Acts: Week 4, Day 5

Acts 9:19b–30 with Galatians 1:11–24.

Saul is converted and begins his unorthodox path – not consulting with the Apostles or established church, he instead goes to Arabia and Damascus, before spending a 2 week “visit’ to Jerusalem.

13. (Challenge) a.  Galatians 1:17–20. Arabia for 3 years then back to Damascus

b. Another interesting question.  So here is the argument of that day against christianity – “it is just “group-think”. ” You have a core of really influential people, Peter and the Apostles, who get on a roll and everyone falls in line with their teaching.  But, out of left field, now we have Paul.  He is clearly not sitting at the feet of “the Way” learning from them.  Instead, he was a man, deeply steeped in the jewish law, who realized he was blind but now sees.  His revelation is from Jesus, not man.

14.Lasted 15 days, visited Peter, saw no other apostles, only James, the brother of Jesus. The christians feared him, but Barnabas spoke up for him and his teaching.  He was received and commissioned back into his home land.

Conclusion:  A few points on Saul and Arabia.  The unanswered question of Question 13a is what did Saul do in Arabia for up to 3 years.  And the answer is, we don’t know.  Some think he went to spend time alone with God.  Some think he followed a path like Moses and Isaiah.  Some think he studied under locals in the area much like Moses did under his father-in-law.  This last point is contradicted by Paul’s accounts that he received the truth of the gospel from direct revelation and not from man.

But here is what I think is really neat about this period of time: I don’t think Paul knew, either.  Stay with me for a minute on this, it is really important.  In Acts 9, Acts 22, Acts 26 and Galations 1 we see that Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and God is directly telling him what to do and where to go and Paul is being fully obedient.  So why did Paul go to Arabia.  If you believe what is written, it is clearly because God wanted him to go there.  Why?  We don’t know and I’m not sure Paul ever knew (at least not while on this earth).  I think if he knew, if there was some revelation that occurred, he would have told about it – but he didn’t.

But isn’t this how it sometimes is in our lives?  We pray, we listen, we obey and we end up in a place asking, “what am I doing here, God?”  and we simply don’t get an answer or at least not right away.  Maybe it is for us to spend some quiet time.  Maybe it is because other things need to line up.  Maybe it is because we need to be there because of or for someone else.  Maybe it is simply to teach us to trust in God and be patient for His timing.  I don’t know.  We don’t know.

But, the important thing is that God knows and He is in control, even when we don’t have a clue why we are where we are or what He is preparing for us to do.  So what do we do when it happens.  Here is what I’m learning:

  1. It isn’t just me – this same thing happens to people like the Apostle Paul
  2. God has a plan – I don’t need to come up with a “better plan” and try to pray Him into following it
  3. I do, however, need to keep praying and keep myself filled with the holy spirit so I don’t miss whatever my next calling is (miss, probably isn’t the right word, God will get me there, regardless, but maybe if I’m paying close enough attention He can do it without resorting to the 2×4 whack it often takes)
  4. I need to find ways to make the most of the time I am spending waiting.  Joseph worked doing odds and ends jobs. Moses learned a trade (tending sheep).  The Apostles did a bible study on Psalms and prayed and organized.  But in all cases, they stayed close to God and found people filled with the spirit and with wisdom to have fellowship with while waiting.
  5. Trusting in God’s timing and being patient are some of the hardest things to do in our spiritual walk
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Acts: Week 4, Day 4

Read Acts 9:1–19a; 22:1–16; 26:9–19.

Intro: Saul/Paul is “blinded by the light” and get’s revved up better than and 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe ever could – (OK, I can’t be the only one singing that song as I read these verses).  The good Ananias is called on to open Saul’s eyes which he does with a giant step of faith.

9.a. around me, seen by companions; brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions

b. not understood by companions; spoke in aramaic

c. of Nazareth, told all that you have been assigned; hard for you to kick against the goads, appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness, rescue you from your people and sending to Gentiles to turn them from darkness.

d. Not disobedient, went and preached

10. a. (Challenge) Rom 2:17-29: This is Paul preaching to the Jews about being blind (sounds like he is preaching to his old self) Prov 13:9 The light of righteousness shines brightly, the lamp of wickedness is snuffed out; Psalm 119:105 Word is lamp to my feet and light to path; Acts 13:47-49 Paul and Barnabas explain that they have been called to be a “light for the gentiles”  – To have fellowship with those in darkness and bring them to the light, you sometimes have to realize that you were also blind at one point.

b.Time – since doing this study on a daily basis, something that I was never good at before, the time I spend studying the word is so precious to me that I am jealous and protective of it.

11. This is a hard question, persecute is such a strong word.  But, to be honest, I had not spoken or thought highly of those in “the Way” as Paul put it, who came across as “holy than thou”.  I would have thought of a group of people praying at a restaurant as “being showy” rather than being true to their faith.  I thought of people with WWJD symbols and fish on their cars as being self promoting instead of humble servants.  But this study has opened my eyes to be BOLD in my faith and praise and honor those doing the same.

12. I love this guy!  It is probably a generational thing that some of you reading wont’ get this next line, but I can’t read this story and not hear the words, “what you talkin’ about, Willis?” ringing loud and clear from Ananias.  Here is man of deep faith.  When God calls, he immediately answers.  In the beginning it reminds you so much of all the old testament patriarchs who answered: Here I am (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Esau, Jacob,  Eli and Isaiah), but, after hearing God’s command it turns into a comedy routine.  Can’t you just hear the voice of Bill Cosby… ” ummmm, God?  you, like, know about this Saul guy, right?   You know he’s been sent here to find people like me and stone us?  I even heard that he took the extra step to get papers, making it official.  So, you want me to do what again?  Maybe you got the wrong number…. Maybe you were trying to call another Ananias – it is a pretty common name this year.  And, by the way, I heard about the other Ananias… you don’t have something against people with this name, right?”  To which God, in God’s gentle way replies, “Go.”  Ya know, when you get a one word sentence from the almighty, it should probably light a fire under you!  And, in this case it does.  He not only goes, but he calls Saul a brother and lays hands on him, restores his sight through the H/S and baptizes him.  At which point, Saul changes uniforms and starts playing for the other team.  And, while the scriptures do not specifically say it, I have a feeling that Ananias was rejoicing way more than the Ethiopian Eunuch ever did!

Main observation:

In all this talk about blinding light and 3 days of darkness and the conversion of Saul – do not miss the faith of Ananias.  In his, and every other christian of the days, “humble opinion”, God was calling him, in a vision, into a suicide mission.  And what does he do?  He goes.  No grumbling.  No negotiating.  No whining.  I am truly humbled by the faith of this man.  Let’s be clear – Simon=face of a angel – Saul helped stone to death.  Ananias – no angel that anyone professes… and God is calling him to go stand in the presence of Saul and tell him about the power of the Holy Spirit.  You can’t read this story and not put yourself in the shoes of this man. How would you have responded?  What would you have done?  Oh, to have the faith that he demonstrated.  God willing!!!!

Acts: Week 4, Day 3

Acts 8:9–40 with Isaiah 53.

Two people whom the Holy Spirit purposefully reaches out to and touches their heart.  The first is Simon, a sorcerer in Samaria, who believed his own promotional materials about himself.  He saw the power of the Holy Spirit and desired it, but wanted the spotlight to still be on himself, not on God.  He is called to repent and he asks for prayer from Godly men. But he doesn’t ask that he be saved, just that he can go back to how it was before.  The second is an Ethopian Eunuch on a 1500 mile trek to worship at the temple.  The Holy Spirit reaches out to him while he is studying the prophecy in Isaiah and the fulfillment of all prophecy is revealed to him.  He immediately accepts Jesus and leaves rejoicing.

6. a. Simon practiced sorcery in the city in Samaria; he boasted that he was great; others gave him attention and endorsement; others followed him for a long time; Simon was baptized; he asked to buy power; he was rebuked; full of bitterness; captive to sin; Asked for prayer.

b. It is a gift, not a commodity to be bartered and sold.  Despite words and actions, it is withheld from those who withhold giving their heart to God.

7. These are not stories of numbers being converted, they tell of the spirit directing the work of the church to meet with an individual.

8. a.  Isaiah 53:3–6, Absolutely.  This revelation was fulfilled completely in the person of Jesus and in him alone.

b.  1 Peter 2:24–25, I am humbled and grateful for the extreme sacrifice my God did for me because of my sin and actions.

 

Why are these 2 stories in 1 chapter of the bible?  I think there is something in the comparison/contrast.  First, we have someone with no power or authority.  His entire profession is smoke and mirrors. But he craves power for himself so badly that when a divine gift is offered to him, he cannot bow down and accept it – he has to keep himself above it.  The second is a man of actual power and authority who, in his work, is surrounded by others with actual power and authority.  Yet he has no issue in humbling himself and he has a real hunger to learn.  Don’t miss the little details:

  1. He had traveled 1500 miles to worship in Jerusalem
  2. He had, with him in his chariot, a copy of the book of Isaiah (remember, this is well before the printing press – there were no paperback copies of the book of Isaiah at the half price store)
  3. When asked if he understood, he answered “how can I unless someone explains it to me?” and invites Philip to join him
  4. He stopped the chariot, climbed out into some water along the side of the dusty road, and was baptized (from 8:39 it sounds like full immersion)

Now, picture that in today’s terms.  Here is the secretary of the treasury for an entire nation on a 1500 mile trek soley for the purpose of worshipping in his religion.  Someone he doesn’t know runs up along side his limo, while he is reading his book of scripture, and asks if he understands what he is reading. 

I am always amazed at how upside down things are between the way we see things on earth and the way God reveals things through scripture.  I believe the reason that one of the reasons these two examples are side-by-side is so that we learn what God wants from us: a humble heart.  The first man should have been humble.  In earthly terms he didn’t have anything except puffery, no real authority.  The second should not have been humble.  He had it all, power, authority, contacts, education and devotion to his beliefs.  But which man left asking for prayer that “nothing you have said may happen to me” and which man “went on his way rejoicing.” 

This is an important lesson for us to keep in mind the next time we start believing we “are something” regardless of our actual earthly position.

 

Acts: Week 4, Day 2

Acts 8:1–8 and John 4:6–42.

With Saul leading persecution of christians, the fellowship scatters as ordained in Acts 1:8 to all of Judea and Samaria, spreading the good news of Jesus as they go.  Phillip reaps the harvest sown by Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, performing great signs and wonders and bringing joy to the city.

3. a. People were scattered to all of Judea and Samaria preaching the word wherever they went

b. Assyria relo’d people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, Sepharvaim, and Jewish priests: Taught how to worship the Lord, they did, but also worshipped other god’s and followed other traditions.

4. He was were Jesus met with the Samaritan woman at the well: John 4:39-42 many believed because of woman and Jesus

5. (Challenge) a. John 4:9 For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.; Micah 1:5 What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem?

b. Pray for them, witness to them, look beyond the weeds and see the crops that God has planted.

 

Conclusion:  That last line stuck with me – how often I am blinded by the weeds and completely miss what Christ has planted on the inside of peoples hearts.

No needy person

I’ve spent some time thinking about the words in Acts 2: 42-47 and Acts 4: 31-35 as I’ve worked on my lessons these past 2 weeks.  This is an amazing account of the fellowship of the early church.  But I think it is much more than that.  As I’ve read it and prayed on it over time, the central sentence that keeps speaking to me is from Act 4: 34: “There were no needy persons among them.”

I live in an rather affluent area.  Luxury cars abound.  Designer clothes are common.  Families don’t complain about lacking financial resources to do things only about the time to do them.  But as I look around my area, my neighborhood, even in my church, there are a lot of “needy people”. 

I am not pointing fingers, because, clearly, there are many times that I act that way myself.  It seems to take two forms, when we over focus on ourselves and when we over focus on others.  In the first we get self absorbed.  We think about how down we feel or sad or lacking or whatever, but we “need” other people to boost our ego.  The second is when we focus on what others have that we do not and covet those things, whether material or not.  Both paths lead to the same place, this personification of being a “needy person.”

In contrast, my family has been spending some time working with our church and a sister church in Joplin, MO.  In case you don’t know, on May 22nd a Category 5 tornado , 1/2 mile wide with winds of over 200 mph left a 6 mile path of destruction through the town. 160 lives were lost, 22,000 vehicles, 15,000 jobs, 7,000 home, 3 schools.  An entire Wal-Mart and Home Depot, including the building and all the shelves, contents, etc. were completely wiped off the map.  But, here is the amazing part.  When you meet with people at the church, when you see the volunteers and helpers, there aren’t needy people.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of needs in the community.  With cold weather quickly approaching, there is a glaring need for shelter, for warm clothes, for healthy foods.  But, the people themselves at the church don’t talk about being needy.  They talk about how hard everyone is working.  They talk with awe about how many christians have flocked in.  They marvel at how God is moving to bring kids into a new after school program to learn about God and His Word.  They talk about the beauty they see in the spirit moving in the people that pass through their doors.

I get the sense that the lack of need in the early church wasn’t just that everyone shared money and possessions.  I think  it was first and foremost the Holy Spirit filling them, but with that, the fact that the Holy Spirit was filling them to work, to testify, to spread the word that Jesus is the Lord.  As we start to feel ourselves feeling needy, maybe we should look at what work the Holy Spirit is filling us to do and who He is calling us to reach out to and fellowship with.  That, to me, seems like the main way the church today can grow like the church grew in the beginning.

Acts: Week 3, Day 6

Acts 3–7.

17. The messages I got from this week’s lesson are to:

  1. Pursue with all my heart, soul, mind and resources to belong to God. I am not to chase after belonging to any other group or organization, even “the church” unless my first commitment is to God
  2. Recognize that because I can, doesn’t mean that I should, even in the work of the church
  3. Look to align myself with others who are filled with the holy spirit and with wisdom, without regard for any other skillset they may or may not have
  4. To speak boldly, wisely and without shame of the gospel.  Regardless of audience or potential repercussion.
  5. To turn my eyes to heaven more often, with the delight of knowing, whether I’m given the physical clarity of vision to see Him, that Jesus is there, at the right hand of God, my Father.
  6. Through all adversity, no matter how severe, the appropriate response to my enemies, especially when they are clearly God’s enemies, is to:
       – speak the truth to them
       – pray for them

Acts: Week 3, Day 5

Acts 7

Stephen at the Sanhedrin.  He sets them up, nodding along as he happily retells the old testament stories that they are so familiar with.  Then, he knocks them down.  You know, any sentence that starts with, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!  Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?”  I think he missed the Dale Carnegie course, but then again they had already chosen their sides and Stephen chose the wiser of the friends to win with.

13. a. Acts 7:1–38: Stephen professes the old testament story, from God first appearing to Abraham up to Moses receiving the law of the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai.  Moses points to “the prophet”.

b. Acts 7:39–50 He discusses the disobedience of God’s chosen people, beginning with the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  He then turns to the house of God from the tabernacle to the time of David and the building of the temple by Solomon.  Which, while blessed by God, He (God) also was clear to explain that He is not contained within the walls of the temple, but is much bigger.

c. Acts 7:51–53 – Let’s just call this: the smack down to end all smack downs.  Stephen just spent 49 verses lulling his audience, the high priest and court, into a their comfort zone, then, like Hansome Harley Race of the days gone by, he comes flying off the top rope with a pile driver right to some un-named ‘zoid muscle area.  Smack down central!

14. a They indicated he had spoken words of blashemy against Moses and against God.  Blasphemy means, by definition, to speak disrepectful (unpiously) of God.  Stephen demonstrates to the Sanhedrin that he clearly knows the facts of Moses and of God and He provides the greatest respect and piety to them.  However, he holds nothing back in pointing out his disrepect and disdain for the Church leaders, yo momma (ok, in this case, yo daddy) and all of the ways they have dishonored God, the law, Moses and the prophets. 

b. Stephen’s comments to the Sanhedrin are founded in scripture.  With an angelic voice, for 49 verses there is nothing they disagree with or would argue with.  Then, he pulls back the covers and shows how they are failing to live by what they claim to believe.  In contrast, the Sanhedrin doesn’t even quabble.  While Stephen patiently replied with a discussion that was analytical, collected and concise.  Their response is emotional, animalistic and banal.  He lays out in 49 verses the teaching of the old testament.  In contrast they:

  • Are furious
  • Gnash their teeth at him
  • Cover their ears
  • Yell at the top of they voices
  • Rush him
  • Drag him out of the city
  • Stone him.

So mature!

15. The heavens are opened to Stephen’s view and he observes Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father

16. a. I think he felt it, but not in the way you and I would feel someone throwing stones at us.  In other words, I don’t think he was numb or unaware.  He was fully aware and prayed for those throwing the stones.  Did he feel pain?  I’m not sure he cared.

b. Saul

c. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Conclusion:

I have known and admired Stephen for being the first martyr of the faith.  But as I read the scriptures today I realized that, while that is important, it is minimized by the way this man lived.  Here is what we know.  He was filled by the spirit and with wisdom.  He served the body of believers jobfully.  He was, without question, not ashamed of the gospel.  He spoke with boldness, authority and knowledge. He did not pull any punches in calling evil by its name and in praising God my his name.  He stood, with 2 feet on this earth and looked up into the heavens and saw the face of Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  Give me a life lived like that and you are more than welcomed to throw stones at me. 

Post script.

I fortunately started my bible study early today, and had a chance to review what I wrote before posting.  Maybe I’m not at a faith level to pray for stoning, yet, and maybe I got a bit carried away.  But I hope you understand my sentiment.  Who among us wouldn’t die to have the faith and life that Stephen had? Can I, on even my best day, say that others look at me, my friends, not to mention my enemies, and see the face of an angel?