June 16, 2019 – Father’s Day
Bible Reading Acts 16:16-24
Last week we heard about a prayer meeting where the first European accepted Christ and of the birth of the church in Philippi, where Paul met some of his favorite people. But especially at first, it wasn’t all rosy in the community as Luke goes on to describe:
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. (NIV)
Message Paul Accepts a Jailer Acts 16:16-34
What do we do with our knowledge?
John the Baptist had the right information. Last week, Lydia received the right information at a prayer meeting. Now we have a fortune teller with the right information, which shows that having that correct information cannot be the ultimate goal. John the Baptist used his knowledge to pave the way for Jesus. Lydia used the information to accept Christ. But this fortune teller did not use the information to accept Christ nor to clear the way for Paul – instead she sarcastically mocked him, [speak in an derisive way]: "These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved." (You’ll have to use your imagination; I can’t imitate mocking speech very well because I try to never use it). But her biting tone eventually drew Paul’s ire to a breaking point.
We cannot control how people are going to react when we share what we know, but we can control how we are going to receive what others know and how we present what we know to others. Have we used our knowledge of faith to enter into a relationship with Jesus? Have we used our knowledge of Jesus to represent him in a way that draws people to him or increases anger about him and to reject, or at least resist him?
How do we deal with differences?
We live in a culture which increasingly desires not to reach, but to shun and even destroy (metaphorically if not literally) those who think differently than ourselves. Yet Paul, irked in anger by this consistent ridiculing message, whirled around and – and healed her. This was an extraordinary situation which meant Paul could not simply teach information, he had to confront directly and more forcefully than is the norm for us. Yet we can learn that even in confrontation, redemption and healing and growth is always the goal. We will never reach those goals if the aim of our attitude and approach is to gloatingly conquer others. It didn’t work for the fortune teller, and it will not accomplish reaching others to spread God’s grace and love through the world…
There may be times in our walks when we may be confronted – hopefully wisely and gently. If we are smart, we will respond to the checks and prompts and pangs of the Spirit within us and will not wait for a person (hopefully one where there is mutual love and trust) to tell us. In either case, it is rarely pleasant, but if it is truly of God, it will be in our best interest in the long run… and we should try not to shy away from those times but be willing to do what God wants regardless of the circumstances.
CS Lewis was a professor at Oxford. He is one of those who primarily thought rather than felt his way into faith in Christ’s gracious acceptance of himself. He did what was normal in his culture of the time and publicly explained and defended his personal relationship with God through Christ to millions of radio listeners and book readers. This embarrassed the hierarchy at Oxford and cost Lewis his chance of ever achieving a higher position on the faculty. Lewis learned that if you speak about beauty, truth, or goodness, about God as a great generic positive spiritual force, people remain friendly, but when you discuss a personal God who has a definite will and plan for your life and his world, the temperature drops considerably.
What does our use of money say about us?
And to tie it back into today’s text – this is especially true when it impacts the wallet. They used to say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but if you want to know what is in his heart, then look at his checkbook…
I’ve told you about the two dimes. Our youth trip to camp the last couple days revealed glorious sunrises and sets, a beautiful lake, beaches and trees. But take two dimes and put them in front of your eyes so you can do nothing but focus on them, and you lose sight of everything else. Granted, money is important to plan and use wisely. But also beware that even a little thing (it doesn’t have to be money) – with too much focus, these distorted priorities can potentially wreak havoc on our lives.
When Paul healed this woman, the owners of this fortune teller were blinded to her new life and wholeness because all they saw was the lack of dollars flowing their way. Therefore, they stirred up the entire town into an uproar and then falsely accused Paul and his team of creating the riots – this is something we see too often today as well – create a stir against another and then then blaming the other for the resulting stir… They escalated the conflict to accomplish their personal agenda. They also threw in the near magical slogans - those phrases so powerfully emotive that to argue them struck fear in the hearts – an example in religious circles is “The Lord told me to tell you…” How are you supposed to argue that without giving the impression you are going against God? In this case, the unarguable phrase to the city leaders would be along the lines of “Rome is not going to like this”. Remember that Philippi is a proud Roman Colony which means they had a lot of freedoms – as long as they followed the laws of Rome and kept the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. To fail to do this or please their overseers, who knows what might happen. To argue against someone who uttered something such as “Rome will not like this” would lead to accusations of being unpatriotic, of being “unRoman”, and would be political suicide.
The city leaders, in their eagerness to avoid such difficulties and to restore peace, did not investigate carefully. They stripped and beat the missionaries – not realizing that Paul and Silas were natural citizens of Rome which entitled him to rights they ignored – which was even more terrifying to them – for Rome does not tolerate this kind of treatment of its citizens -- but that goes beyond today’s text – to the end of chapter 16.
What happens next in our text is that they are thrown in jail – in the deepest part and chained in stocks as well so there would be no chance of escape. Now let’s pick up the reading from where the reader left off…
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:25-34 (NIV))
Prisoners hear them proclaiming God through prayer and song. An early church father commented, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven.” (Tertullian). While there is truth in that, legs are legs and pain is pain and I’ve got plenty of both. I’m sure they felt it, it may even be why they were still awake at midnight -- but somehow they managed to overcome it, and instead of the normal curses and complaints you would hear from prisoners in that place, especially ones wrongfully imprisoned; they lift praises and prayers. Perhaps it was their magnetic, powerful personalities that convinced the other prisoners to remain in place when the earthquake shakes everything and everyone loose.
The jailer woke up, I’m not sure if the quake knocked him out, he was not alert, or even if he was expected to be awake and on guard -- but he wakes up to see the doors open and only darkness within and assumed the prisoners were gone. So out of the honor of Roman soldier duty, or, as a self-imposed act of mercy compared to what his superiors would do to him for allowing the escape, he was going to kill himself. From the inner darkness, the prisoners could see the guard in the moonlight outside the outer prison doors and what he was about to do. They yell for him to stop because they were all there.
See Acts 12:1 ff Four chapters earlier, Herod received approval from the Jews for arresting church people and executing John’s brother, James. So to increase his political approval ratings even more, he had Peter thrown in prison. His plan was that after Passover, he would bring Peter out to be publicly tried and probably executed. The night before his trial he was sleeping between two guards and an angel came and woke him -- Peter’s chains fell off and locked doors opened before them and they walked the length of a street before the angel left him. Peter thought he was having a vision – and now he came to his senses and realized it had actually happened.
While in Peter’s case it is obvious what he was to do, I often wonder why Paul did not think the earthquake that loosed his chains and opened the prison doors was not also a sign to take his freedom and leave the jail. I would have thought so, but Paul clearly didn’t. There could have been a divinely led human strategy thing -- that Paul wanted to be heard in trial before Caesar, before the leaders of the land -- and in fact he later did demand an appeal before Caesar that did eventually lead him to Rome. (See Acts 25:12, 26:13), but in the shorter term, and in this Pentecost season, I suspect they were simply leaning on the nudges of the Spirit to stay. It is very important in all circumstances, to be sensitive to the checks and nudges of Spirit.
The jailer, who most likely was aware of his prisoner’s charges, and of the claims expressed by the fortune teller, (that they had a message of the way of salvation), and of the exorcism, (it wasn’t that huge a city) and now the earthquake -- the jailer had heard, felt and seen enough to be convinced that these men were divine messengers and asked how he could find this salvation. Paul and Silas explained what Jesus had done for us and to believe Jesus was Lord (to put our trust in him and commit ourselves to following his way of life).
He did, with his household, and Christianity made more inroads into Europe. Like Lydia last week, he took them home and fed them. He also washed their wounds, and joy came to his house.
Grace comes in various forms
When we lay these three stories of Acts 16 side by side, we see that God’s reaching grace may take many shapes and forms. From last week’s undramatic routine of Lydia who only needed the right information to find the Christ she was already seeking, to the crisis of life, the tipping point in the life of the fortune teller, to God’s miraculous actions that led to the salvation of the jailer and his loved ones... are just three examples of ways grace may come to us.
And if we went around this room and everyone told their personal story, I suspect some of us would relate something rather routine, some life crisis, or some miracle in their life that led them to the Lord – or maybe it would fit into yet another category – for these are just three examples of many more…
Grace often works through people
No matter the style of the experience, God almost always – though not necessarily -- I’d never limit what God can do through whatever means he chooses, but he often works his salvation through His people. You may be thinking - how can I, or who am I, to do something miraculous? I can’t perform and exorcism or create and earthquake on demand. That is something only God can do.
But it is God who does it (See Ephesians 2:3-5, 8-10)
It is true -- we cannot perform miracles by our own will. But it is also true that you cannot confront someone into salvation, and you cannot quietly teach someone to salvation. And as important is the role that humans (such as father’s or the men who take on that role – as well as the rest of us) may play in someone’s salvation experience; salvation is a miracle of God’s grace, not the result of human effort, our own salvation or someone else’s. It is only God that can do these things because only He can move a person’s heart to receptiveness. The real miracle is that while we all deserve death for our sins; God in Jesus Christ said, "I love you' and "I will take your place, and die for you - so that you can live forever with my Father God.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, help us to realize that as we serve you, it is always your work that precedes us, works around us, works through us; and it is you who brings salvation and growth to each of us. Lord we thank you that you accepted us even while were yet sinners.
Like Paul and Silas who dug deep and found spiritual joy in the midst of physical imprisonment, allow us, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, to experience the spiritual deliverance that you offer by your amazing love for us. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 363 (vv 1,3,4) And Can it Be…
May the Lord bless and keep you in his care.
As you leave this place, take his love to share.
Go now in peace for all to see ---
God's love has come to set us free. Amen.
June 9, 2019 - Pentecost
Bible Reading Exodus 24:3,4a,5,7,12
Hear the highlights of the original, Old Testament Pentecost drawn from Exodus 24.
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances. Then all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain… Then he sent some of the young men to sacrifice the burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord… He took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and we will be obedient.” … The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me to the mountain and stay there, and I will give you the stone tablets with law and the commandments which I have written, so that you may teach them.” (MEV)
Message Paul accepts Lydia & the Philippians Acts 16:9-15
Technically, there is no connection between the Jewish Pentecost and the Christian Pentecost, except that they both count 50 days from Passover/Easter and so are on the same day. The Jewish Pentecost (to avoid confusion) is most often called Shavu'ot (shaw-voo-awt), which literally means “weeks” - and is commonly referred to as the Festival of Weeks.
Three traditions are associated with the Festival of Weeks. Agriculturally, it commemorates when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple on the second day of Passover (The Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah through Moses at Mount Sinai and is aptly known as (The Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). And between them, they count the days with great anticipation. This is called “The Counting of the Omer (Oh-mare)”. An omer is a unit of measure - about 2 quarts. In the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as a thank offering. This grain offering was simply called an omer. They would count the days from this offering.
A blessing is recited -- here is a slightly paraphrased excerpt of one --
May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He make His countenance shine upon us forever; that Your way be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. All the nations will extol You, O God. They will rejoice and sing for joy, for You will judge the peoples justly and guide the nations on earth forever. All the peoples will extol You, for the earth will have yielded its produce and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us; and all, from the farthest corners of the earth, shall honor Him… Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever...
After the blessing is said, the count is stated, so on the 16th day, they would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer." The counting of the omer links Passover with Shavu’ot, the Exodus from Egypt where they were slaves with the giving of the Law on Siani when they enter into covenant with God as a nation. Now just tuck that away as we move to today’s text.
Prior to the text (See Acts 16:1-5), Paul has some success and in Derbe and Lystra (List-ra) and picks up Timothy who eventually become one of his important trainees. Then, Luke doesn’t describe how, but the Holy Spirit kept blocking them from going where they planned, and they ended up in Troas (Trow-aws). It is here that the Spirit gives them positive direction. Verses 9-10:
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
God calls them to take the gospel (the primary kind of help they could give) to Macedonia. The narrative switches from “they” to “we”, meaning our author, Luke, has joined them in Troas. Paul’s plans were not blocked forever, but a changed strategy of timing and they hit some of the central cities first, (which some scholars in hindsight deduce was a more effective strategy) which allowed the gospel to take on a life and movement on its own and allowed Paul to have even more effective missionary journeys. Verses 11-12
From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
Samothrace was a towering mountain island rising 5,000 feet above the sea. Neapolis was the seaport for Philippi, which was about 10 miles away. Philippi was a proud and important Roman colony, which allowed them to self-govern under Roman laws and it freed them from taxation, and many veteran Roman soldiers settled there. The city had a very small Jewish population. We can deduce this because the custom was that Paul would normally first visit the synagogue. But apparently, they didn’t have the required ten Jewish men to form one. But while staying in the city, they did hear of a place outside the city (the assumption is they weren’t allowed to meet within its borders) that was an unofficial meeting place where some Jewish women and at least one God-fearing Gentile gathered for Sabbath prayers. It was near a stream so they could also practice the Jewish water purification rituals. So Paul, Luke, Timothy and their group joined them there and told them the story of Jesus. We see this in verse 13 and 14.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God.
One of them was a transplant from Asia. Thyatira was a city in (what was for them) the ancient kingdom of Lydia, a people famous for the manufacture and use of purple dyes. We call this woman Lydia, it likely wasn’t her name, for it is literally translated “the Lydian woman”, and she happened to be skilled in her hometown’s reputation. There was probably a Jewish colony in that city, but we don’t know if it was there or later that she converted to the Jewish faith. The last of verse 14 says
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
and she became the first recorded European convert to Christianity. It is interesting to note that she was a native of Asia, but even the old conservative scholars recognized her as the first European convert, because of where she was living when she was converted.
This event affirmed both the benefits of (Paul’s) obedience to the Spirit and God’s eagerness to accept and work in ever-expanding types of cultures and peoples. Verse 15:
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
Let’s sum it up. A business person from a culture foreign to the rest was welcomed to worship in a prayer meeting. She was already seeking, she just needed the space and time, the opportunity to learn in a safe place. By the positive, encouraging testimony of missionaries, whom they also welcomed; Lydia found the joy of Jesus Christ, and immediately went about the business of Christian ministry. As a practical expression of her new faith -- she pressed her hospitality and material support on the missionaries. Nothing dramatic or earth shattering -- in her conversion or in her ministry -- but that makes it no less valid or important. In fact, most scholars describe Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church that was born that day as one of exceptional closeness and intimate warmth, much more so than with any other church he founded or worked with.
And so it is, in the ordinary living and seeking of God and fellowship with one another that we suddenly (or gradually) realize that through some comment, some song, some friendly connection - that Christ has given his Spirit to us and we receive him to live and reign in our heart. He became our highest priority — and his joy floods our soul and spills out in how we live.
I’ve told you (I know because I looked it up – I told you 3 years ago). about the prospectors who set out from Bannack, Montana in search of gold. This was back in the 1860s. They went through many hardships. Some in their crew died or gave up. They were overtaken by thieves who took all their good horses, leaving them with only a few limping ponies. These thieves threatened them to go and stay in Bannock. If they came across them again, they’d kill the lot of them.
The defeated prospectors began to make their way back to Bannack. One evening as they set up camp for the night, one of the men casually picked up a little stone from the creek bed. He called to his buddy for a hammer and upon cracking the rock, he said, "It looks as though there may be gold here!” The two of them panned gold the rest of the afternoon and managed to realize 12 dollars’ worth. (around 350 dollars by today’s standards) The entire company panned gold the next day and realized 50 dollars, (that’d be about 1,500 dollars today). Not bad for a day’s work.
They made their way back to Bannack and vowed not to breathe a word concerning their treasure. They secretly re-equipped themselves with supplies for another trip. When they left, 300 men followed them. No one had told. But their step, their actions, and their beaming faces betrayed the secret.
If we love Christ, then our lives, our actions, sometimes even our faces, will reveal the treasure of Christ’s Spirit within. Granted, Christians have many of the same problems as everyone else -- and it is not always easy to beam. That is understandable. Nevertheless, God’s gift of the Spirit, of Christ in our hearts, is not meant to be limited to a select few or kept secret. He commissions us to reveal Christ’s life within us and that he can live in all people everywhere. As you are able, let his love and grace flow through you. As you are able, let him be seen in your lives. (Pause)
Now wherever you tucked away your knowledge about the Old Testament Jewish Pentecost -- untuck it again. Passover remembers the Exodus from Egyptian slavery, Shavu’ot remembers the giving of the law on Sinai, the counting of the Omer (oh-mare) links the two. Listen to how Jewish websites describe their meaning: Passover freed us physically from bondage [to Egyptian slavery], but the giving of the Torah on Shavu'ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. It reminds us that redemption from slavery is not complete until the Torah is given. (emphasis added)
It is also noteworthy that it is called the giving of the Torah, rather than the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this day significant.
Likewise, believing in Jesus’ physical act of sacrifice on the cross forgives us and delivers us from our acts of sin, and the giving of the Spirit completes the spiritual act of salvation and restoration that puts us on a course of continually receiving and being filled with God’s guiding Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b – many English versions say “be filled with the Spirit” but the verb tense is ongoing -- “keep on being filled with the Spirit” (CJB)) that leads us into all truth (John 16:13) that shall set us free if we are really his disciples and hold to his teachings (John 8:31-32)
Both faiths are wrapped up in a covenant relationship with our God, and the developing of that relationship is important -- that is why we are to always be receiving. It is why Lydia and the ladies were at a prayer meeting, it is why we gather at studies and camps and worship services -- and try to honor (at least metaphorically) the feasts and fasts of the seasons of the Christian year. It is even why we gather in each other’s homes -- so that we can live the faith together -- just by our lives being together…
A Jewish website noted that it is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavu'ot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning. When is the last time we’ve had an all-nighter studying and praying the Word? And I’m not saying we have to or even should need to do that -- but it does make us think about just how much importance do we put on receiving our covenant relationship with our Creator? And how do we express in our lives what we have received… Let’s pray, and the first part will be an additional excerpt from that same omer blessing:
* Closing Prayer We implore You, by the great power of Your right hand, release the captive. Accept the prayer of Your people; strengthen us, purify us, Awesome One. Mighty One, we implore You, guard as the apple of the eye those who seek Your Oneness. Bless them, cleanse them; bestow upon them forever Your merciful righteousness. Powerful, Holy One, in Your abounding goodness, guide Your congregation. Only and Exalted One, turn to Your people who are mindful of Your holiness. Accept our supplication (our prayer) and hear our cry, You who knows secret thoughts.
Now surround us with your Spirit, fill us and make us whole. Open our hearts that we may receive you again and again. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 347 Spirit Song
Closing Blessing We gathered to be directed by His Spirit, now let us disperse from this place but not from his presence, going with our diverse gifts with a singular passion to continue his mission in this world. Amen.
(Note: All texts are from the NIV unless otherwise noted)