My daily exploration of the Bible, taking it one chapter at a time. If I do it everyday, it'll take 1189 days.



Sunday, September 30, 2007

Romans 2

Deep down, we're all a bit Jewish

Summary:
Don't judge, cos you're a sinner too. God judged by truth. You don't. God will judge you based on your evil deeds. Knowing the law doesn't redeem you. Following it does. Even if you haven't heard the law, you can follow it.

Say you're Jewish and are proud of the law. Well don't be, unless you actually keep it. Which you don't. You have nothing to be proud about.

Circumcision and outward things don't make you Abraham's child, and don't save you.

Key verse:
29. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.

My thoughts:
Paul is addressing an issue of Jewish superiority in the Roman church. Paul is making it very clear that Jews have no birthright of superiority. Their Jewish customs and outwards things don't make them more holy.

Paul is still leading into the gospel; that we are saved through Jesus. Not through the law or birthright. He's still clarifying that we're all in need to saving.

There is a bit of an implication that Judaism is nothing to do with race, which would make us Christians Jewish in Paul's sense.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Romans 1

We're all a bit gay

Summary:
Hi Romans. It's Paul, the Apostle of God's gospel about Jesus the man who was His Son. Mate, you guys have been faithful! I pray for you, and can't wait to come and preach the gospel in Rome.

Look, there's not excuse. God can be clearly seen from the very fact that there is a world. People have chosen to reject him, and have fallen into worshiping idols and homosexuality. People are evil, and know they deserve death.

Key verse:
16. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes

My thoughts:
Wow, this is going to be different! We're in the letters! Until now everything's been either narrative or poetry (prophecy is pretty poetic). Fun times.

So Paul starts his letter in the standard form of the time. He has never been to Rome. Rome is without an Apostle, so Paul's initial goal in this letter is to tell the gospel. His whole introduction is focussed on the primacy of the gospel. His first point of the book coincides with the first truth I would tell someone when sharing the gospel. That we are sinners and we know we are. Paul is onto it.

So yea. Homosexuality. It just so happens that before I went to do this chapter, I was satiating my curiosity by reading about Fred Phelps. I stumbled across this video which is quite funny if you can handle the occasional men making out.

Fred Phelps is pretty screwed up, and has, of course, got things pretty darn wrong. The Bible is, however, absolutely clear, as in this chapter, that homosexual acts are sins. It is clear in the Old Testament, but more importantly, it is clearly reaffirmed here in the New Testament.

What does this mean? It means that if people choose to follow Jesus, then they should strive to stop sinning. If they have been struggling with/doing homosexual acts, then they shouldn't be content with that and should be stopping that, just like any other sins that anyone else may strive to stop.

Many people, of course, do not choose to follow Jesus. If they are gay, then I have no immediate desire to degay them. Rather, I want to introduce them to Jesus. Once they meet Jesus, I don't believe that I should have to convince them to change their lifestyle.

There's lots of controversy around legislation about sexuality. For me, laws about homosexuality and gay marriage aren't worth getting upset about. We believe that sex before marriage is a sin, but we don't expect the state to criminalise that! If society on mass decides that they don't want to be a society where homosexuality is allowed then that's fine. If they do that on a Christian basis, then sex outside of marriage should have an equal penalty. But a Christian minority shouldn't be too concerned with what the state decides to do. Of more concern to me, and what I feel should be of more concern to Christians, is the role of homosexuality in the church.

Within the church, representing the followers of Jesus, I believe that homosexuality, like other sins, should be clearly stated as a sin. It should not be justified or accepted as okay, like other sins. As for church leadership, open and proud practisers of homosexuality should as equally disallowed as open and proud adulterers. People who struggle with homosexuality should be considered for leadership equally as those who struggle with sex before marriage.

Okay, finally, some people will read this, and because of their world view will think that to consider homosexuality a sin is incredibly bigoted. They would say it is an unjustifiable belief, based on the idea that it is wrong to judge people on something they cannot change. I would not be able to justify the Bible's views on homosexuality if I did not believe that people can change (except if you got into predestination etc... never mind...). I believe that a 'gay' person can definitely change how they act, and to a certain extent change how they think. Is their sexuality to a certain extent influenced by unchanging genes? Probably, but so is violence in some people. That doesn't make it okay or unchangeable.

Will 'degaifying' oneself be easy and quick? Of course not. Will the feelings and attractions disappear? Maybe they will with a lot of time and with God's favour, but generally it won't be that simple. Will you be genuinely attracted to the opposite sex? Maybe, maybe not. There's no Biblical mandate to be in an active heterosexual relationship if you don't want to be.

In my view homosexual sexual desire is like heterosexual sexual desire. Heterosexual sexual desire has one place where it can be appropriately expressed. Homosexual sexual desire does not. Both groups, however, have to deal with inappropriate but naturally occurring sexual desire. Both groups have to choose to go against what may be called natural desires. Just because desires are natural, doesn't make them okay.

Anyway, that's my rant. Feel free to quote me, because I'm convinced of what I've written. Feel free to argue with me, cos I love that.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Acts 28

The final destination

Summary:
So the island was Malta, and they were very friendly. Paul got bitten by a snake, and everyone thought he would die, but he was fine. Paul healed many there.

Three months later they head off for Rome. They caught up with Christians there. Paul had his own house and was simply guarded there. From there he called together the Jews and preached. Some believed, some didn't. He continued to preach.

Key verse:
31. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

My thoughts:
Acts has a pretty sudden ending. Paul in under a pretty weak house arrest, and has reached Rome. Either the book was written at this point, or in some way the story is the story of how the gospel reached Rome (though it did in fact reach Rome well before Paul got there). Paul's life get worse from here. Right now, his arrest isn't that bad, but with time he ends up truly in prison, rotting away. He is eventually martyred when the Romans started killing Christians, particularly the leaders.

The narrative of Acts spans over about 25 years. It's easy to forget this when reading it through.

Anywho! On to the letters!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Acts 27

Shipwreck

Summary:
So Paul had a nasty boat ride via Cyprus and Crete. Paul knew it would be bad, but they didn't trust him and went anyway. So anyway, they got into a big storm, and got all freaked. They had run out of food. Paul was all cocky, cos he had predicted it, but assured them that they wouldn't die, but would run aground, but they weren't allowed to try and escape on the lifeboat.

After a couple of weeks they crashed at land, and though they were going to kill all the prisoners so they didn't escape, they were spared.

Key verse:
21. Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.

My thoughts:
I'm convinced that this is an eye-witness account of the boat ride. It is written from the first person perspective, and there are such nautically accurate details in the description. The exact number of passengers (276) are numbered. That's more people that I would've thought. It really was quite a voyage.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Acts 26

Blatant and unashamed

Summary:
Paul told the King that he was raised in the strictest Jewish customs, and he was on trial simply for his hope in God's promises. He explained that he was against the Christians too, but encounter Jesus on the way to Damascus, and was sent to the Gentiles with his message. He was just preaching repentance, which is good right?

Festus thought he was mad, but Paul said that he wasn't. Paul asked the King if he knew the prophets. The King asked whether Paul was so arrogant to think he could convert him there and then. Paul basically said yes.

The King and Governor thought he was weird, but not a criminal. He would be free had he not appealed to Caesar.

Key verse:
29. Paul replied, "Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."

My thoughts:
Just like that. I love this verse. We need to be unashamed and open about the fact that we are Christians, and we want others to become so. They may think we are arrogant for trying to 'convert' them. They may think that we're wasting our time. However, we need to believe that we have something good to offer people. We want people to have what we have because we believe it is good. If people ask "Are you trying to make me a Christian?", we should give some half-assed answer, we should say "Yes", because we know what to really be a Christian means, and we know that it's good.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Acts 25

To Caesar!

Summary:
With the new governor, the Jewish officials tried to get him trialled again. They wanted him transfered so they could kill him on the way. In Caesarea, Festus asked Paul to go to the lesser Jerusalem council, but Paul didn't want to be handed over to the Jews, so he appealed to Caesar, and so had to be sent to Rome, but the King wanted to see him first. Festus wanted something to write about Paul to send him away with, because he didn't really understand the whole thing, and didn't see what Paul had done wrong.

Key verse:
11. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!

My thoughts:
Thought Jerusalem was theoretically a lesser court, which could not sentence him to death, Paul would be in more danger if he went there. Paul wanted to go to Rome for his missonary work, and this was one way for him to get there. Paul's life from now on is basically his travelling from court to court, prison to prison, until the Romans start killing the Christians. Anyway, at this stage the authorities just see him as a bizarre man who now has to go to the Supreme Court because, basically, he wanted to.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Acts 24

Terrorism laws

Summary:
The high priests came and sucked up to Felix, and said that Paul instigated riots. Paul claimed innocence, but admitted that he was a Christian. He told Felix that all he said was that he believed in the resurrection of the dead. Felix dismissed the court, but often sought Paul to speak to him. Paul shared the Gospel, but Felix wanted a bribe.

Paul was left in a nice low security prison, and Felix was eventually succeeded after two years.

Key verse:
14. However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets

My thoughts:
Two years! Paul is a Roman citizen awaiting a verdict, but he still has to sit in prison awaiting the continuation of his trial. That's pretty dumb.

Paul doesn't shy away from his faith, but that's not that surprising!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Acts 23

Tricksy wee Apostle

Summary:
Paul told the Sanhedrin that he didn't feel at all guilty. Paul was very careful to respect them, according to the law. But Paul knew the panel had divided opinions, so he asked a question he knew they disagreed on. It got so vicious that Paul had to be removed. God told Paul that he would preach in Rome.

40 people decided to kill Paul before they ate again. They tried to get Paul before the Sanhedrin again, but the commander who was looking after Paul was tipped off, and helped Paul escape to Caesarea by giving him hundreds of bodyguards. The commander told Felix, the governor, that Paul was coming.

Key verse:
12. The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.

My thoughts:
What a fuss this Paul dude is causing. His presence caused quite a stir in Jerusalem.

The character of the commander is an interesting one. The city wants to kill Paul, but this Roman is Paul's ardent protector. He is absolutely concerned with Paul's safety. The Romans had no problems with the Christians at this stage.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Acts 22

Citizenshipness

Summary:
Paul explained that he was taught in all the law, and actually persecuted the Christians. He told his story of seeing Jesus, going blind, and being healed in Damascus. He explained how God sent him from Jerusalem to the Gentiles.

To settle people, they ordered Paul be flogged, but he was a Roman citizen, so that wasn't allowed. They took him before the Sanhedrin.

Key verse:
28. Then the commander said, "I had to pay a big price for my citizenship."
"But I was born a citizen," Paul replied.

My thoughts:
In the movies when someone give a stirring heart-wrenching speech, then people's minds change. In reality, people will do what they want anyway. Paul gave his testimony, and they still wanted to kill him. Was it a failed testimony? No. Success is in telling people, not in their response.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Acts 21

Bow Chicka Wow Wow!

Summary:
So they went to Jerusalem, stopping at Tyre for a bit. In Caesarea Paul stayed with Philip and his hot daughters, and a prophet predicted that Paul would be handed over to the Gentile authorities in Jerusalem. But Paul went to Jerusalem anyway.

Paul met with James, who was concerned that Paul was telling Jews not to follow Moses' law. Paul denied this in his actions. But the Jews were still angry. They captured him in the temple, making false accusations. The Romans got interested. Paul was allowed to speak to the crowd.

Key verse:
9. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

My thoughts:
Can you feel the sense of fate in these chapters? Like Jesus going to Jerusalem, knowing that it would be his grave, Paul is going there knowing that this is the end of his free life. Imagine knowing that and accepting that. Imagine preparing yourself to be in chains for the Gospel for the rest of your life. I doubt many of us would accept it so graciously as Paul.

Anyway, notice how it appears to be zealous Jewish Christians who are capturing Paul because he supposedly told Jews not to follow the law. Bizarre. Christianity was still very Jewish in Jerusalem at this stage.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Acts 20

Defenestration

Summary:
So Paul and his posse traveled and preached through Macedonia. In Troas, Paul was giving a boring talk, as is the norm for people called Paul, and a fulla fell asleep and fell out the window. He died on impact, but Paul raised him to life.

Paul fast tracked back to Jerusalem for Pentecost. He bypassed Ephesus, but met their church elders and told them that he thought he was going to prison soon, and wouldn't see them again. But he was sweet with this. He knew he'd done what he needed to do, but he warned them against false teachers. Then he said goodbye.

Key verse:
24. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

My thoughts:
Wow, it's been a long time since I've updated my blog! It's going to be pretty sparse until the 8th, once I finish my exams.

Anyway, how Pauline is that key verse? Leads me to believe that these narrative dialogs might actually be quite accurate representations of what people actually said and did.

This is quite a unique passage in the Acts. It is Paul's charge to a community close to his heart. It is a good model of a parting speech to a Christian community.

And church was still boring in the first century. People were falling asleep during the sermons.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Acts 19

Second Baptism and riots

Summary:
Paul met some people who had only received John's baptism, not the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They spoke in tongues. Paul eventually gave up on the synagogue but within a couple of years everyone in the region had heard about Jesus.

God was good, and even let Paul's clothes heal the sick. Some people were casting out demons in the name of Jesus and Paul, but this one time a demon challenged these amateurs and beat them black and blue. This scared everyone into being more open about following Jesus, and putting aside their previous sorcery and dark arts.

Some idol-makers got angry. They had been rich, but were scared people would stop buying idols because of Jesus. They started a riot praising Artemis. Paul wanted to speak to the mob, but people stopped him. No-one knew what was happening. A Jew went to speak, but no-one listened.

An official told them to stop it. If they had real grievances, they could take them to court. In his eyes, Ephesus was always Artemis' home.

Key verse:
6. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

My thoughts:
A lot of Pentecostal belief about Baptism in the Holy Spirit is centred around passages like this. The idea is that you are baptised in water, and then later in the Holy Spirit. I believe that all Christians should be filled with the Holy Spirit, but I'm not sure if setting it up as a clear and distinct event from water baptism is that helpful. You can received the Holy Spirit as you are baptised, or after, or even before. The important thing is that all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Christianity was changing the cultural make-up of Ephesus, and people who liked the old culture didn't like that. But if we want to change the world, then we've got to change it, and that's going to peeve some people off, and that's fine. As long as we do everything in love, then it'll be sweet.

I love the description of the riot. Barely anyone knew why they were there. Sounds like a town I know. And I love how the NIV says that the demon "gave them such a beating..."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Acts 18

Sosthenes and Priscilla

Summary:
In Corinth Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, and preached in the synagogues until the Jews got fed up, so he went to the Gentiles. God told Paul to say in Corinth and not be scared, so he did. Paul got taken to caught but the Romans didn't care about Jewish religious issues. The Jews then beat up Sosthenes, a synagogue leader who had converted, to get attention.

Paul then took Priscilla and Aquila back to Ephesus, and then onto Caesarea and Antioch. A Jew from Egypt, Apollos, taught very convincingly about Jesus, but knew nothing of the Holy Spirit, so Priscilla and Aquila introduced him, and he kept going around convincing Jews about Jesus.

Key verse:
9. Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.

My thoughts:
So Sosthenes helps Paul write 1 Corinthians in the end, as you can see in the first line of that letter. He was a synagogue leader whilst he was a Christian, which shows the blurring of lines between these two faiths at this early stage.

Anyway, also of significance in this chapter is the role of Priscilla. She is the wife if Aquila, yet seems to play quite a significant role in the church over Aquila. She is often used as an example of Biblical female church leadership. Fair enough.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Acts 17

Athens

Summary:
Paul won some converts in Thessalonica, but others didn't like it. They locked up Jason, at whose house Paul was staying, for a bit. Paul and his troop left in the night.

Similar stuff happened in Berea, except they weren't angry, so some Thessalonians came and were angry for them.

In Athens, Paul taught amidst the idols, and was brought before some philosophers. Paul said he was going to make known the unknown God they had an altar to. He explained that he is awesome, and we are his children. Paul explained about God's call away from idols, and how judgment and resurrection were coming. Some mocked, some believed.

Key verse:
21. All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

My thoughts:
I like this verse for all the wrong reasons.

So anyway, notice how Paul doesn't introduce a foreign God, but makes known one of theirs. People don't want to hear of another culture. They want a real God. Paul speaks to his audience.

Notice how he still gets mocked, but some believe. Sometimes we feel that if we get mocked, no-one will believe. I think it's almost the opposite sometimes.

Anyway, updating is pretty slow in my life at the moment. There are many reasons... Mark has a hypothesis.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Acts 16

Babies and baptism

Summary:
Paul chose Timothy to join them. Paul saw a vision of a Macedonian begging that he come to Macedonia. So he went.

They, now with Luke, got to Philippi. They randomly told a chick the Gospel, and she and her family got baptised. So they stayed for a bit.

A demoned girl made a lot of money for others due to her prophecies. She started following Paul around til he got annoyed and cast out her demon. But the people who profited from her were annoyed, and got Paul and Silas in prison.

As they were singing in prison, there was an earthquake and everyone's cells opened, but no-one left. The jailer and his whanau got saved.

They tried free them quietly, but Paul wanted to make a fuss to embarrass them, cos they had beaten Roman citizens. So they were embarrassed and led them out of the city.

Key verse:
30-31. "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."

My thoughts:
Hmmm... so... infant baptism... yea...

Interesting context here, because Paul actually says that if the jailer believes in Jesus, then not only he, but his whole household will be saved. Crazy aye. Probably behind this is the idea that the man is the leader of the family, and the concept of a man becoming a believer without his wife and kids was not really considered.

Anyway, there is this Biblical idea of community or corporate faith, which doesn't exists in modern protestantism. When faith is seen as only individual, then infant baptism doesn't make sense, but if it is considered legitimate to be part of a Christian community, then it's sweet.

I'll all for infant baptism.

Notice how often the simple spreading of the simple gospel comes up in Acts. It's pretty sweet. Lydia is basically the first 'victim' of street evangelism. So many Christians think that street or random evangelism is pointless and unhelpful, but it's very Biblical and can be very effective. You just need to truly believe that you bear good news.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Acts 15

Jerusalem I

Summary:
So some people thought that you had to follow Jewish law to be a Christian, but Paul disagreed, so they had a chat in Jerusalem with the Apostles. There, Peter declared that people were saved by grace, and people don't have to change their culture. Paul told of his miracles. James agreed with Peter and they decided that people should only avoid eating blood, or idol-stained food, or sexual immorality. Judas and Silas were sent to give the message to the Christians around the world.

Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement, so Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas to visit some churches.

Key verse:
11. We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

My thoughts:
That's a cool and clear verse despite the bizarre grammar. So lots of interesting stuff in this chapter.

First is the first council of Christianity, with all the Apostles present (maybe). Pretty sweet.

Also, we have this character James, but the Apostle James is dead by now, right? It appears that he is James the brother of Jesus, and author of James. By this stage he seems to be counted among the Apostles, which is interesting. It certainly seemed that the Apostles were just the tight twelve.

So the Jewish law wittles down to three things for Gentile Christians. Not eating blood, not eating food offered to idols, and the sexual morality law. So those parts of the OT seems to be relevant, so the laws about homosexuality in the Old Testament are relevant, in the sense that everything the OT declares sexually immoral we shouldn't do.

Salami had blood in it.

Other parts of the NT say that we can eat food offered to idols. So I dunno. It seems a little bit confused.

Also, Paul and Barnabas disagreed. I'm pretty sure that from then all, everyone in the church just agreed and this was just a one off.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Acts 14

Missionary travels and encouragement

Summary:
At Iconium, the town was divided between those who followed Paul and Barnabas, and those who tried to stop them. After quite a while, they fled, hearing that they were going to be stoned.

In Lystra, Paul healed a crippled man. They thought Paul and Barnabas were gods. They didn't like this, but talked about the living God. But they still worshipped them. Some enemies were following them, and Paul was stoned, but didn't die. They preached at Derbe, then retraced their steps and encouraged the Christians and appointed elders. They then returned to Antioch, and told their stories and stayed there for ages.

Key verse:
22. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God

My thoughts:
Notice that this is Paul's first statement of 'encouragement' to the churches. Things are going to be hard. Sometimes we think that the early church had it all easy compared to now, with lots of converts and lots of success. In a certain sense, living in the early church would've been very exciting, but it certainly wasn't easier.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Acts 13

Mihinare

Summary:
Saul and Barnabas were chosen by God to be sent off.

In Cyprus, their witness was opposed by a sorcerer. Saul=Paul cursed him with blindness, so their message got through.

In the other Antioch, Paul preached about how history led to David, of which Jesus is a descendant. He was killed but rose again. Who else has done that? He offers a forgiveness Moses can't. God is doing a new thing!

Many believed, but many spited them when they drew big crowds of Gentiles. They were eventually kicked out.

Key verse:
39. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.

My thoughts:
Ah, the gospel. What an awesome thing! So in this, Paul and Barnabas become the first significant missionaries that we hear of.

What a different approach to mission they must've had then! They truly had a new message and a world to convert. There was no Christian Europe, or post-Christian Europe back home. They were reaching a pre-Christian Europe. On the large scheme of things, they were somewhat successful.

Cursing doesn't seem that popular these days...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Acts 12

Prey.

Summary:
Herod killed James, and when he saw people liked this, he took Peter into prison. In the night, an angel came a led Peter out of prison through open doors. He thought it was a dream! The disciples nearly didn't believe it when Peter, who they were praying for, turned up. Peter's guards were executed.

Herod died for blasphemy, and Paul, Barnabas, and now Mark, went back to Jerusalem.

Key verse:
5. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

My thoughts:
Intercession. Isn't is an awesome thing? It is such an illogical thing that saying words would have an immense effect on reality, but in this case, I truly believe that Peter wouldn't've been freed that night without prayer. So yea... the moral of the story is to pray. Lots.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Acts 11

Christianity begins

Summary:
When all the Jewish Christians started being all hatey towards Peter, he simply explained what had happened, and that he had to obey God! So they were all stoked for the Gentiles.

People got converted in Antioch, so Barnabas was sent to see it happen. He got Paul to come help him. In Antioch they got the name 'Christians'. A Christian prophet predicted a massive famine over the Empire.

Key verse:
17. So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?

My thoughts:
Before this point, the Christians were just another Jewish sect, which had managed to attract some followers. When the Holy Spirit opened up to all people, then it became something radically different, and Christianity, as we know and call it, was born.

It's awesome how the followers at Jerusalem completely embraced this move of God. They must've been listening to the Spirit, not to their minds.

When reading these stories, I do get a bit sad that these places which were the absolute centres of Christianity, like Antioch or Jerusalem, have been largely emptied of Christians.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Acts 10

Unclean... yet tasty...

Summary:
A Gentile was told by God to go find Peter.

Peter had been praying, and had had a vision of a sheet with many animals in it which were unclean for Jews. God told him to eat, but he protested, but God said he had made it clean. Then the Gentile's entourage turned up.

Because everything, including Gentiles, was now clean, Peter went to stay with the Gentile in Caesarea. The Gentile explained what he had been told. Peter explained the Good News about Jesus. Everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit, and Peter baptised them.

Key verse:
34-35. I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

My thoughts:
Man. This is crazy. I don't think we quite recognise quite how significant this shift is. God is really doing a new thing. The early Church was truly led by the Holy Spirit. Announcing this to the early Church would've been like announcing that Jesus was only one of many ways to God to a modern evangelical Church.

But I am thankful that God did this, so that the good news of Jesus could go to everyone. God is the God which does a new thing.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Acts 9

Damascus Road

Summary:
Saul was going to Damascus to kick some Christian arse, but on the way Jesus turned up and blinded him and told him to stop persecuting. In Damascus, Ananias came to him and told him about Jesus, having been informed by Jesus of what was happening. Ananias healed Saul.

Saul preached about Jesus in Damascus until he had to flee, because he was being persecuted. He was tentatively accepted by the Apostles in Jerusalem, but then he had to flee to Tarsus. After that is was somewhat peaceful for the Church.

Peter went travelling and healed a long-term paralytic, and brought a believer back to life. Many people came to believe.

Key verse:
5. "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.

My thoughts:
It's amazing how irrelevant theology becomes when Jesus himself turns up. Jesus doesn't explain how he is the Son of God, or how Saul was wrong. He just tells Saul what to do. It's assumed that Saul will completely change his mind by simply seeing Jesus.

Sometimes God will convert people by Damascus road type events, but normally it is much more natural. They are all legitimate ways of coming to Jesus.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Acts 8

Scattered

Summary:
From there, led by Saul, the Church and the Apostles were scattered. Philip changed lives in Samaria. A sorcerer changed his life and followed Philip. Peter and John came up and prayed for him and others to received the Holy Spirit. The sorcerer was so stoked, he tried to pay for it, which was entirely inappropriate.

God told Philip to pull over on one of his journeys, a lo and behold a foreigner was reading Isaiah there. He didn't understand it, so Philip explained it, and how it was a prophecy of Jesus. The foreigner got baptised there and then, and God took Philip away.

Key verse:
36. Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?

My thoughts:
Some people seem to put baptism on a pedestal. It's this thing you do once you reach a certain point. In the Bible, however, it is equated with following Jesus. If you are a follower of Jesus you should get baptised. There is no waiting period, nothing overly sacred that requires taking your time. Are you a Christian? If yes, you should get baptised ASAP.

Other than Peter, John, and Paul, you don't hear many specifics of the Apostles, so it's cool to have some stories about Philip.

So the Church is now persecuted. For the first time, they are a persecuted community. They have another 250 years of this ahead of them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Acts 7

The Blood of the Martyrs

Summary:
When asked to defend himself, Stephen went through Israel's history. Abraham and the patriarchs and how they'd gone to Egypt, how Moses had led them out, and how the tabernacle was closed in a building, though God's presence isn't actually enclosed in a building. Through it all, Israel's people did evil, and they were doing the same now with what they were doing to Jesus and his followers.

So they stoned him. He forgave them. Saul watched.

Key verse:
59. Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

My thoughts:
I include this key verse just because it's a proof against the views of Jehovah's Witnesses who don't pray to Jesus. Here we have a clear as anything Biblical example.

So anyway, here we have the first Christian martyr, and the ominous presence of Saul. Hmmm... foreboding...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Acts 6

Don't you know who I am?

Summary:
So the Christians had admin issues when dealing with their widows and dependants. It seemed some were being left out. The Apostles were too cool for dealing with just petty issues so they delegated seven to do it. One of which was Stephen.

Stephen did great miracles, but got into and argument, which turned into a court case with lies and accusations. He argued well, and looked like an angel but... (to be continued)

Key verse:
8. Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

My thoughts:
Stephen the Administrator. What a hero. God's Kingdom will not grow without good administration. Administration is a call of God like any other. Stephen is a perfect example of that.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Acts 5

I say kill 'em all and let God deicide. I mean decide.

Summary:
So this couple sold their house, but deliberately only gave some to the Church. Peter confronted the man, and when he heard he had tried to lie to God, he died. When the wife turned up, she lied and said that it was the full amount of money. She too died.

The Apostles healed lots of people, and lots of people wanted just to come close to get healed.

The Jewish authorities locked the Apostles up, but an angel let them out, and they preached in broad daylight. When the authorities found out, they told them to stop blaming them for Jesus' death and to stop teaching. But the Apostles had to do what God wanted, not what people wanted. They were going to kill them, but one convinced the other not to, because if their teaching wasn't from God, they'd die out anyway, like all other pretenders.

So they just got a beating instead.

Key verse:
31.God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

My thoughts:
Poor Ananias and Sapphira. I think any modern reader feels that they got quite a harsh punishment. First be clear that the problem wasn't that they didn't give all their money, but that they pretended to give all their money and lied about it. But still it seems harsh.

God gives and God takes away. As Christians we say that billions of people are destined for an eternity without God. Sometimes God seems to jump to the chase. As long as we don't try to pre-empt God and start killing people.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Acts 4

Persemacution

Summary:
The Sadducees heard about the healing and tried to find Peter and John. They asked what power they did it by. They said it was by Jesus, the only Saviour. The Sadducees, who didn't like that they preached about resurrection, looked for a way to stop them without being unpopular. They couldn't stop them, because they wanted to be obedient to God not people.

After they were released, they went to the other disciples and prayed for strength amidst this new persecution. The believers shared everything, even selling their property to support each other.

Key verses:
12. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
32. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

My thoughts:
This is the first real persecution the Christians faced; from the Jewish authorities. Before this Christians certainly didn't expect the authorities to dislike them. But the truth is that where there is Christianity, there is persecution.

Anyway, Luke is sounding like John with his declarations of Jesus' exclusive ownership of salvation.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Acts 3

The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth

Summary:
A crippled man wanted money, but Peter with John healed him instead. Everyone was amazed, but Peter said that they shouldn't be, because it was God working. God was working through Jesus who had died and risen. They need to repent of killing Jesus and just come to him.

Key verse:
6. Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.

My thoughts:
What a line. Who wants to be doing that? I for one do. Talk about Power Evangelism. Go heal a sick person. Have faith. Do it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Acts 2

The Acts 2 Church

Summary:
Suddenly the Holy Spirit turned up in a powerful wind, and they all spoke funny. There were people of many different languages in Jerusalem, but they were amazed that they all heard these crazy people speaking in their own language. Some passed them off as drunk.

Peter addressed the people quoting Joel where he said that the Spirit would be poured out on all people. Peter told of Jesus' death and resurrection. Even David knew of this in advance. Because of this we should repent, because forgiveness comes from Jesus.

Three thousand became believers and they met everyday and shared and cared, and grew in number.

Key verse:
45. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

My thoughts:
Everyone always talks about an Acts 2 church, and this is what they are talking about. It is a church which gives freely and looks after all people. It grows.

This kind of church follows the Holy Spirit turning up, like here, on the first Pentecost. It's not about feeling good and speaking in tongues, it's about many things including creating Godly community.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Acts 1

Replacement Apostles

Summary:
After Jesus had risen, he told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem for forty days until they were baptised by the Holy Spirit. He wouldn't say when he would come back, then we went up into heaven.

Peter led the 120 believers as they prayed, and decided that Judas, who had proved himself inappropriate for being a disciples and somewhat dead, needed replacing. They chose Matthias, someone who had also been there from the beginning (Jesus' baptism) and had seen his resurrection.

Key verse:
22. from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.

My thoughts:
This is one of the clearest statements of what it takes to be an apostle. By this account, Paul wouldn't count cos he wasn't there from the beginning. It goes to show the Apostles role. They were witnesses. From the very beginning Christianity was about an event that happened in history and the witnesses of that.

It must have been a very different church structure whilst the Apostles were still alive. Though I'd like to think that it originally all came from Jesus, the reality is that the early Church was formed by the Apostles. They had the authority to make the Church what it became.