Tuesday, December 31, 2013

NEW BEGINNINGS: Jan 5th Class (Wk 1: Gen 1-10, Eph 1-5)

We have finished the book of Acts, and are beginning 2014 with a broader focus ... the scope and sequence of God's Word.  That's right, in 2014 we will begin reading/studying our way through the whole Bible.  It took us more than a year to study Acts 13-28.  At that pace it could take us a lifetime to get from Genesis to Revelation ... which is why we're making a few changes to the format of our group:
  1. There are 5 days of reading homework throughout the week, which I will be posting here.  The reading schedule comes from the "Thematic" reading plan on the Bible Study Tools website (
  2. Our class time will be more of a discussion forum and less of a teaching.
  3. In addition to posting my own personal insights and summaries of class discussions, I want the Now What? blog to be a forum for conversation throughout the week    a place for class members/visitors to post their own insights on/questions about the readings and make suggestions for the focus of upcoming class time.  You will do this by commenting on the week's reading plan.
So without further ado, the Week 1 readings (for the Jan 5th class) are:
  • Day 1:  Psalm 148; Genesis 1-2; Ephesians 1 
  • Day 2:  Genesis 3-4; Ephesians 2
  • Day 3:  Genesis 5-6; Psalms 12; Ephesians 3
  • Day 4:  Genesis 7-8; Ephesians 4
  • Day 5:  Psalm 8; Genesis 9-10; Ephesians 5
I can't wait to study with you!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

B.C. to A.D. (Acts 26)

The last time we studied together (online, that is), we were looking at Acts 25.  Before we jump into Acts 26, let’s set the stage…  As a Roman citizen, Paul had appealed to have his case brought before Caesar, so that his guilt or innocence could be decided once-and-for-all (Acts 25:11).  The only problem with Paul’s appeal was that Festus didn’t have any crime with which to charge Paul (Acts 25:27).  So at the end of Acts 25, Paul was brought before an audience to, once again, tell his story (Acts 25:23) – in hopes that they would find something with which to charge Paul.  The most notable of those invited was King Agrippa (i.e. Herod Agrippa II), ruler of Palestine.  Okay, let’s get into Acts 26.  If you read carefully, you’ll be better able to picture the nuances of the scene.  I’ve provided a few notes below to help you out.  Just use it as a reading guide.

Vs.       Description                                                                                                  
1-3      Paul gives his opening statement.

4-7      Paul speaks to King Agrippa specifically, explaining to him the reason the Jews were so bent-out-of-shape about him.

8-12    Paul shifts his focus to the larger audience and relays his B.C. (before Christ) background.

13-18  Paul turns back to King Agrippa to recount his conversion experience.  If/when you have time, look back at Acts 9 and 22 to see two other accounts of Paul’s conversion.  Just as the Gospels layer our understanding of events in Jesus’ life, when looked at together, Acts 9, 22, and 26 give us a broader understanding of this key event in the New Testament.

19-23  Still directed toward King Agrippa, Paul explains how he was obedient “to the heavenly vision” (vs. 19).  We could call this the beginning of the A.D. (after deliverance) period of Paul’s life.

24-26  At this point, Festus interrupts Paul, shouting that he is mad, but Paul keeps his focus on King Agrippa.  Why?  Read on…

27-29  Paul recognizes that King Agrippa is on the cusp of confessing belief in Jesus.  For just a moment, I sense a shift in the power differential.  Paul, instead of testifying, pounces as an attorney does when sensing vulnerability in a witness.  (At least that’s what attorneys do on

         Luke makes it very clear that King Agrippa was the object of Paul’s focus.  Haven’t you ever felt that way in church … like the minister is talking to/about you even though he hasn’t mentioned you by name?  It wasn’t the preacher calling you out; it was the Holy Spirit.  With a finger in Acts 26, go to (and read) John 16:7-9.  What does this say about the role of the Holy Spirit when it comes to the world (include what verse 9 says about why)? 

The Holy Spirit’s purposes when it comes to “the ungodly multitude” (part of Strong’s definition for world) is to convict the world of sin.  Why do they need convicted?  “…because they do not believe in Me.”  The Me here is Jesus.  Unbelievers need to be convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit while they still have a chance to believe.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit has a role in the life of a believer.  What does John 16:10 say about the Holy Spirit’s role when it comes to righteousness? 
In Tentmakers, we’ve repeatedly been reminded of 2 Corinthians 5:21 – how that, through Christ, we are the righteousness of God.  Still in 2 Corinthians 5, read verses 19-20.  “We are Christ’s ambassadors.”  Is God allowing anyone else to feel a little bit of the weight of that responsibility at this moment? 

Now What?  Like God was using Paul to minister to King Agrippa in that moment, there are people in our lives to whom God is calling us to minister.  We’re not to take on the responsibility of their salvation.  The Holy Spirit is the only One who can help seeds you’ve planted to take root.  That being said, we are accountable to God for being obedient to His direction.

I’ll leave you to finish out Acts 26 with verses 30-32.  I look forward to studying with you again soon!  We’ll be in Acts 27.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blaming the Blameless (Acts 25)

This week we got all the way through Acts 25.  Starting with Acts 24:27, to remember a little bit of the context, (re-)read Acts 25.  That’s right, you’re going to read the whole chapter, and I’m not going to interrupt you one time.

Like I said last week, the last few chapters in Acts have seemed so repetitive, but it’s not just repetition for the sake of repetition.  The Holy Spirit is layering our understanding as we read (so long as we don’t just skip ahead to the new parts).  Moving on … today we’re going to focus on Acts 25:27.  Paul is about to make his statement before the assembly, and in verses 24-27, Festus (the new governor of the province) explains why they are all there.  It wasn’t for a trial; instead what reason does Festus give in vs. 26?                                                  And here comes verse 27:

“For it seems to me senseless and absurd to send a prisoner and not state the accusations against him.” (Amplified)

Paul was getting closer and closer to his final judgment before the supreme ruler of the Roman empire – Caesar.  Paul’s upcoming judgment day got me thinking about the Day of Judgment promised … prophesied in Scripture.  Let’s look at 1 John 4:17 first.  What does this verse say about how we are (or are not) to approach the Day of Judgment?                                                                                                                                           

Still in 1 John 4:17, what does John say about how this is even possible, i.e. for us to not fear on the Day of Judgment?  Because                                                          so are                        in                               .  Who is the He?                                                           

What does is it mean that we are as Christ is in this world?  Short answer:  it means just what it says.  Long answer:  let’s look at what the Bible says about how Christ is so we can see how we are.

                                                            Jesus Christ                                       Us                               
1 Cor 1:30 (NLT)

2 Cor 5:17

Eph 1:4

Eph 1:7

How is it even possible that we have been made right with God, pure and holy, free from sin (1 Cor 1:30); that we are already new creations (2 Cor 5:17); holy and blameless in His sight (Eph 1:4)?  We’re going to look back at 2 Corinthians 5 for the answer – specifically verse 21.  Go ahead and look there; I’ll be waiting when you’re done.

… On the cross, Christ became as we are – sin, so that we could become as He is –blameless, righteous in the eyes of the Father.  

In Job 1, we see that Satan – the accuser – presents himself “before the Lord” (Job 1:6).  Don’t Satan’s appearance before the Lord and his accusations against people here are earth was an isolated incident.  Revelation 12:10 says that, during the Tribulation period (yet to come), there will be a time when Satan – “the accuser of our brethren who keeps bringing before our God charges against them, day and night” – will be “cast out.”  For now, Satan continues his accusations of us – that is, of you and of me, but, if we have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to new life (Col 2:12), Satan is in as strong of a position against us as Festus was with Paul.  He can bring our names before God, but because of Jesus Christ, our Advocate (1 John 2:1-2), it is Satan who looks foolish.

Now What?!  Thinking of Christ as our Advocate in heaven, let’s take on our role as His ambassadors here on earth and allow God to make His plea through us, so that this week more of His people can be reconciled back to God, becoming as Christ is in this world (2 Cor 5:17).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy ... (Acts 24:17-27)

(Sorry for the weird issues.  Not sure what's going on with that.)
We’re still following Paul through the book of Acts, but he’s no longer a traveling missionary – his third missionary journey ended when he got to Jerusalem (Acts 21:17).  But what did he come to Jerusalem to do?  We may have made some guesses or assumptions over the last few weeks, but we don’t have to look far into today’s passage – a portion of Paul’s testimony before the Roman governor Felix – to hear it firsthand.  Go ahead and read Acts 24:17-19. 

So what had Paul come to Jerusalem to do?                                                                                

Paul confirms this in his letter to the Roman church written toward the end of his third missionary journey.  See Romans 15:23-26.

The last few chapters, we’ve heard Paul rehash some events and timelines that we may have felt we already knew.  I just want to remind you that repetition in God’s Word is always for a purpose.  Today we see that one of His purposes is to reveal information that hadn’t been previously disclosed – namely that Paul was coming to deliver “gifts for the poor and to present offerings” (Acts 24:17, NIV).  But where did these gifts come from?  Luke (writer of Acts) may not have been divinely inspired to include an explanation of the collection of these funds, but Paul was inspired to include this information in the letters written on his third missionary journey.

In the following passage, what do we learn about the gifts/contributions Paul brought to Jerusalem:
1 Corinthians 16:1-5

I especially like how the NLT words vs. 2.  (If you don’t have the NLT, you can use to look it up.)  God has always desired our firstfruits.  He knows His creation, and the slippery slope that giving Him the leftovers will become.  If we wait to give Him what is left, then sooner rather than later there will be nothing left to give. 

2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Did you notice the contrast in verse 2?  Even if you did, take another look …

“For in the midst of an ordeal of                                                   , their abundance of                         and their depth of                            together have overflowed in                     of lavish                                      on their part.” (Amplified referenced)

Only with God could severe tribulation and deep poverty result in an overflowing wealth of generosity.  Generosity that even seems to have surprised Paul! 

What was the key ingredient – the catalyst – that resulted in this overflow?  It wasn’t the trial itself; rather it was the way in which the Macedonian believers approached their trial.  What was mixed with their poverty?  Their                                            .  I see too many Christians whose lives seem to be lacking true joy. 

What is the difference between happiness and joy?


Joy – unlike happiness – doesn’t depend on circumstances.  Joy is inner happiness in spite of your circumstances.  James (in James 1:2-4) writes that, when we approach trials with joy, the trials produce patience (not frustration) and that, once patience is allowed to complete its work, we will be mature, “lacking nothing.”  Even if the world saw the Macedonian believers as in deep poverty, they didn’t look at themselves through the world’s eyes.  They looked at themselves through God’s eyes – lacking nothing.  Through whose eyes do you look at yourself?  (Let yourself think about that after you leave this page and get on with your day.)

Whether your trial is poverty, sickness, death, family issues, persecution, isolation,                               … God desires to turn your curse into your blessing (Neh 13:2).

Now What? Imagine a trial in your life – past or present.  What – if you approached it with joy – could God do (have done) in that situation?  Whom could He bless through you?

Back in Acts 24, Paul is waiting for judgment from Felix.  Verse 27 says that Paul waited for two years for Felix to give his ruling, only to have Felix replaced by a new governor.  Back to square one.  Talk about patience being perfected.

Until next time.  Mix some joy with that trial, and see what God will do.

Friday, August 30, 2013

There's Something About Him That I Don't Like About Me (Acts 24:1-16)

Acts 24:1-16 … That’s what we studied this week in Tentmakers, but let’s make sure we set it up with last week’s passage.  Paul had been sent to Felix the Roman governor in Caesarea and was awaiting the arrival of his accusers before Felix would hear his case.  Acts 24:1 tells us that five days after Paul’s arrival, the plaintiffs (if you will) – the high priest Ananias and other Jewish elders – arrived in Caesarea and began their complaint.  Let’s read both sides’ opening arguments in this case.  Fill in the blanks as you go (NIV used):

Tertullus:  Acts 24:2-4
“We have enjoyed a long period of peace under                       , and                            has brought about reforms in this nation.                                 and in                        , most excellent                    ,                                      this with                               . But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.”

As you fill in the blanks for Paul’s opening argument, compare (and contrast) Paul’s words with those of Tertullus.

Paul:  Acts 24:10
“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a                    over this nation; so I                      make my defense.”

What is different about Paul’s opening?  I want you to think about that question as you turn to Psalm 55:21 (turn slowly).  Once there, see which speaker sticks out in your mind – Paul or Tertullus?

“Smooth as butter,” pretty good description, don’t you think?  I love to get buttered popcorn when I go to the movies, but something happens to me when I eat too much to quickly … I start to feel sick.  I don’t know about you, but sick is exactly how I felt when reading Tertullus’s oily flattery of Felix.

If you read last week’s post, we talked about giving credit where credit is due.  That also applies to the trajectory of our gratitude.  Tertullus thanked Felix for his peace and his foresight (Acts 24:2), when God should have been the One toward whom they were directing their gratitude – thanking Him for any and all blessings the Jewish nation enjoyed.  

Yesterday morning, I caught the Wednesdays with Beth segment of Life Today with James Robison.  Her teaching from Deuteronomy 8 really jumped out at me in thinking about the misplacement of Tertullus’s gratitude.  Deuteronomy 8 is only twenty verses, so if you have time (or can make time), go ahead and read it all.  If you don’t (can’t), then at least scan the following verses for the chapters theme.
      Vs. 2:                         how the Lord your God led you all the way …”
·     Vs. 11:  “Be careful that you                                               the Lord your God, …”
Vs. 18-20:  “But                     the Lord your God, for it is                        who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.  If you ever                             the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.  Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

At some point along the way (long before we met Tertullus or even before the birth of Jesus Christ), the Jews stopped giving God the credit – and with the credit went the glory that He was due.  At that moment, their focus and their thanksgiving turned away from God and toward other things – such as their own interpretations of the Law and the Roman government.  Anyone or anything that tried to draw their attention away from those “other gods” (from Deut 8:19) was seen as a  … Let’s hold that thought for a minute.

I watched the first few seasons of the Dr. Phil show, and one his sayings has stuck with me, “There’s something about him that I don’t like about me.”  Paul was one of those people to the unbelieving Jews of his day.  They still had so much in common – worshipping the same God of their ancestors, having the same confidence in the Law and the words given through the prophets, a hope of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:14-15).  So much in common, and yet there was something about Paul that the unbelieving Jews did not like about themselves, and they hated him for it!  

In our next study, we will continue with Paul’s trial before the Roman governor, Felix.  Until then, let’s follow Paul’s lead, exercising (figuratively) our bodies … “endeavoring in all respects to have a clear conscience, void of offense toward God and toward men” (Acts 24:16).

Now What?!  When someone irritates you this week, I want you to ask God if He has allowed that person or situation in your life to show you something in him/her that you need to acknowledge and change in yourself (Matt 7:3), and let’s give glory where glory is due (Col 3:17).