Thursday, May 25, 2006

Abusing God's Name (Acts 19)

Acts 19:13-16 tells a story of some Jewish men (seven sons of Sceva) trying to exorcise demon-possessed people by using the Name of Jesus. Apparently they thought uttering His Name would work like magic and do for them what they wanted. On one occasion the evil spirit inside a possessed man talks directly to them. It asks them, “Who are you?” The evil spirit even acknowledges it has heard of Jesus and Paul, but not these men.

What do I learn from such a story? A couple things:

1. When we are working with and for God (building His Kingdom), the Enemy is going to know us. The evil spirit remarked in verse 15,

I know about Paul.”

The Enemy knew all about Paul and the good things he was doing for God’s Kingdom. Please don’t find this discouraging, but when we accept Christ and start living for Him, the Enemy marks us. They have every right because Their kingdom is at risk. So, expect an attack. This is why Paul asks us to suit up in spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:13-18. God has given us protection (thank you God!). He’s not going to force us each day to wear it, we have to put it on. This passage also reveals how the Enemy feels towards unbelievers. They care nothing about them. These seven sons of Sceva were on the Enemy’s side, since they were not confessed believers in Jesus Christ, they belonged to Satan and his kingdom, but, as we see, the demon doesn’t even know them (maybe he missed the memo that day). He doesn’t even know who’s on his own side, proof of the selfishness of demons and Satan.

Another thing I learn is...

2. God’s Name is holy. His Name is holy because He is holy. If you believe we serve a holy God you will show reverence towards His Name. People who throw God’s Name around in a phrase like, “Oh my God!” have no respect for God’s holiness. Reading this section in Acts might, I hope, change your mind. Going back to our story we discover that after trying to misuse God’s holy Name to drive out the spirit, it backfires on the seven sons of Sceva and they are badly beaten up by the evil spirit (v.16). After this, fear seizes the community and the Name of the Lord is held in high honor (v.17). If we’re misusing God’s holy Name, we could be inviting the Enemy in for such an attack. What do you think? God’s Name deserves respect. He deserves our worship?

*To see the amazing results and conclusion to this story read Acts 19:17-20.


- What do you learn from this story?
- How do you honor the Name of the Lord?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Apollos (Acts 18)

Towards the end of Acts 18 we are introduced to Apollos. A man from Alexandria (Egypt) who Luke describes as…

“A learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.”

The arrival of Apollos in Ephesus was perfect in timing. Paul had just left and was on his way back to Antioch, so the Church in Ephesus needed help. Apollos was the helper (though we don’t know how long he stayed). According to Scripture, Apollos didn’t know anything beyond what John the Baptist had taught concerning Jesus (v.25). So, this meant Apollos was teaching about a Redeemer who would follow John. Apollos, no doubt, believed in Jesus Christ, he just didn’t know (in the word’s of Paul Harvey) the rest of the story. So, Priscilla and Aquila (knowing all about Jesus Christ) taught him Truth (v.26). After this, Apollos makes his way west to Corinth, so he can strengthen and encourage the believers there (v.27).

Luke introduces us to another character (Apollos) that had a dramatic influence, for the good, on those around him. However, Luke doesn’t give him a lot of press time (which is ok). Apollos is mentioned again in Scripture, but we don’t get to learn a whole lot more about him (he’s mentioned as helping out in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:6). Here are a few things I admire about Apollos from our brief encounter with him in Acts 18:24-28:

1. His knowledge of the Scriptures

Even though his knowledge was lacking, Apollos was a smart man. I’m sure he knew the Old Testament (the Bible of the early Christians) up and down. He was very familiar with it and believed in the coming Messiah it prophesied about. Luke also tells us that Apollos, while he was in Corinth, was able to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ (v.28). Apparently Apollos was a quick learner, or maybe I should say, the Spirit quickened his intellect. Christians need good spokespersons and the early Church in Ephesus and Corinth had one!

2. His excitement in preaching and teachings Jesus Christ (v.25, 28).

Though it’s not explicitly mentioned, one can deduct that Apollos was excited to preach and teach about Jesus Christ. Luke uses the Greek verb zeo in verse 25 (fervor) to describe the manner in which Apollos spoke. The Greek gives us the impression that Apollos was very zealous and passionate for the Lord. This guy was excited when he talked of God. Can the same be said of us?

3. His willingness to be taught (v.26)

Surprising as this might sound, Apollos still needed teaching and instructions. First off, he only knew of John’s baptism and the coming Messiah. He needed to be taught that the Messiah had come and was crucified, dead, and buried for our sins and was resurrected on the third day. After spending some quality time with the disciples, Jesus returned to the Father, but promised to send the Gift of the Holy Spirit to live in and through them (and us). This Gift would enable Christians everywhere to live a powerful Christ-like life. Apollos didn’t know this yet.

Another amazing thing in this passage is that Apollos submits himself to the teaching of a woman (Priscilla). Again, dabbling in the Greek we discover that Apollos spoke akribos (exactly, accurately, diligently) about Jesus Christ. He easily could have denied or rejected being taught anything more, especially by a woman, but he didn’t. A good example of how we as Christians should submit ourselves to one another out of love for God. Picture what would have happened if Apollos arrogantly walked away and did his own thing? I doubt he would have had such a positive impact on those around him if he did.

- What do you think of Apollos being taught by a woman?
- What else do you learn from Apollos?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

When God Speaks (Acts 18)

After Paul’s visit to the intellectual city of Athens, he made his way west to the capital of the Roman province Achaia, Corinth. Its location, a narrow piece of land connecting mainland Greece to the Peloponnesian Peninsula, resulted in heavy quantities of land traffic passing through. Corinth was an interesting city, reading descriptions of it sounds like a promo for Las Vegas. One Bible dictionary described it as a city of wealth, luxury, and immorality. It was a busy city with a lot going on! What a peculiar backdrop to the preaching of Jesus Christ? If the name (Corinth) sounds familiar, it’s because two books in our Bible were written to the Corinthian Church (1 & 2 Corinthians). Here in Acts 18 we get to witness the start of the Corinthian Church.

At the beginning of chapter 18, we find Paul preaching Jesus Christ to the Jewish community (v.5) only to be persecuted (v.6). Big surprise! After boldly stating to the Jews, “Your blood be on your own heads!” (v.6) Paul enters the house next door belonging to Titius Justus. Some very good things follow according to verse 8 (Crispus and his entire household become believers as well as many Corinthians), but Paul was apparently still anxious and frazzled over the ongoing persecution aimed at him. However, God knew Paul and knew what was needed to boost his spirit. Listen to God as He speaks,

9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city."

Look at the encouragement in God’s message to him:

"Do not be afraid” Imagine hearing those words directly from God? This had to inspire Paul to continue his missionary work. Seems the popular 90’s slogan No Fear originated with God.

“Keep on speaking, do not be silent” Ah, to bask in the comfort and peace of knowing God approves of what you are doing and wants you to keep doing it!

“For I am with you” A subtle reminder of His omnipresence had to be warmly welcomed by Paul. If the Creator of the universe and everything in it promises to be with us, we can never face an obstacle too big. Remember that next time you find yourself in trouble.

“No one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city" To be given security from God that you are going to remain physically unharmed…wow! That had to be uplifting to Paul. Proof God can take care of our physical needs and protect us. Another bit of encouragement to Paul; he’s not alone. God claims He has many believers in Corinth.

God’s Word to Paul may have been the driving factor in why he stayed a year and a half in Corinth (v.11). The Holy Spirit, who started His work in Jerusalem, has now spread west to the core of the Roman Empire. I think the Romans should be careful and alert, because Something bigger, better, and stronger is moving in.

I glean from this passage that God knows us better than we know ourselves and when He speaks, it’s always encouraging. Maybe this was a down and out time for Paul, maybe he was ready to throw in the towel and call it quits. However, when God’s Word bursts in on the scene, things changed. Could this be what we need to be praying for today? Praying and asking God to speak to and encourage us. I believe His primary way of speaking to us today is through His Word (our Bible). Here’s something to chew on this week; if we never read our Bibles, how can we expect to ever hear from Him? I encourage you this week to open your Bibles and listen.

- Have you ever prayed and asked God to speak to you?
- If so, what happened?
- How good are we at hearing God speak?
- Does God want to speak to us on a daily basis?
- Why or why not? What advice do you have to offer on how to hear God speak?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Waiting on God (Acts 1)

Have you ever been told to wait? It can birth feelings of frustration, impatience, humiliation, and invigoration. Even all four at once! Usually the emotions following waiting depend on what we’re waiting for. Some say, “I can’t wait to get married! I can’t wait to get out of school! I can’t wait in line, I’m an important person!” Despite who we are, we all find ourselves waiting. What is it about waiting that perturbs us humans? Yes, waiting for something pleasurable (like a gift) is a lot different then waiting to hear a doctor’s report on if you have cancer or not. But I’m not focusing on the thing we’re waiting for, but on waiting itself.

In Acts 1:4 Jesus tells His disciples,

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

Some suggest Jesus is restoring His disciple’s faith by asking them to wait in Jerusalem. He’s giving them a second chance to not run off and desert Him like they did when He was crucified. Others say it was to fuel their desire and want for the Gift He promised. No matter how you view this, one thing remains…they had to wait. More importantly, Jesus asked them to wait. What? God asking us to wait? Seems kind of absurd! Especially since we live in a society drenched in instant this and instant that. Waiting just doesn’t fit into the picture here. Or does it?

Throughout the book of Acts we find people waiting. Numerous times we find the disciples waiting in jail (Acts 5:18, 12:5, 16:23), Paul had to wait to receive his sight back after his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:9), and the Gentile Christians at Antioch had to wait to hear the verdict on if they were to be circumcised or not (Acts 15:1, 5). Waiting is everywhere! *Even before the book of Acts, in the Gospels, the disciples have to wait three days for their Savior to rise from the dead.

In our day and age people are cleverly thinking up new ways to make waiting shorter. We have drive-thru restaurants, drive-thru banks, and now drive-thru prescription pick-ups. Imagine your grandparent’s reaction to hearing that when it was first announced. Think of how frustrating it is when you have to wait in a drive-thru? (There has to be some irony here. The drive-thru was invented so you wouldn’t have to wait, right?) You know what I’m talking about. The guy/gal in front of you orders that “special burger” that takes 10 minutes to make. So, you’re forced into staring at their bumper sticker, which reads, “Proud parent of an honor student.” Or the other classic, “Proud parent of a kid who beat up your honor student!” Nevertheless, you’re left waiting.

I once heard it took all day to do laundry by hand, now it takes an hour or two. We can have dinner ready in minutes. That should give us at least an hour or so of extra free time from the normal time it would take to prepare a hearty dinner, right? With things working quicker and us not having to wait so much, you would think we would have more free time. Think again! I surveyed my own life during the week and I was amazed at how little free time I have. It seems every shortcut taken to save time was canceled out. Why? Because I kept filling my schedule with one more thing. The fact that we can do more things quicker only means we can do more things. It’s like I don’t want to have to wait around, so I busy myself doing something else. I try really hard to eliminate waiting in my life. Should I be doing that?

Looking back to Acts 1, I think Jesus was on to something when He asked His disciples to wait? Maybe there’s something to learn about God here. If Jesus deems it necessary to wait, then maybe waiting isn’t so bad. Jesus could have instantly given the disciples the Holy Spirit, but instead He asked them to wait. Maybe He was preparing them for the Christian life, which waiting is embedded in. How? As Christians, we all universally have something we’re waiting for. Maybe I should say Someone. The return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Someday (I hope it’s soon!) the waiting will be over. So, the next time you find yourself waiting, let it remind you of the hope we have as Christians. Hope in our Lord’s return. Let Him teach you in that sometimes frustrating, impatient, humiliating, and invigorating moment of waiting that He is one day coming back.


- Do you cringe when you have to wait for something?
- What do you think God is trying to teach us by having us wait?
- Is there anything you have learned about God or life through waiting?
- Do you think it’s cruel that God sometimes has us wait for things?

- Why do you think Jesus told them to wait?