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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

October 2013

Survey Says?

It was a tight finish, but it appears that we’ll be starting the book of 1st John right before Thanksgiving.  The book will contrast nicely to the Book of Acts.  Acts was all about our responsibility outside the church, ie. sharing the Gospel message at any cost.  The book of 1st John is about our responsibility inside the church; love and Godly living.  The book of 1st John is clear, inside the body of Christ we might disagree but we don’t have an option when it comes to love.  Love for other believers is a defining characteristic of God’s people.  We’ll start this study on Nov. 17th so if you’ve fallen off the wagon, this is a great time to climb back on!

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos

Acts 18:18-28 

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos – say that 3 times fast .

Growing up in the Romanian Orthodox Church, i have became accustomed with a peculiar idea that described the reformed/protestant believers – “narrow-mindedness”.In part this idea (that i do not subscribe too) surfaced because most believers were not interested in dialoging with the their contra parts, and as you can imagine there was a lot of differences at play that made the two camps be at odds.

What the church needed at that time was this great trio that we find in today’s text. Between Apollos’s desire to preach and spread the word to new people and Priscilla and Aquila’s knowledge, we can see probably one of the best debate teams available at that time. Priscilla and Aquila had the experience of walking with Paul, being disciples, seeing the practical side of Christianity, the day to day work of ministry, the various answers that one receives when they preach the gospel. Apollo on the other side, was a very learned person, book smarts if you want to call him that,  someone very familiar with the narrative of Christ, possible a great public speaker, to sum it up just someone easy to listen to.

Now when Apollo preaches in Ephesus, he gets a good response from the people there, and even more so from Priscilla and Aquila. To the point where the three of them sit down and talk about his ministry in a way. To some extend we learn that Apollo receives the rest of the story of Jesus, the things that happened after he heard from John the Baptist that baptized him, maybe during this time he hear about the things that Jesus said and done in Jerusalem after his resurrection. We can only speculate on the things that the three spoke about.

What we know for sure is that Apollo grows in his ministry because of this opportunity to converse and engage others. He becomes a better preacher with more of a balanced view of the narrative. This story is great example of how church is done, excitement and exuberance meeting experience and practice seems to be a great formula. Even more so the ability of the three to grow together and learn from each other, makes me praying for all of us to be open minded and ready serve each other in the love of God.

Today let us be exuberant christian, full of zeal and excitement and open to experience the reality of life with passion for Christ.

Be Blessed,

Bo m.

“For there are many…”

Today’s Passage:  Acts 18:1-17 (NRSV)

Paul has just left Athens – known for its culture and learning…and just 50 miles away, he arrives in Corinth.  Corinth is a large port city noted for its commerce and, let’s say, its loose morality and reckless extravagance.  Many travelers come and go – it is a city of many cultures – a melting pot of people and beliefs.  Politically, Corinth was a Roman colony and capital of the province of Achaia.

A quick side discussion:  Based on Luke’s chronological lynchpin for this text of Paul’s interaction with Gallio occurring about 52 AD, I wonder if about 17 years prior – when Paul had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus…do you think Paul knew/understood the cultures of Athens and Corinth?  Was he prepared?  For a little more insight into Paul’s thoughts on this, take a look at 1 Cor 2:1-5.

Paul meets Priscilla and Aquila…he stays with them and then we see Paul’s standard way of interaction. He goes to work in the synagogue, every sabbath, to proclaim Christ – his usual base of operation. Paul’s message was one of salvation in Christ and in shaking the dust from his clothes he is saying to these people that their life depends on Christ – eternal life to be exact and their deaf ears yields a ‘woe be to you’ message and Paul’s moving on to the Gentiles.

Don’t miss the next point – Paul has to be frustrated with those in the synagogue…you have to believe, based on the previous 17 chapters of this book and for Paul, the last 8 chapters, that the mission is clear – grow the church!  And just at this most important time, when Paul may be at his wits end…he receives a word from God…’Keep doing what you are doing – there are many in this city (and beyond) that are my people…I will be with you – don’t be afraid.  Be strong and courageous for I will be with you.’  Words reminiscent of Joshua 1 that have literally stood the test of time for Joshua, Paul and for us as well.  So Paul stays for 18 months to grow the Corinthian Church – despite those that “opposed and reviled” him.  Paul may have felt lonely in this strange city but he has connections with Aquila and Priscilla, Titus, Crispus and, of course, Silas and Timothy.

The remainder of the passage is provided in large part by Luke for historical and recordable purposes – creating irrefutable points for a credible history.  And let’s not forget about God’s involvement in this whole scene.  The most important point though, is Paul’s founding of the Corinthian church.  Paul’s mission has been and will be growth of the church.

The same message is true for us today, we can get lost in the details…in our own comforts…but if we change the church from a people going out into just a building or location, we are missing the point of this passage…of the overall import of Acts and, quite frankly, the entire Bible.

My dear friends…”there are many people in my city” God says to Paul – the same is true here in Joliet, Plainfield, Shorewood, Crest Hill, Channahon, Minooka – well, you get the point.  We “should not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent”.  We are a people called to be in mission to grow Christ’s Church.  Paul came to Corinth not knowing a thing about these people – he came armed with one thing and one thing only…he knew Christ Jesus crucified…he came knowing that our wisdom did not yield faith rather, that faith was grounded in the power of God.

“There are many people in my city”…how is God calling you in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit to go out like Paul and speak boldly…in Joliet, Shorewood, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Channahon?

Introduce Resurrection to the Marketplace of Ideas

Acts 17:16-34 NIV – In Athens – While Paul was waiting for – Bible Gateway

In Athens Paul visits the synagogue as he always did.  But the important thing in this passage is Paul’s effort and method in the marketplace of people and ideas of Athens.  “Athens could still boast of her right to be called a great center of philosophy, architecture, and art- and, we may add religion” (IVP Commentary). Paul arrives in Athens and is greatly distressed, that is, upset, grieved, maybe even angry that the city is full of idols.

Clearly the Athenians are interested in innovation; the latest and greatest of ideas.  And because of that their city was “a forest of idols” (IVP Commentary). How to preach Christ in Athens?  It was much different than preaching Christ Jesus in the synagogue in which Paul would quote the Old Testament and interpret Israel’s history as a starting point to announcing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.

Here in Athens, Paul understands his audience and begins with ideas and concepts they understood and accepted: an “inscription to AN UNKNOWN GOD” and quotes in verse 28 that Epicurean and Stoic Philosophers and intellectuals in Athens knew quite well. What’s significant is that Paul begins where the people are at and then moves to share the Gospel, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Before Paul speaks in the meeting of the Areopagus, that’s Athens chief legislative and judicial council, he has spent time (day by day) in the marketplace.  This time of conversation, discussion, and reasoning prepared Paul to speak with relevance, precision, and inspiration to the Areopagus.

The Athenian Agora, Marketplace was the center of public and business life of the city.  It was here that people met every day to exchange ideas, learn the latest news, and do business.  It’s our equivalent to a shopping mall, city square, outdoor park, etc.  Like Paul, we too must show up and go to where the people are; go where there is an exchange and discussion of ideas.  We must understand the thinking of the day, the compelling ideas that shape people’s lives and are on their minds.  Then we can share and speak the Good News of Jesus in a way that people can understand.

And similar to Paul, some will believe, some will want to talk more about this on another day, some will sneer and deride us.  Some may even plan to punish us for sharing such things.

This is a passage for the post-Christian Era in the West where our communities, cities, and neighborhoods are once again a mission field.  The Epicureans are scientific materialists interested in the endless chance combining with atoms to shape life.  The Stoics believe in the divine principle of reason pervading all things in the universe.  Neither group could conceive of the Resurrection from the dead.   Others in Athens were open to gods of any kind, a religious pluralism in which just about any god would do.

One veteran New Testament Scholar, W.D. Davies reflecting on this passage, wonders “Is ours [our time and culture] one of those situations in which ‘Things fall apart; the center cannot hold’ because there is no one center and often no centers?…The new pluralism can often become banal, trivial and pretentious, like a fish in that ocean [of the transcendent] always keeping its mouth wide open, afraid to shut it, and therefore never taking a bite” (IVP Commentary).

There is much to ponder and study in this passage but I better not go on and on.  We need to introduce the story of Jesus Christ to the marketplace of ideas where we live, work, and visit.  We need to do this in fresh ways that are relevant to the people we seek to reach.

Acts 17:1-15 – Becoming Berean

Check out the passage here

Verse 11 makes me happy. Paul says a few things to these people in Berea and they all crack open their Bibles to fact-check him.  These people didn’t mindlessly absorb the information in front of them, they filtered it through God’s Word.  I respect their dedication because its so much easier to just take the latest research, idea, best-seller, sermon, philosophy etc. and believe it without asking the question, does this line up with what God says?

This is especially relevant today.  It seems like everyone (our news sources, our sociology, our political parties, our schools, our magazines…)  expects us to buy a bill of goods without question.  I’m not saying we should just bury our heads in the sand and ignore them; as Christians we should always be learning.  At the end of the day however, our final authority is God’s Word.  We hold all ideology to that highest authority.  So the obvious question, how Berean are we?  Do we rigorously compare our opinions and ideas to God’s Word?  Or just accept whatever we’re presented with?

Annoyed

Acts 16:16-40

Have you ever been so annoyed with something that somebody did or say to you that you actually snapped? It seems that Paul did. At first we can say: Hey nothing wrong with that girl testifying on their behalf on who they are! She was spot on! They were indeed: “servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”

Let’s try to understand this a little different: so you are at lunch and you are praying for your meal, and the person next to you start berating you about your prayer. Or maybe you walk with a friend downtown when a homeless person is asking for some change, and the friends kind off laughs at you saying: You christians should have this thing down. The examples can go on and on, since we live in such a complex world where it seems that Christian values such as mercy, care are thrown in our face whenever we talk about welfare, global warming, affordable health care, right to life. You name it, and it is there!

Truth be told, sometimes i get annoyed myself with certain stereotypes imposed on me by the society. I am more than a bible reading man, I am more than a sunday church goer, I am more than a conservative or liberal christian! What I am is a person that each and every day tries to follow the teaching of the Nazarene carpenter, try to model the love that the Son of God showed while he walked the earth, I am a person that believes that when I read the Bible I get to know more about the grace of an eternal gracious, carrying God.

I can relate to Paul and his experience in this chapter way too easy. But there is something more to this story than a grumpy old man walking the street complaining. At the end Paul stands for what he believes and testifies to the true nature of who he is, as a believer and as a roman citizen.

So today i want to encourage you to be Annoyed! Stand up for your faith, for your personal beliefs, for a moment put all the political correctness aside and be a Paul! Stand on your two feet, and speak the truth about the God you love and follow. Speak about the true relationships, speak about care and responsibility, speak about mercy and justice, speak about what is important to you as a follower of Christ!

Why? Because when we are what we say we are people can relate to us, in the same way the jailor listened to Paul, and took an interest in what he was saying. Salvation entered that man’s house because Paul decide to take a stand about who he is.

Be bold my friend,

Blessings,

Bo m.

A strong and growing church…

Today’s Passage:  Acts 16:1-15

What a difference a few years makes…  In the grace of the Lord, Paul has begun his second missionary journey.  Do you recognize the areas?  Derby, Lystra, Iconium…Paul was here 5 years ago and the “atmosphere” was significantly different – then it was life threatening.  Now, we see the church growing.

In today’s passage, there are three short stories and one overarching message for us.  First, Paul includes Timothy in his mission – they are in Lystra, the same place Paul was stoned earlier…my how time can change things.  He has Timothy circumcised not because he thinks Christians should be circumcised to complete their salvation – Paul clearly believed that circumcision was religiously indifferent (cf. 1 Cor 9).  He had Timothy circumcised because he was of mixed heritage.  Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois raised him a Jew although he was, let’s say an irregular Jew because his father was Greek.  The Jews to whom Paul would be preaching the gospel would be offended and not listen if a man with a Jewish mother was uncircumcised.

Second, Paul’s vision in Troas – they have left the towns in southern Galatia and head north but the Spirit says go west and they end up in the port of Troas.  Verse 9 is the key here – the evangelization of what we call Europe today is the the Spirit-guided goal of this journey.  This evangelization is under divine guidance – it is the work of God and not humans…something we have seen before…Paul and the others listen.

Third, from Troas to Philippi where Paul meets Lydia…on the sabbath looking for a place of prayer.  Paul’s M.O. is consistent – enter a town, look for a synagogue or the Jewish community.  But here, in Philippi where there were few Jews, Paul and his companions look for a place of prayer on the sabbath.  Here, amongst other woman, one is listening, Lydia, and “the Lord opened here heart to what Paul was saying”…on the sabbath.  She was a worshiper of God, a term used for Gentiles (like Cornelius) who were not proselytes to Judaism but who did worship Yahweh – they were not yet Christians.

But what is the main theme?  It’s simple:  “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”  We see three examples of God’s work in his desire to have his church grow through the individuals he uses.  We also see that it is because these individuals do one thing…they proclaim the message of the gospel and God opens hearts.

As we go forward today and tomorrow, when you have the chance to talk with individuals in your circles of influence…or maybe the grocery store, or Sunday in Hoffman Hall or in the pew right beside you…what will the conversation be like…you never know when another individual will come to know Christ through God’s use of you by his Holy Spirit.  I pray this would be so and that the CHURCH is strengthened and grows daily in number!

Acts 15:21-41- God is Doing Something New

Acts 15:21-41 NIV – For the law of Moses has been preached – Bible Gateway

Here we see that God is doing something new in the world and is for the new outreach of the Gospel to the Gentiles.  God keeps moving the church to extend the saving grace of the Lord Jesus to all the world and that means Jew and Gentile will now be one in Christ Jesus.  And God is on the side of more flexibility in how people go about being and doing church.  No longer will circumcision be a sign of the New Covenant or required of new converts.  The Gentiles do not have become Jewish to become followers of Jesus  That’s the direction of the growing church going forward.  And this is a break with tradition, “the custom of Moses.”

It’s a startling new direction and venture for Jewish Christians and for some in the Church of Jerusalem, mostly a Jewish Christian, Church experience.  The Church in Antioch, a leading city in Syria and Cilicia, is primarily Gentile and it is growing rapidly.  Furthermore, this growing church is sending out missionaries to the Gentile world.     And the question in Jerusalem is what about circumcision for the new Gentile Believers?  Hey, wait a minute before this new direction gets out of control, breaks too much with our tradition, let’s remind the new folks of our important traditions and history.

There’s a conflict, and the church leaders get to work.  They meet, they talk, they listen, they discuss, and review what God has been doing through them, and they read God’s word in Amos 9:11-12.  The scriptures and their understanding of what God is doing align and confirm the new direction; no circumcision for the Gentiles.  The grace of the Lord Jesus is enough.  They come to a decision and send the letter and representatives to the Antioch Church and Community of believers.

They reduce hundreds of Old Testament Laws to four things for the Gentiles:               28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.  Farewell.  

Why add these four things? The editors of the TNIV Study Bible noted, “These were in the areas in which the Gentiles had particular weaknesses and where Jews were particularly repulsed by Gentile violations.  It would help both the individual and the relationship between the Gentile and Jew if these requirements were observed.  They involved divine directives that the Jews believed were given before the Mosaic Laws.”

Some of the four had to do with pagan religious festivals and temple worship.  Thus we see in this new direction of Gospel outreach to the Gentiles that there is a great flexibility; no circumcision; but there is also some give for the Gentiles.  The church through the power of the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Lord Jesus, and providential action of God will unite Jew and Gentile as one in Christ.  And what happened?  The Gentile believers were glad for this encouraging message.  The Jerusalem Church was enthusiastic of what God was doing in the Gentile world.  A most significant conflict for the early church was resolved; the Gospel goes forward.

May we have the grace, discernment, and flexibility to appreciate and accept the new things God is doing in the church and in the world and support them.  May we also have the wisdom to work with others to incorporate the essential traditions as we go about the life, ministry, and mission of our church.  May we be one in Christ for the Good News of the Gospel.

Unfortunately our passage ends with a conflict between Paul and Barnabas that was not resolved.   They parted ways and the two teams go out in different directions to share the Good News of Christ. The parting of ways is painful and yet God uses the two teams in furthering the Gospel.  Later in Paul’s life he changes his mind about John Mark and writes, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (II Timothy 4:11).

Acts 15:1-20 – Jesus + Nothing

The poll is still up and will be until the end of the month.

Acts 15:1-20
I would have loved to see these first few verses play out in real life:

False Teacher: “Hi Paul and Barnabas, my name is Levi and I preach the Gospel.”
Paul: “Cool!  I love the Gospel!  What do you love most about the sacrifice/resurrection of Christ for our sin?”
False Teacher: “The circumcision part.”
(Silence…..)
(More Silence…..)
Barnabas: “I’m sorry Levi, Paul’s confused.  He thought you said something about a religious tradition being part of the Gospel.”
False Teacher: “I did. Christ’s death is a big part of salvation, but you also have to follow the law.  You know; ceremonial cleansing, priestly robes and the like. You can’t just flush 1000+ years of tradition down the drain. You have to do certain things in order to be saved!
Paul: (Sound of Head Exploding…)

To borrow from the cover of Tullian Tchividjian’s book: Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Its not about morality, tradition, happy marriages, raising successful children or anything else. Its about a righteous, just and glorious God and His redemption of mankind to be in relationship with Himself.  You can’t add anything to it.

Focus on this Gospel.  Focus on it more than you do your frustration with politics, your screw ups, your kids, our church, your spouse.  Focus on it more than the pleasure you get from watching football, going to your child’s soccer game or success at work.  Get up every morning and focus on the fact that no matter how bad our situation; by grace, it is far better than we deserve. May we give others the same grace that we’ve been given.

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