Thursday, October 26, 2006

Acts 17-20- Outward focused, and so much more.

I'm reading through Acts along with the fulltimers (see if you have no idea what I'm talking about.) I've just returned from being on the road with each team for a week. Much of what we discussed while I was out was the concept of turning the corner from an inward-focus to an outward focus.

I finished our reading for this week on the plane ride home. Below are some of the observations I made on Acts 17-20, which I shared with them through our team devo blog:

I highlighted much in this week's reading. Chapter 17- Paul was in tune with his surroundings (outward-focused)- he noticed the city was full of idols. He sensed the needs around him and responded. He even sought to understand the local customs and artistic influences/poets (greenline vs redline.)

Chapter 18- he was a tentmaker. We don't hear anything else about this, but it was a point of connection for him with his "host home." (One wonders where he would have stayed if he was a skater.) And here's another vision for Paul- the Spirit encourages him to keep speaking. He continues strengthening the disciples- the mission we're encouraged to be on. And there's another reference to "those who by grace had believed" at the end of 18. Pondersome.

Chapter 19- receiving the Holy Spirit. What a challenging passage. Paul places his hands on some who were already disciples, and they "spoke in tongues and prophesied" as they received the Holy Spirit. (Is there a Paul in the house?) Verse 11" God did extraordinary miracles through Paul."

The kicker for me: verses 13 through 17. Some Jews were invoking the name of the Lord without believing, and an evil spirit quite litteraly overcomes them. Oh for scary- any truth in my life? Do I preach what I don't believe?

Then there's the whole mob scene in vv28-41, which is just some fascinating humanity. Everyone is in a frenzy, and "most of the people did not even know why they were there." Power and manipulation in numbers.

Chapter 20- Paul's ministry to those who believe is one of encouragement. And then how FUNNY is it that Paul talks so long that some guy falls asleep in a window and subsequently falls to his death? I mean, tragic, and a way that God glorifies himself through the raising of this kid back to life, but I think we are so often afraid to laugh along with scripture. This guy fell asleep during a sermon, and it killed him! That's funny, people.

Later in the chapter, we see Paul compelled and guided by the Spirit to go Jerusalem. He knows the prognosis is not good, but he is faithful: "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace." v24. Here's a man with an outward focus. And note his benediction to the missionaries in Ephesus: "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock."

Read and ponder the rest of Paul's parting words to the elders of Ephasus in Acts 20: 13-38.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Acts 8: Discipleship and the Big Bang theory

Two main things jump out at me when I read the first 17 verses of Acts Chapter 8.

The first is how God used a severe adversity in the life-cycle of the early church for immeasurable good:
"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."

(contextual note: I'm having a hard time finding exact information on how much area this really represented, but it seems likely that these early believers were scattered over several hundred square miles.)

Note what happens next:
"Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

The persecution of the early church was like taking a hammer to a glob of mercury... the result was the scattering of a mass resulting in widespread contamination.


Acts then follows the story of Philip for a little while- a believer who flees to the south of Jerusalem and ends up in a city in Samaria, where he "proclaimed the Christ." The result, according to Acts, was that "there was great joy in that city."

So we see the early church spreading the Gospel wherever they went. We call this evangelism. But the second thing that jumped out at me was this:
"When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them."

Know what we call that?

Evangelism is only the first part of the story, isn't it? Matthew 28:18 records Jesus' last instructions to these same disciples:
"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

You may know that I'm particularly fond of the way this verse is rendered in The Message:
"Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you."

I've never noticed before now how true to form the disciples were in carrying out Jesus' instructions. They definately trained those they met, far and near, in the way of life Jesus spoke of, and Acts records that "when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized."

And then what? The apostles sent Peter and John. Why?? Because evangelism was only the first part of Christ's commission.

I'm reminded of how often that one part becomes the totality of our focus in Christian ministry. But there is another part: "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" was how Jesus finished. I'm fascinated to note how the early church implemented this element of discipleship into their ministry.

Oh, it's also worth noting that Jesus used the word then. Evangelize, baptize, then instruct them. If we fail to focus beyond evangelism as Christians, we're equally guilty of putting the cart before the horse- instructing people in the practices Jesus commanded (and expecting them to obey) before they know who Jesus is!

But that's definately a rant for a separate post. :-)

Monday, October 02, 2006


"Everyone ends up somewhere in life.
A few people end up somewhere on purpose."
-from Visioneering by Andy Stanley

I've recently realized that this statement has a great deal of significance for me. I am not content to end up somewhere and soak my purpose out of what happened along the way. I want the somewhere I'm going to be the purpose.

This is why I work in ministry. There's nothing wrong or bad about working in the secular marketplace - in fact, it would be a pretty difficult world to live in if nobody worked "normal" jobs (so thanks to all of you who do so.) I did just that for several years, and in several capacities, before going to work full-time in ministry.

But for me, life in the corporate work world just didn't make me tick. There just didn't seem to be any point to it. Sure, I could be nice to people and carry myself in a Christ-like manner as I went throughout my day, but the reason for my existence (from a job perspective) didn't have anything to do with doing anything good for people. It was all about corporate gain, and it wasn't enough for me to just know that we were doing it ethically, or that I was "being a light" wherever I went. I couldn't draw my purpose in life out of opportunities that I encountered on the way to an otherwise un-intentional destination. I wanted the destination to be my purpose.

Here is the inherent danger for me and others who are like-minded. The destination means nothing without the journey. Christ hasn't called us to "accomplish." He's called us to love the Lord our God, and to love others as ourselves. And that, friends, is not a destination. It's what happens along the way.

In ministry, it's easy for me to be so destination-focused that I lose sight of the fact that the people along the way... kind of ARE the destination.