Month: May 2016

The Apostle Paul Shares the Gospel in Corinth, a Metropolis City

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Paul left Athens, a university city, and went to Corinth, a metropolis city. Corinth was Paul’s last major place of witness on his second missionary journey. It was 46 miles west of Athens, and both politically and economically affluent. Corinth was known for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and here devotees promoted immorality in the name of religion.

Did you know that the word Corinthian meant to be sexually immoral? Also, there was a saying “to act like a Corinthian” was used of practicing fornication, and “Corinthian girls” was synonymous to prostitutes. It’s like the slogan: “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” Of course, we know that isn’t true. Your sin will always find you out.

Based on the context of Corinth, it makes more sense why the Corinthian church had sexual problems since they lived in a city that highly promoted it. If you were to examine your own city, what sins do you think plague our city? How has that infiltrated the church?

In verse 2-3, we hear about two Jews that came from Pontus, modern day Northern Turkey. Close to the Black Sea. These two names suggest they came from a high social class. This passage informs us what the atmosphere was like during Paul’s day. Emperor Claudius was ordering non-Roman citizens to leave Rome around 50 AD. It has been said that the reason he expelled the Jews was because they were sharing their faith and upsetting the establishment. Claudius opposed sharing religion among the people, even in those regions where he allowed natives to worship freely. It’s almost as if there was this separation of church and state. You could worship in your own sanctuary, but couldn’t share this during your public life. How is this situation similar to today? What happens if one overemphasizes freedom of religion (Saudi Arabia) or freedom from religion (North Korea)?

This passage also reveals Paul was a tentmaker by trade. Scripture teaches that apart from occasional gifts (Phil 4:15), Paul’s practice was to be self-supporting by working at his trade and not to be dependent on the charity of church members. Tent makers was not just tents, it was leather good. A more accurate word might be “leather-worker”. Ancient tradition suggests all rabbis must have a trade. Do you think pastors should get a trade job too? Why or Why not? Answer: secular job put you in the middle of culture on regular basis, Christian-only huddle, and smaller churches unable to afford full-time pastors, digital world offering flexible secular jobs.

In verse 4, same language was from last chapter. He is reasoning with people in the synagogue. He is relating to them at their level since he grew up in Judaism. This word, along with persuade is used about 14 times throughout the book of Acts so it is obviously an important concept. In verse 5, it says the Apostle Paul was occupied with the Word of God. That means he was diligently searching Scripture to help him grow in his understanding. What are some strategies you have to stay occupied in God’s Word?

In verse 6, when the Jews opposed and reviled him for believing in Jesus, he told them: “Your blood be on your own heads. I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” He is referring to Ezekiel’s words in 33:1-7. Blood means the responsibility for your judgment by God. Paul is saying he has done everything possible to warn them of their sins and persuade them to trust in Christ for salvation. He has been a watchmen, staying “awake” when everyone else is sleeping. How are you being a watchmen for Christ at work, in school, in public?

In the next couple of verses, Paul is sharing the gospel with many Corinthians and they are believing and getting baptized. As much as Paul was rejected, he was also successful in adding people daily to the church. In fact, the whole theme of Acts revolves around the Holy Spirit’s movement and the growth of the early church. We have to water and plant, but it is Christ who makes the increase. How can we be effective as a ministry to bring more people into our community?

Here in verse 9 the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. He told him not to be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people. What a powerful statement. How encouraging would that be to hear that directly from God? Well, we know that Paul spent 18 months in Corinth and was successful here. He wrote the book of Thessalonians during this ministry time. Even though the proconsul was trying to condemn Paul, God protected him. This gave him greater assurance that he was called to be a missionary there for some time. Do you struggle with where God wants you to be? Have you received any signs that assure you that, for this moment in time, you are where God wants you to be? Why or Why not?

Just a historical side note, but the names Gallio and Sosthenes are important. They indicate the exact time period this is happening to Paul. Even the proconsul judgment seat has been excavated in Corinth and was located in the open air in the marketplace. Luke was telling the truth when he was writing the gospel of Luke. This is not a mythological book, but a historical narrative. In verse 16-17, it says that the Jews beat up Sosthenes, who was the ruler of the synagogue. He was persecuted for standing with the apostle Paul. Jesus warned us that we will be persecuted for our faith, even by religious folks. Have you ever been persecuted by religious folks before?

 In verses 18-22, Paul returns back to Antioch after 18 months. During his trip, he stopped in Ephesus for a visit. They wanted Paul to stay in Ephesus, but the Holy Spirit wanted him to keep moving. Of course, we find out in chapter 19 that he does in fact return and minister in that city. At the end of the section, Paul is attending all these cities “strengthening all the disciples.” Why is it important to strengthen one another in the faith? Have you received any strengthening by a brother or sister? If not, would you like to?

Toward the end of this chapter, Luke mentions a Jew named Apollos, who is fervent, eloquent, and competent in Scripture, yet he was baptized by John only. He didn’t hear about the baptism of Jesus until Priscilla and Aquila came through. Therefore, Apollos knowledge of the Christian gospel was deficient in some way, even though he was teaching all that he knew about Christ accurately. What I love about this story is Priscilla and Aquila did not embarrass Apollos. Instead, they took him aside and explained to God more accurately. What can we learn about this story? I know for me, when a new believer comes to faith in Christ, they are oftentimes more passionate than most of us. They may not know the theological depth of the Trinity, but they are eager to share their faith with others. It should humble us as mature believers.

 Application Points:

  1. Warn unbelievers about God’ judgment on sin since you yourself will be held accountable when you stand before Him (v.6-7)
  2. Do not be afraid when people persecute you since God is your protector (v. 9-10).
  3. Cultivate communication with God and He will make it clear what he wants you to do for the advancement of His kingdom (v.18-22)
  4. Encourage new believers and respectfully correct them when they make mistakes (v.24-28).

Does the National Day of Prayer Conflict with Separation of Church and State?

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Did you know the National Day of Prayer was enacted on April 17, 1952 by President Harry S. Truman as a time to “turn to God in prayer and meditation?” This bill was challenged in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb. She expressed it violated the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In 2011, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Crabb’s decision by arguing the National Day of Prayer does not establish a religion or obligate citizens to participate.

In my opinion, the National Day of Prayer is not establishing a religion. No one is coerced to attend. In fact, the Bible teaches genuine faith cannot be forced. Jesus made it abundantly clear to “give to Caesar—the government, the things that belong to the government, and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:20-21).” This implies the church should not force it’s worldview upon government.

However, this does not mean government should exclude religion either. Remember, congress shall not “prohibit the free exercise thereof.” The Bible says government officials are sent to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). How can government officials effectively serve God if they are not allowed to use moral terms within the justice system?

Currently, the United States is facing a myriad of issues, ranging from family breakdowns to drug epidemics to the abiding racial divide. Christians need to let others know there is a God who cares. There is a God who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John. 3:16).” When people realize there is a heavenly Father who cares about the pain and struggles of this world, then these issues will be easier to overcome. Do you believe that?

Hope Personified

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I want to start by asking you to guess who you believe is on the Top 10 list for best TV Dads of all time and give a brief explanation why you chose that person.

Al Bundy – Married with Children

Danny Tanner – Full House

Philip Banks – Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Archie Bunker – All in the Family

Howard Cunningham – Happy Days

Sheriff Andy Taylor – Andy Griffith Show

Ben Cartwright – Bonanza

Charles Ingalls – Little House on the Prairie

John Walton – The Walton’s

Dr. Heathcliff – The Cosby Show

As great as some of these personality dads were, their still imperfect, just like our own biological Dads. Fortunately, I grew up with a very supportive Dad. He went to every sporting event and special occasion I can remember as a child. He was my Baseball coach in middle school and helped pay for my education in college. However, even though he had a lot of great traits, he still had his own struggles.

Some of you in this room might have been fortunate like me to have a loving Dad. Others in this room, and I want to be sensitive, may absolutely hate their Dads. He might have been or still is bitter, angry, abusive, or completely absent from your life. I want to say I am truly sorry if that has happened to you.

My wife’s best friend’s Dad is currently in jail for life because he murdered her Mom.  Consequently, she lived her childhood absent from her biological father and grew up in an orphanage in Ukraine. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the orphanages in Eastern Europe, they are horrendous. When a family was traveling through Ukraine to consider adoption, they commented on the eeriness of not hearing babies or children cry. It’s normal for a child to cry, right?

What the family came to find out was that these children began to cry when they first showed up to the orphanage, but after a couple months, they got used to not being picked up and taken care of. So instead of crying for attention and to be held and pacified, they just laid there without hope. For those in this room who feel like that was how you were treated growing up, let me just say that there are people who can understand your struggles, your pain, and your hurt. You are not alone.

Did you know that throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our heavenly Father? Psalm 89:26, David cries out: You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation. In the New Testament, 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” To hear that God is our Father might even upset you, depending on how you were raised, but believe me, our Heavenly Father is deeply and lavishly in love with everyone here in this room. Let me repeat that again: Our heavenly Father is deeply and lavishly in love with everyone in this room.

Today we are going to talk about the love of our heavenly father. 1 John 4:8 says that whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Hear that phrase again. God is love. So what does it mean that God is love? Love is an attribute of God. Love is a core aspect of God’s character, His person. God’s love is in no sense in conflict with his holiness, righteousness, justice, or even his wrath. All of God’s attributes are in perfect harmony. Everything God does is loving, just as everything He does is just and right. God is the perfect example of true love.

This brings us to the gospel of Luke 15:11-32. In this passage, Jesus is using an illustration of a father to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us. He is interacting with the religious leaders, who were criticizing him, not because sinners were coming to Him, but because He was welcoming them. Jesus told three parables to illustrate lostness and the importance God places on recovering those who are lost. His parable about the prodigal son illustrates how a loving Father welcomes any sinner who comes to Him.

 Read Luke 15:11-32

Let’s read the first two verses: He also said: A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me. So he distributed the assets to them.” Basically, the younger son asked his father to give him the share of the estate without waiting until his death to hear his will.

Can you imagine having your child say to you: Mom, I know you haven’t written your will yet, but could you go ahead and give me whatever you planned before you die? That wouldn’t be very kind. This kind of demand communicated that his father no longer fit into his plans. By demanding his inheritance, the son brought shame upon the family. He harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized the family’s financial security, and fractured the family.

The younger son was so self-focused, he didn’t care how this affected his relationship with others. He was more concerned with indulging in his own passions and living for the things of this world and was willing to break ties with his own family to indulge in his addiction or sinful lifestyle. Living this way never ends well for anyone.

I heard a story about a couple arguing over their marriage. The woman said to her husband. You need to decide today who you are going to love. Me or your cocaine because it’s destroying our relationship. The man paused for a moment. He looked at the drug and then turned back to his wife and said to her: No one gets in between me and my cocaine. The man’s mind was so warped by his addiction that he was willing to give up his marriage with a flesh and blood living being to a white lifeless substance that can’t even talk back. The same is happening to this younger son. He is giving up this great relationship to travel to a distant country and spend it all on drugs, sex, and rock and roll.

Furthermore, the younger son chose to walk away. The father was not indignant about it. He wasn’t upset. He didn’t argue or force the son to stay. The passage simply says: “So he distributed the assets.” The same is true with us and our heavenly Father. He doesn’t force us to love him or even to follow him. He gives us the freedom of choice to choose our ways or his ways. I want to pose a question: Since God is good, why do we often choose our own course instead of His? What are some actions that move us away from God and actions that walk back to God?

There is good news to this story. When the son realized he needed help, he chose the one good option he had left. To get up and go home. What we will find out in the remaining verses is that God, unlike many people, lovingly embraces us when we return to Him, even after we’ve chosen our own sinful course.

Let’s re-read Luke 15:13-21

In the ancient Middle East, no father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son in this kind of manner. Because he had broken the law, he was to be shunned. Remember, Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees, who are religious hypocrites. They were probably thinking the father should have forced him to sit outside the family gate so the whole town could browbeat him with shame.

I actually heard of a mom who publicly shamed her son by making him wear a sign in public that said, “I cheated on a test.” It’s weird how many people agreed that the mother did the right thing to discipline her son? I think I heard it on a Christian radio station.

In this parable, the Pharisees might have expected Jesus to conclude that the father should wait out a certain period before accepting the son back. Only then would the father restore what money had been wasted.

But the story blindsides everyone. It says while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him, was filled with compassion, and ran towards the son. This is just relentless love. The father was so happy to see his son, he didn’t care what he did, where he went, or who he had become. The important thing was: His son was home. What a powerful illustration of God’s love. How he pursues us even when we are unfaithful. How he seeks to have a relationship with Him even when we are lazy, indifferent, or even bitter towards Him. This must have been shocking to the Pharisees that Jesus is illustrating this about how God acts towards us as humans.

That being said, what do you think these verses teach us about God as our Father? He is willing to forgive us. He is compassionate. God is patient and longsuffering with us. Okay, for a moment I want you to put yourself in the son’s place. What counsel would you offer to a prodigal son in response to one of these statements he might make?

My friends or family won’t take me back. What advice would you give them?

I don’t think the damage can be undone.

I’ve kept up the charade so long that I don’t know how to stop.

How do I even begin to approach God after what I’ve done?

Notice that at the end of verse 21, the son is telling the father he has sinned, he is sorry, he is not worthy to be called son, and yet it’s surprising that God does not agree with him. He immediately forgives him and embraces him as a son, so much so that even his older brother, the goody too shoe, gets upset about it.

Let’s Read 15:22-24

This is just incredible. He is extravagantly forgiven here. I remember one time when my son Evan was just a couple years old, he was refusing to eat his food. I became impatient with him and started yelling. I realized that I had been too harsh with him. A few minutes later, I asked him to forgive me. He just looked at me, smiled, and gave me a hug. That changes your life. When have you been extravagantly loved or forgiven? Want to share your story?

What’s the big idea? God welcomes us because of his deep love for us. This is the greatest news the world could ever know!