We Are the Message

Candle of Loreto
Image by Loci Lenar via Flickr

I’ve discovered the secret to time travel, and have successfully traveled into the future. I’m still doing it – at the rate of 1 second per second. I can’t seem to go any faster or slower.

It amazes me that Thanksgiving has been over for more than a week, and Christmas will be here and gone in a blink. I’m sure time moved slower when I was a kid. The time between December 24 and December 25 was at least a week.

Our Christian life changes over time. The Christian faith we had last year and the year before that should sanctify over time and draw us closer to the Lord. How many remember the day that you gave your life to Christ?

Most of us will fall into one of two groups. For some of us, including me, we gave our life to Christ as an adult. Christ changed our lives abruptly and we became new creatures in Him. Others became Christians as a child or a teenager; lifestyles changed little. I should have been in that last group; I was exposed to Jesus at a very young age and never turned my back to Him. But repentance requires more than that – I also never turned my face toward Him. I did my own thing, not His.

So now my time travel is limited to retrospection. What decisions, good and bad, have I made, and how they steered my life. Only one decision steered my afterlife. A young pastor noticed something – I was coming to church every week, but there was no fruit of my faith. Attendance every week is not fruit, it’s fertilizer that helps us grow.

I can look back with thankfulness for that pastor that devoted a couple of hours a week to me, making sure my faith was laid on a biblical foundation. And I can look back over the last 10 years and thank the Lord for His work in my life. Today, we’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians 1, new believers in Christ, who became wonderful example of Christians.

Paul was on his second missionary journey at this time, during the time in Acts 16-21. Around the year 51, Paul and Silas left Antioch, picked up Timothy in the town of Lystra, through Philippi. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison for their prison but freed by an earthquake. They travel to Thessalonica where Paul teaches in the synagogue for three weeks. The Jews stirred up trouble and then at night, Paul and Silas slipped away to Berea and began teaching in the synagogue there. The Jews from Thessalonica followed Paul to Berea and stirred up trouble. Paul leaves from Corinth and meets Pricilla and Aquila. Over the next 2 years while in Corinth, Paul writes two letters to the Thessalonians to encourage those he had to leave because of persecution.

So that’s our situation; Paul is in Corinth, encouraging new believers in Thessalonica. From the two letters Paul sent, we know a lot about Paul’s feelings. For one thing, he’ saddened he’s unable to return to Thessalonica, and later, Paul would send Timothy back to them to minister to them. Timothy later returned and brought a letter back to Paul.

The letter Timothy brought back concerned Paul. The persecution in Thessalonica had not ended, and the early church there needed encouragement to stand firm. Also, the enemies of the truth were spreading lies about Paul, claiming that Paul was only traveling to make money and build up his reputation. The enemies also claimed that Paul had stirred up the trouble and then fled, leaving the early converts duped into facing the consequences alone. Paul’s letters defended his actions and his integrity, encouraged the new church, preached against paganism that was creeping back into Thessalonica. He also taught them on several topics, including their reputation outside of the church, to love each other, to work diligently, and discussed the end times when Jesus returns, and then teaches them about the fundamentals of Christian living.

There. We finished 1st and 2nd Thessalonians 2 months early. Any questions? Actually, for such a short chapter, there’s a lot of information here. Let’s go a little deeper. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4 –

Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

Paul expresses thanksgiving to the Thessalonians for the gospel in their lives and gives thanks to God. There are 10 verses in 1 Thessalonians 1, and Paul mentions God 7 times. Have you ever had anybody thank you for your faith? Do you give thanks to others for their faith? This is worthy of reflection when you consider the work of Jesus in your life.

Paul addresses this letter to the church of Thessalonica; the Greek word used is “ekklesia” and means a gathering of people called for a purpose. So Paul is letting the Thessalonians they have a purpose and that God has called them. Every church is called for a purpose, and every church has both a physical address and a spiritual address. Physically, the church was located in Thessalonica. Spiritually, the church was located in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those last four words, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” are beautiful together. “Our” reminds us that we have a uniquely personal relationship with God. “Lord” shows He is the ruler of our lives and our submission to His authority. “Jesus” reflects that God became one of us and reflects His humanity. “Christ” is our savior, the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies that He came to save us for all eternity. “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul encourages the church by letting them know he prays for them daily, giving thanks to God. Because of their faith, their work was evident. Because of their love, their labor was evident. And because of their hope, the early Thessalonian church was able to endure the persecution. This is why Paul gives thanks – these are new believers, yet their faith and their love, their hope and endurance was evident. Paul will tell us in a moment why all these are important.

Verse 4 tells the Christian brothers that they are loved and chosen by God. The credit for the existence of the Thessalonica church, and our church, too, belongs entirely to God, not to us. I think as believers in Christ we often take our salvation for granted, as though because we chose to become baptized that we have done a great thing in ensuring our eternal life. But our salvation is not something we earn by our choice, is it? Our salvation is a gift, and God chooses us first. While we make a decision to follow Christ, it is God who first calls us while we are still sinners. We do nothing to deserve salvation. That’s why Paul opens his letter with “grace and peace to you.” Grace is a uniquely Christian concept that God has shown us favor, even though we have done nothing to deserve it. On the contrary, we deserve judgment. But because of God’s grace, we have peace. God has called us and our salvation is secure in Him.

The Thessalonians were new believers, and Paul gave thanks for them. Not only that, it appears Paul had a daily prayer list that included praying for these new believers. This calling of new believers by God is the purpose He has set for us. Paul gave thanks because he could see the “work of faith”, the “labor of love,” the “endurance inspired by hope” in their lives. If somebody examined our lives, will they see the same? What evidence of our faith and love will others find if they examine our lives?
Many people hear the good news yet still refuse to accept Christ. The Holy Spirit does the work of convicting and converting, and Paul encourages the Thessalonians to respond to the Holy Spirit in their lives in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 –

because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel Paul preached follows a specific order. First, the gospel comes to us with words. Faith is useless without knowing why we have faith. Then comes power, the ability to do something. When people hear and accept the good news, lives change. Then Paul mentions the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of Himself to every believer. When the Word of God and the Spirit of God meet in the life of a believer, there is joy and assurance that he or she has freedom from the bondage of sin and is now a child of God.

Notice how Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be imitators of the Lord, but also of himself. We are to be like Christ in our growth as Christians. Paul often asks people of faith to imitate him. In first Corinthians 11:1, he says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Ask yourself if you are a good imitator of Christ. Do you have the confidence of Paul? Can you imitate his transparency? If you don’t, why not? Can we be confident that our lives are so Christ-like that we would ask somebody to imitate us? What keeps us from this sort of confidence?

This is an important question because if we are not good imitators of Christ, then we are poor witnesses on His behalf. A good imitator of Christ is a good witness for Christ. We know Paul was a good witness, both by words and by action. The Thessalonians, in turn, became good witnesses despite persecution. They understood that their faith in Jesus Christ might mean temporary suffering but eternal joy. Instead of being embarrassed or hiding their faith, the Thessalonians instead welcomed the message with the joy from the Holy Spirit.

It’s just as important today to be joyful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as it was for the Thessalonians. Just like the Thessalonians, we can worship every week with our church, read the scriptures, thank the Lord for the gifts in our lives, and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we make good decisions. As a result of their faith, the Thessalonians became influential in spreading Christianity. Look at verses 7-10 –

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Do you see the cycle of evangelism? First, Paul shared his faith by both word and action to the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians imitated Paul, and then shared their faith by both words and actions. The Thessalonians became an example of joyful Christian living to the Macedonians in northern Greece. The Macedonians, in turn, influenced new believers at least 200 miles away in Achaia in the southern part of Greece. Paul says their reputation has become known everywhere.

Paul called the Thessalonians to be like Christ, and offered his own life as an example to them. The Thessalonians, in turn, were an example to the Macedonians. And so on through the centuries, until you, too, heard the word of God and saw it modeled in someone else. The word Paul used for “example” literally translated meant the mark left by a hammer when making a coin. *Stamp*. You have an original that made an imprint, and now you have another just like it. In John 20:25, Thomas says he that unless he sees the imprint of the nails in the hands of Jesus, he would not believe. The word John uses for “imprint” is the same word Paul uses for example. *Stamp* We are to be just like Jesus. Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:48) that we are to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Like a coin made from a hammer, we are to bear the imprint of Christ.

The lifestyle of the Thessalonians provide an example to us today. Verse 9 and 10 summarize the lifestyle of a truly effective Christian in 5 points –

1. Repentence. They turned to God from idols. A saved life, a life in Christ, always begins with a deliberate decision to answer God’s call. A Christian turns from the negative and to the positive. This is repentance. Repentance is a deliberate change to turn from sinful ways and to face the living God. The Thessalonians turned from their lives of idol worship and to a life of faith.

2. Serving. They have a new master. Before, they were slaves to their sin. Slaves to power, to money, to self, to pleasure. Now they are willing slaves to Christ. The Thessalonians serve the living and true God.

3. Goal. They have a new hope. The Thessalonians wait for His Son to come from Heaven. When will this day be? We don’t know. Jesus says it will come like a thief in the night, and we won’t know until it is here. But we are to live every day, every hour, as though Jesus was coming today. If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Paul ends every chapter of 1st Thessalonians with a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus.

4. Foundation. They have a firm foundation. The Thessalonians were secure in their faith that Jesus was raised from the dead, that He was resurrected in accordance with thousands of years of prophecy. Jesus conquered sin, He conquered death for us. The gospel is the good news that we have eternal life with Him, and He really does have that power.

5. And finally, the fear of God. The Thessalonians were well aware of their sin, and that perfect judgment on sinful humanity before an all-powerful God means that by all rights the wrath of God should be poured out on us. God hates sin. The only reason God does not turn his righteous anger against us is because of his love for us. Only Jesus can rescue us. For that we are thankful and saved from His wrath.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that their lives are showing the cycle of evangelism that Christ calls us to live. First, everything begins with Christ, our perfect example. Second, Paul and missionaries such as Silas and Timothy imitated the behavior of Christ and spread the gospel. Third, the Thessalonians modeled their lives after Paul. Fourth, the new Christians throughout Macedonia followed the example of the Thessalonians.

Where are you in this cycle? What about your reputation? You’ve accepted Christ, and you live in a circle of influence. By your words and by your actions, you influence your spouse, your kids or your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends and coworkers. If your reputation got back to you, what would it say about you?

Here’s a questionnaire on the last 3 verses of 1 Thessalonians 1. I want you to think about these questions. Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, you should be able to answer these questions to yourself. If you have an answer to these questions you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. After all, everybody in this class is an example to me and if you tell me your answer, I can imitate you.

1. The evidence this week that I “serve the living and true God” is:

2. I demonstrate to myself that I “wait for His Son from heaven” by:

3. People can tell I believe God “raised Jesus from the dead” because:

4. Someone I know that needs to be rescued “from the coming wrath” is:

We are God’s message. God’s Word tells us who He is, but it is by our words and actions that others come to know Him. Everybody in here has a story of somebody that shared their love of God. We have all been evangelized. But we cannot keep this Good News to ourselves. The cycle is only complete when the evangelized becomes the evangelist. We do this through thanksgiving, through prayer, through encouragement. Like the Thessalonians, we demonstrate our works of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope. We look back with thankfulness that the Holy Spirit and the gospel’s power changed our lives.

Are you waiting confidently for Christ’s return? Are you living a life that is a testimony to God’s grace and miraculous transformation of your life? Is your life “the message”?

Let’s offer thanks and praise that it is.

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Smile

A rare positioning of planets Venus (top left) and Jupiter (top right) and the crescent moon of the Earth provides a smiley effect that captivated Asia Monday night Dec. 2, 2008.
A rare positioning of planets Venus (top left) and Jupiter (top right) and the crescent moon of the Earth provides a 'smiley' effect that captivated Asia Monday night Dec. 2, 2008.
Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And God saw that it was good. And sometimes, He smiles.
🙂

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Christian Carnival CCXLIV

Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix.
Image via Wikipedia

It’s National Bailout Day, seeing as how our illustrious US Congress has allocated $700 billion for Wall Street bankers. As Christians, I think we probably could put $700 billion to better use, don’t you?

But I got to thinking that our lives are not ours, we have been purchased at a cost. How much did it cost for Jesus to bail us out? In that view, $700 is mere paper. The Son of God sacrificed Himself.

Chasing the Wind is please tonight to host the 244th Christian Carnival, this week’s collection of the best Christian writing found on the planet. (Hey, if you find better, at least you’re looking. Halleluiah. 🙂 )

In order they were received, here they are –

And that” wrap up this week’s edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Hearing God

I hear a story about a coach teaching his first soccer team made of seventh graders. The coach described the role of the goalie, how to setup offensive a defensive plays, and how to pass the soccer ball. When Saturday came for their first game, the kids all bunched up around the ball in a compact huddle, kicking at the ball for all they’re worth.

The next week, patiently, the coach again described offensive and defensive plays, took them out to the field to practice. Saturday came for the game… and again, the kids bunched up around the ball just kicking at it for all they’re worth.

The next week, frustrated, the coach again starts explaining how to run offensive and defensive plays, when one of the kids raises his hand. “Coach? You mean we’re supposed to do this during the game?”

It’s one thing to hear the message. It’s quite another to put it into practice.

Last week, Fred told us the story of Hannah and how she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. She kept her word and Samuel was delivered to the Lord’s sanctuary in Shiloh. Shiloh may have been a religious community, but it was a less than ideal place to raise a boy.

Samuel is growing up in the period between Judges and Kings in the bible. Judges is a period of failure for Israel. Spiritually, there was no direction. Religious leaders were corrupt. The Philistines oppressed the Jews and there was little justice for evil. And while there had been a few bright spots in the leadership of Israel like Samson and Gideon, the book of Judges ends on this note (Judges 21:25) –

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

I’m having a little difficulty drawing any sort of parallel between that statement and our society in America today. Anybody have any ideas?

1 Samuel provides a transition between Judges and kings. Later this year we’ll transition between the king Saul, a failure, with David, a success. Now we’ll transition between the priest Eli, a failure, and Samuel, a success. First, let’s look at Eli and see if we can see what is wrong with his ministry.

Let’s start with 1 Samuel 2:12-17

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”

If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”

This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

Now skip down to 1 Samuel 2:22-25

Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.

What I find interesting is that Eli’s knowledge of the Lord is very good. He has exemplary words and terrific advice. It’s his practice of God’s instruction that’s lacking. Eli’s sons are wicked men; verse 12 says “they had no regard for the Lord.” It more likely meant that they never gave God a second thought, much less a first thought. In the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, the priests were entitled to a portion of the offerings brought to the Lord. The fat portions of the offerings were to be burnt as a sacrifice to God; the breast and right thigh were given to the priest, and the rest of the animal was cooked and eaten by the family of the person making the offer. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas sinned against the people by taking their share, but worse, they sinned against the Lord by taking the share that was dedicated to Him. Verse 17 says this was treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.

Eli gives very wise advice in verse 25. If man sins against another man, God may mediate for him. If man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him? This is similar to the question in Job 9; if you get into a disagreement with God, who would be the referee? Who would you ask to settle the argument? It’s a rhetorical question, because we know that the almighty God is the dispenser of perfect justice. You cannot win an argument with God.

We know that Eli was unsuccessful at persuading his sons to change their ways. His sons not only stole the Lord’s portions of the offerings, but they also slept with the women at the Tent of Meeting. The disobedience of the sons to the Lord and their reprehensible acts could not go unpunished. In Romans 1:24-32, Paul writes that God “gave them up” to their sinful desires. Eventually, if we disobey God long enough, God will let us have what we want. He will let us have our selfish pride, our wanton lusts, our every kind of wickedness, greed and depravity. He will let us have death.

The book of Samuel continues, 1 Samuel 2:27-36. A man of God, an unnamed prophet, comes to Eli. This prophet tells Eli that Eli and his sons were chosen by the Lord to be His priest, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and the Lord asks, “Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?” The prophet goes on to say that since Eli’s family has not served the lord faithfully, the Lord has passed judgment on Eli, and verse 34-35 says,

“And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always. “

Basically, the Lord has given Eli’s sons over to their wicked ways. The Lord’s will, however, will still be done. It always is. But Eli and his sons will not be part of it. God will choose a new faithful priest to do His will.”

As for the people, “everyone did as they saw fit.” People of God are limited by the teaching, the discipleship, and the pastors of the church. One of the reasons for the mediocre spirituality of the people of God today is the low level of spirituality among pastors. God’s warning is that He will only tolerate this for so long, and then He will replace them. Eli and sons failed as spiritual leaders, and God took away their priesthood and promised to establish a new dynasty of priesthood from 1 faithful priest. God prepared a new leader and prophet in Samuel. Let’s look at 1 Samuel 3:1.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

Without faithful leadership, the people did as they saw fit. In response, the Word of the Lord was rare. God was silent. He’s given them over to their ways. Silence from God is horrible. Silence is deafening. Because they were unfaithful, God was silent.

We should remember this when we go to God in prayer. If we will not walk in obedience to Him, we cannot be sure we hear Him. He may be silent. Often before God answers our prayers, He has an expectation that we will do our best to obey the Words He has spoken. If we are willfully disobedient, we may not be able to hear Him. He may be giving us over to our wicked ways. If we want God to hear us, we had better be listening to what He has already said. Sometimes we pray for God to light our paths, but we have no intention of ever moving our feet.

That’s the prophetic warning to Eli and to us that our obedience matters to a most Holy God, and that He will only tolerate our willful disobedience for so long before He passes judgment on us. While Eli’s sons led people astray, let’s look at a future man of God that the Lord has already put in place.

In the last chapter, 1 Samuel 2:18, Hannah’s son Samuel has been dedicated to the Lord. Samuel, who is about the same age as our 7th grade soccer players, is ministering before the Lord, despite the poor examples of faithful leadership around him. And in 1 Samuel 3:4, it says, “Then the LORD called Samuel.”

Our parents may have prayed for our salvation, and we may also pray for our children’s salvation, but it’s the Lord who finally speaks to a willing heart. Samuel’s mother had dedicated him years before to the service of the Lord, but now is the time for the Lord to call Samuel. And Samuel, obedient and faithful, answers the call. Except… he’s not sure where the call is coming from.

Verse 2-5 –

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Something to notice here is Samuel’s surroundings when the Lord calls him. Samuel is near Eli, who despite having raised disobedient children, is still the priest of the temple. The lamp of God is still shining, and Samuel is near the ark of the covenant. If we’re to hear the word of God, not only do we need to be obedient, but we need to surround ourselves, immerse ourselves, in godly situations with godly people. It is at this point that God calls Samuel.

And Samuel mistakes the calling of God. When we are listening to the world, there are so many voices that speak to us. The voice on the news, on the television. Voices from work and from family and from friends. The truth of God can get lost among the voices if we are not attuned to Him. It would me so much easier if God called us on the telephone. I have caller ID. I could look down when my phone rings and says, “Sorry, I have to take this. It’s God calling.” Or perhaps the UPS truck driver delivering a package that has a return label, “FROM GOD.” But God speaks to us in a still, small voice. He speaks to us when we read our bibles. He speaks to us through the wise counsel of others. He speaks to us through good experiences, and He most definitely speaks to us through bad experiences. The point is that God speaks quietly and we can easily mistake God’s calling if we’re surrounded by noise.

But even though Samuel mistakes the calling of God, it’s remarkable that Samuel heard Him at all. Only because Samuel was faithful, Samuel could see and hear clearly, both spiritually and physically. And he reports to Eli, who tells Samuel to go lie back down.

2 Samuel 6, the Lord calls a second time, and again, Samuel go to see Eli, and again Eli tells Samuel to go lie down. And again in verse 8. This time, Eli realizes that the Lord is calling Samuel. Why did it take so long for Eli to recognize the calling of the Lord? I think we can get a better understanding by re-reading verses 1 and 2.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.

Eli wasn’t expecting to hear from God. The Lord rarely spoke because men weren’t willing to listen. Eli’s eyes had grown weak; Eli’s spiritual eyes are probably not much better.

But Samuel has been faithful; now we also see that Samuel is obedient. Eli gives appropriate spiritual advice to Samuel; when the Lord calls again, Samuel is to tell the Lord he’s ready.

In verse 10, the Lord calls Samuel yet again, and this time Samuel asks the Lord to speak, for His servant is listening. The Lord’s message to Samuel is that He will pass judgment on the house of Eli. Verse 11-14 –

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family — from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ “

And with those words still ringing in his ears, Samuel went back to bed.

In the morning, Eli asks, “Oh, by the way. I meant to ask. What did the Lord say to you last night?” You know Samuel must be nervous. He was afraid to tell Eli that the Lord was going to judge Eli’s family and make an example of them before Israel. But bless his heart, Eli does the right thing. He tells Samuel to give it to him straight and not to be afraid. Samuel should be more afraid of the Lord than afraid of men. Samuel should give the world the Lord’s message, and not water it down to tell the world what it wants to hear. Pastors, teachers, and all people of God should pass along the Lord’s word, even if the world doesn’t want to hear it.

We know some of the harder words that the world doesn’t want to hear. That we are no inherently good people; we are sinners in need of a savior. That there are not multiple and many ways to heaven; Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. That casual Christianity is insufficient; lukewarm Christians will be spit out of Jesus’ mouth, and wide is the path to destruction. People don’t want to hear those words. They’re harsh. They’re judgmental. But they’re God’s words and they reflect His perfect judgment.

Many commentaries discuss the Lord’s call to Samuel and about how to hear His voice. They discuss the Samuel’s upbringing in the temple of the Lord, maintaining his witness, preparing through obedience, growing in godly character. Few commentaries discuss Eli’s response to hearing this devastating news about his family. Eli says in verse 18 in response to Samuel’s prophecy, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

He is the Lord. God will do what is good in His eyes, not ours. The message was hard, yet Eli wants the truth from Samuel. He asks Samuel to be open and honest about God’s word, and not try to please him with a watered down message, to resist the temptation to edit or moderate God’s word, or even try to be a mediator between God and the one receiving the word. Just give him the truth.

I’m encouraged by Eli’s response; it is one of surrender. It’s a response of peace. It’s a response of acceptance. Let the Lord do what is good in His eyes. Eli surrenders to the word of God and recognizes that Samuel is the new leader that God has chosen. Samuel will be leading the people of Israel; Eli has no further role to play except to witness the death of his sons and to witness the capture of the ark next week.

Samuel became leader with these words in 1 Samuel 3:19 through 1 Samuel 4:1 –

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

These words bring the story of Samuel’s birth, Samuel’s spiritual growth, and Samuel’s call. Samuel will return in our studies when we get to Chapter 7, but for now, the work God is doing in Samuel, from prophecy, character, and obedience, are enough to grow Samuel’s reputation from Dan to Beersheba. That’s like saying, “from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests, to the gulf stream waters.” This is a time of Samuel’s maturing, as verse 19 says, “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.”

The word of the Lord is hard to hear when you are doing your own thing, but if you’re obedient and listening, God can use you, just as He called Samuel. Not for our own interpretation, but for us to spread God’s word truthfully and faithfully. The key is to be faithful when God calls us.

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.

PBS and the Separation of Church and State

When the US Government funds anything remotely Christian in nature, all sorts of “separation of church and state” groups get upset. The ACLU files a lawsuit and the “offensive” Christian material is removed.

So why is it ok for US tax dollars to be used to oppose Christianity? Shouldn’t the same standard be used? PBS, a government funded liberal and atheist propoganda tool (not that I’m opinionated on the subject) is funded by the US government and is producing a show that attacks the underlying tenets of the bible.

Among other things, this show says –

  • Abraham, Sarah and their offspring didn’t exist.
  • There is no archaeological evidence of the Exodus.
  • Monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
  • The Israelites were actually Canaanites.
  • The Israelites believed that God had a wife.

For me as a Christian, it’s bad enough when free speech is exercised to attack my beliefs; my right to free speech also belongs to others to say the opposite. Will my tax dollars also be used to fund a show friendly to my beliefs? Probably not; the ACLU will sue to prevent the use of tax dollars for Christian-friendly projects. So why is the government allowed to fund an attack on Christianity?