Are Your Neighbors Athenian Suburbanites?

ParthenonEven in ruins the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens is magnificent. Luke, in Acts 17:16-34, describes Paul viewing the city. It seems distant in time as well as geography from the splendor of Oregon’s Cascades and forested hills. Yet, in many ways, you live in a suburb of Athens.

Athens does not appear to have been a planned part of Paul’s itinerary on this second missionary journey. His stay was a respite from persecution in Thessalonica and Berea. Yet he could not simply be a tourist. His proclaiming the gospel summons you Continue reading “Are Your Neighbors Athenian Suburbanites?”

Turning the World Upside Down

07yearcoc“These men have turned the world upside down” (paraphrased as “These men have caused trouble all over the world”) was the false charge brought against Paul by rabble-rousers in Thessalonica. The charge was false, but it unwittingly described the impact that Paul and his band of missionaries were having on the world as Luke describes the gospel reaching Thessalonica and Berea. The world was upside down, and the good news was turning it right side up! How can the church today have an impact on a society that seems increasingly hostile? Learn from Acts 17:1-15.

Paul left Philippi and traveled west to Thessalonica. Luke’s account of his ministry there and in Berea challenges you to search the Scriptures. It focuses first on the need to understand the Scriptures. Paul followed the Egnatian Way, built for the mobility of Roman armies, westward to Thessalonica. This city had a larger Jewish population than Philippi, and Paul began by speaking in the synagogue and continued that for three successive Sabbaths. Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. Did he use Psalm 16, unpacked elsewhere in Acts? Did he focus on Isaiah 53? Did he proclaim the messianic kingship of Jesus from Psalm 110? In any case he reasoned from the Scriptures, and explained and proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ. The methods of evangelism, the focus of building the church, has to be the Word of God. Paul did not shy away from doctrine, from digging into the Word. Even in Bible-believing churches, too often what we believed is reduced to a dozen bulleted points. A gospel that shakes up the culture has to run deep, and we don’t need to be afraid of that. The Word, read and proclaimed, is used by the Holy Spirit, and it has a powerful impact. See 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10. “As I see it, the church needs to experiment with theological maximalism in the place of its current minimalism if we are to maintain a faithful witness to Christ in our generation. A dozen doctrinal points on a website is probably inadequate for the church’s thriving, for its mission is not only to evangelize but also to teach the nations. This creed from Westminster holds out a large faith for us to own, a welcome view of the triune God and his work, and an unusually robust statement of the gospel of Christ.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. xii). Continue reading “Turning the World Upside Down”

Believe in the Lord Jesus

prison_7897cFirst century Europe was a continent enslaved in the darkness of paganism. In the Macedonian city of Philippi, the power of the good news began to shine. As Luke describes that in Acts 16:11-10, think of the places in your life and in your community where that power needs to come to bear.

Trust your powerful God. Thank God that he opens hearts. The city lacked the ten men minimum to form a synagogue, so Paul and Silas went to the place of prayer on the bank of the river. Dramatic events follow in this chapter, but do not overlook the power of God in opening the heart of Lydia. She and her household were baptized. The good news touched her life, and she opened her home, insisting that the missionary party accept her hospitality. That same power would soon be evident in the conversion of the jailer. Continue reading “Believe in the Lord Jesus”

The Spirit of Jesus Builds His Church

Basic CMYKWould you like to have accompanied Paul on one of his missionary journeys? Could you have passed his scrutiny? Your situation is different today, yet, you, the church, are called to do something very similar to what Paul was doing. We are looking at Acts 15:36—16:10.

God calls you by his Holy Spirit to bring the good news to the lost. God uses his church, with all of her weaknesses, to serve him. Just as Paul had been commissioned by the church for his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3, so now he is commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord, Acts. 15:40. Missions is properly the work of the church, both individually and corporately.

A problem arises before they start. John Mark, a relative of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), had deserted them on the first journey (Acts 13:13. Paul was adamant that this disqualified John Mark from a place on the second journey, but the “son of encouragement” pushed for a second opportunity. The difference was not resolved and the two men separated, Barnabas and Mark going to Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas for his new companion. Beware of giving this account prescriptive authority—it is not a model for resolving conflict. At the same time, note that Paul was later reconciled with both Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6) and Mark (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). More importantly note how God used the weakness and even sinful division to advance his work. Two teams, not just one, go out on what starts out as a follow-up on the recently planted churches. Be aware of your weaknesses, but remember that God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick! Continue reading “The Spirit of Jesus Builds His Church”

A People for Himself

BRANCH_6356cWhat should the church, the body and bride of Christ, look like? How should it be distinguishable from the world around her? The question is not new, as Acts 15 indicates.

The issue was, do you live by faith? The church at Antioch, from which Paul and Barnabas had been sent on their missionary journey, was composed both of Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah, and of Gentile pagans who had come to trust in him. Visitors from Jerusalem, perhaps concerned that the church was looking less and less like the Pharisaic community, a portion of the church at Jerusalem, from which they came. They insisted that the Gentile believers had to receive the sign of circumcision and, by implication, keep the details of the ceremonial dietary laws. Behind this issue was the important question: is anything necessary for your justification beyond the work of Christ? On that hangs the whole issue of the sufficiency Continue reading “A People for Himself”