Saturday, September 20, 2014

Acts 18 - A Reasoning Faith

Monday, September 15, 2014 - 'Tent-Makers'
1 After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.
Though 'sent' by both God and the Jerusalem council, Paul still had to take care of his own financial needs. He had a trade - tent making - from which he could, when necessary, support himself.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with accepting financial support as a minister of the gospel. The church is called to support those who build up the work of God on earth. Yet that support is given to free an individual to listen and obey the call of God, not to settle down into temporal comfort.

The apostles weren't settlers. They believed in the soon return of Christ and were constantly on the move to proclaim the 'good news' to anyone who would listen. Some, like Peter, were married, yet they always put their calling first. Yet, here we are 2 millennia later. Does this fact negate a sense of urgency in proclaiming the gospel? Are apostles needed today?

The domestication of Christianity is often undermining to its theology. If we believe that the gospel is 'good news', even essential news, then we will place proclamation as a priority. Yet we don't. If we believe in the soon return of Jesus, then we will travel light in this world without accumulating a lot of possessions. Yet we don't. If we believe that we are to love our neighbor - clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed - then we will be actively providing for their needs, not our own. Yet we don't. In other words, our walk seldom supports our talk.

It would seem that Christianity was far more attractive in the early church than it is today, mostly because their walk supported their talk. What is the attraction of Christianity today? Is it the teaching that if you follow Christ he will turn you into an American financial success story?

Meanwhile, back to Athens in the first century, Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla were self-supporting tent makers. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 'Word-Devoted'
4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

The very act of reasoning with others helps us to discover whether or not we have reasoned correctly. In the attempt to persuade others to see as we see we discover how to see more clearly ourselves and may even learn that we don't 'see' as well as we thought we did. When we avoid reasoning with others who see differently we end up with 'magical thinking'. In other words, because I believe something to be true it must be true. The value in reasoning together is to see if we are being at all reasonable.

Paul attempted to persuade the Jews that Jesus truly was the Christ. He presented the reasons for his faith, building his case from scripture. To accomplish his goal he had to 'devote himself to the word' - to the study of the scriptures - in order to find every piece of evidence possible to establish his belief.

No matter how right we may be, or eloquent our presentation, there will always be those who disagree - for one reason or another.  If a belief is 'true', it should be able to stand up to any amount of scrutiny. Why wouldn't we want to know if our beliefs are valid or not? Are we ok with believing a lie? Do you find yourself preferring to continue in a lie that makes you comfortable or accepting what you know to be true even if it brings great discomfort into your life?

It is clear from the above text that Paul was not merely attempting to persuade the Jews that he was correct about Jesus being the Messiah, but that it was essential to believe in Jesus in order to be saved. Notice his response when they rejected his reasoning: 'your blood be on your own heads. I am clean.' In other words, he believed that he had shown them the necessary light to be saved and they had refused it and would therefore be accountable to God for their choice.

It was at this point that Paul dedicated himself to 'saving' the Gentiles. They also, in his mind, had to know the truth about Jesus in order to be saved. He found the Gentiles far more open to the gospel than were his own people. Why might that have been true?

Was Paul correct? Are we saved by believing the correct information 'about' Jesus or by having faith in God? Did Paul grow in his understanding of salvation? Initially he gave scripture as the reason for his belief. Yet it was not because of scripture that he had originally come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. It had been because of an experience he had on the way to Damascus. The 'reason' for his faith began with the experiential, not because of a logical presentation of scripture from an apostle. Despite this fact, Paul attempted to bring others to faith through a logical presentation of scripture rather than by helping them to 'experience' the presence of God. He rejected their rejection of his reasoning through the 'word'. Might they have been more open to his personal testimony than they were to his logic?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - 'Iron Dome'
9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

This was a vision that every believer should envy. 'Do not be afraid any longer..for I am with you and no man will attack you in order to harm you..' Paul was not only granted divine authority to preach and teach in Corinth, he was also promised God's protection - at least for that specific time and place.

The text suggests that Paul had been dealing with fear. His enemies followed him wherever he went and mercilessly gathered forces against him. His anxiety was legitimate. He had followed God's call, yet hadn't had God's protection. All that changed with this persuasive vision. God gave Paul a season of calm in which to he could make disciples in Corinth. Yet, for whatever reason, this protective shield was short-lived (2 Cor. 11:23-29).

Have you ever had your spirit buoyed up by a promise of God? Have you ever had a vision that gave you courage? Have you experienced seasons of freedom and productivity as 'tokens' of what God can do, that strengthened you later on even when you went through a season of suffering?

Have you wondered why God doesn't always protect his chosen people from suffering? Why does heaven 'call us', but then seemingly abandon us - rendering our obedience to his will a painful process chock-full of threats, obstacles, and even mortal danger? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 'Church and State'
12 But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15 but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” 16 And he drove them away from the judgment seat. 17 And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things. 18 Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.

In Bible times Achaia referred to much of what we know as Greece, rather than to one province in the Peloponnesus as noted today. In 27 BC the Romans divided Greece into two provinces, Achaia and Macedonia.

Gallio was wiser than the leaders of the synagogue. He separated 'church' and state affairs - at least for their culture. From our 21st century American perspective, when Sosthenes was beaten in front of him, Gallio should have intervened because an actual crime - an assault - 'was' being committed. Yet, physical punishment by religious authorities was allowable then, whereas now it would be considered an assault regardless of the religious beliefs that prompted it.

Was Sosthenes the leader of another synagogue in Corinth, since Crispus was the leader of the first synagogue that Paul preached at (v. 8)? Or, was Sosthenes appointed as the new leader of the synagogue when Crispus became a follower of Jesus? Or, was Sosthenes another name for Crispus, as some have suggested? Was Sosthenes assaulted because he had permitted Paul to speak in the synagogue?

Paul was surprised that God actually 'did' protect him from being harmed by those who sought to attack him. Unfortunately, God had only promised to protect Paul, not poor old Sosthenes.

Friday, September 19, 2014 - 'Persistent, but..'
19 They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, 21 but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch. 23 And having spent some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Again, Paul went into the synagogue, after having left his traveling companions elsewhere in Ephesus, and 'reasoned' with the Jews. He persisted with this approach hoping to receive the same results as he had among the noble Bereans.

This presents us with another fallacy of logic. Just because something works once or twice doesn't mean it is inherently 'right'. Sometimes we are just lucky that something 'worked'. For instance, one person pays a faithful tithe and becomes very wealthy. Another pays a faithful tithe and loses everything. One person makes a full commitment to Christ and never seems to get sick. Another person makes the same kind of commitment and dies of cancer at an early age. A young man got accepted at the seminary of his choice after his whole church prayed for him. Another young man was not accepted at the same seminary after the same church also prayed for him. The point is that just because something worked in one situation, that doesn't require it to work universally. Circumstances change things. What might work with one person/group may be totally contraindicated for another. Except for grace, there isn't any 'one size that fits all people in all places for all time'.

The Bereans were clearly 'wired' differently. Their tradition was 'trust, but verify'. They were open to new ideas, yet they were disciplined in their study to confirm all that they had openly listened to. For a teacher, this was an enviable group of students.

Most other synagogues saw their role quite differently. They imagined themselves as gate-keepers of the sacred. Anything different from the status quo was immediately judged as 'evil'. The Bereans viewed themselves as gate-openers. What about us?

Even today we find both types of thinking. Some believe that truth is ever unfolding and are curious and unafraid to see where it leads. They view the scriptures as the spring board for further investigations into truth. Others are afraid to be misled so they hang on to and militantly protect what they have already learned, choosing to believe that it is the full, final, and only truth. Both camps often invent pejorative labels for the other.

Saturday, September 20, 2014 - 'Biblically Literate'
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

What does it mean to be 'mighty in the scriptures'? How can one be 'mighty in the scriptures', yet need to have 'the way of God more accurately' explained? How can a person 'accurately teach the things concerning Jesus', yet need better explanations? What can we learn from this?

Apollos seemed to know the scriptures quite well. He also appeared to have a very logical mind. Thus, after a little more instruction, he was even better able to 'powerfully refute the Jews' and 'demonstrate from the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah'.

We can know the scriptures very well, yet be blind to various notions. Why? Our human nature perceives things through pre-existing frameworks. We instantly, and subconsciously, filter out what doesn't 'fit' what we already believe. Someone else must point out to us what our brains are unable to see. Unless a person is consciously neglecting/rejecting alternative viewpoints, a genuine seeker of truth will be open to new ideas that are biblical. 

The questions for each of us include: are we open-minded? Can we support what we believe from the scriptures? Will our beliefs stand up to a challenge by others? Though we may have a 'reason for our faith' based on an experience, do we have a reason for our theology based on scripture?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Revelation 15 - Temple Opened

Monday, September 8, 2014 - 'Last Wrath'
1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.

It doesn't get any more complete than seven by seven - seven angels with seven last plagues. John symbolizes the notion of 'last' and 'finished' with the number 'seven'. At last we arrive at what is last.

The good news is that there will be an end to this temporal madness. John witnessed the prophetic 'sign' of God's promise that his wrath will end - that sin, suffering, and Satan will not go on forever. 

The question, then, is if God's wrath ends, how can there be eternal torment for those who reject Him? An eternity of torment in hell suggests that God's wrath against those who rejected him has no end. Which is true?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 - 'Spirit-led'
2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.

The previous chapters suggest that the followers of Jesus remain on earth throughout the period whern God's wrath is poured out. Yet, in contrast, this vision presents the faithful as existing in some other worldly location during this final phase of heaven's judgment.  So, which is true?

Since it is clearly unlikely that there is an actual 'place' where there is a 'sea of glass mixed with fire' where the saints stand 'holding harps', we should probably assume that this is a metaphor illustrating something else. 

If this group of people have truly settled into a life of faith, following Jesus wherever he leads them despite the temptations and troubles that surround them, then we may safely assume that their lives reflect (sea of glass) the Spirit-led (fire) life. Their lives are a unique 'song' (harps) in the world. In other words, they are still in the world bodily, but not of the world spiritually.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 'First Things'
3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Their lives had been a new song in the world. What made it so beautiful and novel? They took the first and greatest commandment seriously. They loved God with ALL their heart, mind, soul, and strength. When belief and trust in God becomes our first priority in all that we do, our lives play out very differently in this otherwise self-first focused world. When folks see in us what first century folks witnessed in Jesus, we become a sweet savor in our communities.

A different 'song' is sung by those who either don't believe in God or believe in the existence of God, yet have never decided to trust in God. Without genuine 'faith' in God - believing in, trusting in, and walking with Him, regardless of our religious affiliation and doctrinal beliefs - our lives will not present as anything much different from any other life. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014 - 'The Buck Stops..'
5 After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 6 and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes.

The phrase, 'the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven', would have been quickly understood by first century Jews and Christians. Stephen also referred to the 'tabernacle of testimony' when he addressed the Sanhedrin (Act 7:44). Unlike Stephen, though, John wasn't referring to the tabernacle in the wilderness, but what it represented. Symbolically it simply is a reference to God himself. God gave the final order directly to the seven angels to bring judgment upon the earth.

We might ask, 'isn't it true that nothing happens on earth apart from God's permission'? Yes, in Christian theology not a hair falls without God's knowledge and thus in some manner, his permission. The point here is that God may allow various 'Hazels' to operate in the world for some larger, eternal purpose. He even gives Satan parameters in which he can work. In this case, Satan and his followers are not God's agents, but God's target.

Friday, September 12, 2014 - 'Love's Wrath'
7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.

Does love automatically exclude wrath? Or, can love exist apart from wrath? How can we exhibit love for others unless we are willing and able to protect our loved ones from those who try to hurt them? Shouldn't the enemies of love receive love's wrath? If we say we love someone, yet refuse to protect them from evil, how is our love truly 'love'?

Yet, there is a problem with this line of reasoning. The scriptures tell us to love our enemies. Is this only a command for weak and imperfect humans to aspire to in a sinful world, but not expected from the perfect and all powerful Creator God? Is it a command only given to created beings, leaving vengeance to the one and only uncreated, omniscient God? In other words, are created beings to love even an enemy because, unlike God, we cannot read hearts and are prone to misjudge others? Are we to love even our enemies without fear of being killed by our enemies, because we believe in life after death?

Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 'It Is Finished'
8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

Imagine a time when no one is able to come into the presence of God. If God is finishing his wrath, then those who are experiencing his wrath are beyond saving. Moreover, if this is the last of God's wrath it implies that there will no longer be anyone who rebels against God. Sin is over. 

No one can enter the temple because the purpose for the temple has been completed. Two groups stand outside the temple of God. The first group are those who never entered the temple to be washed in the blood of the Lamb. The second group consists of those who have already taken full advantage of the temple cleansing and thus saved and safe from God's wrath.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Acts 17 - 'In Him We Are'

Monday, September 1, 2014 - 'Accustomed'
1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.

To state the obvious, there is a difference between human 'customs' (Gk. 'etho') and God's 'commands'. Just because something was Paul's custom doesn't mean that it is God's command for me. Even the customs of Jesus (Mk 10:1) are not necessarily God's commands for us. Though a person may have good reasons for their particular custom, it is not reasonable to assume that their custom must become our custom.

Each follower of Christ is to be obedient to the commands of God, not obedient to the obedience of other followers of Christ. The question we must all ask is, 'what is God's calling me to do?' If I do what God has commanded another to do, but has not commanded me to do, then I may be acting in disobedience.

Upon entering a new city it was Paul's custom to go to the Jewish synagogue and to 'reason' with the Jews from the scriptures. While it is very useful to discuss scripture with one another, Paul's practice should not be taken as God's command for 21st century Christians to go to a Jewish synagogue in each city we may visit and debate the scriptures with them on a Sabbath day. Again, another's good custom is not God's command to us.

On the other hand, we may learn something useful from the customs of others. In this case, the method that Paul used was to lay out the Messianic scriptures side by side with the life of Jesus.

It appears from what Luke wrote in verse 3 that one of the major objections that the Jews had for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah was that he had been killed. Paul had to deal with this specific issue before presenting the gospel. The Jewish belief and hope of a soon coming Messiah did not include that he would die, but that he would conquer all their enemies. Their preconceived notions about the Messiah naturally inoculated them against Jesus.

The 'good news' about the grace of God could only be accepted as truth only if the one who claimed to be the Messiah was believed to actually 'be' the Messiah. Otherwise the 'good news' would only be received as a vain hope.

Which scriptures do you think Paul used in order to establish Jesus as the true Messiah? Which OT scriptures tell us that the Messiah had to die and would then be resurrected? Why hadn't these particular scriptures become part of the Messiah narrative among the Jews of Jesus' day?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 'Sour Grapes?'
4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. 5 But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6 When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.

The scriptural evidence and reasoning of Paul appealed to the minds of a few Jewish men, a large number of God-fearing Greeks, and some important women. The question is, why were so many Jewish men left unconvinced by Paul? What was behind their reluctance to accept Paul's message? Why did so many Greeks and Jewish women accept Paul's explanations, but not the Jewish men?

The Jewish men were the key leaders in the synagogue. They were the ones who were most involved in the teaching of scripture. They were the ones who were more theologically educated. So, had Paul's reasoning simply not made sense to them? Had they decided that Paul's texts were not in context, thus were a pretext for a subtext?

On the other hand, had the male leadership of the synagogue felt threatened by the ramifications of what Paul was teaching? Luke wrote that the Jews were jealous of Paul's influence and thus they did everything they could to stop Paul from any further contact with the people. They framed Paul's teachings as anti-government. Were they sincere in thinking that Paul's influence was ruinous to God's will for His people and thus they acted as gate-keepers of 'truth'? Or, had they seen the truth of Paul's teaching and refused to accept it because they would lose their influence over the people?

Were their concerns legitimate or simply sour grapes?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 - 'Integrity'
10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there.

From Luke's perspective, the Jewish men from the synagogue in Thessalonica lacked integrity. Their opposition to Paul was not because they could not grasp his teaching, but because they 'did' understand his reasoning - and they didn't like where it was leading. If the people received the truth of Paul's teachings, everything would change. That which they valued the most - prestige and power - would be lost.

In contrast to the Jews in Thessalonica were the Jews from the synagogue in Berea. They were not only willing to hear Paul out, they were willing to do the necessary personal study to either confirm or reject his teachings. They didn't merely emotionally react to what Paul taught, but they responded with intelligent reasoning. The result was that 'many' of these Jewish men accepted Paul's conclusions, because they had come to the same conclusions that Jesus truly was the promised Messiah who lived, died, and was resurrected.

Did the men of Berea have more integrity than the men of Thessalonica, as Luke suggests, or had they just been more easily bamboozled by Paul? Or, have the men of Berea set for us an example demonstrating how we should deal with a novel approach to scripture? If the latter is true, then we should be willing to listen to ideas that are different from those we have always believed, but then go back and thoroughly study to see if the new notions ring true to the context of the whole of scripture.

Obviously, to be able to entertain an idea that overturns everything that has been believed as truth for centuries requires being a lover of truth more than a lover of ones religion. No where in scripture does it say that 'religion will set you free'. Rather, it is the 'truth that sets us free'. How can we rightly assess whether we are a lover of truth rather than a lover of our religious heritage?

Is our integrity linked to our current beliefs or to God? Have we chosen to be true to God or to man? Each of us will have our integrity tested every day by the choices that we make. Jesus was quoted as saying, 'if anyone loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than Me - s/he is not worthy of me' (Mt 10:37).

Thursday, September 4, 2014 - 'Unreasonable Reasoning?'
15 Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left. 16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

The impression left by this, and previous accounts, is that Paul often became uncontrollably incensed when the world around him didn't behave as he thought it should. Was he projecting his disappointment and anger with himself for having been so slow to catch on to the gospel? Was the ease at which he became irritated a respectable case of righteous indignation or an indication of a yet unexamined character flaw? When he acted out of anger did it enhance his preaching of the gospel or hinder it?

This is not to suggest that Jesus was never provoked by what he observed. He became irritated at a fig tree that hadn't yet produced any fruit to satisfy His hunger - despite the fact that it was not the season for the fig tree to produce fruit (Mk 11:12-14). He also acted in anger when he witnessed the commodification of religion at the temple (Mk 11:15).

The question is whether it is 'righteous' to become angry when secular others act contrary to our notions of spirituality? Should we feel 'sadness' or 'irritation' when we observe non-Christian behavior among non-Christians? Jesus often became angry with those who were teachers of the faith, yet were leading the people astray. He expressed anger with his disciples when they were so slow to grasp his teachings. But where did Jesus exhibit either anger or impatience with people who had not yet heard the gospel?

Paul again trusted in the power of reasoning to convince others about Jesus. Though the reasoning process often produced good fruit, it only hit pay dirt among those who already were seekers after God. Reasoning with the Greeks from the scriptures to prove that Jesus was the Messiah of Jewish prophecy seemed like a fool's errand. Wouldn't Paul have been far more successful if he had initially spent his time healing the sick, feeding the hunger, and clothing the naked in Athens? Why had he immediately jumped into debate mode?    

Friday, September 4, 2014 - 'Pauline Beliefs'
22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Paul's approach to evangelism seemingly wasn't very couth. He began with criticism, basically saying, 'you guys are all ignorant', then he followed up with a touch of arrogance, 'I'll tell you what you have not been smart enough to figure out on your own'. Usually, at least in modern society, that method would have instantly created closed minds, or worse, eliciting a mass exodus.

On the other hand, this may have been a clever way to engage his particularly unique audience. Rather than turning away from Paul, many wanted to hear even more. One lesson from all this may be that we must tailor our encoding to the decoding tools of each specific people group we encounter - to be all things to all people (1 Cor 9:19-23).

What beliefs had Paul, in his speech, conveyed to the Athenians?

First, Paul assumed that God existed and that all things were created by Him.

Second, Paul presented God as the uncreated One. In other words, God is not a 'thing' that man has created, placed in a box, and then foolishly worshiped. God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

Third, Paul believed that all mankind were equally loved by God since the original human being had been designed and created by God, making all mankind of one blood.

Fourth, Paul believed in the sovereignty of God, that man had certain freedoms, yet these freedom existed only within specific boundaries set by and maintained God.

Fifth, Paul believed that the grace of God was a gift given to all mankind, yet it was a gift that had to be received.

Sixth, Paul believed that salvation was man's to either accept or to neglect/reject. Thus there would be a judgment day in which each individual would be held responsible for his/her choice in light of the truths given to each person.

Seventh, Paul asserted that Jesus' incarnation, life, death, and resurrection were heaven-provided proofs to all mankind demonstrating the most important truth - that God is love.

Saturday, September 5, 2014 - 'Athenian Response'
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

When presented with something novel and untestable, how do you respond? Do you immediately dismiss whatever you hear if empirical evidence is absent? Do you instantly embrace it simply if it 'feels' true and/or if you want it to be true?

How much of what we accept or reject is more a product of what we already have been taught rather than a response to the Spirit? How can we know the difference? When our spirit resonates with what we have heard, does that mean the Spirit has spoken to us and confirmed that it is correct or that we have been culturally 'primed' to accept it? If we are culturally 'primed' to either accept or reject something, shouldn't we expect everyone in a particular culture to respond similarly? If not, why not? How might sibling order, natural temperament, education, and a person's unique life experiences skew their response from the culturally inculcated norm?

Paul didn't offer any proof for his assertions about God. He merely presented, authoritatively, what he believed to be the absolute truth. He didn't perform any miracles in the name of Jesus. He wasn't shrouded in the glow of God's presence. Though he had reasoned from the scriptures with the Jews, he didn't use scripture with the Greeks at the Areopagus. He simply told them them about the God he believed in. He offered them a different 'narrative' than they had ever heard before. He expanded their thinking and then left it up to each individual to respond as s/he chose to. He did his part and left the rest up to God.