Archives for posts with tag: book of acts

Acts 14 marks the first time followers of Christ encountered a wholly pagan audience. Gone were all the common threads with Judaism, including the synagogue, the Torah, and even more importantly, the very notion of monotheism (one true God only).

How does one relate to such a group of people? I feel that question is as relevant today as it was to Paul and Barnabas in AD 46 because we too must speak to people with whom we have little or nothing in common.

I have three modest suggestions:

  1. Put people ahead of doctrine.

When Paul and Barnabas realized that the people thought they were gods, they didn’t try to correct their beliefs right away. Though outraged and disgusted at the blasphemy, they found a point of contact with the people: “We too are human like you!” We need to learn to see people first and foremost for who they are — though fallen, still the crown of God’s creation, bearing His image and glory.

  1. Put God ahead of doctrine.

Sometimes it is appropriate to start with the fine points of theology, but for most people, it’s best to relate them to God first. “We are here to bring you good news so you can leave these worthless things behind and turn to the living God who made heaven and earth.” Before debating evolution, tell people about God’s power; before explaining the Trinity (not that we really can), point them to work of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection. Don’t try to save anyone, tell people about the God who can save them.

  1. Put clarity ahead of doctrine.

Paul’s speech here is a jewel. No word from ancient prophets, no reference to the sacrificial system, no Messianic pronouncement. There would be time for that later on (I am not saying doctrine is NOT important!), but for now Paul went for clarity. He used language from agriculture and day-to-day stuff, like the notion of pleasure and happiness. He didn’t throw difficult religious concepts at this crowd. Though true, what he said was a far less complicated version of the gospel compared with what he had shared before with his Jewish audience. I mean, there can’t be anything more basic than saying, “The food you eat every day and the wine that makes you feel happy — they are gifts from the true God to you.”

Sometimes we tend to complicate things, don’t we? But I want to encourage you to think about these three simple rules when sharing Christ with others to our pluralistic audience of today: a) don’t come across as being superior; b) move the spotlight from you to God; c) check your “Christianese” out the door.

 

Questions to ponder:

  1. Considering Paul and Barnabas’ background as thoroughly monotheistic Jewish men, how significant is it that the first words out of their mouths were “we too are human just like you”?

2. Can you think of examples of things we say in church that an outsider would have no clue what the meaning is?

  1. When you look at Jesus’ example, He seems to have been generally tough on the religious leaders but gentle with those who were on the outside. What do you think this means to us?

 

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

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We’ve all heard the expression, “Pray for sunshine, prepare for rain.” At first glance this seems to be what might have happened with the believers in Acts 12 when they gathered in Mary’s house to pray for Peter’s release. Perhaps they were praying but didn’t really expect a positive outcome.

But something miraculous did actually happen and when Peter showed up at the house where they were meeting, having been released by an angel, everyone thought the girl who had seen him outside was insane.

Is that really what happened? Maybe. But maybe we’ve have been a little harsh on those early believers and here are some reasons that might be the case:

  1. The text does say that the believers were praying “earnestly for Peter” (12:5), but in 12:12 it simply says that “they were praying.” It is possible that by then their prayer had evolved from praying for Peter’s release to praying for themselves?

Consider this: it was now the eleventh hour, the night before Peter was supposed to be presented to the religious leaders. His death was imminent and the believers now had to think about their own fates. So they took the unusual step of locking their door. They knew they were next, they were exhausted, not knowing where to turn. Perhaps they were now praying primarily for wisdom on what to do next? Or for strength to endure to the end?

  1. The believers had good reasons to think that Peter may have already been executed. Herod Agrippa had inherited malevolent genes from his grandfather, Herod the Great. He had already passed James, John’s bother, through the sword. To please the religious leaders, he was going to kill Peter next.

When the servant kept insisting that Peter was at the door, some people said, “It is his angel.” There was a traditional belief that when a person died, his “angel” (guardian angel?”) paid a visit to his/her friends. This would be another indication that the believers may already have thought that Peter was dead.

Now it wouldn’t be the first time in history that believers prayed for something and were quite shocked that they actually got what they were praying for, but I am just not sure that this was one of those cases.

How about you?

Do your prayer requests evolve over time?

Do you think there is anything inherently wrong with praying against all hope?

Do you truly believe that “nothing is impossible with God?”

Do you remember a time when God miraculously granted a request that you and/other people were praying for?

And finally, what do you think is the meaning of Mark 9:24, when the father of a demon-possessed boy said, “I believe, help me with my unbelief”?

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Pivotal bulletin copyWhen you trace the early progress of the gospel proclamation in the book of Luke, the story that emerges is nothing less than amazing. You get the feeling that God takes this business of expanding the gospel into the ends of the world very seriously.

To help us see this progression, let’s first think of four groups of people:

The Hebraic Jews. They were native to the land of Israel and as such were the first to be reached with the gospel. The Apostles all originated from this group. Early on in the church, conflict arose between this group of Jews and the next (see Acts 5).

The Hellenistic Jews. These were Jews who had come from other lands outside Israel. Sometimes they are referred to as being part of the “Diaspora.” They had settled in foreign lands after the Babylonian exile but by now many had returned home.

The Samaritans. An ethnic group living within the land of Israel who were the result of intermarriage between peoples from other lands who had been forcibly resettled into Palestine and Jews who were native-born and never left the land. The Jews considered the Samaritans as a sort of “half-breed,” an ethnically polluted mongrel tribe, racially and religiously unclean (see John 4:9 and Luke 9:51-56).

The “Proselytes.” This group was represented by the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. They were foreigners who were curious enough about the Jewish faith that they took steps to investigate it.

The early disciples initially failed to understand that God’s design was for the gospel to be shared with everyone, including all of the groups listed above (see Acts 1:8).

They way it played out then, as it so often does now, was that these early groups got distracted by peripheral issues. The Hebraist Christians had misgivings about the Hellenistic Christians. The Samaritans suspected the native-born Jews for their veneration of the temple and the foreigners were not even on anybody’s radar screen. In essence, the early Christians took their eyes off the main thing, and Christ became a gift only to an exclusive club that was good enough to make the cut. Well, God was not pleased and the events of Acts 7 represent a game changer.

God sent persecution, so the Hellenistic Christians had to flee Jerusalem. The Hebraist Christians laid low. Following Stephen’s death, Phillip went to Samaria. His stance against the temple provided a natural bridge with the “unclean” Samaritans.

Next, under God’s direct supervision, Phillip was sent to a “proselyte” who was looking for answers. The passage he was reading in Isaiah about someone who was “cut off” against his will and left with no descendants (8:30-34) cut to the chase and provided a bridge to a eunuch who knew firsthand the pain of being despised and rejected.

Because God desires that everyone should come to the knowledge of the Savior (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), there is no group or individual with which He has not planted a bridge to the gospel. Find out what that is and plunge into it with abandon. You will find that God has already been dialoguing with the person way before you got there.

Pastor Ivanildo Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Pivotal bulletin copy

Note: the following is an example of the devotionals I’m writing for our Pivotal series (a study of Acts). For more, please go here.

I have so many unanswered questions related to the Ananias and Sapphira story in Acts 5 but there is one thing that is certain about it–they died for conspiring together and lying to God.

I am also fairly certain that while Peter was completely aware of the fate awaiting Sapphira, he may have been as surprised as everyone else when Ananias fell dead in the middle of his speech.

There is a part of us that wants to cry “unfair” when we read this story. I’m not going to deny it: I feel sorry for this couple. The story doesn’t tell us how old they were or if they had any children. Luke doesn’t even care to mention the price of the piece of property they sold.

Not that it matters that much. In the end, their capital offense was to conspire to lie against God. Peter stated it a little differently to Sapphira. He said they put the Holy Spirit to the test. Maybe that gives us a clue. Could this couple be defying God? I mean, “Let’s see what kind of a god he is before we can truly believe,” type of defiance? Did they purposefully try to mock God? “These people think they know everything. Let’s fool them,” type of mockery?

You see what I am doing? I am still trying to find an offense that is bad enough to bring such swift and irreversible penalty to bear on these poor souls. Why? Because in my own subdued, defiant way, I refuse to accept that lying to God is a punishable offense, let alone a capital one. And there is more: every day there are Christians blatantly lying to God and they have yet to see the dirty feet of the grave diggers saying, “Next?” This seems to confirm that lying to God is not such a big deal. Or does it?

Recently, a famous website exposed the lies of so many people who sought to engage in marital infidelity without fear of being discovered. Well, thousands had their names revealed, including a handful of well known Christian leaders. They lied to their spouses, but they lied to God first. But they didn’t drop dead in front of their computers, though one evangelical leader tragically took his own life.

Children tell their parents they were doing homework at their friend’s house when they were out partying and engaging in illegal activities. Adults engage in online pornography while telling their spouses they are watching reruns of Friends. Our brave new world has given us all the tools we need to lie with impunity, or so we think.

So the question really is: “Why are we still alive?” Or even close to home: “Why am I alive?” And the answer may be simply related to the fact that we no longer have someone with the prophetic and apostolic authority of Peter to spot our sins!

But we should not make the mistake of thinking that our life extension here means that we somehow beat the system, for there will be a day of reckoning and we better be prepared for it. As Peter himself said in another place: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

May we also be overcome with a healthy sense of fear of God (Acts 5:5) as we consider how we are living today.

Questions to ponder:

1. Why do you think Luke singled out one sin (lying) to write about in this early stage of the history of the Church?

2. List the types of injuries that occur when people decide to lie blatantly about something they did.

3. What is the biblical solution for the habit of lying?

Pastor Ivanildo Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA