Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Under Oath

This week, we continue our study of Paul’s ministry in Galatians 2.  As I have said in class (and maybe in a blog post as well), scholars are not completely in agreement as to the chronological placement of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The Life Application Study Bible cites (seemingly) unanswered questions in Galatians as evidence that Paul wrote this letter before the Jerusalem council (recorded historically in Acts 15, written by Luke in the third person).  The Chronological Bible, on the other hand, sees Galatians 2:1-10 as Paul’s first-hand account of this meeting in Jerusalem.  When unsure, I say, ‘Compare it yourself, and see what the Holy Spirit reveals to you.’ Gal 2:1-10 versus Acts 15:1-20.

For the purposes of today’s post, focus first on Gal 2:1-2.  God had unquestionably called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, but he was not the only one on whom God had placed this call.  In fact, he wasn’t even the first.  Back up to Acts 15:4-8.  In this passage, Peter reminds the church leadership that, at some point in the past, God had instructed him to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.  I love the words Peter uses in verse 8:  “And God…bore witness to them…” (Acts 15:8a, Amplified).  Did you get that?  I mean really get it?!  God Himself “bore witness to” the Gentiles.  He testified presented evidence on their behalf.  What was the evidence?  “… giving them the Holy Spirit as He also did to us” (vs. 8b). 

The question that pops into my mind is this:  What tangible evidence is there in my life that God has given me the Holy Spirit?  What evidence do I see in the lives of others that tells me they are my brothers and sisters in Christ?  Scripture makes it clear here in Acts 15 as well as many other places that believers sensed…saw…knew that others had been blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  They didn’t have to take someone’s word for it; they took God’s own words….  He “bore witness to them…” (Acts 15:8a).

Let’s go back to Acts 10 and drop in personally on the scene Peter was recounting in Acts 15.  While you may want to read all of chapter 10 to get the full context, we’re going to focus on the last section verses 44-47 (again for the purposes of this post).  Verse 45 tells us that the believing Jews who were there were “astonished” (KJV) because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Again I ask, HOW DID THEY SEE THIS OUTPOURING?  (Yes Diana, I’m yelling right now … out of passion, not out of  Verse 46 says that “they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (KJV).  Is that how God bears witness to us today?  If so, I want to know what this means for me right here and right now. 

Speaking in unknown tongues … magnifiying God – these will be our focus in the coming weeks!  Grab a shovel; we’re digging together!

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Blinded by the Light" ... You know you want to sing!

This week I was absent from class, so I took the opportunity to try my hand at writing the lesson in a Bible study format.  What you have below is Sunday’s lesson.  Let’s dive in together!

But when He ... saw fit and was pleased to reveal His son within me ..."
                                                                                  Galatians 1:15-16, Amplified
The last two weeks we've been looking at this revelation in a figurative sense; by sense I mean from the perspective of examining how our physical senses are stimulated by the revelation of Jesus Christ within us.  Last week we looked at how we – as believers – actually spread "the fragrance of the knowledge of God" as well as how both believers and unbelievers discern this fragrance (2 Cor 2:14-15).  The week before, we studied Paul's teaching in 2 Corinthians 3 – how a veil is lifted from the heart and mind when one turns to the Lord.  With the veil lifted, we can both "see and reflect the glory of the Lord" (2 Cor 3:18, NLT).
Today, let's take a more literal look at what happened when God revealed Christ in Paul.  Turn to Acts 9, and read verses 1-9.  Focus on verse 3.  What initially diverted Saul's attention from his mission?  [I will bounce back-and-forth in today’s study between using “Saul” and “Paul” in order to accurately reflect the way Scripture addresses this man in the verses we look at.  I hope this won’t be too confusing.]
Luke (the inspired writer of the book of Acts) chronologically records Saul's conversion experience from a third-person perspective in Acts 9, but this moment was so pivotal in the history of the early church that Luke records Paul's first-person account of these events two other times in the book of Acts – chapters 22:6-11 26:12-16.  Go to Acts 26 (leaving something in Acts 9).  How does Acts 26:12-13 better inform us about the setting of Saul's conversion?  How is the light described?
Back to Acts 9.  What happened when Saul was exposed to this light (vs. 4)?
Describe a time when you were temporarily blinded by a bright light.  Include in your description how the experience made you feel and if/how you protected yourself.
What does verse 4 say about how Saul protected himself?
I love comparing scripture with scripture!  Let's take a look at a similar situation – one in which Jesus' appearing also had the brilliance of the sun.  Any idea where we're going?  I don't want to take away any sense of satisfaction by writing the answer here, so when you're ready turn to Matthew 17 to find out.  This account is also recorded in the Gospels of Mark (9:2-14) and Luke (9:28-36).  We'll be visiting Mark 9 in a minute, so if you have the opportunity, you can mark (no pun intended) that chapter on your way to Matthew 17.
Read Matthew 17:1-2 and record the description of Jesus' face and His clothing.  (If your translation uses the word raiment, think of that as clothing).
Even though the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this event, they do so through the eyes of three different men, and so we have new things to learn and discover when we layer these accounts one on top of the other.  Let's go to Mark 9 and read verses 2-3.  We've seen how Matthew described Jesus' clothing.  What description does Mark use (see vs. 3)?
My mind can't help but set this description in today's commercial society:  "The last bleach you'll ever buy!  Get your clothes as WHITE AS LIGHT!"  (If you didn't the first time – and if your surroundings allow it – say this aloud in your best commercial announcer voice ... just for fun.) 
Continue on in Mark 9 with verses 4-6.  Compare and contrast Peter's reaction to this light with Saul's (from Acts 9).
First of all, can't you just picture Peter standing there with his mouth wide open.  Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are standing together having a conversation, and Peter feels the need to join in, but not knowing what to say, he (in Peter fashion) blurts out the first thing that comes to mind – if it even crossed through his mind to begin with.  (Thank You, Lord, for giving us people in Scripture to whom we can relate!)  I'm tempted to push right on, but we don't want to miss the next part.  Go ahead and read verse 7 (that is, Mark 9:7).  In inserting himself into the conversation, Peter prompted God to speak to him directly – audibly.
What was God's command to Peter?
I like the way the Amplified Bible translates this verse:  "... Be constantly listening to and obeying Him!"  I feel as if God was saying, "Peter, worry less about your words and more about His.  Pay less attention to what you think is important and more to Him."  This could be a Bible study in and of itself, so I better get back on track....
Both Peter and Saul (whom we know as Paul) witnessed Jesus appear as Light, but did the Light affect both men in the same way?  Explain your reasoning.
Both men were terrified, but what I noticed (from the vantage point of today's study) was that, beyond being terrified, Saul was actually blinded for a time (three days to be exact, Acts 9:9).  Why wasn't Peter?  Let's think back to the blinding experience you described toward the beginning of today's lesson.  I'm going to share one of my own.  Most mornings I'm the first one up in my house.  When it's time for Mara and Mason to get up, I go into their rooms – a little too chipper some days.  (See Prov 27:14 in the NLT, and you'll know what I mean.)  When I can't get them moving with my voice, I'll sometimes flip on the light.  They scream, of course:  "Mama, the light is hurting my eyes!"  But the same light doesn't affect me the same way it affects them.  Why is that? 
Can describe what physical changes your body goes through when a light shines in your eyes?
When I walk into Mara and Mason's bedrooms, my eyes have already adjusted to light, but they hadn't yet been exposed to light – sleeping in darkness all through the night.  Relating this idea back to our Peter and Saul comparison, I'll again ask the question posed above:  Why was Saul blinded by the Light of Christ, but Peter was not?
Check your understanding with Jesus' words in the Gospel of John.  First, stop in John 8:12 and then go to 9:39.  I really like the way the New Living Translation phrases John 9:39:  "... I entered this world to render judgment – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind."
Peter had been following the Light; he had been exposed to it.  His eyes had begun to adjust to Jesus' brilliance before seeing it full force on that mountain (in Matt 17).  Saul, on the other hand, thought that he could see with perfect clarity; when in fact, he had been existing in the pitch dark for so long that when Jesus was revealed to him (thinking back to Galatians 1:15-16) on the road to Damascus.  Like Mara and Mason, the exposure to light so overwhelmed Saul's senses that he was physically blind until his eyes had a chance to adjust to the Light.
I'm reminded of another one of Paul's verses.  Read Ephesians 1:16-18.  Paul is praying for the Ephesian people to have "the eyes of [their] hearts flooded with light" (Eph 3:18, Amplified).  Paul knew, from personal experience, that this was painful at first, but it was also necessary so that they could "understand the hope to which" they had been called (Eph 3:18).
This is just as true for us today as it was for the Ephesian people, and what happens if we have the courage to continue to look into the Light?  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (thinking back to our lesson from two Sundays ago) that we – you and me – will be "transfigured into His very own image."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Your Arabia

When I began posting on this blog, it was to be an extension of our Tentmakers Sunday School class to keep class members (at church and on-line) on the same page.  In thinking about my last several posts, I realize that the busyness of life has drawn me away from that purpose, leaving those of you reading from home with little clues as to what our class is actually studying.  Today, we get back on track.

For the last month or so, we’ve started into Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.  The places we visited during Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (off the top-of-my-head … only to mean that I could have missed one or two, see Acts 13-14) would have been among the churches Paul was addressing with what we know as the book of Galatians.  As far as the timing of this letter, it appears that … well … we aren’t sure.  If you consulted your study Bible or a commentary or an online source (even a reputable one), you would find someone’s opinion as to when Paul wrote Galatians, but be careful about the stock you place in extra-biblical works (including this blog).  You don’t want to assume that the first thing you read or the first opinion you seek is automatically true.  Trace everything back to God’s Word, and invite the Holy Spirit to help you form your own understanding.

For a second there, I thought that I was going off the track, which just a paragraph ago I said that I was getting back on, but actually the Holy Spirit was guiding my thoughts straight into yesterday’s lesson:
“But when He, Who had chosen and set me apart [even] before I was born and had called me by His grace, saw fit and was pleased to reveal His Son within me so that I might proclaim Him among the Gentiles as the glad tidings, immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood.  Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before I was, but I went away and retired into Arabia, and afterward I came back again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:15-17, Amplified)

Paul didn’t/couldn’t go to the apostles (vs. 17); they would have been beyond skeptical of Paul (then Saul) and his motives.  I think “flesh and blood” (vs. 16) could refer to Paul’s peers in the Jewish faith.  These people weren’t options for counsel either because, looking back at verse 14, we see that Paul describes himself as being head-and-shoulders above anyone in his generation when it came to his knowledge of and enthusiasm for Judaism.  The only Teacher/Counselor Who could prepare Paul for the mission to which God had called him was the Holy Spirit Himself, and so he “retired into Arabia” (vs. 17).

When you think about it, the only Teacher/Counselor Who can prepare you and me for the missions God has set aside for us is the Holy Spirit.  When facing decisions – big and small – or looking for direction today … this week … in the coming year, it wouldn’t hurt us to doing some retiring into Arabia ourselves as opposed to consulting with flesh-and-blood. 

… That’s an interesting thought:  Where is your Arabia?