Wednesday, July 31, 2013

a new audience

Good afternoon friends,
I hope you have a chance to enjoy this lovely day. Our reading today begins an interesting episode in Paul's ministry. Most of the time we see Paul begin his ministry in a new place by going to the synagogue. That makes sense because he could expect to find people there who were interested in spiritual things. In today's story he is in Athens, and in some ways the spiritual center of Athens was philosophy and the market, so that's where Paul starts.

We'll notice that Paul explains himself differently because his audience doesn't share his Jewish background. We too need to pay attention to our audience when we proclaim the gospel. Other people we meet might not know the story of Jesus. They might never have grown up in a church, or, more difficult, they might have had bad experiences in church that make tradition a block to faith. When we want to share our faith, we need to consider who we are speaking with so our message will make sense to them.

God bless,

Acts 17:16-21

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.)

19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

more opposition

Good evening friends,
First, a sad announcement, Harold Van Lare died on Friday evening. His memorial service will be at Harris Funeral Home at Kings Highway and Titus Ave at 11:00 am Wednesday, 7/31. It would be great if you could be there to support the family, especially if you were blessed to know Harold.

Today's reading is about more opposition to the gospel message. Despite much of what our culture teaches, faithfulness is often punished in this world rather than rewarded.

God bless,

Acts 17:1-15
After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’ 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’ 8The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.

10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 14Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

using our opportunities

Good afternoon friends,
I hope your weekend has been wonderful. Despite being a bit wet, the camping trip was lots of fun. As always, teamwork and community make for a great trip even with less than perfect weather. In our reading for today, Paul reflects on being in prison for the sake of the gospel. He says that even his imprisonment has helped spread the gospel. For one thing, being in prison has given him the opportunity to share his faith with his jailers and other prisoners. It has also allowed people to see how deeply he loves Christ, which might also draw people to salvation.

I find Paul's devotion inspiring. He doesn't get everything right, but he sees everything he does as part of his faith. That's an invitation for us as well. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you have the opportunity to share God's love with others.

God bless,

Philippians 1:12-21
12 I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will result in my deliverance. 20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

Friday, July 26, 2013

ministry in jail

Good morning friends,
In today's reading we see some of the church's early prison ministry, in this case, ministry as prisoners. One thing I love about this passage is that Paul insists on his rights as a citizen. It's interesting to watch the different ways Paul uses his citizenship in ministry. The gospel is disruptive because it breaks into the world and calls us to a new way of life based on love. That interruption is not always welcome. May the faithfulness of the apostles inspire us to be faithful today, however we have opportunities to minister.

God bless,

Acts 16:25-40
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

35 When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ 36And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.’ 37But Paul replied, ‘They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.’ 38The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; 39so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

new opponents

Good evening friends,
We've been reading a lot about why Jewish leaders opposed Paul's teaching: they thought it was heresy. Today we see some Roman citizens opposing Paul for a different reason. Luke tells us their opposition was financial, but when they make their case they say Paul is advocating Jewish customs that are "unlawful" for Romans to observe. Interesting indeed. Whatever opposition we may face, Jesus will be with us.

God bless,

Acts 16:16-24
16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

going new places

Good morning friends,
Today's reading is interesting, first because of the direct guidance about travel that Paul experiences. The text doesn't give any reason why they were "forbidden" by God to preach in Asia, but the vision of the Macedonian man is a key image for missionaries everywhere. The other part of this passage that intrigues me is that in Philippi, instead of going to a synagogue on the Sabbath like he usually does, Paul goes outside the city to a place he thinks people might pray. I see this as a progression in the ministry to the gentiles; Paul isn't just looking for gentiles who already worship God. It's also a reminder that if we want to reach people, we need to go where they are, not just where we are most comfortable.

God bless,

Acts 16:6-15
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

welcoming the weak

Good evening friends,
Paul continues his discussion in our passage today about how the Christian life is about serving others, not about insisting on our rights. We often think about special privileges for those who are strongest. Paul instead thinks that those who are strongest have special obligations to the community.

God bless,

Romans 15:1-7
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. 3For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

rights and relationships

Good afternoon friends,
It is certainly a beautiful day; I hope you're taking some time outside to enjoy it. Today's reading continues Paul's discussion on holding different opinions in the same community. He's talking specifically about food, which for many people was an expression of religion, but his point is much broader. We can believe different things about matters that aren't essential. That means, if you believe it's OK to eat any kind of food and you give thanks to God for it, that's fine. If you feel like you shouldn't eat some food, either because it represents another religion or for whatever reason, you shouldn't eat it. Even though it doesn't hurt God to eat it, if you believe it is wrong, you're going against your conscience and sinning if you eat it.

The other part of that freedom we have in Christ, and I think this is an interesting biblical idea when we think about things like gun control or free speech, is that love for our neighbor sometimes asks us to put our own rights aside. Paul says it's fine to eat whatever we want because all things are clean, at the same time, if eating something that other people might connect with idolatry risks leading them astray, the most loving thing could be not to eat it for the sake of the other person. We have great freedom in our faith and in our nation, but the most responsible and loving use of that freedom sometimes means accepting restrictions on what we have a right to for the sake of other people. In Christianity, love is the most important thing.

God bless,

Romans 14:13-23
13 Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another. 14I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16So do not let your good be spoken of as evil.

17For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. 20Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.

22The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. 23But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Friday, July 19, 2013

facing judgment; facing ourselves and welcoming others

Good evening friends,
One of the joys of living in Rochester is the fascinating, often beautiful and always interesting weather. Tonight is a great example of that. In our passage this evening Paul continues his discussion on how we should welcome each other without judging. The truth is that God is in charge. We will all have to give an account for our lives and choices one day to God, who is the only judge. When we judge others we try to put ourselves in God's place. We also distract ourselves from looking at the behavior of the only person we have any control over, ourself. So approach everyone with love and welcome; maybe your love is what they need to come closer to God.

As we think of our Muslim neighbors observing the Ramadan this month, a verse from the Qur'an comes to mind. It can be translated "The Quaking" and it gives a poetic image of God's judgment at the end of time. The haunting image is not that we will be sent to hell, but rather that we will come face to face with what we have done, even the things that seem minor. Truly, we do not need to waste any energy judging anyone else. Here's Michael Steel's interpretation of the verse; his book, Approaching the Qur'an also includes wonderful audio recordings of this surra.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate the Caring
When the earth is shaken, quaking
When the earth bears forth her burdens
And someone says "What is with her?"
At that time she will tell her news
As her lord revealed her
At that time people will straggle forth
       to be shown what they have done
Whoever does a mote's weight good will see it
Whoever does a mote's weight wrong will see it

Blessings on your weekend,

Romans 14:7-12
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

agreeing to disagree

Good morning church,
Today's reading shows us Paul advising the church on how to handle differences in religious observance in the church. The short version: "Honor God with your worship and choices and don't worry about how other people live or worship; that's between them and God." There are always different ways of doing things, and faithful Christians will not always agree. That's OK. God's bigger than we are in every way.

God bless,

Romans 14:1-6
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

moving on

Good morning friends,
Today I'm working on the Habitat house that UPT (Urban Presbyterians Together) is building together. There are still about 17 days left for you to get in on the building, so if you'd like to volunteer check out this link for more information. Today's reading tells us what happened next for Paul. He meets Timothy, who Paul mentors. Their relationship is an important one. It's surprising that Paul has Timothy circumcised, having just finished advocating that such things aren't necessary. At the same time, maybe Paul wanted to avoid conflict over something he knew wasn't important.

Blessings on your day,

Acts 16:1-5
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 2He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

conflict and separation

Good afternoon friends,
Today's passage will also be a focus for us on Sunday. We've seen Paul and Barnabas working together for years. In this passage they have a conflict about who to take with them in ministry. The conflict is such an issue that they decide to go their separate ways. I think that must have been hard for both of them, but they both felt strongly about what they were doing so they had to follow their conviction. Conflict is an inevitable part of relationship; the question is how we address it.

God bless,

Acts 15:30-41
30 So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. 32Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them. 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.

36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Monday, July 15, 2013

in and out

Good night brothers and sisters,
We've heard some of the arguments for and against gentile inclusion. Here we hear the closing arguments and James's decision. How can we make sure to include all people today?

God bless,

Acts 15:12-21
12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me. 14Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,
16 “After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
   from its ruins I will rebuild it,
     and I will set it up,
17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
   even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
     Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18known from long ago.”

19Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled
and from blood. 21For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.’

Saturday, July 13, 2013

church decisions

 Good afternoon friends,
Today's reading shows us that not everything was smooth sailing in the church. Christianity was still a movement within Judaism, so many leaders in the church believed following Jesus required following all the Jewish traditions. This is the first example of the leadership of the church gathering to figure something out. Like then, figuring out conflict and controversy requires listening to each other and to God.

Blessings on your Saturday,

Acts 15:1-11

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.’

6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’

Thursday, July 11, 2013

encouraging one another

Good evening friends,
I hope you have a chance to enjoy this lovely evening. In our reading yesterday we read how Paul was stoned and left for dead by an angry crowd. Today he and Barnabas continue their journey by returning to the churches in the region they have worked to encourage them. Having faced persecution, Paul's words to the other believers that the way to God's kingdom goes through suffering are poignant since he has been on both sides of persecution. The second paragraph features Paul and Barnabas returning to their home town church in Antioch. In many ways this is my dream for Laurelton, that we would go out in ministry from the church and come back each week to tell the stories of what God is doing and find encouragement together.

God bless you in your ministry,

Acts 14:21-28
The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’ 23And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. 27When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

cross cultural challenges

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
We read yesterday about the challenging reception Paul and Barnabas received in a synagogue. Some of the religious Jews were angry that they were teaching about Jesus, since to them it seemed to contradict their tradition. Basically, the religious leaders in Jerusalem had judged Jesus guilty of blasphemy for calling himself the son of God. When the evangelists continued that message, it shouldn't surprise us, or them, that many other Jewish leaders also felt that was blasphemy.

In today's reading Paul and Barnabas discover that there are entirely different challenges preaching to gentiles. With many Jews the issue is a disagreement about what the Bible means; with gentiles, the challenge is a totally different religious background. The confusion in this story will be repeated in other places and times with gentiles. The truth is that whenever we talk with people from a different background we have to remember that our background shapes how we see the world, so misunderstandings are possible. The more we can be aware of what our assumptions are and how they might lead us into misunderstandings, the easier cross-cultural conversation will be.

God bless,

Acts 14:8-20
8 In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ 18Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

19 But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Good afternoon friends,
We read on Sunday about Paul and Barnabas preaching in the synagogue and telling the story of Jesus. As we see today, they were invited back the following week to say more about Jesus. As we'll see, some in the audience become very angry. While our first instinct is usually to wonder why people would be so violent, remember that they were worried their faith was at risk. Despite the risks and the persecution, the church kept growing and people's lives were changed.

God bless,

Acts 13:42-52
42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 

44 The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
   so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ’ 

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. 49Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 50But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. 51So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

preaching again

Good afternoon friends,
I hope your weekend is going well. Today's reading is Paul's sermon, which we skipped over in our reading in church this morning. It's interesting because it is all about explaining what God is doing in Jesus Christ to people who know the Old Testament.


Acts 13:26-41
26 ‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. 28Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead; 31and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors 33he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
“You are my Son;
   today I have begotten you.”
34As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“I will give you the holy promises made to David.”
35Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
“You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.”
36For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; 37but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. 38Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sinsfrom which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
41 “Look, you scoffers!
   Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
   a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.”

Saturday, July 6, 2013

departure and proclamation

Good morning friends,
Our passage starts with a few travel details. I want to highlight one detail of that because it will be important later. Barnabas and Saul (Paul) did some of their journeys with a man named John also called Mark. He was with them in Jerusalem and in Salamis. In this reading, he goes his own way, back to Jerusalem. The passage doesn't say anything about why, nor does it mention any disagreement, but Paul and Barnabas will later have conflict in their own relationship centered on this moment.

The passage overall is a great snapshot from Paul's missionary work. He often started his work in a new town at the synagogue, because Christianity was a movement within Judaism. So in the synagogue, Paul knew he would find people who already knew God's story. Like we've seen with Stephen and other sermons in Acts, Paul starts the message about Jesus by reviewing the story of Israel and God. The more rooted we are in the whole story, the more each part, including the day to day decisions we make, make sense.

God bless,

Acts 13:13-25
13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ 16So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:

‘You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. 17The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18For about forty years he put up with in the wilderness. 19After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20for about four hundred and fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years.

22When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” 23Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25And as John was finishing his work, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”

Friday, July 5, 2013

commission and conflict

Good afternoon friends,
We've read a little about the church in Antioch before. It was one of the most important churches for the first several hundred years of Christianity and was a major center of learning. We've read before that Saul and Barnabas were there. Today we see them commissioned for a new evangelistic mission. We also see them in conflict with someone we see called a false prophet. We also see Saul getting his new name: Paul. Unlike many people in the Bible who get a new name, we don't learn anything about when or how Paul changed his name. Luke just announces it and from there on, he is Paul.

Blessings on your weekend,

Acts 13:1-12
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them. 6When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. 7He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God.

8But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.’ Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand. 12When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

persecution and release

Good morning friends,
I hope you have some time today to enjoy 
friends and family. It's a great day to remember the blessings of 
freedom we have in our country and the sacrifice of those who have 
guaranteed them, both people in uniform and people organizing and 
protesting for civil rights. Please also pray for our nation, that we 
would continue the difficult and sacred pursuit of freedom for the 
common good.

Our reading today continues the story of an episode 
of persecution. King Herod killed James (son of Zebadee and brother of 
John, not the brother of Jesus) and put Peter in prison. God executes a 
jailbreak for Peter that is funny in its execution. The passage after 
that, which we'll skip, tells the story of Herod's death and summarizes a
 period of growth for the church. One of the great strengths of our 
faith is that we are strongest when we are weak. Even the power of royal
 persecution, when we respond in faith and openness with love, makes us 
stronger. That's also the brilliance of non-violent protest, as with 
think about civil rights struggles in the context of our nation's 

God bless,
Acts 12:6-24
6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his wrists. 8The angel said to him, ‘Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.’ He did so. Then he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’

 9Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’

12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind!’ But she insisted that it was so. They said, ‘It is his angel.’ 16Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, ‘Tell this to James and to the believers.’ Then he left and went to another place.

18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

facing persecution

Good afternoon friends,
Today we see another side of the persecution the church faced. In this part of the church's life there was not the kind of structured and consistent persecution that happened later. At this point there was occasional persecution, but mostly, the Empire hadn't figured out what to do with the church. In this case James (Son of Zebadee) is executed and Peter put in jail. As often, God uses even persecution to share love. Today we see the same thing; in areas where the church is persecuted, people grow in faithfulness. Reading about the church's persecution then is a good reminder for us to pray for the persecuted church today.

God bless,

Acts 12:1-5
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

Monday, July 1, 2013

miscellany and insight

Good evening friends,
Today's reading is short and simple, but it gives us some great insights into this time in the church's life. Remember that Barnabas was the one who vouched for Saul so the leaders in Jerusalem would trust him. Now he and Saul team up to lead the church at Antioch. Antioch was one of the most important cities for the development of early Christian teaching and study for the first 400 years or so of church history. It's cool to see this foundation of that legacy. We also meet Agabus, a minor character who we won't see again until the last chapters of Acts when he reappears in his prophetic role. Finally, we see Saul and Barnabas commissioned to bring donations from the church in Antioch to Jerusalem. Not only does this give us a view of how interconnected the church was, it also echoes Paul's letters in which he talks often about collecting assistance for Jerusalem.

God bless,

Acts 11:25-30
25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.

27 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.