Friday, 8 June 2012

Day Seventy

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 14:26-28
26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Shortly after this trip, Paul probably wrote the book of Galatians to the churches he had just visited.[1] He wrote in response to the infiltration of a group of Jewish Christians who were trying to persuade the new Gentile Christians to become circumcised and adhere to the Law (well their particular interpretation of it anyway!).

If you have a lot longer!
This would therefore be a great time to read Galatians and, as you do so, think about the following questions:
  • What were the problems Paul was addressing?
  • How does he address them?
  • How do his comments on the Law here fit with references elsewhere (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:8; Acts 16:3)?

[1] E.g. see John Dran, “Introducing the New Testament,” pg. 300.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Day Sixty-Nine

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 14:21-25 & 2 Corinthians 4:1-11
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
Paul and Barnabas’ perseverance is amazing! When I think how easily discouraged I can become I am particularly humbled. Although at first viewed as a god, Paul has now been rejected and stoned. However he gets up, completes a 60-mile trek and preaches the good news of Christ in Derbe. He then returns through the places he had had all the trouble, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” He poignantly tells them: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” perhaps with unhealed wounds cementing the truth of that statement even as he says it.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how easily discouraged do you think you become? (1 being “not easily discouraged” and 10 being “very easily discouraged”!)
  • Why do you think this is?
  • What is the best way to deal with disappointment and discouragement?
  • How can we help one another in this?
  • Who have you actively encouraged this week?
  • Are there others it would be good for you to encourage?
  • Pray and ask God to bring to your mind people who need some encouraging. Seek wisdom from him as to the best way you can encourage them.

If you have a bit longer :-)
About Paul, Roland Allen wryly notes: 'The first and most striking difference between his actions and ours is the he founded ”Churches” whilst we found “Missions.”’[1]
In other words, whilst we from the West have often expressed the colonial tendency to maintain control and impart our culture as well as our faith, Paul very quickly handed over leadership of the churches he founded to local people. It was not, however, that Paul left them without guidance. As John Stott notes, all the churches were exhorted to ‘remain true to the faith which they had received from him.’[2] Further he left some with the responsibility of pastoral oversight so the churches were strengthened from the inside, alongside Paul’s continued but intermittent input. Lastly, as again Stott notes, ‘Indigenous principles rest ultimately on the principle that the church belongs to God and that he can be trusted to look after his own people.’[3]
However (still tracking with Stott!), Paul was probably able to hand over the churches here particularly quickly due to the Jewish background of many in the congregations he had founded. This background had endowed them with a solid understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures and, therefore, a good understanding of God and what it meant to live in right relationship with him. ‘It is doubtful if after only a few months Paul could have appointed elders in a congregation composed entirely of ex-pagans and ex-idolators. In such cases there would almost certainly have been a period of transition from mission to church, while elders were being taught and trained.’[4]
Further, handing over leadership to local people does not mean that foreign missionaries are entirely redundant. Rather, ‘Once the church has established its own selfhood…then foreign missionaries will be welcome as guests, to work under national leadership, to offer specialist skills and to demonstrate the international nature of church.’[5]
  • Any thoughts?

[1] Roland Allen, “Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours?” quoted by John Stott in “Acts” pg. 235.
[2] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 235.
[3] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 236.
[4] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 238-239.
[5] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 238.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Day Sixty-Eight

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 14:14-20
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. 19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
There is a sharp contrast between Paul and Barnabas’ dismay at being mistaken for gods and Herod’s warm reception of it – and subsequent demise – in Acts 12. It is, at first glance, difficult to think of an immediate application: “The last time you were mistaken for a god, how did you respond?” does not quite fit! It does, however, bring up the wider issue of how quick we are – or not – to redirect praise back to God. Now I’m not suggesting that every time someone compliments us we need to break down everything that God did and include this within our response. However, there may be times when it is appropriate to refer the complimentor (not technically a word!) to the work God has done.
For example, I remember a number of years ago a couple of girls I was playing hockey with commented on certain aspects of my lifestyle and character that they noted were different from their own. They even said something along the lines of, “I wish I was more…like you.” At this point I wanted to scream out: “I’m not like this naturally, I’m really not! But God has done great things in my life!!!” (Or something to that effect). However I didn’t. On this occasion my motivation was not so much, “I want them to think I could achieve this unaided!” as “they will think I’m weird if I tell them God has changed me.” At root though, the underlying issue was the same; it was pride – albeit expressing itself as fear rather than arrogance.
Further, it is important that we remind ourselves daily of the amazing things God has done for us; and how reliant we are on him for everything! He is our creator, our sustainer and the one who changes us – remaking us from the inside out. Every good thing we have and do comes from him. Let us endeavour to keep this at the fore front of our hearts and minds at all times.
    What has God done this week that you are grateful for?
    Do you reflect often on how much God has given us?
    How can we help one another to grow in our appreciation of God, his love for us and the great things he has done?

If you have a bit longer :-)
John Stott notes the differences between Paul’s speech here – to pagan non-Jews – and his earlier speech in the Synagogue (13:16-37). On this he writes:
We need to learn from Paul’s flexibility. We have no liberty to edit the good news of Jesus Christ. Nor is there ever any need to do so. But we have to begin where people are, to find a point of contact with them. With secularized people today this might be what constitutes authentic humanness, the universal quest for transendence, the hunger for love and community, the search for freedom, or the longing for personal significance. Wherever we begin, however, we will end with Jesus Christ, who alone is the good news, and who alone can fulfil all human aspirations.[1] (Any thoughts?!)

If you have a longer still ;-)
Read the following Psalm and spend some time reflecting and meditating on it. For what things in particular do you find yourself praising God?
1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever. (Psalm 145)

[1] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 232.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day Sixty-Seven

If you have  5 minutes!
Read Acts 14:8-13

8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
I can get very concerned about being properly understood. That is why, for example, on a few of the questions I ask or comments I make you will find a few extra clarifying comments: “Please note:…” Or, “I am not saying…” Or, “Just to clarify…”
I can be like this in other things too and can spend ages wondering if so-and-so will have understood what I meant, deeply concerned they might have taken it the wrong way…
I think clarity is a good thing…
Misunderstandings often cause problems…
However, there can be – for me at least – certain unhealthy undertones to an excessive desire to be fully understood. It can, I think, demonstrate that perhaps too much weight is being placed on other people’s opinions and not enough on God’s – who always knows our hearts.
Further being misunderstood has good biblical precedents. It happened to Jesus; he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7).  Most of the OT prophets were (still are?!) perceived as pessimistic doom-mongers. In Acts 2 we saw that those filled with the Spirit were construed as drunk.
So too here. In fact, the misunderstanding that occurs is comically huge! Paul and Barnabas come to tell people about the one true God (e.g. v. 15) and end up getting mistaken for gods themselves.
It would not, however, have been amusing at the time. In fact I imagine it was quite scary, particularly as Paul and Barnabas probably did not speak the Lycaonian language the people started shouting in.
John Stott notes that this bizarre episode is more explicable given the existence of a local legend in which the two gods mentioned[1] come to the town but are overlooked, with disastrous consequences.[2]
Bizarre it still is though and provides a huge test for Paul and Barnabas. Their response, as we will see, demonstrates both their integrity and incredible adaptability.
  • What does it feel like to be misunderstood? Why?
  • Reread this passage imaging that you are Paul or Barnabas. How would you have felt? How do you think you would have responded?
  • Are there any recent or current situations in which you have felt misunderstood? How did this feel? How did you respond? Does the fact that many people in the Bible, including Jesus, were misunderstood encourage you in any way?

If you have a bit longer :-)
John Stott notes the similarity between the healing of the man here and the healing brought through Peter in Acts 3:1.[3] Do you think Luke intentionally told the story in such a way as to highlight this similarity? If so, why might he do this? Is there anything we can learn from these two stories?

[1] “Jupiter” and “Mercury,” which translated into Greek are “Zeus” and “Hermes.”
[2] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 230-231.
[3] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 230.

Day Sixty-Six

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 14:1-7
1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe[1] stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel.
Within Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary trip,[2] the disruption caused by unbelievers must have been annoying! On a number of occasions Paul and Barnabas’ message is being well received, until it is disrupted. It seems so irritating. I mean it is one thing for people not to believe themselves but why put others off too? Why could they not just let other people decide for themselves? Indeed a bit later on these Jews (along with a group of Jews from Antioch [No. 5 on the map]) travel to Lystra just to disrupt what Paul and Barnabas are doing! Why are they so bothered?
Well, perhaps it is that all human beings are “evangelical” at heart! All of us, if we believe something strongly enough, are not simply content to believe it for ourselves but want everyone else to too. Certainly I can be like this, particularly with those I know best. I can remember as a – moderately argumentative – child spending ages determined to convince my sister, for example, that chocolate ice cream was far superior to strawberry or that the music I liked was objectively better than what she was listening to!
Being evangelical at heart is perhaps not a bad thing for human beings to be either. It is good that when we feel strongly about something we want others to benefit too. However it is a problem when, rather than being genuinely for the enrichment of others, our desire to persuade has more to do with our own pride. As far as Luke is concerned this is the case for those stirring up trouble for Paul and Barnabas. He introduced similar disturbances in the previous chapter with the explanation: “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.” (Acts 13:45). It seems fair to assume that the same is implied here.
  • Can you think of occasions in the past week or month when you have tried to persuade somebody to your way of thinking? Being as honest as you can, what do you think your motives were in this? In particular, to what extent do you think you were motivated by genuine concern for the individual(s) involved? (Please note! I am in favour of good passionate debate on all realms of things and I am not implying that we should not say what we think unless our motives are 100% pure [particularly since, if you are anything like me, your motives will always be a bit of a mix!]. However when – like the Jews mentioned here [and also Paul and Barnabas!] – we are not just airing our views but are determinedly trying to persuade others to align themselves with these views, it is perhaps important that we try to be as honest as possible with ourselves as to what we are being motivated by. If it turns out to be pride more than genuine concern, we need to invite God in on this and ask his help to change!)

If you have a bit longer :-)
  • Imagine you are Paul and Barnabas. How would you have felt towards the people who were disrupting what you were doing, which had previously been going very well? How would you have dealt with this situation?
  • Are there people in your life at the moment who appear to be actively disrupting what you are doing? Does Paul and Barnabas’s experience speak to you about this in anyway?

[1] In Greek, the verb used here – apeitheo – can also mean “disobey.” On this John Stott notes: “faith and obedience go together, as do unbelief and disobedience.” (“Acts” pg. 229)
[2] Acts 12:25 - 14:28. Their trip probably spanned a period of around two years (AD 46-48).

Friday, 1 June 2012

Day Sixty-Five

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 13:42-52
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
I recently went on a trip to Uganda with a group from the church my parents belong to. Sometime after this trip we fed back about our trip to the church. When you feedback from a trip like this it can be difficult to know what to say. So much has happened that it can be hard to decide what to include and what to miss out, what to focus on and what to skip over. You can, in fact, perhaps tell quite a bit about a person by their selection in this regard.
For example, whenever I tell people about my trip I always make sure that I get in the fact that I taught at a Bible college. I think this is because this was an opportunity I could not believe I had been given! To be asked to do it was affirming of the longer-term direction I would like to go in and was one of the biggest privileges of my life.
If anyone looks like they are up for listening for a bit longer, I then make sure I get in the story about staying overnight at a safari park and waking up to a grunting and munching sound. My roommate and I got up and rushed to the window to see two massive hippos about a metre away! If we had been bolder (/more stupid!) we could have reached out of the window and touched one of them, it was that close!!! I have always, somewhat bizarrely, been a massive fan of hippos so this was a life highlight for me!
John Stott (this week’s commentator of choice!) argues that although Luke sketches the full itinerary of their trip the three incidences he highlights specifically demonstrate Paul’s versatility. He seems ‘equally at ease with individuals and crowds, Jews and Gentiles, the religious and the irreligious, the educated and uneducated, the friendly and the hostile.’[1]
  • Do you feel equally at ease with a wide range of people or are there some you find it difficult to be around? If the latter, does this matter? If so how could we grow more like Paul in this?

If you have a bit longer :-)
Write out in the space below a Luke-style summary of the last year of your life. What do you include and why? (I realise that I asked this a couple of weeks ago but I thought if I did it again and this time with a box to write in we might feel more inclined to give it a go!)

[1] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 225.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Day Sixty-Four

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 13:26-41
26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. 32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ 34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ 36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’”
Regarding this speech, John Stott argues that: ‘Luke is evidently anxious to demonstrate that Paul’s message to the Jews was substantially the same as Peter’s.’[1]
  • Do you agree with him? If so, why might Luke be keen to do so?
  • Reread Paul’s whole speech and imagine you are a Jew listening to it. How do you think you would have responded?

If you have a bit longer :-)
Here Paul is speaking to people living in Galatia.[1] In his letter to the Galatians we discover that he was sick at this time. It is not clear exactly what his illness was but clearly it affected his eyes (Gal. 4:15). Further there is the suggestion that it was highly unpleasant as people could have been tempted to mock him (Gal. 4:14). Elsewhere in Acts it is clear, however, that God used Paul to perform many miracles (e.g. Acts 19:11).
  • Why then does God not heal Paul now? Is there anything we can learn from this?
  • How do you think you would have felt if you were Paul and God was using you in incredibly powerful ways and yet you were painfully sick? Have you had experiences like that? If so, how did you respond?

[1] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 225.

[1] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 222.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Day Sixty-Three

If you have 5 minutes!
Read Acts 13:13-25
13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.” 16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ 23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ 
Since Judaism and Christianity are now separate religions, it is easy to assume that the early Christians viewed themselves as breaking off from their Jewish past – a bit like in the manner shown below:
However, when we examine the speeches that the early Christians made amongst their fellow Jews, it is clear that in their mind it was the other way around!
This is not to say that what God did through Jesus was not different from what he had done before – it was! However, from the early Christian’s perspectives, it was fully in line with all that had come before it. To their minds, they were the ones who had tracked with what God was now doing and, in particular, the way he had fulfilled the promises found within the Old Testament. The Jews who would not acknowledge their true Messiah were the ones who had gone off on a tangent!
It is Messiah language that is very much at the heart of Paul’s summary of the Old Testament – particular in the section we’ll read tomorrow. “Jesus is the one you have been waiting for!” Is the overarching proclamation. And he is a Messiah who fulfils all that has gone before him.
  • Reread this part of Paul’s speech. Are you familiar with the stages in Israel’s history that he describes? If not, maybe it would be worth doing a bit of research and finding out more about them.

If you have a bit longer :-)
  • Why do you think John Mark left them at this point? Why do you think Paul was so upset by it? (We are not told at this point that he is upset but what follows in Acts 15 demonstrates that clearly he was.)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Day Sixty-Two

If you have  5 minutes!
Read Acts 13:4-12, Genesis 50:20 & Romans 8:28

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. 6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.”

(Joseph speaking to his brothers) “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Here we have a conflict between God’s agents and a man presumably led by something more sinister. God is triumphant and even uses the opposition against him to lead someone closer to him.
  • What opposition do you think there is against you at the moment?
  • Can you see any ways in which God might use this opposition for good?
  • Do you think you would ever be as bold as Paul was in this situation?
  • Is there any particular significance to the fact that God caused Bar-Jesus to go blind for a time, as opposed to some other ailment?
  • Do you think there could be times today when God might lead someone to call down a physical infliction on someone else?

If you have a bit longer :-)
John Stott notes that they might have gone first to Cyprus because that is where Barnabas was from.[1] What do you think? In other words, how much do you think Paul and Barnabas went to places because they specifically heard the Holy Spirit direct them there and how much do you think they decided through their own human (but God-given!) reasoning and wisdom? Are these two things mutually exclusive? If not, how might they have worked together for Saul and Barnabas? How might they work together in our lives today?

[1] John Stott, “Acts,” pg. 218.