to do or say something, trust that he will be the one to protect you. I like to say, that when we are obedient, we can trust God to handle the consequences. Sometimes there are real consequences that are serious, like when Paul was dragged out of town and stoned at Lystra. God was able to handle those consequences. Sometimes God preempts the serious consequence like here where he stopped the trial before it started. Sometimes the consequence for sharing our faith is our very life, like Stephen testifying before the Sanhedrin. But even in that case, Luke tells us Stephen's face shone like an angel and he committed himself to the Lord, forgave those who were stoning him and fell asleep. God was able to handle those consequences as well, and you better believe there was a party going on in heaven to welcome him home.

For most of us, the consequences we face for sharing our faith have not been that serious, we may risk a friendship or a relationship with a coworker. We might face a little embarrassment, or rejection. We have got to trust God with that. He can handle the consequences of our obedience. We are in his hands, we are under his wings, we are subject to his protection. Knowing this gives us the confidence to be bold in sharing our faith, in loving the lost, and in following the Lord wherever he leads.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Week's Schedule 10/19/2008

Tuesday October 21st-Coffee at Amanda's 9:30 am
Women of Faith Bible Study: Encouraging One Another 7:00pm

Wednesday October 22nd- Kids Club 5:30

October 26th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.
October is Missions Emphasis Month--pray about how God wants to use you to share the gospel with people everywhere!

This week's sermon: You are here X

Acts 17:16-34.

Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens. Luke tells us that he was distressed by the idol worship going on all around him, and Luke gives us the reason for this eclectic idolatry in verse 21- all the Athenians and foreigners spent their time doing nothing but listening to the latest ideas. Typically in this time, a region or city might have its own deity, its own god to worship. These were collected all together in the Greek and Roman Pantheons, recognized as official gods of the empire. And even though each region recognized the gods of the other regions, they didn't necessarily worship them.

Here in Athens, people came from all over to study philosophy. Athenians were so interested in new things and knowing all the various philosophies and gods that they built monuments and worshiped gods from all over. Paul had been traveling around Asia-minor, and South-eastern Europe encountering various idol-worship, but here in Athens he is surrounded by it on every side. He sticks to his usual method of evangelism and goes to the synagogue to reason with them there, but he also goes into the marketplace to preach the good news to anyone who will listen.

Paul gets quite a lot of attention by preaching in the marketplace, because all of the philosophers gathered there to discuss and debate their particular philosophies. To them, Paul is just another philosopher with his own thoughts and ideas to share. But what he is teaching is beyond their typical range of discussion. He is talking about one supreme God and the idea that this Jesus person was his son, and about the concept of resurrection and life after death. They didn't get this conglomeration of ideas and philosophies. It is not that they hadn't thought of each idea separately, but all together, they didn't know what to do with them. So after much debate, they bring Paul before the Areopagus.

Now, not being ancient Greek scholars, most of us don't know who the Areopagus was. I am not even sure that most bibles have foot-notes telling us what the Areopagus was. Anybody have footnotes about the Areopagus? This was a hill that was used by the Council of Areopagus for their meetings, and it had a series of step-seats that the council sat on to hear cases brought before them. The Greek is kind of ambiguous, so we don't know if they took him to this place to talk so that they could all hear him and ask questions of him at once, or if they brought him to an actual meeting of the Areopagus council. The council was the original system of government in Athens, the Elders of the city used to meet to bring justice. They were the governing body until the Romans took over, but in Paul's time they still heard some cases. Depending on the translator's view of the Greek, you will have either that the philosophers brought him to the hill or to a meeting of the council in your version of the bible. I don't think it matters too much either way, because the council really only heard cases of murder or corruption, and Paul was not being charged with either. It would simply be a matter of how many men heard his message on that day.

Paul stands before the people who have gathered to hear his message, and he tells them that they are horrible sinners going to hell...No, he does not. He stands before them and commends them for being so religious! What? It seems counterintuitive for most of us who have been steeped in the idea that in order to evangelize one must first point out how bad the other person is and how they are headed for the hot place if they don't get it right. But here, we have Paul setting a different kind of example. He comes to this city of Athens and is in distress over their idolatry, so we know that he is not accepting their sinfulness, but that is not where he starts. Remember last week we talked about Paul debating the life of the Messiah in the synagogue? Well here he is giving a philosopher's presentation in a way that will be heard and understood by his audience. And he starts not with their evilness, but with their virtue. He tells them, I was walking around and among your objects of worship and devotion, and I couldn't help but notice how uncommonly religious you are. He starts with their strengths. And in that strength, he finds an open door to present the gospel. He says that they are so religious and don't want to leave out any god, that they even have a monument to the unknown god.

It is through the avenue of their interest in finding all the gods and honoring them that Paul finds an opening to present them with the good news that the Creator of the universe has set everything up—all our lives, where we live, where we are born, what we see—just so we might reach out to grope for him in the darkness and find him. In him we live and move and have our being—which would have upset the stoics who believed the opposite that “god” had his being in all things. Paul tells them, from the sayings of their own pagan philosophers that if we are God's offspring, he obviously is not made of wood, stone, or metal. He sets out the basics of who God is, and who he is not.

Then Paul tells them that in the past, God had tolerated this ignorance of who he is and his basic nature, but now God wants people everywhere to repent. The Greek word here is metanoia, literally “to think afterward.” It means to realize that what was before was in error, and in the case of the teachings of Jesus to allow that realization to change the rest of one's life. In this context it would have held a kind of double meaning, Paul was talking about their ignorance, and now he tells them God wants them to return to wisdom, to knowledge and realize their former ignorance. God, Paul tells them, has given the authority of judgment on those who do not come to this repentance to his representative—Jesus, proven by his death and resurrection. That last statement both turned some off and others onto this message that Paul was teaching.

While some disregarded him, there were others who wanted to hear more, and there were some who took what he said to heart and became believers. One of those who believed was a member of this Areopagus council, a man of status and prestige. Another convert given by name is Damaris, a woman who may have been an educated lady allowed to help the Areopagus council and listen to their debates. Both of these converts would have been important because they were not uneducated or ignorant people, but those who held positions of authority in this community. Conversions like theirs set the stage for Christianity becoming an acceptable faith in Greece and Rome.

So what do we take from this passage of scripture? I think there are several applications we can take and make a part of our everyday lives. One that stands out to me is that evangelism does not always have to be aggressive and condemning. I find that many people struggle with feeling like they can evangelize because they don't have aggressive personalities. In this chapter, though, we find Paul starting not with a confrontation, but a commendation. He starts by saying to the Athenians, just like a map in a park or a mall “You are here X.” Maybe the people in your life need someone just like you, with a mild personality who can love them and gently say I notice this is where you seem to be in the area of religion and spirituality—and take it from there. We have to first understand where people are in order to give them directions to where they need to go. Too often, people are given a map and told, you need to find Jesus. Without that little help of a “You are here X,” they may not know where to start.

I believe another application from this passage is that we need to not be discouraged by those who reject the message of the gospel. I am so glad that Jesus did not tell his followers to go and make X-number of converts. NO, he told them, go and make disciples. No numerical requirement. Paul preached before these people, and many scoffed at what he had to say. Not just didn't believe, but openly mocked him. That wasn't important, though. Luke doesn't tell us the names of those who scoffed and scorned, instead he tells us of two who particularly strongly embraced the gospel. We may share the gospel, our faith, our testimony with many who will reject it and us. What we need to realize, though, is that there will be some who will take it to heart. And even some of those who initially reject Christianity may still come to Christ at a later time. Paul tells us in Galatians 6:9 not to get discouraged in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.

I encourage you not to give up. Let God use you to reach out to those around you. Don't get bogged down with thoughts of how evangelism has to look. Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would give us words to say as we testify about him even before kings. If that is true, how much more will he give us words to say as we testify to those we love and hold dear in our everyday lives. And if you experience rejection of the gospel message, don't take it to heart, Jesus said there are some who will reject us just like they rejected him. Take it as proof of your discipleship to him, and draw strength from him to continue so that you will reap a harvest at just the right time—Don't give up.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Week's Schedule 10/12/2008

Tuesday October 14th-No activities

Wednesday October 8th- NO Kids Club
Elder's Meeting 6:30

October 19th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.
October is Missions Emphasis Month--pray about how God wants to use you to share the gospel with people everywhere!

This week's sermon: A tale of two cities

Acts 17:1-15.
In these verses, we see Paul and company travel to two cities: Thessalonica and Berea. Both cities have large enough Jewish communities to have synagogues, in both Paul reasons with the people about the Messiah, both produce some believers, both have riots in town because of the missionaries' work. But one city is commended over the other. So what made the difference?

Luke tells us that Paul spent three weeks reasoning and debating with the Thessalonians about the Messiah, and what his life would be like. Specifically, he talked about the sufffering of the Messiah, that he would have to die and be raised to life. After debating these points for three weeks, he comes to his conclusion: This Messiah is Jesus. There were some Jews who believed, some God-fearing Greeks, and some Greek women accepted this message as well. As a result of these conversions, there were some in the Jewish community who felt threatened, and decided to make a public protest by starting a riot.

The mob stormed the house where Paul and company had been staying, and dragged off the owner of the house, Jason, and some other believers. They threw them before the town authorities charging them with honoring another king besides Caesar. The men were fined and let go, but it was enough of a scare that they sent the missionaries on to their next destination under cover of night.

When they came to Berea, Luke tells us they went right to the synagogue and began their evangelizing efforts anew. Here is where we see the distinction in the two towns, Luke tells us that the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians because they embraced the teaching with joy and began to diligently search the scriptures daily to confirm the teaching that Paul had given them.

As a result of their reaction to the gospel message, many Jews believed, many prominent women, and even some Greek men came to faith. The different reaction brought about an abundant harvest in the lives of the Bereans.

We need to ask ourselves: Do we receive teaching with Joy? and Do we search the scriptures diligently to see if what is being taught is the Truth of God? These two can make the difference between barren lives, lives bearing little fruit, and lives producing fruit abundantly. They accepted the teaching with Joy because they were seeking to learn the things of God. They did not think that they had arrived at the place in their lives where they did not need to learn any more. They recognized that God still had things to teach them. Notice, though, that these Bereans did not just absorb what was taught, they diligently searched the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. We have to do the same if we want to see fruit in our lives.

We need to be humble enough to seek the things of God and learn what we are still lacking. We also need to be concerned enough to diligently seek whether what we are learning is the Truth. That applies to every teaching we receive, not just from Bible teachers we don't know, but even our Sunday School teachers, even our Ministers! I invite you to search the scriptures to see if what I tell you is the Truth of God. If it is not, I invite you to tell me, so that I can get it right as well! This is how we will grow in the knowledge of the things of God, His Truth; and that knowledge leads to greater growth of His Fruit in our lives which can spill over into the lives of others around us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

This Week's Schedule 10/5/2008

Tuesday October 7th-
Women of Faith: Encouraging One Another 7:00 pm

Wednesday October 8th- Kids Club 5:30-6:30
Game Night for All Ages 6:30pm

October 12th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.
October is Missions Emphasis Month--pray about how God wants to use you to share the gospel with people everywhere!

This week's sermon: The Key to Freedom

Acts 16:16-40.
The slave girl who was trapped in bondage to demon possession and her owners were gaining a profit from her spiritual bondage. She had the ability to tell fortunes because of her demon possession, and as a result of this she knows that Paul and Silas are there to tell people about Jesus. She follows them around for several days, shouting to the crowds, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Nowhere in scripture does it say that fortune-telling doesn’t work. Sometimes it does, and that is the worst kind. In order to gain knowledge of what is happening in the spiritual realm, people expose themselves to demonic oppression, or even possession as in this case.

The slave girl knew that they were servants of the Most High God because the demon inside her knew. I don’t know why she followed them for several days announcing this information to the crowds. I can’t think of any reason why the demon that was possessing her would want to do this. The only reason I can think of for her to follow these men, shouting their allegiance to God and their purpose in telling people how to be saved was because even in her place of bondage, she knew they could help her. Luke tells us she followed them until Paul got so bothered, that he turned and cast the demon out of her. He was tormented by the fact that she was in such bondage that even though she obviously knew the truth, she was unable to ask them for help. Paul turns around and casts out the demon without being asked. And by doing so, he makes her owners and many other people angry.

A mob drags Peter and Silas to the marketplace where they are thrown before the magistrates. The authorities have them whipped and jailed with no trial, no chance for them to give a defense. It is understandable when you know the situation they were in. Remember last week we talked about how Philippi was a Roman colony. Well, in Rome at that time, their pantheon of gods had grown so large that they did not want any other gods added to it. They made a law forbidding the introduction of any new god. The Jews were already seen as suspicious people because they didn’t participate in the worship of many gods, but only one God. So bringing these men in to the authorities and saying that they were Jews, they were already on the watch list. Then saying that they were introducing new religious customs that were not acceptable under Roman law, the deal was sealed. According to the laws of the times, if they were guilty of the charges, they received their just penalty.

They were handed over to the jailor, who added to their discomfort by throwing them in the inner jail—no windows or fresh air, and putting their feet in stocks. So what was the response of Paul and Silas? Did they respond like typical prisoners, banging on the bars, yelling obscenities, begging for legal representation, or demanding their rights? Did they react with anger, hopelessness, sadness, despair? No. They sat in their chains reciting psalms and singing hymns. One commentator said he thought they probably recited Paschal or Passover hymns that come from Psalm 113-118. I don’t know if these were the songs they were singing in the middle of the night, but it sure would have been awesome to hear, “Tremble, O earth at the presence of the Lord!” and then to feel the earth shake! Paul and Silas had freedom that night, before their chains were broken. They were already free in the Lord. The chains falling off and their freedom the next day were just a bonus.

As they praised the Lord, and all their jail-mates listened, the ground shook, and their chains fell off, and their doors opened. And no one moved. The poor jailor was about to commit suicide rather than face death at the hands of the authorities when they found out that all the prisoners had escaped on his watch. I don’t know how Paul knew that the man had a sword out and was going to do himself in, but somehow he did, and he yelled from his cell that they were all in their places. No one had left. In my mind, I can’t decide which is the greater miracle—the chains and the doors, or that somehow without being told, the prisoners all stayed in their places.

Whichever is the greater miracle it is the last one that makes the jailor sit up and pay attention. When he knows that the prisoners are still there, he also knows that his life has been saved, and having already heard all about the girl who was yelling that these men came to tell people the way of salvation, he throws himself at their feet and asks how he can be saved. The answer that Paul gives him may have been one of the greatest shocks of his life. As a pagan who had made sacrifices to the multitude of pagan gods that the Romans followed, I imagine that this jailor was shocked to hear that the gift of eternal life was free. All that was required of him, and anyone else who wants that life, was belief. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” Not only was this offer for the jailor, but all in his household who would believe as well.

The jailor’s family gathered around to hear the gospel message and after the jailor had cleaned their wounds with water, each believing member of the jailor’s household was baptized symbolizing the cleaning that had happened in their hearts. Now Paul and Silas were no longer treated as prisoners, but like members of the family as food was laid out for a midnight meal. The jailor’s heart was filled with joy, because he had come to believe in God, and so had his whole family.

There are three stories of deliverance in this chapter. So often, when we hear the Sunday school lesson, the emphasis is on the miraculous release from jail. We see God at work bringing both physical and spiritual freedom in this chapter, but this morning I believe the more important liberations are spiritual. The slave girl was released from her demon-possession, and was no longer exploited in that way, but she was still a slave. Paul and Silas had already been released from the bondage of despair after their imprisonment and flogging, even before their chains fell off. Yes, Paul and Silas were released from their chains, but even if they hadn’t, they would have been ok, because they knew in their hearts that the power of God giving them eternal life was greater than any earthly punishment. The jailor was given new life, he and his whole family, although he was still the jailor and dependent on the Roman government for his survival.

Sometimes God grants us physical freedom, but at all times, it is more important for us to receive spiritual release from bondage. Because of our new life in Christ, we may not be able to change every unpleasant or difficult circumstance, but we can live and walk through those circumstances with victory. We can and should ask God to help us in our circumstances, but whatever his plan for our deliverance, you can be sure that we can praise the God who gives us victory in all our life situations through Jesus Christ our Lord.