Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Acts 17- The Purpose of an Open Mind

Please start by reading Acts chapter 17.

Paul, Silas and Timothy are continuing their second missionary journey in this chapter.  They have just left Luke in Philippi and are continuing through Macedonia and further into Greece.  In this chapter they visit Thessalonica, Berea and Athens.  I want to look at their time in Berea and Athens.

In Berea and Athens we see two different reactions to the message of the Gospel.  Both reactions to the Good News start with an open mind, but the end of these two stories are different.  This makes us wonder, "What's the purpose of an open mind?"

In Berea the people "received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek woman and many Greek men." (Verse 11b-13)

The Bereans had an open mind.  They were open to hear what Paul had to say.  They didn't hate him just because what he had to say was different.  The Bereans then went home and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.  The Bereans are a good example for us.  Have an open mind but be sure to find out if it is true and once you find the truth do something about it.  Many Bereans realized they found the truth and they committed to it.

Now let's look at what the Athenians did when they heard the Gospel.

The Athenians heard Paul preaching and they were intrigued by his message.  So the Athenians, who spent all day chatting about the latest ideas, invited Paul to explain the Gospel to them.  So, Paul explained the Gospel clearly.

The Athenians had an open mind.  They were open to hear what Paul had to say.  They didn't hate him just because what he had to say was different.  However, the Athenians, save a few, didn't do anything about the message they heard.  They kept their mind open and most likely discussed a new "truth" the next day.  I mean, these people had so many different philosophies and religions that they had an idol to an unknown god so they wouldn't miss any.

Both the Bereans and Athenians had an open mind.  Both openly heard the Gospel message.  So, what's the purpose of an open mind?

My pastor says (I'm not sure where he got this) that the purpose of an open mind is the same as the purpose of an open mouth... to bite down on something good.  We can't possibly think that we are uberintelligent because our mind is open to everything.  An open mind is a great thing, but an open mind that doesn't bite down on truth is pointless.  The Bereans had an open mind and found the Truth.  The Athenians had an open mind and let the Truth pass them by.

In our lives we need to have an open mind.  But the purpose of an open mind is not to accept truth and garbage together or to do nothing about the messages we hear.  The purpose of an open mind is to find the truth and bite down on it.  So, have an open mind, but bite down and savor the Truth of the Gospel, like the Bereans did, today.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Acts 16- God the Rewarder

Acts 16 is one of the most memorable chapters in Acts.  In this chapter we meet Timothy; we read about Paul's vision of the man of Macedonia; Lydia and her household are converted in Philippi; Paul heals a fortune teller possessed by demons; and Paul and Silas pray and sing causing an earthquake that frees them from their chains in prison.  Take time to revisit this famous chapter in Acts.

There is a lot to be gleaned from this chapter of Acts.  We can learn about going beyond the minimum requirements for God, like Timothy did.  We could discuss how the Spirit communicates.  We might talk about how Paul didn't let the Devil put a good thing in the way of a great thing.  We could examine the power of prayer mixed with singing.  Or we could talk about the power of simply communicating the Gospel.  We can learn much from this chapter but I want to focus on one thing.

In Acts 16 we see how God is a rewarder.  We see this first with Lydia.  Lydia was a female business owner from Thyatira near Philippi.  She had a company that dealt expensive purple cloth.  Acts also says that Lydia was a worshiper of God, a seeker of God.

To understand more about Lydia you must realize that seeking God was not exactly accepted in Philippi.  Over the arches on the outside of the city of Philippi an inscription warned against bringing unrecognized religions into the city.  This is why Lydia and the other women met outside of the city by the river.  Lydia realized that she needed God.  She was seeking Him and knew that the religions inside the city walls couldn't help her.

God rewarded Lydia's earnest seeking of Him.  Remember, He said "Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened."  God rewards those who honestly seek Him.  V. 14 "Lydia... a worshiper of God.  The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message."  God saw that she was seeking so He opened her heart to be able to respond to the Gospel.

If you seek God He will be found.

God also rewards endurance with joy.  Paul and Silas (maybe Luke too) were beaten to a pulp and placed in the most secure part of a Philippian jail.  These men didn't respond to adversity by being angry at God; rather they "were praying and singing hymns to God."  What a reaction!  What a response!  God rewarded this response by setting them free and allowing them to continue to do His work by leading their jailer and his whole family to Christ.

God wants to teach us to rejoice in our sufferings and He rewards those who do.

Rewards are not always what we would typically view as rewards.  Lydia was rewarded with salvation. Awesome!  But she no doubt was persecuted for her new faith.  Paul and Silas were rewarded with freedom.  Great!  But later they were jailed and beaten again and eventually murdered.  Having said that, God's rewards are greater than what we typically view as rewards.

God is a rewarder of those who earnestly want to please Him and those who desperately want to depend on Him.  Seek God and rejoice in Him today.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Prayer for My Church

I will be back in the book of Acts in a day or two, but I want to share with you a prayer of Paul the apostle.  Paul prays something in Colossians that I also have been called to pray for my church.  If you feel called to pray this, for Grace Baptist or your own church or you specifically, then I encourage you to do it.

Colossians 1:9b-14

"We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins"

Please pray this with me today.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Acts 15- Disputes

Read Chapter 15.

Have you ever had a dispute with other Christians?  Have you ever had your church have a dispute in house?

If you answer 'yes' to either of these questions then congratulations you go to a church made up of human beings.  Churches and Christians will not always be in agreement even when it comes to issues of our faith.

In Acts 15 we see two disputes.  I want to look at the first one to see how we should go about settling a dispute.  I believe that from this particular pattern we can see a five step process to solving disputes.  Remember, this is not the only example in Scripture of a dispute being resolved and therefore it is not the only way to resolve a dispute.

In Acts 15 we see the early Church dealing with the issue of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised or not.  Let's mirror the five step process they took to solve this issue.

Step 1) Express legit concerns.  It does no one any good to ignore a legitimate concern especially when souls are at stake.

Step 2) Appoint mature representatives to discuss the situation.  Fewer voices will reduce the noise, but don't make this number too small and therefore non-representative.

Step 3) Back up your position with Scripture.  What else should we have as the basis for the functions of a church?

Step 4) Reach a consensus with the Holy Spirit and each other.  Do what is in line with the Spirit's leading and do what is in line with the consensus of the representatives in the room.  Consensus with each other doesn't mean that everyone agrees 100% with the decision, but rather that they can support the decision made.

Step 5) Live with the decision made.  This is perhaps the most important step.  Once a consensus is reached do not leave the room stirring up trouble and complaining.

You will not ever be in a perfect church.  I guarantee it.  However, if we take a Biblical approach to handling internal issues in our churches we will not let the internal stand in the way of the eternal.  Try to live in unity, as Christ prayed for us, today.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Acts 14- Please God No Matter the Cost

Acts 14 is a short but action packed telling of the last few stops on Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey.  Take three minutes to read it.

In this chapter Paul and Barnabas travel to the towns of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.  They experience a near stoning, a stoning and great success. There are many truths that we can put to use today from this chapter, but I want to focus on two things.

1) Please God not people.
When Paul and Barnabas get to Lystra they heal a man and all the sudden the people are bringing wreaths and bulls to them.  The people were getting ready to sacrifice them because they thought they were Zeus and Hermes.

To understand why the people are calling them Zeus and Hermes you need to know a bit about Lystra's history.  In a legend of Lystra the gods Zeus and Hermes came to town once before.  In the legend no one, save an old couple, were hospitable to them.  So, Zeus and Hermes kill everyone in the town but the old couple.  The people of Lystra refuse to repeat the legend, so out of fear they are hospitable to Paul (Hermes) and Barnabas (Zeus).

When Paul and Barnabas figure this out they ask the people to stop and tell them that they are not gods rather they are just men.  Instead of pleasing the people they told the truth and later the Jews from Antioch Pisidia convince the same people that were praising them to stone Paul.  It would have been easier to please people, but they chose to please God.  What would you do?

Truth is, if Paul and Barnabas pleased the people instead of God they would have eventually been knocked off their pedestal.  The crowd will always build up and then wait for the opportunity to tear down.  If you don't believe me watch True Hollywood Story.  Truth is, please God and He will never let you down.

2) God Never Promised Us a Rose Garden.
Lynn Anderson sang the song "Rose Garden" the song begins "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden".  Christians, on this earth God could sing you that line today.  We often preach a gospel of ease and earthy reward, but we neglect the pain and hardship He actually promised us.

Verse 22 "'We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God,' they said."  Paul and Barnabas firmly believed that they must face trouble to run the Christian race.  Paul was just stoned to the point of near death, yet he was brave enough to go back to Lystra after the stoning.  He feared no one.

When Paul presented the Gospel he didn't fail to mention that God never promised us a rose garden; rather, he mentioned that God promised us hardships on this earth.  However, in Romans 8:18 Paul says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  This Gospel, the true Gospel, will achieve the same results that it did for Paul today if we have the guts to preach it.

Remember, 1) Please God not people and 2) God never promised us a rose garden.  Pleasing God is worth it even when trouble comes.  Please God in all circumstances today.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Acts 13- His-Story

I'm glad to be back blogging in Acts.  Take time to read a very full and action packed chapter in which I can officially stop saying "Saul" and start saying "Paul".

In Chapter 13 Paul and Barnabas were given the opportunity to speak in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. Paul delivers the gospel message by giving the Jews an overview of their history.  However, Paul's historical account is different than you might expect.  The information is all the same as they remember, but Paul doesn't make the nation of Israel the star of the show.

In my count in the few paragraphs it takes Paul to tell the basic history of the Jewish people he uses sentence structure that indicates God as the actor in their history 21 times.  For example, Paul doesn't say, "You overthrew the Canaanites" rather he says, "He (God) overthrew the seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to His people as their inheritance."

Paul wanted to make it very clear that God was the author of their history.  He does this so they can see that, like everything else in Jewish history, Jesus is a gift to the people that is all of God's doing and not of their own work.

Sadly, we read in verse 46 that they "reject it (God's gift in the form of Jesus) and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life."  Paul says the reason the Jews were rejecting Jesus is because they didn't see themselves as worthy of such a great, free gift.

Many of us feel this way too.  People want to make Christianity more complex than it is because they don't consider themselves worthy of the free gift of Christ.  People feel they need Jesus and...  You can fill in the blank with any work you can think up.

You are worthy of eternal life.  Why?  Because you are not the one that has written your life story.  God wrote your life story and is the actor in your history just like He was for the nation of Israel.  Your story is His-story.  Consider yourself blessed to be a part of His-story.  And guess what, His-story includes you being worthy of eternal life.

So, look at God's fingerprints all over the pages of your story and realize that not only is He a part of your story but He allows you to be a part of His-story.  Yesterday was my 25th birthday and I can tell you it is fun seeing my role in His-story.  Also, remember that you are worthy of His gift given through Jesus; you are worthy of eternal life.  If you haven't accepted that gift do that today.