Thursday, April 27, 2006

Investigating (Acts 17)

In the second half of Acts 17 we find ourselves in the secular city of Athens. Paul left Berea due to some Jewish followers who were persecuting him (v.13-15). Once again Jews enraged over his message of salvation through Jesus Christ followed him from city to city stirring up trouble. Tightening up his sandals, Paul is sent by the wise Bereans to the city of Athens to wait for Silas and Timothy.

In Athens, Paul encounters a city chalked full of idols. They were everywhere! The Athenians even went so far as to erect an altar to and UNKNOWN GOD (v.23) just to be sure they had all their bases covered. These people were serious about idol worship. He also runs into strong intellectuals who do nothing but talk about and listen to new ideas (v.21). Did these people have jobs? Imagine the intimidation factor here in trying to tell these people about Jesus the Christ? Paul doesn’t seem too nervy by this (obviously this is the power of the Holy Spirit working in his life). He squares off with them and tells them the Good News. The results? A few became followers (v.34).

One treasure I came across here was Paul’s investigation of Athens. Check out verses 16 and 23:

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

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."

He talks about “looking carefully” at their objects of worship. Basically, he did some investigation work prior to speaking and preaching to them. I find this so interesting because in our day and age it seems we (the Church) seldom know what others are really worshipping (by worship I mean – what they spend their time thinking about, the thing that raises their heartbeat and blood pressure, the thing that tries to fill their heart, and the thing they really love and admire). We tend to shy away and dismiss it as garbage that we should have nothing to do with. But the problem is some people are perishing because they embrace this “garbage” as truth. Then they come to us with questions about it and we are completely ignorant and unable to connect what they see as truth to God’s Truth. It’s essential that we connect God’s Truth to them. This is what Paul did in Athens. Their UNKNOWN GOD was about to be explained to them (v.23).

Imagine the scene if Paul didn’t investigate Athens? How well would he have been able to relate God’s Word to them? Do we take time (like Paul) to investigate what those around us are worshipping? Do we spend time researching their religious beliefs? This couldn’t be more relevant with the upcoming release of the DaVinci Code movie. Are we ready to answer the world’s questions after they see the DaVinci Code? Some will and have embraced this as truth. Have we researched it? Have we read the book?

I thought I would list some practical “investigation” steps to help us out. If you can think of any more I haven’t listed let me know. I’ll list them on here for you.

1. Get into the Word. Some good books dealing with false teachings are: Galatians, 1 Timothy, 2 Peter, and 1 John. Also, I encourage you to dig into the Gospels to check out our Savior’s own words over such matters.

2. Pray. God’s Spirit guides us into all Truth the Scriptures say (John 16:13). Ask Him to do that with your research. Ask Him to filter what you see and read to ensure you don’t get suckered into it.

3. Do some research on the internet. This is free! Some good sites to use that offer information and have links to other sites with information over false teachings are: Christianity today and Blue Letter Bible (Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons).

4. Check our your Christian bookstore. Most offer a plethora of books dealing with and addressing false teachings. Right now you can find numerous books on the DaVinci Code. Some are even discounted due to how many are available.

5. Ask your local pastor for help. He/She is smart, educated, and spent thousands of dollars on a degree (from a Christian school) that he/she would love to put to use! He/She might even have some books you could borrow to save money (just be sure to return them). She/He will point you into the right direction for help with such issues.

I encourage you to be informed. Ignorance isn’t an eligible excuse in our day and age. We are surrounded by information. Don’t let the Enemy keep you from learning about his ways because he sure knows about our ways. If you have any other helpful information let me know and I’ll be sure to add it to this post. Thanks and may God through the Holy Spirit prepare us for service to Him.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Checking it with Scripture (Acts 17)

I’m rather happy over all the fuss about the upcoming film The DaVinci Code and the re-discovery of the Gospel of Judas. Why? One reason is that it makes us Christians really examine our beliefs. We go over all the basics to make sure we know why we believe what we believe. We get into God’s Word more to ensure we can explain our beliefs from Scripture. It also has outsiders (non-believers) and idle Christians (non-believers?) interested in the Bible and what it really has to say. What an opportunity for the Church to respond in love and Truth!

In Acts 17:10-15 Paul preaches the Good News in Berea. Luke describes the Bereans as possessing noble character (v. 11). They listened intently to what Paul had to say and they checked his message (Greek = Anakrino; to investigate or examine) with their Bible (which would have been just the Old Testament) to see if it checked out. And as a result of the message being true many Jews, prominent Greek women, and men believed.

What an example they set for us today. When we come across absurd ideas or a supposedly “new” gospel that is going to change Christianity forever (ha!), we should be like the Bereans. We should check what’s being taught with the Scriptures. If it’s not of God, He will tell us through His Spirit and Word. I’m thankful for Luke’s account of the Bereans and how they responded to Paul’s message.

- Any thoughts?
- Do you methodically check every new strange idea that comes out with the Scriptures to see if they're true or not?
- Do you think it could ever be possible for Christians worldwide to be duped into believing a strange new idea? Why or why not?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Prayer (Acts 16)

Prayer plays a vital role in Acts 16. I notice each time Paul and his companions are headed to a place of prayer or praying, something supernatural occurs. Whether it is someone accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, deliverance from a demonic spirit, or a prison break including an earthquake, something miraculous happens. And in each of these prayer is involved.

Check it out for yourself:
- Acts 16:13
- Acts 16:16
- Acts 16:25

In v.13 Paul and his companions meet Lydia and her heart is opened to accepting Jesus Christ. I like the setting; outside the city gate and down by the river. (I love rivers!) If prayer wasn’t such a significant part of the disciple’s lives, they might have missed the opportunity to present Jesus Christ to Lydia. This all happened as they were headed to a place of prayer. Think about that. God opened doors for the disciples to speak of Him and He opened the heart of Lydia and her household to receive Him. A beautiful picture of God using prayer to transform lives!

In v.16 Paul and company meet a slave girl who is demon possessed. She, with the help of this demon, has the ability to fortune tell. (There are such things as fortunetellers.) Apparently the demon inside her knows what is living inside of Paul (Holy Spirit). In sort of a comical scene, she follows them around for several days announcing to everyone who they are and what they offer (v.17-18). If you have a hard time seeing this as bothersome, imagine someone following you around for three days announcing to everyone who you are and what you do. In the name of Jesus Christ Paul commands (Greek = paraggello) the spirit to leave the girl. It does and she is free.

In v.25 Paul and Silas find themselves in jail praying and singing hymns. They ended up here as a result of Paul commanding the spirit to come out of the demon possessed slave girl (v.19). This led to false accusations, a flogging, and imprisonment. Not a happy way to end the day. Despite the fact that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens (v.37) and eligible for a fair trial, they took the beating and remained focused on God. As they are praying and singing in jail a violent earthquake shakes the entire place. All the prison doors fly open and everyone’s chains fall off. (Powerful symbolism for what God can do in us when we accept Him!) To avoid execution from the Roman government for allowing the prisoners to escape, the guard draws his sword to kill himself. But, before he can thrust the sword into his flesh, Paul shouts out to him. Strangely, no one has escaped and it appears no one wants to. The guard is moved to accepting Jesus Christ (he and his whole family).

Look at the role of prayer in Acts 16. Paul and his missionary companions are either on their way to do it or doing it when something miraculous happens. This makes me want to evaluate how much time I spend praying. How often am I headed to a place of prayer when God intervenes and someone’s life is changed forever? I’m embarrassed to answer that question. What an inspiring chapter in the book of Acts on prayer. Time to get you thinking about prayer.

- How important is prayer to you?
- How important should prayer be to the Church?
- What percent of your time during the week is spent praying?
- Can a lost person be saved and come to Jesus without someone first praying for them?
- Any other thoughts you would like to share on prayer?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

No! You can't preach Jesus! (Acts 16)

Acts 16 whisks us away with Paul and his companions on a second missionary journey. An immense journey taking them into Macedonia. (Modern day Greece. Where the disciples end up (Philippi) is located slightly to the southwest of kavala.) Paul recruits a young man by the named of Timothy to help out and he teaches him the ropes of spreading the Gospel (he’s discipling him). The author of Acts (Luke) also joins them (v. 10). But, something rather bizarre happens at the beginning of their journey. They are told by the Holy Spirit to not preach the word (v. 6-8).

What? Don’t tell someone about Jesus the Christ! Don’t tell someone about the life He offers! Don’t tell someone about the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Don’t tell someone about eternity in Heaven! I admit I read this passage slightly perturbed and confused. I thought we were supposed to preach and tell others about Jesus. You could go anywhere and do anything as long as you were intent on preaching Jesus Christ to others. And now I’m reading in God’s Word that the Holy Spirit told Paul not to preach Jesus to a certain group of people. Do you find this confusing?

This passage weighs heavy on people with the mentality that says, “I can do whatever and go wherever I want as long as I’m willing to tell others about Jesus.” This chapter in Acts is an in your face reminder that the Holy Spirit is our guide.

Listen to the words of Jesus: 13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

What does a guide do? I do a lot of fishing. I have one of the greatest fishing guides ever and if it weren’t for him, I would be clueless at fishing. (Thanks dad!) He knows when and where the fish will be. He knows what baits to use and not to use. He knows the best times. He knows the best spots. He knows the rivers and how to navigate them successfully without tearing a hole in the boat. He has experience and he shares that with whom he guides. I’m better off because of him. A guide makes us better.

I use this example to illustrate how the Holy Spirit guides us. He leads us, makes us aware of things we might not normally see, and he keeps us on his intended path. And He really is a know it all! John 16:13 gives ample proof that we are to be followers of God. We don’t pave the way and ask God to follow us. We’re supposed to do the opposite. So, for any of you do-it -yourselfers out there who think God will just get on board with your plans, think again (and read Acts 16). He has asked us to follow Him. We may not fully understand the specifics of His ways and why He does what He does, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a follower of Him. God wants people who are willing to be used and led by Him. I hesitate to write that because we see “being used” as purely negative in our culture. But, God uses us for good. He uses us to build His Kingdom.

Look at the good things that occurred as a result of God changing Paul’s plans and Paul letting God use him:
- Lydia, a wealthy dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira accepts Jesus Christ. She and her household were baptized. (v.13-15)
- A demon possessed slave girl was freed from the demon possessing her. (v. 16-18)
- Prisoners hear and witness the awesome power of God. (v.25-28)
- A jailer and his household accept Jesus Christ. (v. 29-33)

And to think, all of this happened as a result of these early disciples yielding to God’s leading. Followers led by a Guide (Holy Spirit). The above action takes place in the Roman city of Philippi. A major trade center between the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. The Church at Philippi was a strong Church. Paul writes a letter to them (the book of Philippians) calling them saints and commending them in their hard labor for the spread of the Gospel (Philippians 1:1-8). God uses us for good.

Any thoughts on this?
Does this remind you of any experiences you’ve had with the Holy Spirit?
What do you think about God using us?
What do you think the world thinks about God using us?
*Out of my own curiosity: Why do you think Paul and his companions were kept from preaching in Asia and Bithynia?