One Goal

Acts 21

May 9

Unlike many Jewish leaders, James and the elders were not jealous of Paul’s success among the Gentiles.  But they were aware that not everyone was so accepting.  To head off problems, the elders asked him to pay the costs of men completing a vow.   Likely a Nazirite vow, this voluntary, temporary commitment to total dedication to God required extensive sacrifices, including a female lamb, a male lamb, unleavened bread, loaves of bread, crackers, oil, and a grain and drink offering.   

Paul wasn’t buying acceptance. In 1 Corinthians 9 he writes “19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  He had one and only one goal….to win others to Christ.  Let’s be as focused as Paul.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. If people who knew you were to guess what your main goal was, what might they guess? Would they be right?
  2. How have you become “like others” (while remaining true to Christ’s law) in order to be able to share the good news with them?
  3. What group(s) of people would you want to be accepted by, so that they are willing to hear from you about Jesus Christ? How can you go about this mission?
  4. What was Paul willing to do, and willing to give up, in order to reach more people with the saving gospel? What are you willing to do, and willing to give up, for the same purpose?

They Thought it Could Not be Done

Acts 10

April 28

Acts 10:36 – You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Our history books are filled with stories of people doing something that has never been done before. From Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the Moon, to Rosalind Franklin capturing the first image of DNA, to women getting the right to vote in 1920. 

For every time that something has been done for the first time, there was a time that it was believed that it couldn’t be done. 

Have you ever been told something couldn’t be done, and then you proved your naysayers wrong? 

These are the kind of thoughts I have when I read through Acts chapter 10. Up until this point in time, followers of Jesus were predominantly converts of Judaism. Cornelius the Centurion, was “devout and God-fearing”, as was the rest of his family. He was generous and prayed daily to God. He probably thought that this was as good as it was going to get. Until God gave him a vision of something more. 

Peter, along with all of the other disciples, were most likely glad to have a Roman Centurion on their side. But they too thought that because he was a Gentile, Cornelius wouldn’t and couldn’t have a relationship to God like the Hebrews could. Until God gave him a vision of something more. 

God made it clear to both of these men that the gospel message wasn’t limited to just one group of people, but that Jesus came for us all. And this led to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, to be the first recorded baptized Gentile in all of Scripture. 

I don’t know if I will ever be the first of anyone to do something for the first time, but I am grateful that I am one of the benefactors of someone who did. And while I may never be a trailblazer, I do know that God still gives us dreams and visions for the kind of life that He longs to bless us with. Don’t shy away from a radical notion that God places on your heart. You never know how that might turn into a blessing not only for you, but for generations after you.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Who do you think was most surprised – Cornelius or Peter?
  2. How has God surprised you with how deep and wide and wonderful His plan of salvation is?
  3. Who still needs to hear it and how will you be a part of sharing it with those who need to know?

The Laughter was Far More Powerful

Romans Chapter 11 –
Paul completes his three chapter address of the fact that the Jews missed the Messiah here in chapter 11.  He emphasizes again that God did not completely reject Israel, for Paul himself is a Jew, and there is always going to be a remnant, until the entire nation will one day believe.

 

Verse 11 reads, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  Not at all!  Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”  This speaks to a great truth.  Very often, God is able to use transgressions or struggles in our own lives to bring about good.

 

My wife Susan and I have learned from mistakes in our marriage, and have shared those revelations with others.  I know of people who have wrestled with drug addiction who have then participated in programs to help others who are still wrestling.  In a very public example, Abby Johnson is a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston, who came to the revelation that what was going on there was wrong, and began a ministry to combat abortion.  (There is a movie titled Unplanned opening in theaters this month about her experience.)

 

So, yes, things in our lives that we are not proud of can indeed be used for good and for God’s glory.  But Paul continues in verse 12, “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater will their fullness bring!”  When we are fulfilling our purpose in Christ, that is when we are going to be used to our fullness!

 

greg 4This reminds me of the movie Monsters Inc.  You know the story.  The monsters snuck into kids rooms at night, in order to scare them and collect their screams. They then used the screams as a power source for the monster city.  Yes, it worked, but at a cost, and with a huge amount of effort.  But (spoiler alert) at the end of the movie, it was discovered that laughter was a far more powerful power source, that was much easier to collect.   Maybe this analogy is a stretch, but the point is that God would rather us make good choices (the laughter) and work with that instead of having to work with our mistakes (the screams.)

Speaking of analogies, Paul makes the analogy of Gentiles being a branch grafted onto the tree of Israel.  But he warns the Gentiles not to become arrogant or look down upon the Jews because they do not believe.  Paul says, “do not boast over those branches.  If you do, consider this:  You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

 

There is a lot of anti-semitism in the world today.  New York City police records indicate that Jews are the most targeted group in regards to hate crimes.  There are many reasons for this hate, but let’s make sure we are not counted among the anti-semites of the world.  God is going to save a remnant of Israel in the last days.  I for one do not want to stand against God’s chosen people then or now.

 

Greg Landry

Thankful for this Current Age

Romans Chapter 10 

 

Building off of the previous chapter, Paul again laments that his brethren have missed their Messiah.

 

But by God’s grace, knowing that His own chosen people would reject His son, He made the saving power of Christ’s sacrifice available to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

 

The Jews were full of knowledge, and knew all there was to know about the appearance of their Savior, but they still missed it.  Let that be a lesson to us all, to not be so stubborn and arrogant as to miss truths, whether they be large or small.

 

Another big shift at this time, beyond salvation becoming available to Gentiles, was the idea that righteousness with God was not going to be obtained by works, by keeping the law.  Instead, it is now attainable by confessing with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead.  Through these things you will be saved.

 

In verse 10, Paul says “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  How seemingly simple that is, compared with the copious laws and rituals the Jews had to observe to obtain the same outcome.

 

I am so thankful for both of these changes.  We take them for granted today, but for thousands of years, things were quite different.  In fact, for the majority of history, God was the God of his chosen people Israel only, who were under the law, with no access to Christ.

 

To say that Jesus Christ is Lord seems so easy to us today.  But at this time, for a Jew to say this meant that they fully accepted that Jesus was the son of God, which was a very big step for them.  Likewise, for a Gentile to proclaim Jesus as Lord meant that they were putting the Lordship of Christ over whatever Emperor they were under.   As we know, this was a dangerous public statement to make in those times, for Jew and Gentile alike.

 

greg 3

Never take your position in history for granted.  I am thankful for many things based on our current technology, such as automobiles, air conditioning, modern medicine and indoor toilets.  But I am most thankful that we are living in an age where we have access to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Greg Landry

Don’t Step on Superman’s Cape

Romans Chapter 9 

In Romans 9 through 11, Paul deals with the problem associated with the condition of Israel. What does it mean that Israel has missed its Messiah? What does this say about God? What does it say about Israel? What does it say about our present position in God?

 

Paul first expresses his grief over his lost Jewish brothers who have rejected their Messiah.  It had to be very difficult for Paul to fully believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and yet see his brothers reject this truth and thereby reject the potential that accepting that truth held for them.

 

Do you similarly mourn for the lost today, especially people you are close to?  If so, have you ever attempted to share the life-changing good news with them?  If you haven’t, maybe you are the one God has always intended to share the gospel with that person.

 

Paul then responds to a concern that people then must have had.  If the Jews are God’s people, and yet they have seemingly been rejected by God, then how can the Gentiles have confidence that God will not similarly reject them.

 

Paul makes the point that the nation of Israel has not been rejected as a whole.  There has always been and always will be at least a remnant remaining.  Just because someone is a member of the nation of Israel does not not mean they are necessarily a follower of God.  Similarly, not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is truly following Christ.  If such an individual is missing out on the promises of God, it is not because God is a promise breaker.

 

Beginning in verse 14, Paul explores the topic of God’s mercy.  It is important to remember what mercy is. Mercy is to not get what we deserve. God is merciful to us every day that he does not smite us down for whatever sin we have just committed.  At the same time, God is never less than fair with anyone, but fully reserves the right to be more than fair with individuals as He chooses.

 

But if God uses the disobedience of someone like Pharaoh to fulfill his plans, then how can God still find fault with Pharaoh?   Did Pharaoh have freewill or not?

 

It is tempting to want to question some of God’s decisions.  How foolish.  There is an old song with the following chorus:

 

You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t question God’s choices.

greg pic2

 

OK, I changed the last line.  But that is Paul’s response to the previous question of freewill.  I will expound upon that and say that indeed we do have freewill.  But God will allow the direction of our heart to be used for His glory, even if that direction is away from Him.  And He doesn’t need to explain himself.

 

We should all aim to be used for God’s glory due to the goodness of our hearts, not the hardness.

 

Greg Landry

 

 

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