Tag Archives: Religion

November 24, 2017 Bible Study — Our Faith Is Counted As Righteousness So That We Can Stop Sinning

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 4-7.

    Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith never wavered, even when he was 100 years old and still had no son by Sarah. Yet, we know that he accepted Sarah’s suggestion and had a son with Hagar. So, despite the fact that Abraham had doubts, and even occasionally acted on those doubts, God considered that his faith never wavered. What we learn from Paul’s exposition is that it is natural that we some times doubt God’s promises. As we experience suffering, and the doubt that comes from it, we can learn to persevere. As we persevere in our faith through suffering and doubt our character will be built up. The building of our character will inspire us to ever greater hope in what the future holds. That hope is not in coming worldly good, but in doing God’s will and that hope will be fulfilled, and grow ever greater, by the Holy Spirit channeling God’s love through us.

    Paul tells us in this passage, and yesterday’s, that we are saved through faith by God’s grace, that no action or good work on our part contributes to our salvation, and that no sin we have committed impedes that salvation. Many people interpret this to mean that they can go on sinning with impudence. However, Paul addresses that very idea in this passage. Paul tells us that our salvation has freed us from sin and that if we choose to continue sinning we are allowing ourselves to become re-enslaved by sin. We are slaves to that which we do, if we do righteous deeds we will be slaves to righteousness, if we do sinful deeds we will be slaves to sin. Towards the end of this passage Paul explains how this works. We have been saved to desire not to sin. If we sin despite our desire not to do so, it shows us that we need more of God’s grace and we should seek for the Holy Spirit to enter us more fully. As the Holy Spirit fills us it will inspire us to undertake more acts which are righteous. The result will be that, as we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, our time will be filled with doing things which serve God and we will have no time left to succumb to sin. This is easier said than done. I want to reiterate a point which Paul made earlier and makes again later. The degree to which our time is filled doing good, and thus not sinning, is not to our credit. It is a product of the Holy Spirit filling us and does not make us better than those who find themselves more controlled by sin. I will state that some of my greatest victories over sin have been inspired by those who are just taking the first steps in overcoming sin in their lives.

November 23, 2017 Bible Study — All Have Sinned

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Romans 1-3.

    This is perhaps one of the most complex messages in the Bible. Paul starts by telling us that we are made with God by faith. However, no sooner has Paul said this then he finds it necessary to preach a bit of fire and brimstone about sin. Before we can truly understand God’s glorious grace we must understand the depth of our depravity. In order to make the case for the depravity of those who do not have faith in God, Paul makes the case that looking at the created universe reveals God’s existence and His Law (the Law which the Law of Moses is just an expression, just as the Temple in Jerusalem was just an expression of the Temple in Heaven where God lives). No one has an excuse for not knowing God since He has revealed Himself through the Universe. Paul tells us that sexual depravity is the first of the moral failings which come from denying God, all other forms of depravity follow from there.

    In his description of the sexual depravity to which abandoned those who have chosen, against the evidence, to refuse to worship God, Paul pretty much lists the entirety of LGBTQA. However, before we become arrogant and start condemning those who travel that path, Paul reminds us of our own failings. We are just as guilty as those whose utter depravity Paul just described and we know that God has condemned the actions which we commit. Paul makes the very clear point that we are all guilty of sin, sin which makes us deserving of death. We have all sinned, every last one of us. As a result, we have no basis to boast about being better than others, because we are not.

November 22. 2017 Bible Study — I Pray To God That You May Become What I Am

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading. This is the last of my posts written while I am on my trip. Thank you for bearing with me.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 25-28.

    When Paul preaches before the Roman governor and Herod Agrippa, both listen attentively to what he says until he gets to Jesus rising from the dead. At that point the governor calls him crazy. At which point Paul asks Herod Agrippa to corroborate what he is saying. Herod responds by asking Paul if he really thinks he can convert him so quickly. Paul answered that quick or slow, his goal was that all who heard him would convert. That should be our goal with every conversation and interaction we have with non-believers to provide the seeds which lead them to become believers.

November 21, 2017 Bible Study — Which Came First, Your Political Position, Or Your Religious Argument For It?

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading. I am on a business trip over the weekend and into next week, so my posts may be somewhat abbreviated.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 23-25.

    When Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin for a hearing about the riot, he realized that those running it had no intention of allowing him to present his case. As a result he immediately exploited the divisions among those on the Council. He did so by pointing out that the objections of the Sadducees to Christianity applied equally to what the Pharisees taught. By doing this Paul was able to get his enemies to argue among themselves. The Pharisees and Sadducees were united in their opposition to the teachings of Christianity, yet the differences between what they believed were greater on a fundamental level than that between Pharisees and Christians. There is value in pointing out such differences, both as a tool for reaching others for Christ and as a defense against persecution.

    Ultimately, Paul’s captivity was extended because the teachings of Christ were a threat to the power of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which both considered more important than the differences in their professed beliefs. The combination of religious and political leadership lead those leaders to sacrifice their religious beliefs in order to advance their political power. When someone uses religious arguments to advance a political position we should always examine which came first: the religious argument, or the political position.

November 20, 2017 Bible Study — Mistakes and Misunderstandings

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading. I am on a business trip over the weekend and into next week, so my posts may be somewhat abbreviated.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 21-22.

    I have wondered for several years if the multiple prophecies which Paul received about what would happen when he arrived in Jerusalem this time were a warning for Paul not to go to Jerusalem, which Paul ignored. All of the sermons and teachings I have heard or read about Paul going to Jerusalem suggest that Paul is to be admired for going to Jerusalem despite knowing what would happen if he did so. However, I wonder if the success of Paul’s ministry after his arrest does not more represent God making use of us when we are faithful, even when we make mistakes.
    Certainly, the advice given to Paul by the Church leaders when he got to Jerusalem was a mistake. There were Jewish believers who continued to follow the Law of Moses and had heard, and believed, rumors that Paul taught Jews to stop following the Law of Moses. In order to show these believers that Paul approved of Jews continuing to follow the Law they asked him to accompany some believers who were completing a Nazirite Vow (a vow of dedication to God set forth in the Law of Moses). Unfortunately, some Jews from Asia saw Paul in the Temple and believing that Paul did not honor the Temple concluded that he had defiled it by bringing a Gentile tourist into the Temple with him.

November 19. 2017 Bible Study — The Baptism Of the Holy Spirit

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading. I am on a business trip over the weekend and into next week, so my posts may be somewhat abbreviated.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 19-20.

    In yesterday’s passage we learn that a Jew named Apollos preached the Gospel in Ephesus where he met Priscilla and Aquila. Luke told us further that at that point Apollos, while a powerful speaker on behalf of the Gospel, had a limited understanding of it. He was unaware of the Holy Spirit. Priscilla and Aquila gave him a more thorough understanding and together with the other believers in Ephesus sent him on to Corinth and vicinity. What is interesting is that we know that Priscilla and Aquila had spent some time with Paul before this, yet when Paul arrived in Ephesus a short time later, the believers there were still only aware of John’s baptism. So, despite Priscilla and Aquila spending some time among the believers in Ephesus and instructing Apollos on the Gospel the rest of the believers had a limited understanding.

    Paul preached successfully in Ephesus for two years without incident. Then, when he became convicted that it would soon be time to move on to Greece, he sent his closest companions on ahead of him. Shortly after this trouble erupted in Ephesus. The trouble here was similar to that earlier in Philippi. Demetrius felt economically threatened by the growing Christian community, which put no faith in personal shrines.

November 18, 2017 Bible Study — The Limits Of Logic

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading. I am on a business trip over the weekend and into next week, so my posts may be somewhat abbreviated.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 17-18.

    When Paul and Silas were in Thessolanica, certain Jews stirred up crowds against them. Initially, they attempted to find Paul and Silas to have the crowd “deal” with them. When they could not find them, they took local believers before the authorities. In other words, they got the crowd ready to kill the outsiders but were unable to get a similar response to those who were known to the locals. In Berea, they were not able to get the crowd as worked up, and when they brought someone before the authorities it was not Paul and Silas (perhaps having learned of what happened in Philippi). I find it interesting that, in order to defuse tensions, the believers in Berea escorted Paul to Athens, while Silas and Timothy remained. This is not the first time his fellow believers escorted Paul out of town, and on each of those occasions Luke uses passive verbs to describe Paul’s actions in leaving the city. There are two things we learn from Luke’s descriptions of these incidents. One is that Paul was the focus of hostility. The other is that Paul never backed down from a confrontation, others had to convince him to move on.

    Being a firm believer in logic, I have always loved Luke’s account of Paul preaching in Athens. When Paul introduced the Gospel to the Athenians he started with their existing expressions of religious belief. We can learn a lot about the development of Paul’s religious beliefs by comparing Luke’s account here to Paul’s writings. I believe that it was in Athens where Paul learned the limits of using logic to convince others to believe. Luke’s story makes it sound like those listening to Paul in Athens were very receptive of what he had to say…until he started talking about resurrection of the dead. I know today many people who like much of the philosophy which underlies Christian morality, but are unwilling to accept the idea of resurrection. Ultimately, logic is limited by the assumptions one makes. If you start by assuming that the material world is all that exists, one can never use logic to discover that there is more. At some point, you need to have faith that there is more to this world than material things.

November 16, 2017 Bible Study

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 11-13.

    It was Barnabas, “the son of exhortation”, who introduced Saul to the leaders of the Church when he returned to Jerusalem after his conversion. Now, in today’s passage we read that after Barnabas arrived in Antioch, at the behest of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, and saw what was happening he went to get Saul. Luke does not really tell us what about the situation in Antioch made Barnabas think Saul was the answer, but Barnabas’ action here combined with his earlier intervention for Saul in Jerusalem suggests that they had known each other before Saul’s conversion. I noticed something today that I do not recall anyone ever commenting on. It was believers from Cyprus who began preaching to Gentiles in Antioch and Barnabas was originally from Cyprus. I have heard and read many messages that speak of Barnabas being selected by the Jerusalem Church for this mission because of his personality. However, it seems likely that Barnabas was chosen because of his connections with those who had first begun converting the Gentiles in Antioch. Further, I believe that Barnabas brought in Saul because of Saul’s background as a student of the Law of Moses and rabbinical traditions. Barnabas’ idea appears to have been that Saul could teach the Gentile believers what they needed to know from the Law of Moses. In a similar manner, we need to teach those who were not raised in Christian traditions the understandings which underpin Jesus’ teachings (such as God as the standard for what is good and the idea that everyone is guilty before the Law).

    I noted in a previous post about how Luke changes the names by which he refers to people as they were thought of differently by those who would have been present. In today’s passage we have something similar. When Barnabas and Saul set out on their missionary journey, Barnabas’ name comes first. Then, after Luke switches to using the name “Paul” instead of “Saul” he also starts listing the duo as “Paul and Barnabas”, Paul now gets top billing instead of Barnabas. Before I mention more about this, I want to make note of the fact that Barnabas and Saul begin their journey in Cyprus, Barnabas’ home country. I think it is worth noting the context in which Luke changes each of these things. He first refers to Saul as Paul when Paul confronts a Jewish sorcerer in order to evangelize a Gentile.

On a side note, that Gentile was named Sergius Paulus. One of the possible explanations for Saul being called Paul is that he had a connection with a family with that same surname…including the possibility of Saul or his father having been adopted by someone with that surname. Personally, I prefer an alternate explanation. Saul may have been known as Paul because he was a small man (Paulus in Latin means small). Which leads me to imagine a scrawny, short Paul confronting a tall, imposing Elymas.

Then Luke switches the name order of the two evangelists when they travel to Antioch in Pisidia, which is where they first switch their focus from preaching to Jews to preaching to Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas changed their focus because some of the Jews became jealous of the attention which the pair received from the Gentiles of the town. The Jews had had a synagogue in this town for generations without much interest from the general populace. Suddenly Paul and Barnabas show up and everyone wants to see what is going on. How often do we fall into the same trap, becoming jealous of someone who manages to draw crowds to listen to God’s word? We should be happy that people are listening to God’s word, even if those preaching it have shortcomings in what they are teaching. As Paul says in one of his letters, whether for good reasons or bad, Christ is preached!

November 15, 2017 Bible Study — Call No One Unclean

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 9-10.

    Here we see two examples of Luke changing the name he uses for people. As I said the other day, I believe that Luke changes the names he uses as part of his attention to detail. The two people mentioned are Saul and Barnabas. Earlier, Luke referred to Barnabas by his given name, Joseph, but told us that he was also known as Barnabas. Further on in this book, Luke switches to referring to Saul as Paul (and explains at that point that Saul was also called Paul). If Luke were making this up, it would make an easier story to tell if he just used the same name throughout. The only reason I can imagine for using the different names is so that his readers could more easily corroborate what he was writing. At the point in time being described in today’s passage, everyone knew Saul as “Saul”, at the time of events described later people know him as “Paul”.

    Luke’s description of Peter’s vision and his visit with Cornelius are absolutely critical for us to read and learn the lesson they contain. Luke is not at all bashful in making sure we understand the lesson here. The only thing Luke could have added to make his point even more clear was a reference to Genesis 1:26. Peter as a good and conscientious Jew would have considered Gentiles to be unclean and that associating with them would make him unclean. Peter got the Holy Spirit’s message, no one created in God’s image should be considered unclean. Martin Luther King, Jr got it right, we should judge people by the content of their character not by their ancestry. Actually, we should judge people by their reaction to the Holy Spirit. When Peter saw the Holy Spirit fill Cornelius and his household he recognized that they should be baptized. I want to emphasize that anyone who judges people based on anything other than their actions is not following the clear direction of God…and when judging people based on their actions we need to be prepared to forgive them…even if they sin repeatedly.

November 14, 2017 Bible Study — The Believers Prayed For Boldness, and God Answered

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 7-8.

    When Stephen was put on trial he did not answer the charges directly. Instead, he recounted an abridged version of the history of the Israelites. Stephen’s speech is an example of God fulfilling the believers’ prayer from a few chapters earlier. He was indeed bold in proclaiming the Gospel, and no more tactful than Peter had been in his earlier speeches. Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of betraying and murdering the Messiah, and further of having the Law but not obeying it. Then when Stephen looked up to Heaven and declared that he saw the Son of Man standing next to God they could take no more. They rushed Stephen, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Now, I have never experienced being stoned, but I have been hit by a rock thrown at me. Which makes Stephen’s reaction to being stoned remarkable. While he was being stoned Stephen prayed for God to forgive those who were in the act of killing him. Once more I am reminded of the shooting in Texas during the worship service. We should not seek armed guards to protect us from such an incident. Rather, we should pray to God that, if we find ourselves in such a situation, we have the strength to do as Stephen did. Luke’s mention of Saul standing there approving Stephen’s death was not just an interesting detail. He included that to tell us that Stephen’s reaction had far reaching influence.

    I have always paid close attention to the stories about Philip in the Bible (interesting side note, why does Luke not distinguish between Philip the Apostle and Philip the Deacon?) because I share the name. Actually, despite my fascination with my namesake I am more interested in Simon the Magician in the first of the two stories involving Philip. This Simon was celebrity in Samaria who had used his talents to set himself up as a kind of cult leader. Sometimes we get caught up in the folklore regarding Simon the Magician and miss what really happened. First, he immediately recognized the difference between the miracles which Philip performed and the tricks which he had done. Which led Simon to become a believer along with many others. Then when Peter and John arrived and the Holy Spirit came upon people, Simon wanted that ability. It seems clear to me that Simon wanted the ability to lay on hands and have people receive the Holy Spirit in order to return to the spotlight he had enjoyed before his conversion. However, when Peter reprimanded him for seeking to purchase God’s power, he was immediately contrite. He did not attempt to defend his actions, but instead begged Peter to pray for him.

    I really like the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. First, I like what it tells us about following God’s direction when it comes to winning people to Christ. When I read this account I always wonder if the angel who told Philip to go to that particular road was a supernatural being who appeared to Philip or if it was a more mundane seeming messenger whom Philip described as an angel (the word translated “angel” can also be translated as “messenger”). In either case, I imagine Philip heading along the road wondering what he was supposed to do now when he saw the Ethiopian sitting in his chariot reading a scroll. A little voice in his head told him to go over and see what the guy was reading. I can imagine that because I have had it happen to me, not with the same remarkable results as happened here but nevertheless with results which make it clear that God intended me to be at that place at that moment. However, the key thing about this passage is something to which I think we pay too little attention. When the Ethiopian understood what Philip was telling him, he immediately requested to be baptized in the first body of water they came upon and Philip did so. Philip did not say, “Well, you need to go through membership class first.” Or, “Well, we need to wait for one of the Apostles to do it.” No, Philip took the eunuch over to the water and baptized him. We should do the same.