The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.

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Be a Good Neighbor

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s difficult to teach a familiar parable; we have pre-conceived notions, or perhaps previous bible studies left in our heads. The Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Virgins, and so on. Even non-Christians have heard the phrase “good Samaritan.” Let’s see if we can look at this parable with fresh eyes today, and see if perhaps we’ve become complacent, and really look to see if there is an application for us today.

Through a powerful parable, Jesus lets us know that the good Samaritan exemplifies an important facet of the Christian character: How to be a good neighbor. So what makes a good neighbor? Someone who sells State Farm insurance? You know, “And like a good neighbor….”

Who has a neighbor that they consider to be a good neighbor? What makes that neighbor special to you?

I have a neighbor, sometimes I think we’re competing with, and losing to. On the day we moved into our new house in Sugar Land, it took longer than we thought it would. The truck wasn’t quite big enough, so it was like after 9pm when we started the second run back to the old townhome. Our next door neighbor Fai stopped by to meet us, found out we hadn’t had any dinner, and immediately brought over dinner for the both of us. And she hasn’t stopped, she brings vegetables from her garden, she weeds our garden, she sweeps our sidewalks, and so on. And if we should every try to do something kind for her, she redoubles her effort to bring us groceries. Everybody should have a neighbor like Fai.

Who is a neighbor? Or for that matter, who is a Samaritan?

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a corrupted religion that in many ways mirrored Judaism. Well, “corrupted” might a kind way of putting it. One text I read said the Jews considered the Samaritans as ignorant, superstitious mongrels. Way back in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, killing most of the people living there. Anybody who survived we taken away to foreign lands, and eventually became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” Only a few stragglers, mostly poor, sick or unskilled people, were left behind with Israeli identity or culture. To finish them off, the Assyrians sent five eastern pagan tribes to settle in Northern Israel and intermingle. They became a sort of hybrid people, part Israeli, part pagan. They developed their own customs; they still worshipped Yahweh, but their holy books were in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and didn’t contain many books the Jews had, especially the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures. They eventually became known as the Samaritans. They built their temple to the Lord on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem, which irritated the Jews, so the Jews destroyed Mount Gerizim in 128 b.c. In both the books of Ezra 4:1-3 and Nehamiah 4:1-2, Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other.

So you see, “good Samaritan” was an unlikely phrase. Jews expected animosity from Samaritans. To the Jews, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. But funny thing about people, they’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus didn’t feel the same way about the Samaritans. Or the Gentiles, fortunately. Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus will tell his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God still had a great deal of affection for the Samaritans.

So we begin our study, starting at Luke 9:51 –

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

I love that part – Jesus is on a mission, determined to go to Jerusalem, and teach all along the way.

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

There’s a lot of new perspective here – the disciples wanted to rain down fire and destroy the Samaritans, the Samaritans not especially happy with Jesus going to Jerusalem to the temple there. And Jesus seems concerned about the Samaritans, even when His disciples don’t.

II. Follow the Scripture, Luke 10:25-28

So Jesus resolutely continues to Jerusalem, teaching along the way, until one day a lawyer stands up to question Jesus. It’s a trick question from a lawyer, but I repeat myself. It’s designed to trip Jesus. Turn to Luke 10:25-28 –

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The lawyer didn’t just ask a question, this isn’t idle curiousity. The lawyer “stood up to test him.” The lawyer has a serious question, knows the law, but he wants to see if Jesus is authentic. He’s challenging Jesus. What does Jesus know?

And it’s one of the great questions of all religions. What must I do to live an eternal life? What happens when I die? What must I do, what must I say, how should I act, what do I believe? It’s an expert question, coming from an expert lawyer. What must I do?

Jesus responded like a rabbi, and answered the question with a question of his own. Now Jesus is testing the tester. Jesus challenged the lawyer back, but to answer his own question from scripture.

The first part of the lawyer’s answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, what the Jews would understand as the Shema Yisrael, or just Shema. Shema Yisrael means, “Hear oh Israel,” and observant Jews would say this prayer as part of their morning and evening prayers. The Shema encouraged Jews to love God, and it was a twice daily affirmation of God’s place in their lives.

Notice that it doesn’t just say to Love the Lord God. It says to love the Lord *your* God. It’s personal, the relationship between you and your Creator. Love Him with everything you have, with your whole person. Heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love God with your emotions (heart), your consciousness (soul), your motivation (strength), and your mental capacity (mind).

Some have misinterpreted the scripture here. What must I *do* to inherit eternal life? Do this and live. Is this a philosophy of works? Is there a way we can earn our way into heaven by a life of good works and good deeds? No, there is not – our works, our deeds, even our very selves are like worthless rags compared to the almighty glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. But because we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we *do* these things to show this love to others. Our feisty lawyer answered correctly, but he did not affirm a theology of works.

Jesus said, “Do this and live.” This is abundant life. Practice what you know out of love for Lord, expressed as love for others. The real test is a right heart with God, not knowledge or works, but putting into practice, love in action, a grateful response to God’s love.

III. Listen to Jesus, Luke 10:29-35

Was our feisty expert embarrassed by Jesus’ response? And if so, did he feel the need to repair his reputation? Or was he trying to find out whether there were any limits? In other word, how much is enough to get into Heaven? The lawyer asked a follow-up question, “who is my neighbor?”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The question from the lawyer implied some people could be excluded. Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors. In this case, especially those backward, disgusting Samaritans. I mean, certainly we can exclude those people, right?

Who do we exclude today, that we do not consider a neighbor? Are we putting a limit on God’s love?

Jesus didn’t answer directly, told a parable that illustrated what it meant to demonstrate the love of God. Who was the traveler? We don’t know, he’s never identified. Might be a Jew, maybe a Gentile, might even be a Samaritan? The only thing we know for sure is that the traveler is human and therefore made in God’s image.

This man was beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem. This would have been a well-know road for the Jews, from Jerusalem 2500’ ASL to Jericho which is actually below sea level, winding through mountains and rocky terrain with many hiding places for robbers. The man was not just robbed, but stripped of his clothing and beaten and left for dead. The attitude expressed by the robbers is, “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”

What were the motivations of the priest and Levite? Jesus doesn’t say. Priest may have refused because the man was dead, didn’t want to defile himself. Touching a corpse would have entailed a lengthy cleanliness process to become pure again. We don’t really know their motivation. Bottom line, though, is it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the motivation was, it was a convenient excuse to absolve them from being a good neighbor. Both the priest and the Levite considered themselves religious people, knew the love your neighbor statement. And both refused to help.

In fact, they went out of their way to avoid helping. They passed by on other side. The priest and the Levite expressed an attitude of, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” This attitude is hardly better than, and in many ways worse, than the robbers who beat the man up.

But the Samaritan helped. This startled the listeners. This *Samaritan*, they would have spit out, isn’t Jewish, isn’t to be trusted, doesn’t know the law… but he was helpful. The Jews expected animosity, but received compassion instead. In fact, this Samaritan gave up his own ride for the injured man, and in so doing expressed an attitude more pleasing to God, “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll give it.”

The second half of our lawyer’s question is much like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself. This comes from Leviticus 19:18. Not a selfish love, or a love of oneself, but how much you love others based on how much God loves you. A “neighbor” means someone of our own kind, not an outsider. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that this outside we pass by on the other side of the road is not an outsider to God. God loves everyone, not just believers. God gave His life to us while we were still unbelievers, still sinners.

We can’t help everyone, of course. Our resources are limited, we have to pick and choose. But on what basis do we pick and choose? Do we withhold our help from outsiders just because they’re outsiders? They are not outsiders to God. Who we are neighborly to should not depend on this. Jesus admonishes us to do this and live, practice what we know, put love in action. Our salvation involves faith expressing love to God and neighbor. James 2:17 says that faith that does not show itself to our neighbor is dead.

IV. Show Compassion, Luke 10:36-37

Jesus turned the question around perfectly, of course. The lawyer had asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by describing who *is* a neighbor. In other words, the lawyer asked about others, who qualifies to be his neighbor. Jesus answered by examining the heart of person asking the question.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So Jesus challenged the lawyer. Now who is your neighbor? While the lawyer tried to enact boundaries, Jesus used this parable to remove boundaries. A merciful God we should imitate by showing mercy. Go and do likewise. Any person in need gives you a chance to show you are a good neighbor and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Emergencies aren’t always convenient. They don’t happen at planned times. I suppose if we could plan them, they wouldn’t be emergencies. I think about another example from Jesus about showing compassion even at inconvenient times. In Mathew 14 is the story of Herod and John the Baptist. John apparently had been hanging around outside Herod’s place, telling Herod that there was something wrong with Herod for taking his brother’s wife. I can’t help but think of how awkward that would be at family get-togethers, Herod and Philip and Philip’s wife Herodias. So one night after dinner and dancing by Herod’s daughter, Herod decides to behead John the Baptist. John’s disciples buried the body and then came to tell Jesus.

Look what it says in Matthew 14:13-14 –

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

John is the second cousin of Jesus, and John was the one that paved the way for him, a voice crying out in the wilderness. You know Jesus is grieving the loss of John. And yet, He found the time and energy for compassion at that moment, to heal the sick people that had come to see Him.

Our role model for compassion is God. We were sinners, opposed to God, but He showed compassion for us, even while we opposed him.

Compassion isn’t obligation; compassioning isn’t doing something out of duty. Compassioning isn’t even caring for somebody or taking care of them when they’re hurt.

I went looking for the root word of “compassion,” and found enough to rethink my idea of what compassion is. The root words in Latin are “cum”, which means “with” or “along side”. “Passion” originally didn’t mean anything like the ardent love we associate it with today, it comes from the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.” It’s the same root word that gives us a hospital “patient,” somebody suffering. So how did we associate this with passionate love? Perhaps from the “Passion of the Christ,” the suffering Christ went through on our behalf. Christ’s love and suffering, His passion.

So “compassion” means to suffer together. It’s not just caring for somebody. It’s suffering with them, making their pain also your pain. How difficult is that to love a neighbor that much that we would suffer as though their pain is ours.

One of the clearest examples of compassion was Mother Teresa. Nobel prize winner, she eventually opened 517 missions in more than 100 countries. One of her early ministries confounded people in Calcutta, to help people nobody else would help. Poor people dying of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. These people, even if they lived, would still be a burden on society. Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospice, the first Home for the Dying. People brought here received medical care and given an opportunity to die with dignity. Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received Last Rites, Muslims were read to from the Quran. “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted.”

In a book about her life, “Mother Teresa, In My Own Words,” are hundreds of inspiring stories and quotes from this amazing woman. She said, “Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: ‘Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God.'” She was truly a person of compassion, demonstrating God’s love daily and seeing God in those suffering.

V. Conclusion

So who is your neighbor? How can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? Do they have a need, and can you go beyond the “bring them a casserole” and truly show compassion, to suffer along with them, to bear their pain? The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are challenged to be the good neighbor, regardless of their culture or how we feel about them. To show compassion for those around us, in glorious imitation of the compassion Jesus showed for us. As He loved us, let us love others.

Amen

Praying About Difficult Decisions

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 –

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

How to Develop Your Faith

I. Introduction

Forgive me ahead of time; it was difficult to focus this week on preparing a lesson. We had plumbing leak #4 this past Sunday and our study was damaged by the leaking pipes. We were already working on a solution to replace the ancient galvanized piping with the newer PEX tubing which was going to be expensive, but I was waiting until after taxes and IRAs and stuff. But the leak rushed us into a fix, and 3 big sweaty guys spent the week in our house tearing out sheetrock in every single room in the house to get at the plumbing. Our little peaceful sanctuary of home has been a demolition zone this week. So it was hard to focus.

Before we dive into this week’s lesson, let’s put it in context. Back in Mark 6, Jesus had fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm that was frightening the disciples. Around this time, the popularity of Jesus was growing as word of his knowledge, compassion, and miracles spread. The knowledge of the disciples was growing, and Jesus had drawn the attention of Pharisees. In Mark 7, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees over the the ceremonial cleansing of hands before a meal; Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t the food that a man put into his body that defiled him but the wickedness that comes out of a person’s heart that defiles him. Jesus was pointing out that empty rituals of cleansing and diet did nothing for God, it was a right relationship with God that He desired.

Now, many years later in Acts 17, Paul went to Berea and was questioned. It says in Acts 17:11, ” 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.”

So the Pharisees questioned Jesus, and the Bereans questioned Paul. Were the Pharisee considered noble for questioning Jesus? What’s the difference between the way the Pharisees and the Bereans questioned God?

II. Mark 8:1-13, Little Hope

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus. Jesus had already performed dozens of miracles by this point in view of the Pharisees, including feeding the 5000, feeding the 4000, raising a little girl from the dead, healing a paralytic, healing a leper, calming the storm, walking on water. But they wanted Jesus to perform on demand.

We must resist the urge to do this today. When we are scared or when we are weak or when we are troubled, we pray to God. We want Him to answer now, on our terms. And when He doesn’t answer on demand, our faith wavers. Who is our God that He couldn’t or wouldn’t do this for me?

But faith in our God cannot depend on Him being a magic genie in a bottle. God does not bend to our will. Instead, God asks us to surrender our will to him.

Today, People still have a choice to accept spiritual truth or reject spiritual truth. Why would one reject it? I don’t know, but the Pharisee sure rejected the truth in front of them. They wanted a sign from heaven right now. What authority did they have to demand miracles from God?

I talked to an old high school friend this week who’s an avowed atheist. He believes that Jesus was a good person, but religion is bad and the supernatural stuff didn’t happen. I believe the supernatural happened and is still happening today. Everything around us is a God-given miracle, from the giant glowing ball of fire in the sky that warms our planet to the tiny blood cells that carry oxygen from my lungs to the tips of my fingers. If you believe that to be a miracle, you can see God’s work everywhere. Or if you’re like the Pharisees, you say, “oh that giant glowing thing that warms our planet is just a natural occurrence of nuclear fusion. That’s not a miracle.” The point is that nature and science doesn’t have to act this way at all, and that the very existence of nature and science is in itself a miracle. If you exclude miracles from everything around you, then you don’t see God anywhere.

Did the Pharisees really want a sign? If they really wanted a sign, would they have seen one?

Jesus said, “No sign will be given.” Jesus does not force belief on anyone. Be honest for a moment. Is there a particular miracle you want God to perform for you right now? I know I do. And if God doesn’t answer to us on our timetable the exact way we want him to, does that affect our faith in Him? But to demand that God perform a miracle to justify our faith in Him isn’t faith. Trust without proof is faith.

Jesus left the Pharisees to move on to others who wanted to understand. Why did Jesus enter into a dialogue with the disciples, but refuse to enter into a discussion with the Pharisees? Weren’t the Pharisees men of the synagogue, the peak religious people of the time?

III. Mark 8:14-21, Some Hope

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Jesus listened to the disciples and I find it interesting He allowed their confusion. Perhaps the disciples were arguing about who was supposed to bring food. Their attention was on physical food. Jesus redirected the question to what they needed spiritually. It’s important spiritual nourishment comes first, before physical nourishment.

Jesus challenged them about having eyes that do not see or ears that do not hear. Just like the Pharisees. Just like OT Israel. Just like you and me if we aren’t diligent. A lack of spiritual maturity can manifest itself with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Because of our traditions, or thoughts and feelings, we alone decide what is “right” and disregard the scriptures, disregard the word of God in our hearts. Just like Jesus’ disciples, we have the capacity to understand, but we must be careful not to become deaf and blind as those who were antagonistic toward Jesus.

So Jesus equates the physical bread to the spiritual bread to make a point, that the disciples should keep in mind the miracles of Jesus in their lives. Jesus points out in verse 19 (loaves for the 5000, leaving 12 loaves) and in verse 20 (loaves for 4000 leaving 7 loaves). This is not an encouragement to work on our arithmetic.

Jesus sounds a little exasperated when he asks, “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asks them to again think about what those miracles meant. It’s a lot more than just providing food for hungry people. It confirms Jesus’ supernatural power to provide for all of our needs and Jesus asks us to look beyond the material.

In order to open our eyes, open our ears, we must learn to look beyond the material moment. High gas prices. Loneliness. Anger. Messy homes with leaky piping and sheetrock damage. Job loss. Sickness. Among all of these shortages in our life, Christ provides constant spiritual care.

Has something material diverted your attention from God? How can you use this opportunity to focus on God instead of being diverted?

Who watched the Texas Alabama game this week? University of Texas playing against Alabama for the National Title. The quarterback, Colt McCoy, missing out earlier this season on the Heisman Trophy, trying to win a national championship. And in the very first series, he hurt his shoulder. Can you imagine the disappointment, not being able to play and watching from the sidelines as your team loses?

At the postgame interview, he was asked how it felt to watch from the sidelines, and he sort of struggled to talk at first, then he explained how much he really wanted to play but his arm felt dead, like it was asleep. But in his suffering, he congratulated Alabama for obtaining the dream he so badly wanted to win, and then proclaimed that God is in control of his like and that He trusts in God’s purpose even when he may not completely understand it.

IV. Mark 8:22-33, More Hope

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

I think the next miracle in Mark 8:27 is indicative of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach; he heals a blind man just after asking the disciples if they did not have eyes to see. Then he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s interesting how many people have a response to this question. Whether a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, everybody seems to have something to say about who Jesus is. A prophet, a good man, a teacher, a wacko, a god, everybody has an opinion. The disciples said that some thought he was John the Baptist, others as Elijah, other as a prophet. While Jesus was indeed a prophet, it’s only a small part of a larger truth. Jesus was God’s son, sent to fulfill prophecy, to become a living sacrifice so that all may become children of God.

Peter’s response of “You are the Messiah” was also interesting as all the disciples knew that he was the Messiah. They just didn’t understand what that meant. The Jews expected “a” messiah with a little “m; literally, an anointed one or a deliverer. The Jews at the time also believed in a conqueror that would set them free from foreign occupation.

These preconceptions, whether from what we’ve heard from others or what we heard as a child can hinder our faith, like the Pharisees preconceptions hindered theirs. What are some of the misperceptions about Jesus today?

In verse 30, why do you think Jesus warned them not to tell anyone he was the messiah? The messiah meant many things to many people. using the title messiah would certainly lead to confusion. Not even the disciples understood the implications. The idea of a military-political leader would rally the Jews to rise up against the Romans, a purpose for which Jesus did not intend to fulfill. Therefore, claiming to be the messiah caused problems. Peter spoke the truth – Jesus was the messiah, and he did fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nations, but Jesus needed to refine this understanding.

In verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples about who he was as the messiah. This teaching would last far longer than 1 or 2 lessons; it took most of Jesus’ energy for the rest of his ministry on earth. Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” to challenge the disciple’s faith. The disciples knew who Jesus was, but did they really know who he was? Many Christians today can say that they know Jesus is their savior, but they do not know how to explain to somebody who he is.

Who do you say Jesus is? If Jesus appeared today and asked you to explain who he was, what would you say?

When you listen to the Word of God, what sort of questions challenge your understanding of Him?

Jesus instead referred to himself instead as the Son of Man, probably because of the misconceptions regarding the word messiah. This title is found mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezekial. The title referred to a man who drew strength from the spirit of God to judge the people, a purpose for which Jesus the Messiah fulfilled.

Jesus says some shocking things about himself. He says the anointed one must suffer. The disciples didn’t understand that the suffering fulfilled God’s intention, both physical suffering but also the suffering of being rejected by the Pharisees, the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, the people that were supposed to be in tune with God’s revelations. But these very religious people were so certain of what God’s will was and who the messiah was supposed to be that they would not open their eyes and ears to what Jesus had to tell them. We run that same danger today. The misconceptions we already talked about hinder people coming to Christ.

Jesus also said he would be killed. This was so shocking, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus. The messiah, the conqueror, the deliverer, would be tortured and killed? What kind of messiah is that? But again, the misconceptions of Jesus interfere with our ability to see and her who Jesus really is.

V. Conclusion

Learning to keep your eyes and ears open is our lesson, something to practice daily so our hearts do not become as closed as the eyes and ears of the Pharisees. Challenge yourself to find out who Jesus really is and what His death means to you and to all men. If our eyes are closed and our ears are closed, then our minds are closed and we cannot develop spiritually. Look away from the material things that Jesus provides and look to the future that Jesus provides. If we are open to receiving spiritual truth, we will recognize it with new eyes and ears not bound by our past misconceptions.

Almost Persuaded

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE....Image via Wikipedia I almost made coffee last week.

I’m a cheerful riser. Happy to talk and visit, happy to greet the new day. I’m almost always in a good mood first thing in the morning. But my brain isn’t exactly working at full speed. I need a routine to follow in the morning or I do goofy things.

And a week ago, when Diane and I came back from a little festival near Brenham, we came in the back patio and something spelled wonderful. Like fresh ground, vanilla roasted coffee beans. See, early that Saturday morning, Diane was still asleep, and I tried to do two things simultaneously first thing in the morning. I tried to walk our dog, Bella, and I tried to make coffee.

The coffee maker has a grinder on top, so I got the bag of beans out of the freezer, and put them in the top of the grinder. Yum, vanilla roasted beans, my favorite. Then I put the bag back, and put in just enough water to make a half a pot of coffee. Then I pushed the start button.

Now it’s time to get Bella. I get the leash out just as the coffee grinder starts grinding, clip the leash to her collar, and step outside… and I can still hear the grinder. It’s grinding a whole lot longer than I expected. Suddenly I realize I forgot to turn this little knob on the front of the machine, and it’s grinding enough beans for a whole pot of coffee. And this will be combined with a half pot of water and be some very strong coffee indeed. I come rushing back inside, tell Bella to stay by the front door, and find the off button on the coffee maker. Whew.

Ok, I can still save this pot of coffee. I don’t know how much beans have been grounded, but I can restart the brewing cycle without further grinding. Push this button, turn off the grinder… ok, I think I got it. Push the button to start brewing. Go back, get Bella who is very confused about this walk so far, and walk out the front door.

But something doesn’t seem right to me. I can hear the gurgling from the brew cycle starting, but something’s not right. And it dawns on me I forgot to put a filter in the coffee machine. And the next most reasonable thing for me to do in my cheerful and completely inept morning state is… to pull the filter basket out to look to see what’s inside.

Which dribbles hot coffee sludge, a mix of hot water and soggy coffee grounds down the front of the kitchen cabinet. I… put my hand under the basket to keep from dripping on the floor… hot! Hot! Hot! I push the basket back in.

Ok brain, try to get it together. Ok, first, unplug the coffee pot. I’m still creating hot coffee sludge. Open the back door. Pull the basket out *and* the coffee pot simultaneously, carry them both outside. Find some lucky plant that wants some vanilla fertilizer, dump the whole mess out.

Where was I? Oh yeah. I was walking the dog. Later that day, after the sun had been out and we came back from our festival, our patio had that lovely, vanilla-roasted coffee fertilizer smell. Diane asked me what it was, and I said… “Look! A dragonfly!”

I almost made coffee that morning. But you know, “almost coffee” isn’t good enough to drink. Lot’s of things aren’t good enough if they’re “almost” right. Skydiving, for example. Skydiving “almost” done right sounds horrible.

And this week, we’re going to look at another example of “almost” good enough. We’re studying Acts 24-26 this week, and let’s setup the situation. First, Paul is in jail. Again. Seems the last few weeks, Paul’s always in jail. Why is he in jail this time? Well, we have to go all the way back to Acts 21 and Paul is in Jerusalem. Paul is speaking at the temple, and some Jews stirred up the crowd, the crowd mobs Paul and begins to beat him with the intent to kill him. This mob attracted the Roman troops in the city who came down to see what the fuss was all about. When the Roman troops showed up, the crowd, of course, stopped beating Paul, and the Roman commander has Paul arrested. He asks Paul what all the rioting is about, and Paul says, “well, let me show you; may I speak?” Then in Acts 22, he stands in front of the temple and gives his testimony to the crowd, and the crowd erupts again.

And then, oddly, the Roman commander orders that Paul be arrested and flogged to find out why the people were yelling at him. Just before they flog him, Paul asks them if it’s legal to flog a Roman citizen. Alarmed, the commander withdraws and decides that perhaps beating a Roman citizen isn’t such a good idea.

By Acts 23, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees decide that if the Romans aren’t going to kill him, they will. They ask the Roman commander to setup a meeting with Paul on the pretext of gathering information, but secretly they’re arranging an ambush. Paul’s nephew gets wind of the plot and tells the Roman commander who has had enough of all this rioting and plotting. He decides to transfer Paul to Caesarea with 200 Roman soldiers to protect him.

The commander also writes a letter to the Governor of Cesarea, Governor Felix. It basically says, “Governor, I can’t find anything this man did wrong. But because there is a plot against him, I’m sending him to you and ordering his accusers to present their case to you.”

Everybody up to speed? We’re in Acts 24, in front of Governor Felix, along with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and a whole bunch of lawyers. The lawyers present their case first; Acts 24:5-8, they say,

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”

It’s like the Olsteen trial all over again. Anyway, Paul gives his defense, saying that even his accusers know he’s done nothing wrong. At the end of Acts 24, we find that Felix is a piece of work. He knows Paul is innocent, and he’s even interested in Christianity, but what he’s really interested in is money. He wants Paul to give him a bribe. Paul spends two years in prison teaching about righteousness, self-control, and judgment, and at the end of two years, Felix leaves him there.

He’s succeeded by Festus in Acts 25, and in Acts 25:13, Festus gets a visitor, King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. King Herod Agrippa II is the grandson of the Herod that killed all the newborn males in Bethlehem when Christ was born. Agrippa was the nephew of the Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist. Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa the 1st who executed the Apostle James and would have executed the Apostle Peter had not the angel of the Lord rescued him. For Agrippa, this was a chance to meet a celebrity, so Festus sets up a meeting. Acts 25:23 says,

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

In Acts 26, Paul begins, yet again, his message of redemption, repentance, and judgment. From Acts 26:1 through Acts 26:23, Paul gives his testimony. How he lived as a Pharisee, the promise given to the twelve tribes of Israel. Paul’s persecution of Jesus in verses 9-11, and then Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus from Acts 26:12-15, and the instructions Christ gave Paul to reach the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 26:16-18. Then Acts 26:19-23 –

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

At this point, Festus yells at Paul that Paul’s lost his marbles, his education has made him insane. And Paul keeps focusing on King Agrippa in Acts 26:25-29 –

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Agrippa’s response is a hypothetical question. The New King James translates it as, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

And that is probably one of the saddest responses in the entire bible. “You almost persuaded me.”

What went wrong?

It wasn’t the messenger. Paul was a very powerful messenger, and apostle of Christ who had seen the risen Lord face to face. How much power did Paul have? In verse 22, Paul says, “But God has helped me to this very day.” And the messenger was passionate, so passionate that in verse 24, Festus leaps up and tells Paul that he’s lost his mind. And Paul was persuasive – in verse 29, Paul tells Agrippa that he wishes Agrippa were just like him, but without the chains. The irony is incredible here – Paul is free in Christ, even though he is in chains. It’s Agrippa that is in bondage to sin.

So the messenger was powerful, passionate, and persuasive. So it’s not the messenger. Perhaps it was the message?

I don’t think so. The message was the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And not hearsay; Paul’s personal testimony was how Jesus had interceded directly on Paul’s behalf and proven to Paul firsthand. And the message was true. King Agrippa knew the words of the prophets and he knew the fulfilled testimony of Christ. Agrippa has no rebuttal to this; in verse 27, when Paul asks, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do,” Agrippa’s only response is that… “you almost persuaded me.”

Almost persuaded.

As we share God’s word with others, Paul has shown us that the message isn’t always received the way we would like it to be. Some people want to wait; we just keep talking. Some will ridicule us, but we’re called to show respect in our responses. Some receive the message with silence; we learn to ask open-ended questions to get them to talk. And some absolutely refuse, and all we can do is express concern. But there’s nothing sadder than somebody who hears a persuasive message from a persuasive messenger and is almost persuaded.

For those that have not accepted Christ, there are forces in opposition to the Word. Satan does whatever he can to keep people from giving themselves to Christ, and we can see almost all of these in Agrippa.

The forces include –

• Pride. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.” It’s pride that tells us we can be good enough to get to heaven, that we can stand unashamed, on our own, before an almighty and holy creator. And Psalms 10:4 says, “In his pride, the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” Pride blinds us to our need for a savior.
• Position. Agrippa was king of the Jews. Like pride, our position in society keeps us from being humble. We are too important to make ourselves low. But Jesus called a little child to him and told his disciples in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
• Possessions. Agrippa was a very rich man. Matthew 19:23, Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” People, like Agrippa, get attached to the things of this world and can’t give them up to save their own souls.
• Peer pressure. Felix and other Jewish leaders were looking at Agrippa to see what he would do. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
• Procrastination. Agrippa was “almost persuaded” but put off his decision. He could always revisit this question tomorrow. But sometimes, tomorrow doesn’t come. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” And 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

But Paul looks directly at King Agrippa through this exchange. Paul was persistent and told his personal testimony about how Jesus changed his life. While Herod Agrippa II and his family may have been persecuting Christ, Paul also confesses he once persecuted Christ. Agrippa’s sins are no different than Paul’s sins, except Paul’s sins are forgiven.

It’s true that in the bible (Mark 6:11), Jesus told the disciples that if they were not welcome in a town, they should shake the dust from their feet as they left. But that’s a matter of being a good steward of the time we have available. Jesus never counseled us to give up on somebody. Jesus didn’t give up on me, and I am so thankful He didn’t. If you have a family member or a friend you’re praying for, don’t give up. You don’t want them to be almost saved.

Michael Rodriguez is a man thankful somebody didn’t give up on him. He’s one of the “Texas Seven” that broke out of prison in 2000 and on Christmas Eve, killed a policeman. He was sentenced to death; unlike most people on death row, for the last 2 years he has been waiving every appeal opportunity, saying he deserved the death penalty. The sentence was carried out a week ago Thursday.

At 6:10pm, he began his last words. “I know this no way makes up for all the pain and suffering I gave you. I am so, so sorry. My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I have caused. I hope that someday you can find peace. I am not strong enough to ask for forgiveness because I don’t know if I am worthy. I realize what I’ve done to you and the pain I’ve given. Please Lord forgive me. I have done some horrible things. I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I have gained nothing, but just brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people. I am sorry. So so sorry. To the Sanchez family who showed me love. To the Hawkins family, I am sorry. I know I have affected them for so long. Please forgive me. Irene, I want to thank you for being with me on death row and walking with me and helping me find Christ’s love. These last few steps I must walk alone. Thank you and thank your husband Jack. I’ll be waiting for you. I am so sorry. To these families I ask forgiveness. Father God I ask you too for forgiveness. I ask you for forgiveness Lord. I am ready to go Lord. Thank you. I am ready to go. My Jesus my Savior there is none like you. All of my days I want to praise, let every breath. Shout to the Lord let us sing.

“My Jesus, my Savior, there is none like you,” he sang softly. “All of my days I want to praise, let every breath. Shout to the Lord, let us sing ….”

Among his last words were, “I’m ready to go Lord.” At 6:20pm, he was pronounced dead.

Michael Rodriguez is thankful that Irene and Jack, whoever they are, didn’t give up on Michael Rodriguez. And while the angels in heaven rejoice that another sinner has turned to God, non-Christians don’t understand why a murderer gets to go to heaven. They don’t understand that they can never do enough good to get to heaven, nor can they do enough evil that Christ cannot save him. It’s never too late.

Who’s been watching the Olympics the last week? Anybody here actually in the Olympics?

When it comes to the Olympics, most people are spectators. They don’t actually participate in the games; they watch some of the events on television. A few actually get to participate. The best of the best win medals – some win bronze, some silver, and the very best wind the coveted gold medal. Or like Fred said last week, perhaps a tin medal.

But the gold medal for all humanity is arriving in heaven in the pure and holy presence of God. The vast majority of people are spectators in this race. They see the lives of Christians, but they make no effort to join. They’re… almost persuaded.

The bronze medal for Christianity is being aware of Jesus. If you ask them what religion they belong to, they may even answer that they’re a Christian. But if you press them further, they don’t know why they’re a Christian. They know Jesus is a really good person, and they also want to be a really good person. And that means not being judgmental. They believe all roads leads to heaven, there are many paths. They don’t believe a loving God would send people to Hell, not realizing that God doesn’t send people to Hell, people go to Hell because they reject God. They are really only dimly aware of what Jesus said, and they make no effort to share their faith or go to church or grown in the spirit. They get a bronze medal for being aware of Jesus. King Agrippa gets a bronze medal. He had plenty of knowledge about Jesus.

Then there’s the silver medal, awarded to those who believe in Christ. They know He’s the Son of God. They’ve heard the Sermon on the Mount; they’re happy the meek will inherit the earth, because then they can beat up the meek and take it from them. Their actions don’t reflect the love of Christ; they do not model forgiveness, controlling their tongue, serving others, or loving their neighbors. But they believe in Jesus, so they win a silver medal. But they don’t grasp the concept that even the demons believe in Jesus. As Fred mentioned last week, faith and repentance are linked. It’s not enough to say you have faith without your life demonstrating your repentance.

But spectators and bronze medalists and silver medalist are almost persuaded to be disciples of Christ. Perhaps they have an idea that heaven will be like standing on the scales of justice – as long as you do more good than evil, you get into heaven. But Jesus says that isn’t enough. Jesus says to follow Him and He will make you fishers of men (Mark 1:16-17). Jesus says that if anyone would come after Jesus, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). And we may have heard Jesus say in John 8:32, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” but what’s the line immediately before that? “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.'”

And what about the disciples that settle for “well, this is good enough?” Jesus tells the church in Laodicea what he thinks about “good enough.” Revelations 3:15-16 –

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Literally, it means “vomit you out of His mouth.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, except when I get to heaven, I don’t want Jesus to be looking at me like that.

The gold medal is a heart that yearns to follow God. Matthew 7:13-14 –

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

The gold medal is the narrow gate to heaven. Everything else is just “almost.” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 just before his death –

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Thank the good Lord that He loves us. Thank the good Lord that He is our gold medal. Can you imagine if the scripture says that God so loved the world that He almost gave His only begotten son? That Jesus almost died on the cross for us?

Let’s yearn for that gold medal of righteousness, and not settle for merely being “almost” persuaded.

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Facing Questions

Fred took us through Acts 15 last week; we’re going to cover from the latter part of Acts 15 through Acts 18 today, Paul’s second missionary journey. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas have spread the gospel of Christ among many churches. Now, they want to revisit those same churches and see how the new churches are doing. Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus; Paul chose Silas and headed up the coast.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
map from http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm

1 Syrian Antioch Acts 15:36-40, Paul and Silas (and Luke)
2,3,4 Syria , Cilicia , Derbe Acts 15:41 , 16:1
5 Lystra Acts 16:1-5, Joined by Timothy
6,7 Phyrgia , Galatia Acts 16:6, Holy Spirit prevents them from preaching in Asia
8 Mysia Acts 16:7, Holy Spirit prevents them from entering Bithynia
9 Troas Acts 16:8-10, Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia
10,11 Island of Samothrace , Neapolis Acts 16:11
12 Philippi Acts 16:12-40, Lydia baptized. Conflict over girl with spirit of clairvoyance, beaten and imprisoned. Singing hymns and midnight . Earthquake opens prison doors; Paul stays and converts jailer. Released because Paul was a Roman citizen, asked to leave Philippi
13,14 Amphipolis, Apollonia Acts 17:1
15 Thessalonica Acts 17:1-9, Convert large numbers, infuriates Jews
16 Berea Acts 17:10-14, Bereans accept gospel, but Jews from Thessalonica followed and caused trouble. Silas and Timothy remain in Berea .
17 Athens Acts 17:15 -34, Bereans accompany Paul to Athens , return with instructions to Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as possible. While Paul waits, he addresses the philosophers of Athens .
18 Corinth Acts 18:1-17, Made tents with Aquila and Priscilla. Paul preached to Jews who abused him, so Paul shook his fists and decides to preach to gentiles. Paul stays at the house of Titius Justus for 18 months. Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul. The Lord encourages Paul to continue to preach. Jews band together to attack Paul, but the governor Gallio refuses to judge.
19 Cenchrea Acts 18:18 , Sails for Syria , accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla. Cuts hair short because of a solemn vow.
20 Ephesus Acts 18:19 -21, 24, Paul leaves Aquila and Priscilla to debate Jews in synagogue. Jews ask Paul to say, and Paul says "if it is God’s will" (eventually returning during 3 rd missionary journey). Priscilla and Aquila train Apollos who goes to Achaia.
21,22 Caesarea , Jerusalem Acts 18:22, Paul pays respects to church at Jerusalem
23 Antioch Acts 18:22 -26, travels regions of Phyrgia and Galatia

Paul and Silas travel through Syria and Cilicia and strengthened the churches, then to Derbe and Lystra. There Paul met Timothy who was held in high regard by the brothers, so Paul takes Timothy, too. They pass along words from the apostles and elders from the Council at Jersalem.

Then to Phyrgia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit prevents them from entering Asia. Then down to Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus prevents them. I thought this odd that the Holy Spirit would stop them, but God had a bigger plan and knew where He wanted them. The missionaries head down to Troas, and Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So they sail from Traos to the island of Samothrace, and then to Neapolis and then to Phillipi.

There is lot of activity in Philippi. First, there is the conversion of Lydia who opens her home to the missionaries. Then there is a slave girl with a spirit of fortune-telling. Paul commands the spirit to come out of her, and the merchants who own her are furious because they can’t make money off of her anymore. They drag Paul and Silas to the marketplace where the magistrates order them stripped and beaten. They’re flogged and thrown into prison. Talk about a bad day. But instead of whining and complaining, the scripture says Paul and Silas up to midnight praying and singing hymns to God. And then an earthquake shakes the jail and all the doors fly open; the jailer wakes up and is about to kill himself because he was responsible for security, but Paul stops him saying, “Stop! We’re still here!” And then the jailer asks to be saved, too. Great example of the joy in Christ in all circumstances and how God can use your joy to reach others.

And in the morning, the magistrates find out they’ve beaten a Roman citizen and become alarmed and escort them very nicely to the edge of town. Paul and Silas and Timothy (and Luke, since he’s the historian documenting all of this) go to Amphipolis, Apollonia, and then Thessalonica.

At Thessalonica, Paul and Silas go to the synagogue as usual and convert large numbers of people, and this infuriates many of the Jews who round up some bad characters from the marketplace, form a mob and start a riot. They try to grab Paul and Silas, but the brothers help them escape that night to Berea.

In Berea, they got a better welcome, and there’s another great lesson here. It says in Acts 17:11, “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.” Paul was a well-known apostle who had seen the risen Christ himself and proclaimed the gospel all over the world. And the Bereans received this message eagerly – and still examined the scriptures every day to see if Paul was telling the truth. Don’t take the word of some televangelist or some preacher. Don’t just read the words of Mac Lucado or Rick Warren of “Purpose Driven Life” and think you can understand God’s direction for you and your life. Don’t take Ed Young’s word. And for sure don’t take my word even though I’m standing right here in front of you. Examine the scriptures for yourself daily to see if what you’re being taught is true. 2 Timothy 4:3 says, ” For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

What that means is that people will preach what we want to hear. If we want a prosperity gospel, we will find somebody to preach a prosperity gospel. If we want to hear the end times are coming, we will find somebody to tell us the exact time and date. If we want somebody to tell us that sexual immorality, adultery, lying cheating and stealing is ok, we can find somebody to teach us that. But that is only the word of men telling us what we want to hear. What does God say? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by examining the scriptures ourselves to see if what we are being told is true.

Paul’s time in Berea was cut short; the angry Jews from Thessalonica followed him and stirred up the crowds in Berea, so Paul departs for Athens and leaves Silas and Timothy behind. In Athens, Paul addresses the philosophers of Athens (we’ll come back to this in a bit) and waits for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. After a while, Paul heads down to Corinth, meets Aquila and Priscilla and preaches to the Jews, but the Jews abuse him and Paul gets discouraged. Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul, and then Paul has a vision from the Lord, and encouragement to keep on preaching.

Then Paul sails for Syria with Aquila and Priscilla, stopping at Cenchrea and cuts his hair short to fulfill a solemn vow. Paul preaches at Ephesus while Aquila and Priscilla train Apollos, then Paul heads to Caesarea and the church at Jerusalem, then back to Antioch where Paul travels the region of Phyrgia and Galatia. Whew. Paul was a busy, busy man.

I want to return to Paul’s discussion with the Athenians in Acts 17. The city of Athens dated back to 3000 B.C., and had once been the home of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, but that was 400 years before Paul. The city’s prominence had faded since then, and it was now a town of about 10,000 people, primarily pagans and intellectuals and philosophers. Athens still remained famous as an intellectual and artistic center.

Starting in verse 16, Paul is walking around Athens. If you and I were walking around Athens, we’d be impressed with the magnificent architecture and the fabulous artwork, but Paul is distressed. The impressive buildings were dedicated to various gods and goddesses. Some historical accounts indicate there were more statues of idols than there were people in Athens. Paul is distressed by the paganism of Athens because it is an offense to the one true God for He had forbidden idolatry. Paul sees highly educated but spiritually lost people, ignorant of the one true God. Paul turns his inner turmoil into positive action. We should ask ourselves if we are good students of Paul. Do the lost people around us spur us into action? Do we shun the unbelievers, or do we seek an opportunity to share the gospel?

In verse 17, we can see Paul’s heart at work –

“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.”

Paul is reaching out to three types of people. First, the Jews in the synagogue, who Paul preached to throughout his journeys. He also preached to “those who worshiped God,” gentiles who worshipped God but did not know of the good news of Christ. And then he also preached to anybody else who happened to be there; pagans, philosophers, academics. Paul reasoned with them; this was the beginning of apologetics, which is not apologizing for your faith as I once thought it was. Apologetics is an argument for natural theology based on God’s self-revelation.

Two groups of philosophers began to argue with Paul in verse 18. The Epicurean philosophers followed the teachings of Epicurus, who taught that everything came from eternal, material atoms. They did not believe in life after death; they believed that when you died, humans returned to material atoms. The soul was considered part of the body that also died. The Epicureans also believed that gods existed, but the gods were far removed and unconcerned about humans. Because life was temporal, people should seek to be free from pain and anxiety, and instead seek pleasure through intellectualism. The Epicureans were deists, practical materialists, and they did their grocery shopping at Rice.

The Epicureans, to me, sounded like atheists of today. If there is no god, and no afterlife, then there’s no reason to serve or sacrifice. Get as much as you can out of this life.

The other group, the Stoic philosophers, believed in gods and divine providence, and that people should use one’s ability to reason to lift themselves up and be harmonious with nature. The god principle, or divine spark, was present in all things, and when we die, there is a great disturbance in the force. They were pantheists, and there is god in everything.

Stoics today are like the “all paths lead to heaven” philosophy. We’re all right in our own way. We define our own truth, and your truth may be different than my truth.

And of course the Epicureans and Stoics misunderstand Paul and call him names. They call him a babbler and seem to think Paul was just trying to add Jesus to the other gods they already worshipped. “Babbler” may also be translated “pseudo-intellectual,” but the word here literally is “seed-picker,” an image of a bird hopping around eating whatever seeds fall on the ground. They were accusing Paul of picking up scraps of philosophy and repackaging it as a new but worthless philosophy.

So in verse 19, the philosophers invited Paul to the Areopagus, which was either a philosophical court for an informal public lecture, or it may have been a place dedicated to Mars, the god of war. Either way, to the Epicureans and philosophers, they were expecting just another entertaining idea to debate.

A. Find Common Ground

Paul is the model apologetic; he’s getting ready to share the good news of Christ to an unbelieving and skeptical world. He begins by trying to find common ground. He debates, not berates. Sharing the gospel should be done in love, kindness and compassion. Yelling or belittling makes us poor examples of the love of Christ and renders us ineffective. Verse 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.”

That may sound derogatory to us. “Ah, I can see you are very religious.” But it’s far more likely that Paul was being complimentary here. He shows respect for the intellectualism of the philosophers and congratulates them for they already know. He acknowledges that these are very smart people.

[Why is it important to find common ground?]
[Why are confrontational methods ineffective?]

Also note what Paul does not do – he doesn’t start by reciting Jewish history. When Paul preached in the synagogues, he preached about fulfilled prophecy to know about the messiah. Jewish history meant nothing to these philosophers, so instead, Paul searches for a frame of reference they can understand.

Verse 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.

Again, this sounds derogatory, accusing these people of not even knowing what they worship, but Paul is still seeking common intellectual ground. The people of Athens had shrines to every god, the shrines that had so distressed Paul. The Athenian philosophers were either polytheistic (worshipping many gods) or pantheistic (believed all nature was god). When disaster strikes, the people of Athens might believe they had been worshipping the wrong god, so they’d worship a different god and build another shrine. After many trials and errors, they’d finally cover all their bases by building an altar to an unknown god, whoever that might be.

Paul points out to these intellectuals that they already inherently recognize that the other gods they have built shrines to are deficient. They know inherently that there is something else out there. And Paul gets ready to show them that the unknown god they worship with stone could indeed become known personally to them.

B. Correct errant views of God

Then Paul tells them who God is and who God is not. Verse 24-25 –

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. 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.

[Why is it important to correct perceptions of God?]
[What are some false perceptions of God?]
[Why is Christianity unique?]
[Why is insisting on the uniqueness of Christianity important?]
[Why is this offensive to some people?]

Paul’s witness is effective because he’s well-equipped. Passion alone is not sufficient, we must have knowledge. We must know about the bible, what it means, why it is true, and how to apply it. That doesn’t mean we keep silent until we feel we are ready; how could we ever be completely ready? How in heaven can we possibly know all there is to know about God? We are only called to share what we know. We are called to seek Him and to help others seek Him. But the more we know, the more effective we can be for the Lord by answering questions and arguments more effectively.

The unknown god that the Athenians worshipped was indeed a knowable God. God does not live in shrines built by humans, even spectacular Greek wonders like the Acropolis. God cannot be shrunk into a box. How could a box built by man contain a god? It makes no sense. A god that requires things from mortals or can be built by mortals is not a god at all. God himself is the source of all life and breath and all things. This statement would appeal to the Epicureans who believed in gods that were above all things human. And “all life and breath” would appeal to the Stoics who were trying to align themselves with some cosmic purpose. The idols that the Athenians worshipped were believed to control the sea, or the weather, or war, or agriculture, but the one true God is the Creator of all things.

So Paul begins with common ground and then exposes the flaws in their worship. Their man-made idols are inherently deficient. How could an all-powerful God need anything from humans? Paul’s message tells them –
– who God is
– who God isn’t
– why God is unique.

C. Nurture our need to know God

Then verse 26-27 –

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. 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.

Paul then discusses more claims about our common heritage in Adam. The proud Greeks might have been offended; they might have believed they were intellectually or racially superior to the barbarians living around them. Both historically at appointed times and geographically at exact place, God has a plan for us. It’s not the plans or ingenuity of humans that determine the rise and fall of nations, but God’s plan. God does this so that people will try to find purpose in their lives and therefore seek God. The Athenians were using intellectual and logical groping in the dark to find the unknown god they seek.

God is not far removed and distant; the Greeks believed their gods were secluded and distant and unapproachable, but the one true God is knowable and not far from each and every one of us. God is not an idol. God is not one of many gods. God is not just some philosophical idea. God is alive, God is personal, God is truth.

And as his creation, we are born wanting to know God. This, too, would appeal to the Greeks who wanted to know everything. Verse 28 –

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

These words had greater meaning to the Greeks – the phrase “for in him we live and move and have our being” came from the Greek philosopher Epimenides, and “we are his offspring” came from the Greek poet Aratus and Cleanthes. These poets were referring to Zues, but for Paul, the reference was to the one true God.

Paul used many words like “seek,” “find,” “grope,” “not far,” “in him,” “we are his.” These would have been understood that for those seeking the truth, the truth could be found. God wants us to seek him and find Him. Paul corrects the false Greek teaching that God was unknowable, God lived in man-made temples, God was not involved. These are all false. Instead, the nature of God is knowable; Romans 1:20 says,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

How does God reveal His character to you?

Now Acts 17:29-30 –

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. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Paul provides some insight into the nature of God. People are not made of gold or silver or stone. Since we are his offspring, neither is God made of gold or silver or stone. In fact, people who worship an idol made by human hands have it exactly backwards. God made people; therefore, people cannot make God. Therefore any understanding of God that we create is false; we must not seek God in what we create, but in what He creates. Anything else is idolatry.

D. Judgment and Resurrection

Paul’s message also contains a warning that God’s desire for people to seek Him is not an idle request. It’s a command. Seek God, repent. Turn from idolatry, turn to God. They had overlooked God in the past, but it was nothing compared to overlooking Christ in the present. Why? Verse 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.

The Greeks had no real concept of judgment. They lived, they died. Most of them preferred to worship many gods, depending on their needs. And although it appeared their gods became angry from time to time, there was no accountability.

Paul presented a different picture, that our lives have intrinsic worth to our Creator, and we are judged with God’s perfect justice. Daniel 7:13-14 –

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

God’s perfect judgment for eternity is coming. Once we hear the word, we no longer have an excuse for our ignorance. How awful to fail the test of righteousness before the living God! People need to know that they are being judged, and forgiveness is found in Christ and no place else.

This concept of judgment would be offensive to the Greeks, but Paul did not hold back the truth. While Paul might adapt his approach to sharing the gospel, he never varied the message of the gospel. Faith in Jesus alone will save us.

Is this concept of judgment still offensive today? Why?

E. Expect a variety of responses

Verse 32-34 –

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.” At that, Paul left the Council. 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 message of the resurrection of Christ ended Paul’s speech. Some of the intellectuals sneered and ridiculed Paul. Some outright laughed. Some were polite but dismissive, “we want to hear from you again.” But that’s ok. Because a few, a very few, became believers. And that’s ok. It’s our duty as the messenger to present the message. Paul showed us how to do it, and he did it expertly. And yet, an apostle of Christ got a mixed reaction. Sneering, some still searching, some believing. He did this by relating to them, nurturing them, and proclaiming the death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. That’s all we’re asked to do. The fruit is God’s responsibility.

So don’t hesitate to share what you know, and don’t worry that some will not believe you. Don’t expect a unanimous, positive response. Just tell the good news and plant the seed and let God do the rest.

[ In your opinion, what is the most troubling belief you have encountered about Christianity? ]
[ What reason can you give for your personal faith in Jesus? ]

In our culture, many people view Christianity as just another religion. Even some believers have accepted the false belief that all religions lead to the same place. But God wants us to acknowledge the unique gospel of Christ and to understand it more fully so that we can share it more effectively.

Encouragement

In the

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
For what can an antelope say?

Every spoken word, every action we take, effects another person. We either affect somebody positively or we affect negatively. Even many neutral actions, since they don’t affect another in a positive way, can be considered negative. We label ourselves as either an optimist who sees the glass half full, or a pessimist who sees the glass half empty. Or an engineer, who sees the glass as too big.

Some Christians look at the people around them and find fault with them. They gossip too much, they only hang around with their friends; they don’t serve like they should. Other believers seem to have a good word for everyone they meet. Which type or person do you like to be around? Which type of person are you?

If we’re critical of others, we make excuses for our behavior. I don’t feel good. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s just the way I am. God made me this way. Or, they’re just out to get me. They deserve it. Or we hide our criticism behind the phrase, “bless their heart.” You can say the absolute meanest, despicable things about somebody as long as you add the phrase, “bless their heart” to it. “He’s just a blathering idiot, bless his heart.” “She’s a wicked gossip who smells bad and dresses like a vagrant, bless her heart.”

Why do we do this? Like many sins, this one, too, is based on pride. We’re better than them. If they don’t know that, then we can drag them down and push ourselves up by criticizing them. We think so highly of ourselves that we don’t consider the other person’s feelings before we open our mouths.

That’s not God’s plan for us. God wants all of his children to encourage and lift one another. Proverbs 10:10-11,

He who winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

And Hebrews 3:13,

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

What day is it? That’s right, it’s Today. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. And 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

And Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ok, so does God want us to encourage one another? Who can guess the answer to that question?

Today we’re going to study Acts 11 starting in verse 19 about a great encourager. This is a difficult time for the early church; the early Jews preaching the gospel were persecuted by Herod. Stephen had been stoned to death, and the early Christians were scattered. There was some confusion around this time about the good news of the gospel and who could receive it.

Then Peter has a vision; Fred touched on this last week in Acts 10. In Acts 11:1-3,

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Criticism is everywhere; here, early believers are criticizing Peter, one of the original 12 Apostles. I can imagine them saying, “Well! He may have traveled and listed to Jesus for 3 years, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Why, just the other day, he was eating with so-and-so, you know, that ‘gentile’. He calls himself a follower of Christ but you sure can’t tell he’s one by the way he’s behaving.”

As a devout Jew, entering the house of an unclean gentile would cause Peter to become unclean, a fact other Jews pointed out to him. In verse 4, Peter tells them about his vision. He repeats it “precisely” to them; he saw a sheet coming down from heaven, and inside were four-footed animals, and a voice from the Lord saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

Peter’s response indicated Jewish thinking; he cannot eat those animals because Jewish law forbids it. “Surely no, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!” And the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

When we study God’s word, we often stop right there and think that God’s message is that it’s ok to eat pork. Or shellfish. Or… scorpions. Or whatever. And indeed, the scripture tells us this. When you couple this vision with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” we can also conclude that we are not bound by the Old Testament laws because Jesus completed them. We are free in Christ.

But for Peter, the vision he received also addresses the salvation of gentiles. Gentiles are also made by God. Gentiles can also be made clean by God. Peter would not defile himself by walking into a gentile’s home. The Holy Spirit came upon some gentiles in Acts 11:15-18,

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

In verse 19, after the stoning of Stephen, the early Christians scattered but continued to preach. Those that went to Phoenicia, Cypress and Antioch taught only to Jews. Other early Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene also went to Antioch, but began to teach the gentiles, the Greeks. The early church began to grow rapidly. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the early church there began to hear of the conversion of gentiles in Antioch. Verse 22-24,

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Barnabas is a great example of the Christian God wants us to be. In Acts 4:34-37, scripture introduces us to this man.

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

His name was Joseph, but the early church gave him the nickname “Barnabus”. A complete reading of the word “barnabas,” gives a more complete picture of his name. Barnabas means –

• Son of encouragement
• Son of prophecy
• Son of refreshment
• Son of comfort
• Son of consolation
• Son of preacher

In Hebrew names, the prefix “bar-” meant “son of.” For instance, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah.” It meant “Simon, son of Jonah.” If Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Smith & Wesson,” that could also mean “blessed are you Simon, you son of a gun.”

The selection of Barnabas by the early church was a wise decision. Barnabas is described in glowing terms in verse 24. He is the only man in Acts called “good.” He is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith.” And then Barnabas gives 3 examples of who we are to encourage. First, by going to Antioch to share the gospel with gentiles in verses 19-22, Barnabas encourages new Christians. These new Christians came not from Jewish backgrounds, but from pagan backgrounds. It is because of this encouragement that (verse 21) “the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Why do new Christians need encouragement?
• May have zeal and happiness, but not knowledge of scripture
• May fall into old secular habits easily
• If not welcomed, may seek inclusion elsewhere

We can definitely encourage new Christians by assuring them that God is at work in their lives, that God loves them and gave His son for them. We can encourage new Christians, not by looking at what they are doing wrong, but by affirming the positive qualities they have and the positive actions they do. We must approach them in love, not criticism or condescension.

I look at these early Christians, the aggressive evangelism they do to spread the Word, and the persecution they endured, and compare it to the safety and comfort of our modern church. We’re coddled by Christianity, but it’s the suffering of the early Christians that produced the hope and character of zealous Christians.

Another person Barnabas encouraged was Saul. Verse 25-27,

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Saul wasn’t exactly a new Christian; Saul was an educated Pharisee, a very devout Jew who had persecuted the Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. When Saul converted to Christianity, there was a lot of suspicion about him. After all, Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen; how could this man be so changed after his encounter with Jesus?

Barnabus went specifically to search for Saul and bring him to Antioch and together they helped grow the early church there. This was not the first time Barnabus had encouraged Saul; in Acts 9, immediately after Saul’s conversion, the Jews conspired to kill him and Saul tried to join the early church. But the Christians there were afraid of him and distrusted him. Then Acts 9:27, “But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles.”

Saul became Paul and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, including the letter to the Hebrews, verse 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.” While we think of Paul has an incredible teacher, how much of Paul’s writing can be attributed to the encouragement and joy of Barnabas?

Why do established Christians need encouragement?
• Initial zeal of forgiveness fades, tempted by world
• The stronger the Christian, the more Satan steps up his attacks
• Like Paul, Christians we encourage may contribute to God’s work in ways we could never imagine

It says here in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. Here’s the rabbit trail for this week; up until this time, followers of Christ had sort of an identity crisis. For a while in Acts 1 through 4 they were called “believers”. In Acts 5, they referred to themselves as the church, and then in Acts 6 they called themselves disciples and then brothers. In Acts 9, they called themselves “The Way,” I assume because Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They also called themselves the Lord’s people in Acts 9, the Followers in Acts 17, and the Flock in Acts 20. But it was here in Acts 11 that followers of Christ were first called Christians.

So back to Barnabus; he’s encouraged new Christians, he’s encouraged experienced Christians, and now Acts 11:23 it says Barnabus encouraged all of them, the entire church of Antioch. So Barnabus has shown by his example we are to encourage new Christians, established Christians, both individually and in groups. Did we miss anybody?

Acts 11 ends on a note that a severe famine began to spread throughout the Roman worlds, and in verse 29-30, ” The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Barnabus’ encouragement was not limited to words; he also encouraged them by his acts of service. There are many ways of providing encouragement; here’s a list called “8 Simple Ways to Encourage Others” :

• Take an interest. I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. People like to talk about themselves and once you get them talking, you fire up their enthusiasm.
• Acknowledge what’s important. When you acknowledge what’s important to another, you provide validation about who they are and what they’re doing. Whether we admit it or not, each of us craves acknowledgement. Affirmation fuels confidence and self-esteem.
• Acknowledge a job well done. Worthwhile accomplishments take time and effort. You can encourage by acknowledging someone’s effort. A simple “well done” or “thank you” can have a strong effect, which can make the difference between going on or giving up.
• Show your appreciation. It’s common courtesy. Thank someone when they do something for you. Thank your partner after they cook a nice meal. Thank a friend for lending you a book. A simple thank you lets others know what they have done is meaningful to you.
• Return the favour. If someone does something nice for you, show your appreciation by returning the favour. This should not be seen as an obligation, nor as a contest. You’re not trying to top the other’s contribution, but to express what their actions mean to you.
• Do something unexpected. This is a step beyond returning the favour. Respond with something unexpected: out of the blue. Such a response has a strong impact and can reach others at an emotional level.
• Ask for advice or confide in them. Haven’t you felt important when someone asked for your advice or confided in you about something important? Didn’t you find you were energised and eager to help. Taking someone into your confidence can motivate them to show your faith in them is well founded.
• Lend a hand. Waiting for someone to ask you for advice is passive. You can take the initiative by offering to lend a hand. If a person sees you are willing to commit your time and energy to their interests, they will be more committed to seeing it through and less likely to give up.

What about you? Are you an encourager? Do uplifting words come from you, or do words of condescension and criticism come from you? Are you a Barnabas? Or are you a barnacle?

Let’s keep in mind that all Christians need encouragement. For new Christians, simply going to them and offering help is encouraging. For maturing Christians, we can encourage them by affirming their good work and character and helping them apply their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord. For all Christians, just being concerned about them and helping them is encouraging.

Nicole Johnson, a Christian author and encourager herself, wrote “Encouragement is to a friendship what confetti is to a party. It’s light, refreshing, and fun, and you always end up finding little pieces of it stuck to you later.”

Let’s go be encouraging confetti to someone today.