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Archive for August, 2016

Verse 3: “Paul wanted to have him go with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.”

In the Saturday morning series Star Trek: The Animated Series, there was an episode entitled “Yesteryear”, in which we learn more about Mr. Spock’s childhood. As a child, he would soon have to undergo the maturity test known as the kahs-wan, in which he chooses his life’s path during a survival test. Because Spock’s father was Vulcan and his mother was a human Terran, Spock had a harder struggle with this than most Vulcan boys. Part of this episode had the grown Spock, playing the time-tossed role of a cousin named Selek, rescuing young Spock in the desert, as well as counseling him (young Spock undertook his own personal test before the kahs-wan, to see if he could succeed). Young Spock emerged from his personal test successfully; furthermore, he determined to choose the Vulcan way of life, which set him on the path his future self already knew of.

In today’s passage, Paul has met young Timothy and wishes to take the young man with him on his second missionary journey. Before they leave, Paul, who served as mentor to the young Timothy, had him circumcised in accordance with Jewish custom. Wait, you might say…didn’t Paul just lead a quest in the recent Jerusalem council to ensure that Gentile converts didn’t have to be circumcised like Jews? Yes, he did; but remember here, Timothy was raised a Jew. His mother was Jewish, although his father was Greek. To avoid giving any Jewish opposition any foothold against their mission, he advised Timothy to be circumcised. Paul was first and foremost a Christian, but he did follow Jewish tradition. You might see this parallel as when parents who go to a certain church, rear their children to attend the same church as well, instructing them in its customs and traditions. The children eventually will have to make their own choices, of course.

In today’s world, like that of the New Testament, people had a choice to make regarding their future. For those who have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you have a choice. You can reject it and choose the world, or you can accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and live this life on Earth for Him…and spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

What choice will you make?

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Verses 37-41: “Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

One of the shows my family used to watch on Friday nights was The Dukes of Hazzard. It centered around cousins Bo and Luke Duke, their cousin Daisy, and their Uncle Jesse, living in fictitious Hazzard County in Georgia, spending most of their days foiling the comical plans of the corrupt county commissioner, J.D. “Boss” Hogg, and the bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. In most all these plots, Bo and Luke were inseparable, having each other’s back while roaring around the county in their custom car, the General Lee. There was one 1980 episode, though, “Carnival of Thrills”, where Bo and Luke disagreed about Bo helping out a lady who ran a stunt show. She was trying to seduce Bo, and the rest of the family suspected foul play was afoot, since accidents had been dogging the show (it was in dire financial straits). Bo and Luke actually came to blows, fighting about who was right. For the first time since the Civil War, Duke was fighting Duke. In the end, Luke and the family saved Bo from another act of sabotage by the main culprit, Bo reconciled with the family, and Luke even helped Bo perform the stunt to save the show.

Would that all disagreements be easily resolved in the timespan of a TV show episode. You see, with the Jerusalem convention over, Paul and Barnabas decided to set out and visit the churches and to encourage them. Just one sticking point though: Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark, and Paul didn’t want to take along the one who had deserted them in their first missionary journey. Luke doesn’t go into detail, but states that the contention was so extreme between the two on this issue, that they agreed to part ways: Barnabas and John Mark would form one team, with Paul taking Silas for the other team. It seems ironic that a division threatened the early church and was resolved, yet these two partners in mission separated because of another division. However, God can work in all things for His good; from all sources I have read, maybe He intended that there be 2 teams to hit the evangelistic trail, and not just one.

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verse 29: “that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these you will do well. Farewell.”

In the movie Captain America: Civil War, Captain America (Steve Rogers) is wrangling with the decision being forced on his team, the Avengers, about accepting oversight from a governing body. Iron Man (Tony Stark) and several others are for it, but Cap and several others feel it will take away freedom to act if there is a need to. While debating this, Steve’s WWII love interest, Peggy Carter, has passed away (she had aged normally while Cap was in suspended animation). Upon attending her funeral as a pallbearer, the eulogy is given by his apartment neighbor, Sharon Carter, whom Steve discovers was really Peggy’s niece! In the words of her eulogy, including advice from Peggy, Steve decides which side he’ll stand on. Sharon stated the following eulogy (copied from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Captain_America:_Civil_War#Sharon_Carter/Agent_13)

Sharon: “Margaret Carter was known to most as the founder of SHIELD, but I just know her as Aunt Peggy. She had a photograph in her office: Aunt Peggy standing next to JFK. As a kid that was pretty cool, but it was a lot to live up to, which is why I never told anyone we were related. I asked her once how she managed to master diplomacy and espionage at a time when no one wanted to see a woman succeed at either. And she said, “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move’.”

Compromise and hold firm. The convention was ending with a decision by James and the elders to offer some guidance to the new Gentile converts. The “hold firm” part was the fact that salvation was for both Jew and Gentile; that was not going to change. The “compromise” part was probably a bit of what I would modernly call “discipleship training”. My copy of Holman’s New Testament Commentary on Acts, page 251, summed it up thusly: “We might parallel this to rules in the student handbook at a Christian college.” The Gentiles had formerly worshipped in pagan temples using pagan practices. James and the elders wrote them a letter to outline a few points of things to avoid that would offend Jews, and thus help pave the way for joint worship (they also used the letter to encourage the new converts). Again, quoting from page 251: “Perhaps it would be useful to sum up these four regulations in our modern understanding: no idolatry, no immorality, no murder, and not eating meat offered to idols.”

By sending the letter with Jerusalem representatives Judas and Silas to encourage and to continue teaching, the convention was all but finished with what could have been a very divisive issue. When God is in charge and Christians turn to God for guidance, all the issues, big or small, get taken care of.

Just a little more to come!

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Verses 15-17: “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’”

In the animated movie Happy Feet, Mumbles was a penguin who couldn’t sing; all penguins used a “heart-song” to attract and to match up with a female penguin in order to mate. But he could tap-dance, something that flew in the face of the traditional singing of the penguin colonies. Through an adventure in exile, he learned that humans would respond to his tap-dancing; he thought he had finally found a way to communicate with these “aliens”. Tagged by researchers, he returned to his own colony to try and convince them that he had a way to communicate with the aliens…that maybe they could solve the problem of why there was little fish to hunt (which in reality, humans had been overfishing the area). In the penultimate scene, Mumbles convinces his parents, the girl penguin he loves, and others to join him in dancing when the aliens appear (homing in on him through the tag transmitter he was wearing). The elders tried mightily to stick to singing, but the colony discovered that the aliens did indeed pay attention to the out-of-character dancing. Finally, even the elders joined in; with the entire colony dancing, the aliens recorded the event and left. The humans later concluded that this non-traditional behavior on the penguins’ part was a sign something had changed; they finally figured out that the overfishing was affecting the colony. The overfishing was stopped, the penguins had a restocked food source…and now they celebrated in song AND in dance.

Here, we have the proclamation by James, the ruling elder of this convention, on the issue of the Gentile mission. He quotes Amos 9:11-12 above, bolstering the statement that God wanted to reach the Gentiles, too. The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ the Messiah, was not just for the Jews. Jesus came and died FOR ALL. Are we all alike…no. Do Christians share the same Lord and Savior…YES. Part of the issue with the Judaizers, the Pharisees here, was that they wanted the Gentile converts to behave like Jews…to adhere to the Jewish customs. Do we all worship the same…no. Do we worship the same Lord…for Christians, the answer is YES! Traditional (old) versus contemporary (new) is an age-old conflict that still exists, even today. As someone who has led music in church, I like traditional and contemporary…do I like all of one or all of the other…no. But, in light of the last post, we need to remember to “keep the main thing, the main thing.” We would do well to remember the words of Paul in Romans 14:13: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” That verse applies to both Jew and Gentile, traditional and contemporary…in other words, ALL Christians.

Now, how does James propose to heal this rift? Well to quote Paul Harvey, we’ll find out later in “the rest of the story”.

More to come!

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Verses 8-11: “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Some years ago, my wife and I lived in another city and attended church there. We missed the business meeting one quarter where, among other items, they were going to discuss the renovation of the sanctuary. We had to miss the meeting, but asked others who had attended what happened. Well, most of the meeting was taken care of in about 10 minutes. The attendees then spent 90 minutes…yes, NINETY MINUTES…arguing about the color of the paint to be used on the pulpit walls. We were slacked-jawed; of all things up for what we thought would be serious discussion, the dominating topic was the color of the pulpit paint? I couldn’t believe my ears…then after some thought, I found that, yeah, I could believe my ears.

Peter, Paul, and Barnabas launched into the main topic of the convention here, and were determined to “keep the main thing, the main thing”. Peter reminded all gathered how God has showed him in a vision the very mission to the Gentiles, that they were to be presented the same Gospel that the apostles had heard, and the same opportunity to accept Jesus Christ and salvation through Him! Paul and Barnabas then gave detailed testimony on the fruits of their missionary journeys thus far and the souls that were saved. They wanted to make sure that the purpose of this meeting wasn’t to discuss the color of the paint (in this case, heretical add-ons to what it meant to be saved in Jesus). It was to establish firmly what they were there for…to carry out the Great Commission.

More to come!

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Verses 1-2: “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.”

When I was growing up, one of my favorite Rankin-Bass Christmas specials was The Year Without a Santa Claus. Probably the most memorable characters in that special were the feuding Miser brothers: Snow Miser, the cheery, frozen master of all things cold (thus he ruled the polar areas) and Heat Miser, the hot-tempered, combustible king of heat (who ruled the warm regions). Mrs. Claus was trying to convince a sick, tired, and depressed Santa that he hadn’t been forgotten by people. Her plan was to get Snow Miser to make it snow in Southtown; if the citizens saw snow there (where it hadn’t ever fallen), they’d whip up a parade and celebration for Santa. Unfortunately, Mrs. Claus had to secure the permission of Heat Miser to let it snow in his territory…which he would, IF…there’s always an “if”…he could make it warm for one day at the North Pole. Of course, both boys couldn’t compromise and resumed their feuding!

Mrs. Claus had had enough…and threatened to go “all the way to the top”. This put the fear into both of the Miser brothers; she was going to go to their mother! (Mother Nature, to be exact). For all their power and bravado, Mother Nature only had to remind them that SHE was in charge, and that they would do whatever she commanded. She was the authority, no question about it.

Here we have the situation of some Pharisees who did believe in Jesus, and came down to where Paul and Barnabas had been teaching. They were in agreement about faith in Jesus…plus some extras. They were insisting, to be saved, the Gentiles had to be circumcised like the Jews! Oh, boy. Talk about an argument! When Paul and Barnabas found out, it was probably a war of words to put the Miser brothers to shame. And, in this case, the result was similar: Paul, Barnabas, and some others were sent to Jerusalem, still considered the center of the Christian church in the known world. Paul and Barnabas knew they had to get support to stop this heresy…and they did…in what you might call the church’s first big convention and business meeting!

More to come!

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