Tag Archives: Weekly Notes

Red Tape

Throughout the centuries since Jesus, His followers have wrestled with how to talk to God. 

 

The early church prayed directly to God in Jesus’ name. They understood that Jesus had fulfilled the law, so there was no longer any veil between God and people. 

 

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split”

Matthew 27:50-51 NIV

http://bible.com/111/mat.27.50-51.niv

 

They recognized that an earthly priest was no longer needed because Jesus was now our high priest, and they could speak directly to God through Him.

 

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

http://bible.com/111/heb.4.14-16.niv

 

Jesus had told them this was the new order of His kingdom. 

 

““But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 23:8-12 NIV

http://bible.com/111/mat.23.8-12.niv

 

Over the next two centuries, many followers of Jesus forgot that Jesus had said this and that the first believers lived by it. They created many layers of hierarchy and authority, telling people that to get to God, they had to come through the bureaucracy and red tape.

 

 

 

 

The Reformation rejected these additions to the good news Jesus taught and returned the focus to Jesus and His word.  We are part of a movement that completes these reforms, focusing on the full Gospel of Jesus and returning to the ancient roots of Christian worship.

 

Today we still have many followers of Jesus who believe that Jesus intended us to create layers of leadership and red tape between us and God. We love them, but we disagree with them. Jesus’ death and resurrection tore the veil between God and people and restored our original relationship – walking with God and talking to Him face to face.

 

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 NIV

http://bible.com/111/2co.3.12-18.niv

 

Questions: 

  • Why do you think people have added so many layers between us and God?
  • Do you speak to God to God directly or through filters?
  • What red tape have you allowed to separate you from God?
  • What red tape are you allowing that separates others from God?

Right Place, Right Time

Immediately after his confrontation of Simon the Sorcerer, in the middle of the amazing things happening in Samaria, Philip is sent out to the desert. 

 

Acts 8 | Philip and the Ethiopian

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

    so he did not open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.

    Who can speak of his descendants?

    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

 

Philip is living in a world where miracles are everyday occurrences. This story begins with the appearance of an angel and ends with teleportation. 

The Ethiopian official might have thought it was a coincidence that Philip happened to be on the road at that time. But it was a divine appointment. 

 

What we can learn from Philip

  • Jesus knows where we need to be, and it’s not always obvious. 
    • It seemed obvious that Philip was in the middle of doing God’s work. 
    • Logic would dictate that he should spend his time there, not roaming the countryside. 
  • Sometimes Jesus takes us out to the desert. 
    • These desert trips often happen in the middle of the action. 
    • Jesus knows why you’re going out to the desert road. You have to trust Him. 
  • When we listen to Jesus’ direction, amazing things can happen. 
    • There is great purpose in this request, but it isn’t immediately obvious. It’s just one man. But he has great influence. 
    • Philip’s work is entirely redirected, and the message of Jesus spreads to an area he will never visit. His reach is extended exponentially by this one encounter. 
    • If we listen, Jesus will put us in the right place at the right time. 

 

What we can learn from the Ethiopian official

  • When you are seeking God, He’ll find you. 
    • He was open and actively seeking to understand the truth.
    • Jesus went to incredible lengths to send him a teacher. 
  • There is a great difference between information and understanding.
    • Our modern culture values self-discovery over teaching. 
    • We have access to unprecedented levels of information, but without a guide, we can get overloaded and confused. 
    • For every truth, there is a lie on the internet, stated with plausibility and passion. 
    • The Ethiopian had access to Isaiah (information), but he needed a teacher.
  • When you find the truth, act on it immediately. 
    • The Ethiopian is immediately baptized in the name of Jesus when he understands the message.

Questions

  • Have you ever felt in the past like Jesus led you into the desert? What was the result?
  • How are you listening for direction from Jesus as you make everyday choices? What can you do to be more open to His leading?
  • Do you have good teachers that help you understand and interpret information? 
  • How do you discern the difference between truth and lies?

Simon the Sorcerer

Acts 8 (NIV)

Simon the Sorcerer

9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
 
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
 
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
 
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
 
24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
 
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
 
 
Simon becomes a believer and is baptized. But that doesn’t mean he has it all worked out. 
 
The old patterns are hard to break. We all have default settings. Simon’s was seeing spirituality as a transaction.
 
This makes sense. Sorcery is like that. Say this spell, get this result. 
 
God is not a genie or a magic potion. 
 
Simon isn’t the only one who has made the mistake of thinking the kingdom of Jesus is about money.
 
Simon listened to correction. He turned away from his mistaken path. He learned.
 
What we can learn from his story:
 
  • God gives us gifts. He doesn’t ask us to pay Him back.
  • We have to let the Spirit reset our defaults.
  • When we get it wrong, we can still make it right.
 
Questions:
  • Have you ever “gotten it wrong” by misunderstanding something about God, Jesus, or the Bible? 
  • What are your “default settings” – patterns of belief or behavior you have a hard time breaking?
  • Is it possible to change those defaults?
 
 

Facing the Music

“One of the people Paul chose to deliver the letters we know as Colossians and Ephesians was a man named Onesimus. Onesimus was originally from Colossae, and would have been known to the people there. But Paul was compelled to write a separate letter for him. This was because Onesimus had been the slave of a wealthy Colossian named Philemon, in whose home the church met. Onesimus had run away, probably robbing Philemon in the process. In Rome he had become a follower of Jesus. He’d been helping Paul in prison, but now Paul needed him to return to Colossae. Paul’s hope was that Philemon would not only forgive Onesimus, but welcome him as a brother and no longer a slave.
 
Paul’s brief letter to Philemon stresses the change in Onesimus’s life. His name meant useful in Greek, and Paul tells Philemon that while he had formerly been useless (a servant Philemon couldn’t count on), now he could be useful to both of them. Paul doesn’t put Philemon under any obligation. His appeal is on the basis of love, and he promises to honor the demands of justice by making restitution himself if necessary.
 
Most likely Paul’s appeal was successful, or this letter would not have been preserved. In the life of Onesimus we have a clear example of the kind of transformation that occurred in thousands of lives as the gospel message spread throughout the Roman Empire.” *
 
*youversion.com
 

Philemon (NIV)

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
 
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
 
3 Grace and peace to you[a] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 

Thanksgiving and Prayer

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
 

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
 
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
 
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
 
22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
 
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
 
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
 
 
The reaction of Onesimus to the message of Jesus is to return to reconcile his relationship with his former master. 
 
The reaction of Paul is to send Onesimus back, but appeal to Philemon for grace and forgiveness.
 
Paul is also working to overcome the social institution of slavery.
 
  • He is not asking Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a slave, but to welcome him as a brother.
  • John Piper: “…without explicitly prohibiting slavery, Paul has pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution which is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people’s lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations. To walk “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery.”

    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-paul-worked-to-overcome-slavery

 
This is the power of the Gospel – it turns slaves into brothers. It cancels our debts. It gives us the courage to forgive and be forgiven.
 
Questions:
  • Can you identify with either Philemon or Onesimus? In what way?
  • Do you have a relationship that needs restoration? Do you need to forgive or be forgiven? 
  • Paul shows Philemon how slavery is incompatible with the message of Jesus. How can this Gospel (good news) change the way we view other norms in our society?

The Seekers

The Bereans had a different response to Paul’s teaching that the Thessalonians.

Acts 17 (NIV)

In Thessalonica

17 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.“This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
 
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
 

In Berea

10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
 
13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothystayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
 
Things to note:
  • They received with eagerness.
  • They didn’t take Paul’s word for it. They studied. They asked questions. 
    • What were they studying? Paul was telling them Jesus was the Messiah and fulfilled the OT prophecies. 
    • They studied to check his claims.
  • As a result of their investigation, many believed. 
 
Things to learn:
  • It’s okay to have questions. 
    • Embrace seeking over certainty. Be open to truths you haven’t considered. 
  • Faith grows as we study and investigate the message we have heard. 
    Romans 10:17 (NIV)17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
  • Questions with study = noble character. Questions + no study = ignorance. 
    • In the case of the Thessalonian jews, it also led to jealousy. 
 
Questions:
  • How have you received the message of Jesus? With eagerness or ignorance?
  • Do you have questions? Have you investigated the message? Have you studied it?