Friday, December 28, 2007

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

A recent research project has determined that the religion of teenagers in the US can best be described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. If you have no idea what that means, here are a few of the beliefs...
  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Jason showed me this article this morning, and we both agreed that this religion is pervasive
throughout our culture, and not just among teenagers.

The results of this research project were compiled into a book titled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

2007 Top Ten List: Books

Time for top 10 books I read this year, once again in no particular order...

  1. In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by Mark Batterson - I read this one in a book group with Jason and Glen. It was a good first book for the men in our church.
  2. The Ministry of the Missional Church, by Craig van Gelder - I actually just finished reading this book yesterday. Half of the book contains some of the best stuff I've read on the subject of the missional church, while the other half was simply ok. If you liked Missional Church by Guder, you will like this one (at least half of it).
  3. New Testament History: A Narrative Account, by Ben Witherington - I mentioned Dr. Witherington in my Top 10 Blogs post. I have really enjoyed this book as I've gone through the book of Acts.
  4. Mavericks at Work, by William Taylor & Polly LaBarre - This was the best leadership book I read this year.
  5. Launch: Starting a New Church from Scratch, by Nelson Searcy & Kerrick Thomas - Jason and I read this book this past Spring, as we were first beginning to plan our Fall Launch. It's the most practical book I've read on the subject of church planting.
  6. Grace Based Parenting, by Tim Kimmel - I actually haven't finished this one yet, but what I've read is great. I especially like it because it encourages parents to teach a missional worldview to children, and not to try to shelter them from the world.
  7. This Beautiful Mess, by Rick McKinley - This is probably my favorite for the year. It's one of the most helpful books I've read on understanding the Kingdom of God.
  8. Cities of God, by Rodney Stark - The subtitle for this book is "The Real Story of how Christianity became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome." What more do I need to say?
  9. The Pursuit of Happyness, by Chris Gardner - I've had Audible this past year, and this was one of the books I listened to. The movie centers on the second half of the book. There was quite a bit of bad language, but other than that, it was a good book. Great story!
  10. The Collectors/Stone Cold, by David Baldacci - I'm putting these two together so that I keep my list to 10, but also because it's really one story, albeit a very long story. I read The Collectors on our trip to Gatlinburg, and then listened to Stone Cold a few weeks ago. Very good fiction.

Reflections on my Birthday

My birthday was Tuesday. I turned 33 years old. My dad said that the first birthday that seemed a little weird to him was when he turned 35, so we'll see if that happens for me. This one didn't seem any different than any other one before it. Of course Jason reminded me that this is the crucifixion year. Thanks Jason.

My step-dad's birthday is December 22, so we celebrated our birthdays together on Tuesday night by going to The Butcher Shop for some steaks. Joining us were Mandy, Adam, my Mom, and my step-grandparents. We noticed that Adam wasn't himself. He was acting tired and wanted Mandy to hold him. Towards the end of the dinner we learned what was wrong - he threw up! The poor guy didn't even get to sample the steak. Turned out that he was fine after that, and didn't get sick anymore. And he and I enjoyed the leftover steak last night.

The highlight of the day, though, was getting to see my baby for the first time. On Monday night Mandy shocked herself when she touched an exposed, and live, wire on her laptop cord. She was fine, but was worried about the baby. She called her doctor, who said that it was probably fine, but she should come in Tuesday for an ultrasound. Since we were both a little worried, I went with her. The baby is perfectly fine, and even posed for a picture. I'll post it soon. Mandy is 12 1/2 weeks, and the due date is June 29.

It was a good birthday!

Best Quotes of 2007

The 10 most memorable quotes of 2007, according to Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations:


1. "Don't tase me, bro." -- Andrew Meyer, a senior at the University of Florida, while being hauled away by campus police during a speech by Sen. John Kerry.

2. "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us." -- Lauren Upton, South Carolina contestant in the Miss Teen USA contest, when asked why one-fifth of Americans cannot find the U.S on a map.

3. "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at Columbia University in New York.

4. "That's some nappy-headed hos there." -- radio personality Don Imus, referring to the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

5. "I don't recall." -- former attorney general Alberto Gonzales' repeated response to congressional questions about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

6. "There's only three things he (Rudy Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11." -- Sen. Joseph Biden, speaking during a debate for Democratic presidential candidates.

7. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating." -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, referring to Vice President Dick Cheney.

8. "(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom." -- Sen. Larry Craig, explaining why his foot touched the foot of an undercover police officer in an airport men's room.

9. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man." -- Sen. Joseph Biden, referring to rival Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

10. "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." -- Former president Jimmy Carter, referring to the Bush administration.

Monday, December 17, 2007

2007 Top 10 List: Websites

Next up for my Top 10 of 2007...Websites. Once again, I use Bloglines for these sites. It's set as my home page, so every day I see which sites have new feeds. Very nice.

  1. Catalyst Space - this is put on by the same people who put on the Catalyst Conference. There are some very good articles each month
  2. Fast Company - for quite awhile I subscribed to this magazine. I no longer do that, but I still get to read all of the articles online.
  3. Out of Ur - I've been reading these posts since it came out. It's from Christianity Today.
  4. Church Relevance - I was on this site everyday this past summer as we prepared for our church's launch. They pointed me to great resources on marketing, design, leadership, etc.
  5. Church Marketing Sucks - another great site on marketing, websites, technology, etc.
  6. Bankrate - I go here for great mortgage articles and headlines.
  7. ESPN - I hope everyone knows what ESPN is.
  8. Yahoo Sports NBA Rumors - the title says it all
  9. Hoopsworld - more NBA action
  10. Techbargains - I can't tell you how much money I've saved using this site.

2007 Top 10 List: Blogs

I do a lot of my reading online. I'm thankful for blogs, and I'm thankful for Bloglines, the way I read my favorite blogs. Here are the blogs I read the most this year.

  1. Scot McKnight - this guy is brilliant, and very well-read. He's also extremely balanced. I heard that his blog gets around 5000 hits a day.
  2. Jason Elder - he's my co-pastor. He's a great writer, though I wish he would write a little more often (yes, you heard me, Jason).
  3. Ed Stetzer - Ed is a missiologist/church planter/writer who just started blogging this year. He always has really great things to say.
  4. Ben Witherington - I've just recently discovered him through reading one of his books. He's a professor at Asbury Seminary. Here's his personal site.
  5. Joe Boyd - Joe is a friend that I met in Las Vegas. He then moved to Hollywood to be an actor, and now is a teaching pastor at the Vineyard in Cincinnati. I've learned a lot from him when it comes to story telling.
  6. Steve McCoy - Steve is a pastor from Illinois who writes on all kinds of subjects. If I'm ever looking for something on Tim Keller, I go to his site.
  7. Dan Kimball - he's another guy who writes on controversial subjects but does so with a lot of grace and balance.
  8. Drew Goodmanson - he is a pastor at a church in San Diego. He is a great thinker and is very outside the box
  9. Mark Batterson - he is a pastor in Washington DC. He's very creative and humble, and I love the fact that he wants to give away the ideas that have worked for his church.
  10. Bob Hyatt "aka PastorHacks" - I've found more freebie (or cheap) software and resources on this site than anywhere else on the web.

Reveal

Today I've been reading a little on Willow Creek's "Reveal" study. A few years ago they decided to survey their congregation to see how well they were doing as far as their mission goes: turning irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ. They discovered that for people investigating Christ, and for new Christians, they were doing great. However, the results were not quite as favorable for those who had been Christians for a long time. Those people desired more teaching and opportunities for growth. Willow Creek's leadership realized that the mistake they have been making is not teaching new Christians how to self-feed (reading and studying the Bible, practicing spiritual disciplines, etc.). Since that time, they have studied other churches and are finding the same results.

I'm really thankful that Willow Creek has been so honest with their findings. We all struggle with how to measure success. Below are some links for further reading.

Out of Ur's blog post "Willow Creek Repents?"

Out of Ur's follow-up post by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow Creek

Reveal Website

Scot McKnight's blog post on the Reveal study

David Fitch's blog post on the Reveal study

A review by Bradley Wright

More Relational Gift Ideas

These are from Bankrate.

6 gifts that give beyond the holidays

For scores of Bankrate readers, it's the season to save money. We asked you to submit holiday money tips, and you sent a stocking full of great ideas for giving on a tight budget.

Following are some of our frugal favorites among your suggestions. We like these ideas because they show that simple, economical gifts can have an impact that lasts far beyond the holiday season.

College savings accounts
My husband and I have two nieces and two nephews, all ages 6 years and under. Several years ago, we opened college savings accounts for them rather than getting toys or clothes. We contribute $50 to each account and have no fuss with holiday shopping.
-- Joan and Randy Oscarson

Year of free meals
My 94-year-old mother-in-law doesn't need more "things." So, for Christmas last year, we made up a coupon booklet with one coupon per month (decorated with appropriate clip art) to be redeemed for dinner with us at a local restaurant. She is thrilled that we have committed to take her out for dinner once a month, in addition to the regular holiday meals we share during the year.
-- S. Lea Lowe

Health care for the homeless
Last year at the office, I sent an e-mail to my colleagues that in lieu of getting them gifts, I would make a pledge to a local charity in their honor. My company is in health care, so I pledged money to a local agency to provide medical care to a homeless person living here in the nation's capital. This gesture seemed very much appreciated when I did it last year -- so I plan to do it again.
-- Carol Sardinha

Picture bookmarks
This is a great one for grandparents -- I take pictures of my children and make bookmarks out of them. On my computer, I put several small pictures into a strip and print them out on photo paper. Then, I take them to a print shop to have them laminated. Grandma loves them! She can easily show off pictures to friends. Bookmarks are easy to mail with Christmas cards, too.
-- Phebe Wall

Memory in a frame
Take a photo of a loved one, choose an appropriate size and purchase a suitable frame. Give the framed photo to that person or someone else who would cherish the memory you have captured.
-- Jo-Ann Raines

Gift rotation
All six of our children are married with kids. To make the holidays affordable, gifts are given family to family on a rotating basis. Each year, each family gives to a different one of the sibling families and then gets from another one of the siblings. Everyone agrees what is fair and keeps to that budget. This has been going on for 10 years and all like it.
-- Anonymous



Friday, December 14, 2007

The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits

Here's another great article from Fast Company's annual issue on Social Capitalists. The article is taken from a book called Forces for Good, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather Grant.

First, an excerpt...

The secret to success lies in how great organizations mobilize every sector of society -- government, business, nonprofits, and the public -- to be a force for good. In other words, greatness has more to do with how nonprofits work outside the boundaries of their organizations than how they manage their own internal operations. Textbook strategies like relentless fundraising, well-connected boards, and effective management are necessary, of course, but they are hardly sufficient. The high-impact nonprofits we studied are satisfied with building a "good enough" organization and then spending their time and energy focused externally on catalyzing large-scale systemic change. Great organizations work with and through others to create more impact than they could ever achieve alone.

I feel the same way about Neighborhood Church. Systemic change is the goal. So often we spend so much of our time trying to build an excellent organization, when sometimes a "good enough" organization is all that we need, so long as that "good enough" organization influences society.

Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Fast Company

Rising Star: Prison Entrepreneurship Program

From: FastCompany.com By: Fast Company staff

Catherine F. Rohr, CEO
Houston, Texas
pep.org

A large percentage of inmates come to prison as seasoned entrepreneurs, having run highly successful enterprises such as drug rings and gangs. What if these influential leaders were provided with the training and resources to establish and run legitimate companies?

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) links executives and inmates through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring. The program engages the nation's top business and academic talent to constructively redirect inmates' energies by equipping them with values-based entrepreneurial training--enabling them to productively re-enter society.

In three years since inception, PEP has dramatically reduced return-to-prison rates: its graduates' return-to-prison rates are 3.7%, compared to the national average of more than 50%. The program has a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 150%, and has assisted 40 participants in starting their businesses. PEP has recruited 800+ senior level executives and venture capital/private equity professionals who serve as inmates' mentors and business plan judges. Additionally, the program has established affiliations with 12 top-tier MBA programs, including Harvard and Stanford, whose 400+ students serve as weekly advisors for the inmates' business plans. The program's innovative work has won several awards, and has received coverage on NBC Nightly News and in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur Magazine.

PEP's five-year vision includes:

  • Growing its budget from $2MM to $15MM
  • Graduating 1,000 inmates per year
  • Assisting 500 graduates in launching successful businesses
  • xpanding staff from 17 to 125 employees

PEP is hiring successful, motivated entrepreneurial-types. Ready to jump ship? Email: recruiting@pep.org

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford

Jordan links to this SNL skit on the Grace Church Blog. Very funny!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Acts 18:1-17

Corinth had become Greece's most important city. It was both its economic as well as cultural center, and was also a major sponsor for the Isthmian games, a biannual set of games located not too far from Corinth. When Emperor Claudius forced the Jews to leave Rome in AD 49, many of them came to Corinth.

When Paul arrived at Corinth (a fifty mile walk from Athens), he headed to the marketplace to set up shop. Tentmaking was in high demand due to the Isthmian games, but also due to the fact that so many new people were moving into the city. He soon met a fellow Jew by the name of Aquila, one of those who had been forced to leave Rome. His wife's name was Priscilla. They made tents for a living and were both believers. Paul was delighted to meet them, and was even more delighted to learn that there had been a group of believers in Rome, a city he hoped to visit soon.

Paul went to the synagogue on his first Sabbath in Corinth and was again given the opportunity to speak. Once again, he shared about Jesus. Soon after this Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, bringing word on how the churches in Thessalonica and Berea were doing (see 1 Thess. 3:1-6 for Timothy's report on the church in Thessalonica).

On one Sabbath, the Jews opposed Paul, so he left and went to the Gentiles, specifically to the home of Titius Justus, whose home, coincidentally, happened to be located next door to the synagogue. The Jewish leaders must have hated this. However, tensions would grow even more when Crispus, the leader of the synagogue believed in Jesus. The word was spreading, transformation was taking place, and people were getting baptized. Paul, though, was growing weary, and discouragement and despair were setting in.

This may sound morbid, but it's kind of nice to see that Paul is actually human. He had faced so much pain and rejection up to this point but kept going. When thrown in prison wrongfully, he had responded with worship. When beaten and left for dead, and had gone back for more. Yet even for a man like Paul, he had his limits. Corinth was a complicated city. First, it was extremely overcrowded, especially since so many Jews had fled there. Second, because it was a port city, it was very busy. Goods were bought and sold 24 hours a day. Third, and this was due in part to the fact that it was a port city, Corinth was very diverse, both ethnically and socially. Fourth, Corinth was known for its perversion. The saying "Anything Goes" was an understatement in Corinth. It is said that Plato used the term "Corinthian girl" in reference to a prostitute. And the temple of Aphrodite had 1000 prostitutes. This had to have had an impact on Paul as well.

God knew Paul's limitations better than Paul knew them himself. At the time when Paul needed it most, God gave grace and affirmation. God spoke to Paul through a dream, telling him that he didn't need to be afraid and that he should continue doing what he had been doing, for God was going to protect him. He then let Paul in on a little secret: "For I have many in this city who are my people" (Acts 18:10). Whereas in the past, Paul never stayed in a city more than a couple of months, God allowed him to remain in Corinth for a year and a half. He used this time to strengthen this new church that was filled with gifts and talents, but who down the road would need the fatherly discipline of Paul.

After 18 months had passed, some of the Jews appealed to Gallio, the proconsul of Corinth, that Paul needed to be stopped. Gallio wanted nothing to do with squabbles between these Jews, so he dismissed them, before Paul could even give his defense. The Jews had made a mistake, though. They had stirred the crowd into such a frenzy that they had to let out their aggression on someone. That someone turned out to be Sosthenes, the man who had replaced Crispus as ruler of the synagogue. The mob seized him and beat him right in front of Gallio, who did nothing. It is very interesting to read 1 Corinthians 1:1 in light of this story:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes...
How ironic is it that this man turned out to be Paul's co-author years later!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Adam's Christmas Video

Adam would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More on Christmas Spending

Here's an excerpt from an article from Bankrate on tips to de-commercialize Christmas.

For many people, Christmas means a severe case of holiday dread, directly tied to a sense of obligation to spend money in order to have a meaningful celebration.

We all know the pain of those credit card bills in January and February. If we've been particularly festive, that pain might even stretch into the spring or summer, or -- yikes -- the next holiday season.

This year the average U.S. consumer plans to spend $817 on holiday-related shopping, plus an additional $107 on "non-gift" purchases of promoted or discounted items, according to the National Retail Federation -- up 3.7 percent from 2006.

At the same time, however, 70 percent of Americans say they would welcome less emphasis on gift giving and spending during the holiday season, according to the Center for a New American Dream.

If you're among those who feel holiday spending is out of control, remember: It doesn't have to be that way. You can start new family traditions or return to some abandoned long ago.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Reflections on 1 & 2 Thessalonians

I've never spent much time in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, but after reading the account of God moving in that city, I decided to remedy that this morning. I'm really encouraged by this church. Paul was not with them very long (a minimum of three week, a maximum of not that much longer). Then he was gone, off to a new city. He sent Timothy to be with them later, though we're not exactly sure when that took place nor for how long.

The first thing to look at is the state of the Thessalonians before Paul met them. In his letter to them, he reminds them that they "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thess. 1:9). They worshiped idols. They didn't know the Most High God, and they had never heard of Jesus. Contrast that with my culture. Most people have heard of Jesus. My question is, "What have they heard about Jesus?"

The amazing thing about these people is that they listened to Paul. The gospel came to them in word and in power (1 Thess. 1:5), and they received it, even though it meant that they would suffer for it (1 Thess. 1:6). It's almost as if Paul was surprised by their receptivity, especially after his time in Galatia. He praised God for this, though.

Why did Paul write to them? Many of his letters came as rebukes. In the letter to the Galatian churches, Paul rebuked them for replacing the true Gospel for one based on works. He was very harsh in this. Paul has less nice things to say to the Corinthian church later on. They completely forget who they are and start living like they used to live. They are filled with pride and allow sin to run rampant. But these people are different. Paul doesn't correct them. He loves them deeply. He compares himself (along with Silas and Timothy) as both a mother (1 Thess. 2:7) and a father (1 Thess. 11-12). He describes them as being torn away from one another (1 Thess. 2:17), though there was great joy in being able to send Timothy back to them later.

God had moved deeply and quickly through this new church. To go from idol worshipers to, as Paul said, "you have no need to have anything written to you" (1 Thess. 5:9) is amazing. Does God want to do this type of work here in Memphis? What would that look like? Paul led, taught, and poured himself out with such passion and intentionality. If I'm honest with myself, I don't know if I have that passion or intentionality...but I want to. I want to pour out my life for the gospel. I do want to see God do what only He can do. Do I have faith for this? Am I willing to suffer for it? Am I willing to do foolish things, and to call others to do foolish things? These are tough questions, but I'm drawn to wonder what our city could look like if we saw God move in this way.

If Paul had started a church here in Memphis, what would he have to say to us? Pause...where to begin! We have so many resources. We have a good foundation of faith. We have seen God move in our lives. Yet we are impotent. We are not affecting our culture. We are ashamed of the Gospel. We are often more a slave to our flesh than a slave to God. We don't really want God to do what only He can do, because that would mean that we would not be in control, and it might mean that we have to suffer. We have Bibles on our shelves, yet we have no idea what the Word says. That which we do know, has it spread from our head to our heart? Are we living obedient lives? Are we daily being shaped by the Gospel? Are we hearing from God daily, and if so, is it having an impact on how we live our lives?

We must repent!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Acts 17:16-34

Ben Witherington asks two questions in his preface to Paul's time in Athens:
  1. How would Paul fare alone in a city that was the center of pagan philosophy and all things Greek?
  2. How would he relate the gospel to pagans who were not part of a synagogue.
New Testament History, page 264

It seems that Athens was different from the other cities that Paul had visited. On one hand, it was more Jewish than Philippi in that there was a Jewish synagogue. On the other hand, we learn that Paul was deeply troubled when he saw all of of the idols throughout the city. William Barclay, in his commentary on Acts, writes, "It was said that there were more statues of the gods in Athens than in all the rest of Greece put together and that in Athens it was easier to meet a god than a man" (130).

Athens was not the great city that it had once been. It was about a third of the size that it had been during the days of Plato, and was now kind of like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, longing for the glory days. However, as their importance and population shrunk, the number of gods in Athens continued to grow.

We're not sure how long Paul was in Athens, but we do know that each day he was there, he spent time both in the synagogue and in the marketplace. Luke did not have a very favorable view of the Athenians, believing that all who lived there "would spend their time in nothing new except telling or hearing something new" (Acts 17:21).

In the marketplace Paul encountered Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. The Epicureans believed that pleasure and the avoidance of pain were the goals for man. They weren't completely atheistic, though they believed that the gods stayed out of man's business. The Stoics believed that the goal for man was to learn to be indifferent to pain and pleasure. They were pantheists. It's easy to see that these two groups could argue for days at a time. Their reaction to Paul was to take him to the Areopagus (a court) and ask him to give an account of this new teaching. Apparently he had violated the law by introducing a foreign deity, although a foreign deity was not so much the problem. Instead, they had a big problem with the idea of resurrection.

Paul was a true missiologist. He had been studying their culture ever since arriving to Athens, and now he put this knowledge to good use. Standing before the Areopagus, he pointed out an idol to an unknown god that he had come across. He explained to them that this unknown god was in fact the Most High God, a personal, loving God who created and sustains the world. He then quoted from Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete who lived during the sixth century. The belief during Epimenides' day was that Zeus was mortal. Epimenides believed that Zeus was immortal, and wrote, "In him we live and move and have our being." At some point in his life, Paul must have come across this writing and recognized it as a bridge to the gospel. And that's exactly what he used it as.

Paul had their attention as he shared the gospel. That is, until he started talking about the resurrection. At this point, some in the crowd began laughing. This was foolishness to them, and they refused to hear any more. There was no persecution, no riots breaking out...just indifference. One lawyer, Dionysius, from the Areopagus council believed, along with a woman named Damaris. No church was birthed, though.

Soon after this Timothy (and perhaps Silas) came to Athens, and Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica. Paul then decided that it was time to go to Corinth.

Acts 17:1-15

From Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled 100 miles to Thessalonica. Apparently Luke stayed in Philippi. Many believe that this was his hometown. Plus, Luke goes back to using "they" instead of "we." Thessalonica, unlike Philippi, had a Jewish synagogue. Therefore, Paul went there first. On three consecutive Sabbaths Paul had the opportunity to share the Scriptures with the Jews, "explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead" (Acts 17:3).

This is a good opportunity to look at what Paul did during the rest of his time in a city. For example, how did he support himself? We learn in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 that he and Silas practiced the tentmaking trade so as not to be a burden on the new church that was forming. We also learn in Philippians 4:16 that the new church in Philippi took up an offering for Paul and the others and sent it to them while they were in Thessalonica. Apparently they were the only church who did this for Paul.

This is the second city where Paul soon after wrote a letter to the church there. If you will remember, Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Galatia around a year after returning to Antioch. Paul wrote his letter to the church in Thessalonica while he was in Corinth. Not only do we get to read the narrative account of their time in Thessalonica (in Acts), but we also have two letters in which we see Paul's love for these people. We also get to see their problems and what Paul had to say to them.

As Paul taught in the synagogue, many Jews, as well as Greeks, "were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas" (Acts 17:4). As I read this today, I asked, "What does it mean that they joined?" What did this look like? We learn that just like in other cities, this new church met in homes. In this case, they met at Jason's house. During these times at Jason's house, Paul apparently did a lot of teaching. He was there for at least three weeks, and then it appears that he later sent Timothy back to be with them. In a short amount of time, the gospel truly transformed this young church. Before Paul had spoken to them, they knew nothing of Jesus. Now, just a year or so later, he encourages them, saying that "not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere" (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

During those three weeks in Thessalonica, many Jews and Greeks believed, but many Jews were also jealous. They had heard of what Paul had been doing in other cities. Now "these men who have turned the world upside down have come here also" (Acts 17:6)! They stirred up a mob and attacked Jason's house. Because of this, they ended up having to leave Thessalonica and traveled fifty miles southwest to Berea.

As before, they went first to the synagogue, but Luke makes a big distinction between the Jews here and the Jews in Thessalonica: "they were more noble; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11). They didn't let their emotions get the best of them. They no doubt were just as confused as other Jews who were for the first time hearing that their fellow Jews in Jerusalem had murdered the Messiah, but they went to the Scriptures to see if Paul was speaking truth. When they learned for themselves that he was, many of them believed.

Soon, though, the Jews from Thessalonica came to Berea and stirred up the crowds. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea, but they all thought it best that Paul should leave. Some of the brothers from Berea took Paul 200 miles away to Athens.

Clean Water

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Acts 16:16-40

One day Paul and Co. were headed back to their place of prayer, when they were met by a slave girl who was possessed by a demon. She was owned by men who forced her to be a fortune teller. They were very wealthy because of her work. She followed Paul around, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." Ben Witherington points out that this may not have been a proclamation of true salvation, from the true "Most High God." The culture was very pluralistic, and could have meant many things. If that is the case, it makes sense that Paul would not want this demon-possessed slave girl proclaiming false truths.

Paul finally had had enough. He turned to her and commanded the demon to leave her. At once it left. When her owners learned what had happened, they realized that their little business was no more, and they were understandable upset. They took Paul and Silas into the middle of the city and called the cops (actually, the magistrates). Their accusation was that these men were Jews, and they were "disturbing" their city. The accusation that they were Jews is important because just two years earlier, Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome. Outcasts are never looked upon very favorably, especially when they have made your city, as well as all of the surrounding cities, even more crowded than they already were. The second part of the accusation was equally condemning, since money seemed to be a major bottom line in that city.

The magistrates ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and beaten with rods (according to 2 Corinthians 11:25, this happened to him two additional times). After they had been severely beaten, Paul and Silas were thrown into jail. Everything had happened so fast. They had not even been questioned by the magistrates, which would have revealed that both of them were Roman citizens. This was very important, for Roman citizens could not be punished without a proper hearing. Nonetheless, Paul and Silas now found themselves in prison with real criminals.

Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were being punished for a crime you didn't commit, in a city that you were not familiar with, and you were simply trying to follow God? I know what I wouldn't be doing...Singing. But that's just what these two men were doing. It was midnight, and these two crazy men were singing their heads off to God. Luke points out that the prisoners were listening to them.

At that moment there was a earthquake, and the prison shook violently, so much so that the chains holding the men were loosened. The jailer, who had been sleeping, woke up and ran to the jail cell. When he saw that the prisoners were loose, he immediately drew his sword, not to fight them but to kill himself. He knew that the punishment for allowing prisoners to escape would be far worse than death. At that moment Paul cried out to him, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here" (16:28). The jailer turned the lights on, and, discovering that the prisoners were indeed still in the cell, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, and asked them what he must do to be saved. Their response: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:31).

It appears that the man must have lived above the jail, so therefore his entire household was there as well. Paul and Silas told them all about Jesus, and they all believed. Instant transformation takes place. Just a little while earlier he was about to kill himself because he feared his punishment for allowing prisoners to go free. Now he takes Paul and Silas upstairs and washes their wounds. He and his family are then baptized, and then share a meal together with Paul and Silas. Fear was replaced by rejoicing!

We don't hear anything else about the prisoners, but I can't help but think about them. All we are told is that they stayed in the jail cell, and they listened. That's pretty phenomenal!

The next morning, the magistrates discovered what had happened and ordered that Paul and Silas be released. Paul let it be known that he and Silas were Roman citizens, and their beating and imprisonment were unlawful. If they were going to leave Philippi, it wasn't going to be in secret. The magistrates came to them, apologized, and begged them to leave immediately. Paul and Silas obliged, but first went to Lydia and the new church that was emerging in the city.

Monday, November 26, 2007

AC in the CA

Here's the link to Wendi Thomas' article about the Advent Conspiracy. The article is great, and yesterday we had over 200 people look at the website.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

MSCONFIG

I just found this site tonight. Most of us have a bunch of programs start up when we boot up our computers. You can go into MSCONFIG (Run --> MSCONFIG --> Startup) and select which programs you want running at bootup. More importantly, you can deselect those programs you don't want to always be running. The problem is that normally you don't really know what some of these programs are. That's where this site comes in. You can search for the name of the program and it will advise you as to whether or not you can get rid of it or not.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

Mandy just sent this to me.

Risky Business

I'm in a book group on Thursday nights with two other guys, and we've been reading In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by Mark Batterson. Last night we discussed chapter 6: "Playing It Safe is Risky." A few quotes...

The more you're willing to risk, the more God can use you. And if you're willing to risk everything, then there is nothing God can't do in you and through you (102).
Sometimes taking a calculated risk means giving up something that is good so you can experience something that is great. In a sense, sin is short-changing ourselves and short-changing God. It is settling for anything less than God's best. Faith is the exact opposite. Faith is renouncing lesser goods for something greater. and it always involves calculated risk (106).
Obedience is a willingness to do whatever, whenever, wherever God calls us (109).
Maybe righteousness has less to do with not doing anything wrong and more to do with doing things right (109).
If you were to always act in your greatest self-interest, you would always obey God (111).
(quoting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe): Hell begins the day God grants you the vision to see all that you could have done, should have done, and would have done, but did not do (114).

This chapter had a profound impact on me. It wasn't so much that I read anything new. It was more that I received a renewed permission to take risks for God. My heart beats for stuff like this. I've grown most in my life when I was completely dependent on God to do what only He could do. I feel like I'm in this place right now, especially with the church.

Yesterday our little church had a good day. One of our core group members had been emailing Wendi Thomas, a writer for the Commercial Appeal, about the Advent Conspiracy. Yesterday she received an email from Wendi saying that she was planning on writing about it in Sunday's paper. Shelley forwarded the email to Jason and I, and five minutes later I was being interviewed by Wendi on the phone.

Wendi is a great writer, and I'm very excited that she has decided to write about the Advent Conspiracy. The fact that it is going to be in Sunday's edition is icing on the cake. God is up to something here!

So what does that have to do with the book? Well, last night I was reminded of an incident that took place one year ago. That's when I first heard about the Q conference. I immediately wanted to go, but I knew that Jason and Barb were going to be having their baby around that same time, plus it was pretty expensive. I eventually decided that I probably shouldn't go.

A couple of days later, I felt that God was telling me that I should go, and that He would provide the funds. The trick, though, was that I was going to have to ask for the funds...not from Him, but from people. I'm like most people in that I do not like asking people for money, but I felt like God wanted me to do this. So I took a risk and asked two people. One gave and the other didn't. Then a couple of days later we received the rest of what was needed.

Here's what hit me last night. The Q conference was where I first heard about the Advent Conspiracy. That was my big takeaway. I knew when I first heard Rick McKinley talk about it that this was something that our church should take part in.

The step that God was asking me to take was pretty small compared to others' steps of obedience, but look at what it led to. I continue to be amazed by the creativity of God!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Santa has Arrived!

On Saturday morning we went to the Pink Palace to see Santa arrive by helicopter. I must say that it was very exciting, though I'm sure you can all guess that the one most pleased by this was Adam. Here are a few pics.

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Do you have a will?

This is one of those things that I've been procrastinating about for awhile. With another child on the way, it's even more crucial that we do this. I just read an article that said that only 33% of families with children under the age of 18 have wills.

So this is going to be something that we work on over the holidays. The goal will be to have it finished by the end of the year.

Dave Ramsey recommends US Legal Forms. I was going to use that, but then I found this software for free (though you have to sign up for something - I signed up for Blockbuster for a month). It looks good.

A new baby

If you haven't heard, Mandy is pregnant! We are expecting our second child at the end of June. Yea!

Vinx

On Thursday night I took my family to the University of Memphis to hear Vinx. I first started listening to Vinx in college. I roommate introduced me to his music, and I borrowed his CD so much that he ended up giving it to me when he graduated (thanks, Brian). Below are a couple of YouTube clips.




Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Acts 16:1-15

Paul and Silas' first stop Derbe, then Lystra. There they found Timothy. Timothy was most likely a convert of Paul during the first missionary journey. Timothy was young enough to be Paul's son, and in fact is referred to by Paul as a spiritual child (1 Corinthians 4:17). Paul asked Timothy to join he and Silas, but said that he would first need to be circumcised. This seems odd in light of what had taken place in Jerusalem, but it seems that this goes to Paul's desire to be "all things to all people", including the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). Timothy's mother was a Jew, but his father was a Greek. Paul understood that the Jews throughout Galatia would know this, and it would prevent him from going to the Jews first, as was his custom.

The three of them then went to the churches that had been started during the first missionary journey, sharing the Jerusalem Council's decision with them. Luke once again adds, "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily" (16:5).

It appears that Paul's plan was to head into Asia, perhaps into a large city such as Ephesus (population of 250,000). According to Luke, God had other plans. After a couple of attempts by Paul to go into Asia, he finally headed to Troas (around 400 miles from Iconium). Troas was a port city. When they got there, Paul saw a vision of a man from Macedonia asking them to come there to help them. After seeing that vision, the men concluded "that God had called us to preach the gospel to them" (16:10).

Another change happens in 16:10. Luke goes from using "they" to using "we." Apparently Luke joined them for their voyage across the Aegean Sea. They eventually made their way to Philippi. Philippi was famous for being the battlegrounds where Octavian Augustus defeated Marc Antony in 31 BC. It is very possible that Luke lived in Philippi.

On their first Sabbath there, they went down to the riverside, since there was no Jewish synagogue there. There they found a group of women praying. Among them was Lydia, a wealthy woman who made her living through selling royal purple cloth. This might not sound like much of a trade today, but in those days a person selling this type of cloth had to have permission from the Roman Empire, and as a result would have significant social status.

As Paul shared with them, God opened Lydia's heart to the gospel. After she was baptized, she invited them all to stay at her home.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What is the Missional Church?

From The Ministry of the Missional Church, by Craig Van Gelder (p.18).

God has a mission in the world, what is usually referred to as the missio Dei (the mission of God). In understanding the missio Dei, we find that God as a creating God also creates the church through the Spirit, who calls, gathers, and sends the church into the world to participate in God's mission. This participation is based on the redemption that God accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a redemption that was announced by Jesus as the "kingdom of God" (which I prefer to re-frame as the "redemptive reign of God in Christ"). This redemptive reign of God in Christ is inherently connected to the missio Dei, which means that God is seeking to bring back into right relationship all of creation. Or as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (5:19). The Spirit-led, missional church is responsible to participate in this reconciling work by bearing witness to the redemptive reign of God in Christ as good news, and through inviting everyone everywhere to become reconciled to the living and true God.

Advent Conspiracy Video

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guy Kawasaki's New Web Startup

I've been a big fan of Guy Kawasaki ever since I heard him speak at a nonprofit boot camp hosted by Craigslist a couple of years ago in San Francisco. I just read this interview with him in Entrepreneur magazine. It's about a new website he's just created called Truemors, short for "true rumors." It's a social media site, but it's also a business startup, and the purpose of the interview is to show that it doesn't take big bucks to start something successful. As someone trying to get two new organizations off the ground (without much money), I found this very helpful.


Here are a few excerpts...

Truemors is a functioning illustration of what it takes to launch a web startup these days. It didn't involve gobs of VC funding or years of development and testing. It may or may not turn into a big moneymaking enterprise, but entrepreneurs can learn a lot from Kawasaki's experience with getting Truemors off the ground and onto the internet. The startup guru took a few moments away from his new venture to answer our questions.

How did you fund Truemores?
So far, it's only cost about $12,000, so it was personally [funded]. Whenever I need more capital, I make another speech--a fraction of a speech, actually. This beats sucking up to VCs, and I'm a VC.

Lots of people said they could do Truemors for less money by shaving off domain registration costs here, legal costs there, etc. Yes, people could do almost everything that I did for less, saving a few thousand dollars. But the point wasn't to go from $12,000 [in startup costs] to $7,000. It was going from $1 million to $12,000.


You spent no money on marketing. Is this approach something the average internet startup entrepreneur could get away with?
No, but it's certainly not the case that you have to have millions of dollars to market something on the internet. You'd get that impression from most pitches to VCs. I was fortunate and did it for close to nothing, so anyone should be able to do it for $50,000 to $100,000.

What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs about this startup experience?
The most important lessons are: Do things quick, dirty and fast; don't wait for the perfect time/market/product; ignore the naysayers--odds are they are right, but you'll never know unless you try; and keep things cheap so you can make a lot of mistakes.

What does the fact that you were able to create a web startup so quickly and inexpensively tell us about the state of web entrepreneurship in general?
Now more than ever, people should give it a shot to create the next Google, You-Tube, Facebook, eBay, whatever. You can get things done so much cheaper, faster and better because of tools like MySQL and WordPress as well as the willingness of the crowds. There are many tech businesses that take millions to start, but there are many that can be done on credit cards. I hope I've proven that.





Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Acts 15

It is no exaggeration to say that Acts 15 is the most crucial chapter in the whole book.
Ben Witherington
New Testament History: A Narrative Account

Some time later some men from Judea came to Antioch and began teaching that circumcision was a requirement for following Jesus. Paul and Barnabas, who were still in Antioch, heard about this and confronted them. After what had taken place in Galatia, it's easy to believe that Paul was fired up. The church in Antioch appointed Paul and Barnabas, along with a few others, to go to Jerusalem to get some answers. This was beginning to become a huge issue, and the leadership needed to address it.

When they arrived in Jerusalem (250 miles from Antioch), they shared how God had brought salvation to many Gentiles throughout Galatia. Immediately a group of believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and declared that these Gentile believers would have to be circumcised.

Peter stood. He reminded them of what God had done at Cornelius' home, how He made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and how the grace of God was available to anyone who believed. He said that requiring anything more than faith was like putting a yoke around their necks. Luke says that the entire assembly fell silent.

Next Barnabas and Paul (notice how Luke reverses the order once again) spoke up, relating all that God had done throughout Galatia.

Finally, James stood and pronounced judgment on the matter. (We learn through this chapter that James had at some point over the past twenty years become the primary leader of the church). The decision was that Gentiles should not have to be circumcised (follow the law of Moses) in order to become a follower of Jesus. Following Jesus was difficult enough. No other burdens would be placed on them.

James did give the Gentile believers a few requirements.
  1. Abstain from things that have been offered to idols (normally referring to meat)
  2. Abstain from eating the meat of strangled animals
  3. Abstain from eating blood
  4. Abstain from sexual immorality
At least a couple of these requirements sound rather strange to modern readers, but James' judgment would have been clear to the readers of the document. He was telling Gentile believers that they must stay away from pagan temples. Paul would later echo this warning (1 Corinthians 8,10). James said that though they did not have to be converted to Judaism, it was mandatory that they make a complete break with paganism.

I find it fascinating that in a letter this important, the leaders used the phrase, "it seemed good" three times. The first instance is verse 22, where "it seemed good" to the leaders to send Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with this pronouncement. The second instance is verse 25, in which they relayed this same information in the body of the letter. The third instance is verse 28, where they say, "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden" than the requirements listed above.

They never said that this was God's divine Word for the Gentiles. They had no doubt been praying like crazy and having endless discussions. It seemed to them that this was the correct response. Part of me wants a little more definite of an answer, but another part of me loves that they were ok with this.

The letter was received by the church in Antioch with much rejoicing.

Some time later (possibly up to two years later) Paul came to Barnabas and suggested that they return to the churches they had planted to see how things were going. Barnabas thought that was a great idea, but suggested that John Mark go with them. Paul had obviously not gotten over the fact that he had abandoned them a few years earlier. Luke says that they got into such a sharp disagreement (15:39) that they parted company. Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas (who had earlier accompanied them from Jerusalem to Antioch with the letter) and went back to Galatia.

This saddens me. Barnabas was such a great man of God, yet this is the last that we hear of him. He no doubt continued to spread the gospel, but I wonder if he and Paul ever reconciled.

Timeline - Pt. 2

The year was 49 AD, and it's possible that up to a year had passed since Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey to Galatia. Some time after arriving back in Antioch, Paul received word from the churches in Galatia that some men (most likely from Jerusalem) had been going from city to city, telling them that unless they were circumcised, they were not true followers of God.

I believe it's very important to think about who these Jews were. The Jews who came from Antioch to Lystra and left Paul for dead (Acts 14:19) were most likely not believers. However, the Jews who take part in the Jerusalem Council are believers. I believe that the men who came to Galatia were probably also believers. They were a part of the church. Jesus had changed their lives, and now they were followers of Him. However, they had also been devout Jews, and they didn't for one moment believe that Jesus had come to destroy the law. They believed that a person had to follow all of God's law before becoming a follower of Jesus. They believed that Paul was only preaching half of the truth, and they felt that it was their responsibility to preach the other half.

After receiving this news, Paul writes his first letter, what we now know as Galatians. His purpose for writing this letter is to urge them not to follow any other gospel, especially one that requires circumcision, because a gospel requiring circumcision was not a gospel that depended on faith alone.

Earlier that year, the Emperor Claudius had issued a decree stating that all Jews had to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). This surely played a role in why these Jewish believers responded as they did. Fear always makes us behave in ways we normally do not, and I believe this was the case with them. They were now even more protective of their spiritual heritage.

Fall is Here

Saturday was a great day. We spent it with the Currier's and the Thomas' in Arlington at Uncle Fudd's Pumpkin Patch. Mason and Lyndon are two of Adam's best friends, so it was a treat to see them all playing together at the Pumpkin Patch. Here are a few pictures.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Acts 14:19-28

We're not sure how much time transpires before this next section, but soon some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to stir up trouble. Who were these men? It's most likely that they were devout Jews who felt very strongly that Paul was undoing all that they believed in. He had to be stopped. They were apparently following him from city to city. That's why I believe they arrived very soon after this incident.

Nonetheless, upon arriving they stirred up the crowd and convinced them that these two men deserved to be stoned. In some ways this is hard to believe. I can understand that the people ofLystra might have been a little humiliated that they thought these two men were gods, but still, was that a reason to stone them? These Jews must have been very persuasive. They were definitely passionate about preserving their faith.

Paul was about to suffer greatly for the gospel. He was apparently taken while Barnabas was somewhere else. He was dragged to the center of the city. His clothes were torn from his body. Men, women and children from the crowd bent down, picked up rocks, and began throwing them at this servant of God. After it was over they dragged Paul out of the city. They supposed that he was dead. One normally "supposes" that someone is dead when there is no breathing, so it is safe to assume that Paul was in fact dead.

Soon Barnabas and the disciples found Paul and began praying for him. Luke says that Paul rose up, went back into the city, and the next day he and Barnabas fifty to sixty miles to Derbe. I can imagine that traveling fifty to sixty miles one day after being stoned would not be pleasant. After preaching the gospel in Derbe, and seeing many people become disciples, they began the trip back to Antioch, stopping along the way in each of the cities where they had been. If I had been Paul, I think I would have wanted to skip Lystra. It couldn't have held good memories for him. However, he went back. I wonder what that was like. Here is this man whom everyone in the city thought was dead. He wasn't dead.

In each city, Luke says that they strengthened the disciples and appointed elders for each church. I have always been fascinated by this. Here is a group of people who have not been disciples for very long. Their leaders have been run out of town but they have now returned. Unfortunately, they are leaving again. Yet they are raising up leaders, new spiritual parents. Paul had an unwavering faith that God would do the real work of ministry. Luke points out that Paul and Barnabas, through prayer and fasting, committed these new churches to the Lord.

I love verse 27. Returning to Antioch, to the church that had commissioned them, must have been quite the celebration!

"And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."

Acts 14:1-18

Iconium was ninety miles from Pisidian Antioch. When they arrived, they once again went first to the synagogue, and once again, many Jews and Gentiles believed. Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly, but God bore witness to His word by "granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands" (14:3). They were able to stay in this city for a long time. As had happened before, those who didn't believe sought out ways to rid themselves of these men. After learning of a plot to stone them, Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra.

One day while they were in Lystra, Paul encountered a man who had been crippled since birth. Paul saw that this man "had faith to be made well" (14:9). Paul understood that faith was a prerequisite for transformation. Paul commanded him to stand and the man stood. The crowd saw what had happened, and believed that these newcomers were in fact Zeus (Barnabas) and Hermes (Paul). A little background here is needed. There was a story that every child in Lystra knew. It was the story of these two gods visiting their city but not being welcomed. The city in turn missed out on many blessings. Everyone knew this story, and no one wanted to make the same mistake twice.

This time they began worshiping Paul and Barnabas, who no doubt had no idea what was happening. A priest of Zeus even came out to begin making sacrifices to them. At this point Paul and Barnabas tore their garments and pleaded with them to stop, saying that they were only men, though men representing the Most High God, the One they should be worshiping.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Acts 13:13-52

After staying in Paphos for a little while, the three men set sail for Perga (southern Turkey). When they arrived, John Mark decided to return to Jerusalem. We're not sure why, though my best guess is that he was homesick. Whatever the reason was, it would cause dissension down the road between Paul and Barnabas.

From there they traveled to Antioch in Pisidia. On their first Sabbath there, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue. In the synagogue, after the readings out of the Law and the Prophets, Jewish men were given a time to share a word of exhortation. Paul accepted the invitation, stood before the men, and began recounting Israel's history, beginning with the slavery in Egypt and ending with the murder of Jesus. He told them that the forgiveness of sins comes not through obeying the law of Moses, but only through Jesus.

Luke says that at the end, the people begged them to come back the next week and share the same thing.

The next Sabbath, "almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord" (13:44). The amazing thing was that the Jewish people were a minority throughout the cities of Galatia. These were primarily Gentiles who had showed up to hear Paul. How did the whole city hear about Paul? The only explanation is that the Jews, as well as the Gentile converts to Judaism, must have shared the news.

The Jewish leaders had never had a crowd like this, and they became jealous. They contradicted him and reviled him. His response was to move to his secondary audience, which in many ways was his primary audience: the Gentiles. Quoting Isaiah 49:6, Paul said, "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

Luke tells us that the Gentiles began rejoicing when they heard this, and "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (13:49). The Jewish leaders, though, went to the leaders of the town and spread lies about Paul. The leaders "drove them out of their district" (13:50). It's not clear whether this was a violent driving out, or more of a kind request for them to leave. Either way, Paul and Barnabas "shook of the dust from their feet" and headed toward Iconium.

New Project

It seems that flying by the seat of my pants happens on a pretty regular basis for me, at least in most areas. However, fixing things in the house is not one of those areas. Anything having to do with remodeling, decorating, repairs, etc., is usually met with extreme caution and planning. That's just a rule I've had...just because I have no idea what I'm doing.

Well, this weekend we broke that rule. We were going to paint our front room this weekend, but then we got to thinking that we should look at refinishing the hardwood floors before painting. If you've been to our house, you know that we are the only home in Midtown with carpet throughout. We had been told that the hardwood under the carpet in the front room could be refinished.

So, on Sunday morning, we decided to start moving furniture and then proceeded to rip up the carpet. I was planning on refinishing the floors myself, with Jason (my Gandalf) by my side. He's quite the pro in this area. However, we think we're going to hire the job out. There is just so much going on, and Lyndia, Mandy's mom, suggested that our marriage would appreciate it. When the parent says that, it's best to listen.

Nonetheless, here are some pictures of our room at its current state. I'll post more pictures when the job is finished.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Acts 13:1-12

As we have already learned, the church in Antioch was made up of people from all over the world. This was reflected in their leadership. One day the prophets and teachers were together worshiping and fasting. Those present were:
  • Barnabas
  • Saul
  • Simeon - also called Niger, meaning "black-skinned"; some believe that this was Simon, the man from Cyrene who carried Jesus' Cross (Mark 15:21); though there is no proof
  • Lucius of Cyrene - Cyrene is in Northern Africa; it's quite possible that Lucius was one of the men who first preached the gospel in Antioch (Acts 11:20)
  • Manaen - he was a member of Herod's court, which meant that he had a high placement in the government
While they were worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit told them to "set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (13:2). The leaders then laid hands on them and sent them off. John Mark traveled with them. They left Antioch around AD 45-48.

Their first stop was Seleucia. There they boarded a ship and sailed to Salamis, a city on the island of Cyprus, where Barnabas was from. They went straight to the Jewish synagogue and proclaimed Christ there. They continued to travel across the island (about 100 miles), finally arriving in Paphos. Here they encountered a magician named Bar-Jesus (aka Elymas). He worked for Sergius Paulus, the Roman governor over Cyprus. Sergius Paulus heard of Barnabas and Saul's arrival and wanted to hear what they had been proclaiming.

Bar-Jesus didn't like their message, and tried to persuade his boss from listening. Saul turned to him, gave him a strong rebuking ("you son of the devil"), and caused him to be blind. At this Sergius Paulus was astonished and asked Saul and Barnabas to share their message with him. After hearing the message he believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

Two other items of interest take place here. First, we find out that Saul also goes by Paul. I've often wondered if this had anything to do with the fact that their convert's name was Paulus. A better theory is that at this point Paul decided to use his Gentile name rather than his Jewish name (Saul). Second, up to this point Barnabas has taken the lead. Luke in fact has been referring to them as "Barnabas and Saul." From now on, though, he will refer to them as "Paul and Barnabas."

Acts 12

In Jerusalem, persecution was still going on, nine years after Stephen's death. Herod (Agrippa I) had James (brother of John) put to death by the sword, and then had Peter thrown in prison. He was going to wait until after Passover to have him executed. Luke says that the church prayed earnestly to God for Peter.

Their prayers were answered, for on the evening before Herod was going to kill him, an angel rescued him from prison. Peter thought he was dreaming, but once they got outside and the angel vanished, he realized that it wasn't a dream. He knew that God had rescued him!

He went straight to the house of Mary (John Mark's mother). Many people were there praying. He came to the house and knocked on the gate. A servant girl named Rhoda recognized his voice, and her excitement she ran to tell the others, forgetting to let him in. They thought she was crazy. When they finally went to the gate and saw that it truly was Peter, they were amazed. He told them what had happened, and then instructed them to let James and the brothers know.

The next morning Herod found out what had happened, and ordered that the guards be executed.

Later on, Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. They came to plead with him for peace, because their food came from him. In their pleading, they called him a god. Herod, instead of turning the praise to the Most High God, received the praises, and God struck him down. He was eaten by worms. This occurred in AD 44.

At about the same time, Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, where they had delivered an offering to the church there. John Mark returned with them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Acts 11:19-30

It's possible that up to ten years have passed since Stephen was murdered, and we find that the effects are still lingering. These Jesus-followers no doubt feared for their lives, but they also did not waste opportunities to share with others their stories of transformation.

Before going any farther, a brief recap...

Most scholars date Stephen's death and Saul's conversion at around 35 AD. At the time, the church in Jerusalem numbered at least 5000 people (Acts 4:4 mentions 5000 men, and Acts 5:14 says that multitudes more believed). It's possible that there were 10,000 followers of Jesus in Jerusalem at this time. When persecution broke out, Luke tells us that all but the apostles scattered. Let's say he meant the apostles and a few others. That's still a LOT of people leaving Jerusalem. In Acts 8:4 Luke informs us that all of them "went about preaching the word." Satan thought he had won a major victory when Stephen was killed and the people scattered, but it actually unleashed an army of missionaries!

If you remember, many of the people who were converted on the day of Pentecost had not been from Jerusalem, but when the Spirit fell and the Church was birthed, they didn't want to leave. Now that everyone was leaving Jerusalem, it would make sense that most would now return to their homes.

Luke tells us that some of them traveled up to 300 miles. Cyprus is 250 miles by sea from Jerusalem, and Antioch is 300 miles from Jerusalem by land. Those that traveled to these cities spoke about what the change they had experienced in Jerusalem, but they only spoke to fellow Jews. However, and this is a BIG however, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and spoke to Hellenists (Greek-speaking non-Jews).

I've often wondered why the men from Cyprus and Cyrene didn't return to their homes like most of the others. Cyrene is 800 miles away from Jerusalem, so I guess it's possible that they were simply tired of traveling! However, I think there is something else at work here. Perhaps they were the first cross-cultural missionaries! All of us are called to go and make disciples, but most of us are called to people like ourselves. Some, though, are called by God to go to a people very different from themselves. Some call them missionaries. I don't, because I believe that we are all missionaries. I call them cross-cultural missionaries.

A bigger issue, though, is that these men, for some reason, felt the urge to tell not only fellow Jews, but also Gentiles. This must have happened around the same time as Peter's visit with Cornelius. God was definitely up to something here! Luke informs us that as these men preached Jesus to the Gentiles in Antioch, "the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord" (11:21).

The church in Jerusalem heard about this and sent Barnabas to get a report. Peter's news had no doubt hastened a response. Barnabas "saw the grace of God" in Antioch and "was glad" (11:22). He decided to stay, but first he went to Tarsus to look for Saul. We last saw Saul after he escaped death in Jerusalem and went to Tarsus years earlier. We are not exactly sure what he's been up to, but God is about to release him into the ministry that He called him into.

Once they were back in Antioch, they taught the church for a whole year. Luke points out that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

A new church in a new city was about to be birthed, but this one would look very different from the church in Jerusalem. This one would be made up of people from all over the world.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Mid-South Fair

On Sunday Mandy, Adam and I went to the Mid-South Fair. We had a good time, though we didn't realize that on wristband day they don't sell individual ride tickets. We were a little bummed, but I don't think Adam was too heartbroken. After all, he got to ride a pony.
































And Mandy and I were ok with this as well, because we got to try a deep fried Snickers for the first time. When I first heard about the deep friend Twinkies, Oreos, and Snickers I thought it was a little redneck for the boy who had just moved from California. But I have since repented (maybe not of the Twinkie - I still think that's very odd), and decided that as an act of my repentance I should try one. It was quite good. Sorry, no picture of that.

On the flip side, I'm sure glad the Mid-South Fair is over, and I really hope the rumors are true that it doesn't come back. Our side of Cooper-Young gets a little crazy during the Fair. There were quite a few times when I had no parking; my car alarm went off a few times because of the speakers in passing cars; and then there's the trash. I know I'm complaining, but that's ok, because last night a few of us picked up a lot of the trash. My biggest frustration came Monday morning, when I realized that someone had turned on my water hose the night before. I'm sure whoever did had a great reason for doing that.

So...fun times, but I won't be sad if those fun times end!

New book

I've really been trying to break my long-term habit of not finishing books. I start a book, get half-way through it, but then find a different book and start it. So right now I'm in the middle of two different books: Mavericks at Work, by William Taylor & Polly Labarre, and Stripped: Uncensored Grace on the Streets of Vegas, by Jud Wilhite. Both are great reads. Here's the problem, though. Today I went to my local Borders (by local I mean in Germantown) and picked up unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons. That also seems like it's going to be a great read. Can I be disciplined to wait? I just don't know. Please pray for the strength to overcome.

Bibo No Aozora

If you've seen the movie Babel, you'll remember this piece. As soon as the movie was over, I went hunting for this song. Very nice.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Timeline

It had been ten years since Barnabas had last seen Saul (Paul). Where had he been for those ten years. Paul's letter to the Galatians gives us some answers, but also poses more questions.

Paul shares with the Galatians who he was before his encounter with Jesus (Gal. 1:13-14). He then tells him about his conversion in Damascus (Gal. 1:15-16). It seems from Luke accounts that Paul went to Jerusalem pretty soon after his conversion, yet Paul tells the Galatians that three years had passed before he went to Jerusalem to meet with the disciples.

After the Jews in Damascus tried to kill him, he escaped and fled to Arabia (Gal. 1:17).. Later he went back to Damascus. Three years passed between the time he escaped Damascus and when he met the apostles in Jerusalem. What did he do during those three years? This was probably the time in which Paul "worked out his salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). He had undergone such a paradigm shift. He had much to learn from Jesus. Much of the theology we find in his letters no doubt began developing during this time. Paul no doubt also preached Christ to the Arabs during this time.

After three years had passed Paul went to Jerusalem. He tells the Galatians that he spent 15 days meeting with Peter and with James (Gal. 1:18-19). It seems that this points back to Acts 9:26. After the Jews tried to kill him, he went to Tarsus. Paul stayed in Tarsus until Barnabas came to ask him to join him in Antioch.

Acts 11:1-18

Word traveled fast back to Jerusalem about what had taken place in Caesarea, and when Peter arrived back home, everyone wanted answers. This had apparently been an issue before, because Luke explains that there was already a "Circumcision Party" - those who believed that a person must become a Jew (get circumcised) before becoming a follower of Jesus. It actually makes sense that they would believe this, because up to this point all of them were Jews. They didn't understand that Jesus had died for Gentiles as well.

Those of the circumcision party were not happy. They felt that Peter had gone against the Torah (Jewish law). Peter explained what happened. This hadn't been his plan. He had no idea that this was going to happen. But he did hear from God, and he was obedient - and look what God had done! He shared with the apostles (and all the brothers and sisters) what had happened, then ended his story with, "If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed int he Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way" (11:17)?

Then there was silence. I imagine that it was perhaps a long period of silence. What was the response going to be? No doubt they were just as perplexed as Peter had been when he was on the roof. They could have easily dismissed Peter, but there was one problem: they knew him. At least ten of these men had walked with Peter for the previous eight years. He wasn't crazy.

Their response was to glorify God and proclaim that God had granted "repentance that leads to life" to the Gentiles as well as the Jews!

Acts 10

While Peter was in Joppa, a Roman centurion named Cornelius was in his home in Caesarea (40 miles north of Joppa). It was the ninth hour (3:00), and so he was praying (devout Jews, as well as God-fearing Gentiles prayed three times a day: 9:00 AM, 3:00 PM, and sunset). Here's what we know about Cornelius:
  • He and his entire household feared God
  • He gave generously
  • He prayed continually to God
  • He belonged to a group known as the Italian Cohort (for some reason I think of Tony Soprano when I hear that)
During his prayer time he saw a vision. An angel told him to send for a man named Simon Peter. He didn't tell him why and he didn't give him any more information. He just vanished. Nonetheless, Cornelius had never experienced anything like this, so he obeyed. He sent two servants and a soldier to Joppa to find this man known as Simon Peter.

The next day, while the three men were traveling to Joppa, Peter was on the roof praying (I guess he was a little more devout than Cornelius, because he was praying at noon as well). He became hungry, and while he was praying he too saw a vision. The vision was of a great sheet descending from heaven. The sheet was filled with all kinds of animals, and a voice spoke, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." It doesn't sound like a big deal to us, but to Peter, this was ridiculous. Never before had Peter eaten any animal that God had called unclean (for a description of what God called clean and unclean, see Leviticus 11). He of course made this known to the voice. The voice said it again. Peter responded again. The voice said it a third time, and this time Peter hesitated before responding.

Remember the night Jesus was crucified? Peter denied his Lord three times. And then, after Jesus was raised from the dead, His restoration process for Peter involved asking him the question, "Do you love me?" three times. The "voice" now has his attention, but Peter is utterly perplexed. He acknowledges that the voice he has heard is God's, but it makes no sense. It is as if everything he has ever known is being challenged.

At that moment there was a knock on the door. The three men had found Peter. Peter came down and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?" They explained what had happened to Cornelius, and asked him to come with them back to Caesarea. He agreed, so the next day they began their travel back to Caesarea.

Cornelius was waiting for them, and he had invited his oikos (his friends and family). When Peter arrived, he explained to them that three days ago, he wouldn't have been caught dead in a Gentile's home, but now God had revealed to him that He shows no partiality, and accepts all who come to Him, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Peter went straight to proclaiming Jesus, and as he did this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who were listening. The Jewish believers who had been traveled to Caesarea with Peter were dumbfounded. They never expected the Holy Spirit to fall on Gentiles! Peter, who had gotten it by now, commanded that they should be baptized.