. . . and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:19-20 (ESV)
We see their mug shots on the news. We quickly drive by them when see the ‘chain gang’ picking up trash on the side of the road. We fear what they have done and what they might do. In our minds, criminals are there because of their bad choices and sins. We think they need help. We doubt they could ever help us. And we would look with suspicion at any of them that would seek to lead or teach or preach to us. After all, they're criminals.
But this week, we encounter a criminal. He would be locked up for the rest of Acts and be in that state for most of the rest of his life. While Paul has had freedom to travel and blast the gospel into the corners of the known world, now his freedom will be restricted. How would you respond if your pastor, friend, or missionary was locked up? Would you have fears? Would you go silent or would you protest? Or would you see it as an opportunity? Take some time to read through Acts 21-22 as we look into this next phase of Paul’s ministry. And why not invite a friend to join you.
When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. Acts 21:17-19 (ESV)
Missionaries are those people that cross oceans, speak different languages, enter into different cultures, and endanger themselves and their families for the gospel. That's how we often think of them. This allows us to both support them and distance ourselves from them. They are adventurers. We are the home bodies. They are risk takers, we are the constants. They are the missionaries, we are just church folk.
Part of our mission statement at Hope is that we would be people that are 'fearlessly on mission'. This is something that I dream for us to realize both corporately and individually. In a real sense it's a desire to eliminate the gap in our thinking between the 'missionaries' and us. This is a desire and a dream that we have yet to realize.
This week we enter into the final section of Acts. Paul is focused on two places - Jerusalem and Rome. His face was set to reach both. The first was to encourage and give to those who had been the epicenter of the church. The second, Rome, was to plunge the gospel into the heart of the Empire. What Paul knew is that this mission involved danger, but he didn't care.
Take a few minutes to read through Acts 21 to prepare your heart and mind for this Sunday. We will also be worshiping through some special music and communion. So plan to be there!
Program note: we have been trying out FB Live. So in addition to the podcast of the weekly services. You can now watch live at about 10:55 on Sundays by going to the Hope FB page or you can go watch the video afterward. Pass the word!
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. - Acts 20:36-38 (ESV)
Working alongside people in ministry develops friendships and bonds. We are meant to weave our lives together. And when we do this in the body of Christ, embracing our messiness, giving each other grace, and pointing each other toward truth, we then become more than friends. I’ve experienced this. And when that is lost through distance or death or disagreement, it’s jarring. Sometimes we can struggle with a fear of reengaging because of a feeling of loss.
Paul had spent almost three years working in and around Ephesus. It had become his second home in many ways. They had seen the gospel powerfully advanced. They had struggled against social and economic forces that viewed Christianity as a threat. But now he was leaving. In a world without phones or emails and with uncertain travel, the prospect of his return was questionable, if not impossible. So what would he say to the friends and leaders he was leaving? How would he want them to remember him? This week, we wrap up our look at the story of his stay in Ephesus that was developed in Acts. In this final scene, we see Paul address these leaders of Ephesus. In it, we will see Paul’s heart and concern for the church. Take a few minutes and read through Acts 20 as we prepare for Sunday. I look forward to seeing you then!
But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” - Acts 19:15 (ESV)
With the 500 year anniversary of the start of the reformation approaching in October, I was recently listening to the opening lecture of a series on Martin Luther. He was the medieval monk with a mallet that kicked off the movement that later became the reformation. The discussion turned to how different his thoughts, ideas, and fears were than modern people, including evangelicals. The presenter spoke about his world that like Luther's song (A Mighty Fortress), would have been filled with literal devils. He would have feared journeying through the woods at night for fear of supernatural creatures attacking him.
It is easy for us to look at him or even at the Biblical text, like here in Acts, and shrug. The thought of supernatural powers or spirits or demons are the stuff of legend, myth, and horror movies. But if we believe the Bible, is it? How do we understand it? Is there a world we can’t see? How do we approach this?
This week we finish out Acts 19. I
He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. - Acts 18:25 (ESV)
When Jesus said he would build His church, I’m not sure we believed him. We have all kinds of ideas and schemes to build the church. But God often does it in unexpected ways and he does it with an interesting collection of characters - like us. That’s true of the church at Ephesus. While Paul at first preaches there, others are instrumental in helping it grow numerically as well as growing their faith along the way.
Take some time to read through Acts 18-19, as you prepare to join us this Sunday to worship together. We will continue our Gospel on the Move series.
After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. -Acts 18:18-19 (ESV)
We think of Christianity and the gospel in calm and orderly terms. Those that believe it become exemplary parents, employees, and citizens, it’s claimed. It sets their life right and they pull it all together. But does it?
I know the times and culture were different, but as I read Acts, it seems that as the gospel was preached throughout the ancient world it was a disruptive force. For the next couple weeks we will look at what happened when it broke into the town of Ephesus. Take some time to read through Acts 18-19 to prepare yourself for Sunday, and I challenge you to consider how disruptive the gospel is.
Sun, Jan 22, 2017
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. -1 Cor 2:3-5
Why don’t you share your faith? The predominant answer I hear to that question is fear. It shows up in different ways. We fear how people will view us. We fear we may not be able to answer a question. We fear we may break a relationship. We fear we won’t know what to say. We fear we will look foolish. Generally we are told to just overcome it and get out there. Go do it! I mean, look at the apostles. If they ever felt like us, then the gospel wouldn’t have spread. And then I read Acts.
Paul was a strong, brave man. He boldly proclaimed the gospel. BUT, he was also afraid. This week we will see Paul planting a church in Corinth. But he did so in a fog of fear. If you experienced fear in evangelism, this week is for you. Take some time to read through Acts 18. See if you can find Paul’s display of fear.
Sun, Jan 15, 2017
Duration:1 hr 6 mins
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. - Acts 17:22-23
I’m an Alabama football fan. And I’m a Christian. But I have to admit, this one left me a little confused. Coming home in traffic the other day, I stopped behind a van. Emblazoned across the back window was a bumper sticker. It read ‘Jesus Saves’. I’ve seen that before, but this one was a little different. The ‘A’ in saves was obviously a scripted Alabama logo. I wasn’t sure what the message was. How does Alabama football connect to Jesus? What kind of salvation are we talking about? And for that matter who was Jesus being represented as?
There is some talk within the Christian world about the method of evangelism. Is there a difference? Does it matter as long as the gospel gets out there? This week as we look at Acts 17, I want to take a look at three different cities where Paul preached. How did Paul communicate the gospel? How does that help us? Take some time and read through the chapter.
Sun, Jan 08, 2017
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
I hate telemarketers. I’ve done everything I can think of to eliminate their calls, but they still seem to sneak through. My least favorite type of phone sales is the one that comes to the church. A photo directory, a new gadget, a comedy group, a hot new study; I’ve received calls for all of them and more. It seems that ‘new’ ‘hot’ ‘improved’ and ‘with more power’ are not just adjectives for soap boxes but for every new strategy and gimmick for churches too.
There is a place for change and innovation in the life of the church, but what doesn’t change is the mission of the church. The church exists to point people toward Christ. We are here not just to make converts but to walk alongside each other in this journey. Are you on-board?
Well, this week we get to see how Christianity went from a few scared followers after the crucifixion to a world-altering movement. We step back into this story in Acts 16. I want to encourage you to read Acts 15-16 before Sunday to get the context. And plan to bring someone along with you. It will be a great time together as we see the Gospel-on-the-Move.