Friday, September 28, 2012

You Are Here! (Acts 14:27)

A segment of many (if not all) of Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV episodes is devoted to reporting to her ministry partners about the work that is being accomplished because of their contributions to her ministry.  She says, “You Are Here” – in India, Thailand, Africa, Guatemala, the streets of St. Louis, etc.  Her partners may not be there physically, but they are in spirit.  By acknowledging viewer support of her ministry, she validates the contributions of people who can’t (or haven’t been called to) physically leave their homes to go to impoverished regions of the country/world; she acknowledges that she couldn’t do what she does without the support of her viewers.

As Paul and Barnabas returned to their home-church at Syrian Antioch, Luke says in Acts 14:27 that, “they gathered the church together and declared all that God had accomplished with them…” (Amplified, emphasis mine).  God had certainly done some amazing things through and for Paul and Barnabas on their journey, but I think that, in reporting back to the church, Paul and Barnabas were essentially saying to them (in the words of Joyce Meyer) “You are here!” – in Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Perga. 

These believers had “commended [Paul and Barnabas] to the grace of God” (Acts 14:26).  They had separated them “for the work to which [God] had called them” (Acts 13:2).  The church of Syrian Antioch was able to walk on ground their own feet would never tread and stir the hearts and minds of people they would never see through the feet and words of two of their own – Paul and Barnabas.  I wonder what or who you are reaching – maybe it’s with your own arms or maybe it’s with the arms of a representative. 

At first glance, you may not feel like your reach is very significant, but consider how much greater your wingspan becomes when you include contributions you make through your local church, your denomination, ministry partnerships (like Joyce Meyer’s), this online community, etc.  Consider how much greater and more powerful your reach becomes when you change your perspective from an individual person to a member of the Body of Christ, which as believers we are (1 Cor 12:27)!

It is God’s will and desire for the Good News of the salvation of Jesus Christ to reach people through us.  To whom is He reaching out through you today?  You’re not reading this by accident.  You are here for a reason!

“… And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion?” (Esther 4:14).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hansel and Gretel (Acts 14:21-27)

Since my last post, our class has continued to tag along with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey through the region of Galatia.  To get a real sense of the cities to which we have been/will be referring, you need to reference a map showing Paul’s first missionary journey.  Your Bible might have one, or I found one online at:

Acts 14 details Paul and Barnabas’ time in Iconium and Lystra.  It also tells us that they continued on to Derbe.  Not much is said about their time there, but we do know that they “preached the Good News … and made disciples of many” (Acts 14:21, Amplified).  It was at Derbe that the pair turned around and began retracing their steps back to Syrian Antioch “where they had [first] been commended to the grace of God” (Acts 14:26).  If you’ve looked at the map, you may wonder (as I did) why the two didn’t just cross the mountains to get back to what had become their home church; it certainly would have been a shorter route.  Even though Paul and Barnabas had come to the end of the road, their work was not yet complete.

Right now I have the story of Hansel and Gretel running through my mind.  I don’t remember the whole story, but I know that they went on a walk through the woods and left a trail of bread crumbs so that they could find their way home.  Only when they turned around, birds had eaten all of the bread crumbs.  This reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the four soils told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Remember that first soil the footpath and how seed scattered on it is snatched away by Satan before having time to take root (Luke 8:4-15)?  In Acts 13:49, we’re told that “the Word of the Lord [concerning eternal salvation through Christ] scattered and spread throughout the whole region.”  Unlike with Hansel and Gretel, the seed that was scattered by Paul and Barnabas had not been snatched away; instead a trail of believers had been left in their path, paving their way home.

Paul and Barnabas’ first pass through the region had been marked by preaching in local synagogues with the purpose of convincing Jews and then Gentiles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Their return trip was much different.  Instead of Paul and Barnabas being the focus, Luke (the inspired writer of Acts) puts the spotlight on the local believers.  Paul and Barnabas take a supporting role (both literally and figuratively) in preparing them to continue in the grace of God after the two had left the region (see Acts 14:22-23).

We’re told that Paul and Barnabas returned to Syrian Antioch having completed the work for which God had set them apart (Acts 14:26).  …And now the conviction falls on me.  God gave me a verse a month or so ago.  I hadn’t thought about it for a few weeks, but the Holy Spirit is faithful to remind me now:  2 Corinthians 8:11, “So now finish doing it, that your [enthusiastic] readiness in desiring it may be equaled by your completion of it according to your ability and means.”  I have started so many things that I have never finished!  I don’t want the work that God has set apart for me to be one of those things!  I wonder how many of you can relate.  Let's encourage each other here and now on this forum (btw, you are able to comment even if you're not a "follower" of the blog)!  In case you're thinking you have nothing to share, consider the following:

  • Have you ever started a project you never finished?
  • Are you fatiguing in an area where you once felt enthusiasm?  Maybe it's relational, job-related, church-related, a hobby, healthy habits, ...
  • Have you just started something you're really excited about? Are you getting ready to start something?

Boy, I hope it isn't just me.  :)  Let’s continue to study the life of Paul together, so that we can encourage each other in finishing our God-given missions as Paul and Barnabas did.  I'll meet you back here next week.  Until then, I look forward to reading your comments.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

More or Less: Less of Me, More of You. (Acts 13)

This week we continued our study in Acts 13 – picking up with verse 13. 

… I love and cherish the opportunity to share the lessons that God through His Holy Spirit is teaching me, but just now I feel the urge to remind you that you should never allow a blog, book, or Bible teacher to stand between you and God’s Word!  Rather Scripture itself must form the bond between you and each of these learning tools.  Please take advantage of every opportunity you have to open the Bible yourself!

… Where were we?  Yes, Acts 13:13 – just months into Paul‘s 1st missionary journey.  By the way, Sunday’s lesson took us through the end of Acts 13.  I say this now knowing that I will not be able to address everything covered in Sunday’s lesson.  Reading through the chapter before Sunday (or the next blog post) will help keep us together.

The first thing I hope you notice in reading the remainder of Acts 13 is the change in the way Luke (author of Acts) refers to this missionary team.  The dynamic duo that was repeatedly and consistently referred to as “Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:1-2, 7) is now “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13).  After the departure of John Mark (whom we know as the writer of the Gospel of Mark), the duo will be referred to primarily as “Paul and Barnabas” (with a few exceptions).

So why is this significant?  I believe that it goes back to Acts 13:9:  “But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit, …” (Amp).  I mentioned in Sunday’s class that, in preparing for a lesson (at church or in my math classes at school), I try to anticipate questions and misunderstandings class members may have with the material.  At the same time, I love it when a question is posed that causes me to step back and dig deeper myself.  Jason’s comment to my last blog post did just that.

If you didn’t read the comment, Jason basically said that a similar issue has been discussed in his Pathways Sunday school class regarding the Holy Spirit:  Is there a difference between having the Holy Spirit and being filled by Him?  So off I went, concordance in hand searching every Scripture I could find on the role of the Holy Spirit in the early church.  I’ll give you the short version.  (You’re welcome.)  The most frequently used verbs regarding new believers and the Holy Spirit were “received” and “filled.”  Received was translated from the Greek word lambano, meaning to take/get hold of, indicating to me that the person accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Filled came from the word pletho which means to be full.  So what’s the difference between getting hold of the Holy Spirit and being full of Him?  

I actually found clarification in coming across (by providence, not coincidence) one of Jesus’ parables – one that has puzzled me for a while.  Luke 13:20-21 (also in Matthew 13:33):  “…To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of wheat flour or meal until it was all leavened.”  We, as humans, are made up of three parts – body, soul, and spirit.  What if we think about the three measures of flour as ourselves and the yeast, Christ referenced, as the Holy Spirit?  We receive the Holy Spirit through our belief in and claiming of Christ as our Savior, but the process of permeating our whole being has just begun.

I brought this up with a friend this week – a friend who just happens to be preparing for a speaking engagement by re-reading a book written by Billy Graham in the 1970s – The Holy Spirit.  She had actually marked a passage that she wanted to share with me – not knowing beforehand what I hoped to discuss with her.  Again, I love God’s providence!!
            “We are already the temple of God, indwelt by the Holy
            Spirit, but He wants to fill us.  However, He can fill only 
            those who wish to be emptied of self and yielded to Him.  
            Therefore, this active surrender must continue day by 
            day, concerning little things as well as big ones.”

In another place, he (Graham) says, “It’s not getting more of the Holy Spirit that results in our being ‘filled.’  It’s how much of ourselves we allow the Holy Spirit to have.”

Luke tells us that the apostle Paul was baptized when God sent Ananias to him (Acts 9:18).  Paul tells us in Ephesians that there is one baptism (Eph 4:5) and that is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul accepted Christ as his Savior, he, too, was indwelt by the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead … the same Holy Spirit Who lives inside you and me.  When we meet up with Paul in Acts 13:9, the Spirits’ permeation of his whole being – body, soul, and spirit – is complete.  Thinking back to Billy Graham’s first quote, Paul had emptied himself of Saul.  From here on out, Paul fully submits himself to the Sprits’ control.  We see it in his name change.  We see it in the rise of his authority within the band of missionaries (i.e. Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark).  We see it in the divinely-inspired words God speaks through him and the miracles that God performs by his hand.

Lord, I [state your name] don’t know where I am in the process of being fully and completely permeated by Your Holy Spirit, but I’m so thankful that You do.  I ask, in Jesus’ name, that you keep working the dough that is my body until I am emptied of myself and fully yielded to You.  I thank You that You are faithful to continue the good work You have begun in me through Christ until it is brought to full completion (Phil 1:6).  Amen.