Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sunday School Lesson: Offering of Oneself

Purpose: To consider ways we can offer hospitality and service to others in the same spirit that Lydia and Paul demonstrated.

Scripture: Acts 16:6-15

Does God ever block us from ministry or in any way keep us from ministry?

Have any of you had an experience of the Holy Spirit forbidding you from some type of ministry?

How do we normally deal with closed doors?

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
(Act 16:6-15)

Our lessons this quarter have all come from the book of Acts. We have seen a steady progression of the infant church beginning with the day of Pentecost and with the growth of the church following exactly as the last words of Christ told. The last recorded words of Christ immediately prior to the Ascension are recorded in Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
(Act 1:8 ESV)

The rest of the book of Acts is a testament that what He said is exactly what happened. The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. After that a loving and sharing Christian community grew in Jerusalem. As the Church in Jerusalem grew, so grew opposition to the Church. This opposition resorted to violence and murder of Christian faithful. As a result of the persecution the believers left Jerusalem, but did not leave the Faith. The saints who fled Jerusalem first carried their faith into the surrounding countryside and into Samaria. The persecutors followed. Who would have ever guessed that Christ would choose the chief persecutor to become the missionary who would take the Gospel to the end of the earth.

Last week we learned of Saul’s experience on the road to capture and punish Christians. Following his visit with Spirit of Christ, Saul becomes Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles. This weeks lesson skips forward to Paul’s second missionary journey.

On Paul’s first journey, he and Barnabas had carried the Message to Cyprus and various cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, Galatia, and Lycaonia; all in what is modern day Turkey. After the first journey, they returned to Jerusalem to report of their success as well as to take part in the Jerusalem Council, which decided that Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians. After the Council Paul invited Barnabas to return with him to the cities that they visited on the first journey. After a disagreement Paul leaves with Silas for Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas and Mark go to Cyprus.

In Lystra, a city on Lycaonia, Paul and Silas are joined by Timothy. And that brings us up to this weeks scripture lesson.

Verse 6 says that they were forbidden by the Spirit to speak the Word in Asia. What exactly does it mean to be forbidden by the Spirit?

How do you think the Spirit communicated this command to the missionaries?

If any of you have ever experienced the Spirit moving you away from a certain ministry, share with us how that was communicated to you?

Why would the Holy Spirit want to keep the Word from any place? Don’t you think that God wants the Gospel taken everywhere?

Verse 7 says that they attempted to enter Bithynia which is in the area that at that time was called Asia. If they had already been told by the Spirit not to go to Asia, why do you think they tried anyway?

How do you think they were stopped from entering Bithynia?

When we are "called" to NOT do something, should our response be the same as when we are called to DO something?

What should that response be?

When our intended course is blocked by God, what are some potential courses of action?

Should we stop and pray and wait for further guidance or just keep on plodding forward? Which is the better course of action?
We should always remember that just because one door was closed, there may be others opened.

Which do you think is easier, being led away from doing something or being led to do something?

After their failed attempt to enter Asia, Paul has a vision. A man from Macedonia pleads with him in this vision to come over to Macedonia. How does Paul respond to this call?

Is this how we normally respond to God’s calls? Immediately getting up and going?

Why do you think Paul responded quicker to the call to "go" than he had to the call to "stay away"?

How can we make ourselves more receptive to the guidance of the Spirit?

Even our best plans may not be God’s plan. We must always listen and be open to the idea that God may direct us in a way that we are not planning on. What are some potential problems that we may face when we assume that our plans are God’s plans?

Does doing God’s will preclude difficult experiences or hard work?

Just because we face difficulty in our ministry does not mean that God is redirecting us. So, what "voice" does God use to indicate His will?

How do we know the "voice" is God’s voice?

Notice the change in tense from verse 10 to verse 11. This begins one of the "we" passages in Acts. Scholars cannot agree on why these passages are in Acts. Some believe that Luke accompanied Paul on portions of his journeys. Some believe that Luke may have had access to Paul’s or Silas’s journals and copied portions directly from them. One commentary that I read even suggested that Luke may have been from Philippi and may have been the man in the vision calling Paul to his city. Regardless, Paul and his companions sail to Macedonia and the city of Philippi and spend some time there.

What do we know about Philippi? Philippi was an important city "an leading city in the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony." Philippi was named after the father of Alexander the Great. The Romans placed "colony" cities at strategic locations throughout the Empire. Retired soldiers were encouraged to live in the colony cities by being exempt from taxes. These colonies of Roman citizens helped maintain stability in regions remote from Rome.

What was Paul’s normal course of action once he entered a new town?
He normally went and shared his message at the local synagogue.

But what does he do at Philippi?
He went to a place of prayer next to the river.

This indicates that there may not have been enough of a Jewish population at Philippi to warrant a synagogue. Also note that verse 13 says that they spoke to women gathered there. Jewish law required at least ten men in a community to form a synagogue. Their law would not allow an all female synagogue. The first century Jewish attitudes toward women make Paul’s willingness to teach them worth noting. Remember that Paul was a Pharisee and was taught the law his whole life. Yet Paul’s grasp of grace seems to be greater than that of those who lived with Jesus during His years of ministry. Paul sat and taught the women. The seated position was the traditional rabbinical teaching position. These women had an unofficial synagogue on the banks of the river with Paul as Rabbi.

The description of Lydia as a worshiper of God could have meant several things: she could have been born Jewish, a convert to Judaism, or a God-fearing Gentile like Cornelius in the lesson from October 23. She was not a Christian until she had the rebirth experience that is described in today’s scripture.

How many "God-fearers" do you think there are in the world who have not had their hearts opened to the gospel and taken that step toward becoming part of the Body of Christ?
How many in our community?
How should we reach out to these people?

What was Lydia’s response to this experience of grace that she had?

Is hospitality and a desire for fellowship a common response to the Gospel?

John Wesley would have thought that it was a necessary response.

These are some highlights from Wesley’s "A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity":

Who is a Christian...? What does that term properly imply?...
....remembering that God is love, he is conformed to the same likeness. He is full of love to his neighbor: of universal love....

His love to these, so to all mankind, is in itself generous and disinterested...

And this universal, disinterested love is productive of all right affective...It makes a Christian rejoice in the virtues of all, and bear a part in their happiness at the same time that he sympathizes with their pains and compassionates their infirmities...

Wesley lays out 15 paragraphs of descriptive commentary on Christian character. From the concluding paragraph:

This is the plain, naked portraiture of a Christian.....

Is it your own? Away with names! Away with opinions! I care not what you are called....
Do you not know that you ought to be such?...

Do you at least desire it? I would to God that desire may penetrate you inmost soul and that you are not only almost but altogether a Christian.

According to Wesley (and evidenced in Lydia’s example) one sure sign of a born-again Christian is a love for others and a desire for fellowship. In what ways can Lydia’s example challenge and encourage us?

What are some ministries of our church that are for the sole purpose of hospitality and service?

Lydia was a faithful worker, a servant, and an example for us all. She not only opened her heart to the Holy Spirit, but opened her home for the use of God’s people.

From the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, "Offering of Oneself", by Mac and Vicki Brantley, Nov. 4, 2005:

Hospitality gives a person the opportunity to be the hands, feet, and voice of Christ to those in our midst. Hospitality is an avenue of humility. It allows us to place another person before ourselves and to care for other’s needs. Like other expressions of Christ, the hospitable one receives as much or more than the person being helped...

This fall, many United Methodist congregations have taken the opportunity of helping countless persons from the Gulf Coast who were devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Evacuees have been blessed by the generosity and services that they have found in their new living quarters. Strangers have been blessed by individuals and churches that opened their doors and hearts to show their care. In an effort to care for others, many churches have been blessed by reaching out to others. But that’s what the church is all about.

Bishop Janice Huie challenged the churches of the Texas Annual Conference to turn their houses of worship into disciple-making homes. She stated that this transformation begins with radical hospitality. Here is how she described it:
"The first movement of disciple-making is radical hospitality. A hospitality that reaches across economic, racial, age, and gender lines. A hospitality that focuses on the stranger and those outside the community of faith. A hospitality that reaches people who don’t look or act like us. A hospitality that ministers to children not its own. A congregation making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is a congregation actively engaged in radical hospitality."

"Let us for each other care, each the other’s burdens to bear; to thy church the pattern give, show how true believers live" (Hymn 562, verse 4, UMH)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hymn of the Week

(pr.: ‘him) noun
1: a song of praise to God
2: a song of praise or joy

“There’s no such thing as Christian music. There are just Christian lyrics...” Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life

"Return of the Revolution" by the O. C. Supertones from the album Loud and Clear

There ain’t no stopping us now
I’d like to say that from the outset
Not up in this business just to get what we can get
But bet that
We gonna bring it to you loud and clear
How loud
I gotta say it ’fore you people start to hear
I can name our problems
But I know a solution
Bring back the revolution.
The revolution comes and we all stand as on
Rises from the darkness and shines like the sun
As the sun gets higher, our church catches fire
Down from our pride and up from the mire.
It’s a dream that I’ve had and I hope it comes true
I forgot to say the revolution starts with you.
See wisdom and knowledge is one thing that we lack
You’ve been a christian how long and you’re still on similac
So I call on martin luther and all the reformation back
Then the common people couldn’t read god’s revelation
You had to be a monk or a priest or read latin
That was all before the revolution happened
But the fire cooled down ever since that generation
We put down the Bible and pick up the play station
And we can’t defend our faith ’cause we don’t even know it
We say we love his word but pick a funny way to show it.
The world walks by and we don’t have a thing to say
I call ’em as I see ’em
And that’s what I see today

The revolution returns
The reformation lives on
The great awakening is now
Sleepers open your eyes
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise
No compromise, yeah, no compromise
A war is on, our battle cry is no compromise
So throw your fist up and pray the revolution rise
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise

Our hearts have grown so cold
And we’ve such numb souls
But shirts and bumper stickers
Man we got ’em by the truckload
Is true religion what you have around your wrist
What does the scripture say of this

They honor me with words
But their hearts are far away
I call ’em like I see ’em
And that’s what I see today
So I call on john edwards
Who preched us all awake
We try to be emotional but here is our mistake
As a church we lack repentance and we lack true affection
Not only in our minds but our hearts need correction
And man that’s true religion, resignation and contrition

To love each other so much that we’d die before division


So what about you
Will you join us
Will you admit that the waters around us have grown
You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
Do you stand with us or do we stand alone
It’s time that we stand up, enlist for the war
I’ve tasted battle and now I want moreI
’ve known the truth and been cut to the core
But I’m back in the game to even the score
And I mean to go out with both my guns blazing
Amazed at a God who’s so truly amazing
To triumph in battle as the spirit enables
Can’t turn back the clock but we can turn the tables

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Loving sinners in the Wesleyan spirit

From "The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today" by Theodore Runyon must be extended to our enemies...and not only to our enemies....but even to those we deem to be "the enemies of God." To the enemies of God? But why? Because God loves them, and the heart of God yearns to overcome their separation from God. Hence, for those who are conduits of God’s love, there is no distancing themselves from sinners, because it is precisely sinners that divine love is seeking out.

From John Wesley’s Sermon #18: "The Marks of the New Birth"

A Third scriptural mark of those who are born of God, and the greatest of all, is love.......
The necessary fruit of this love of God is the love of our neighbour; of every soul which God hath made; not excepting our enemies; not excepting those who are now "despitefully using and persecuting us;" -- a love whereby we love every man as ourselves; as we love our own souls. Nay, our Lord has expressed it still more strongly, teaching us to "love one another even as He hath loved us." Accordingly, the commandment written in the hearts of all those that love God, is no other than this, "As I have loved you, so love ye one another." Now, "herein perceive we the love of God, in that he laid down his life for us." (1 John 3:16) "We ought," then, as the Apostle justly infers, "to lay down our lives for the brethren." If we feel ourselves ready to do this, then do we truly love our neighbour. Then "we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we" thus "love the brethren." (1 John 3:14) "Hereby know we" that we are born of God, that we "dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his" loving "Spirit." (1 John 4:13) For "love is of God; and every one that" thus "loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." (1 John 4:7) ........
so to love God, who hath thus loved you, as you never did love any creature: So that ye are constrained to love all men as yourselves; with a love not only ever burning in your hearts, but flaming out in all your actions and conversations, and making your whole life one "labour of love," one continued obedience to those commands, "Be ye merciful, as God is merciful;" "Be ye holy, as I the Lord am holy:" "Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."
(Luk 10:36-37 ESV)

From John Wesley’s New Testament Study Notes:
Luk 10:37 - And he said, He that showed mercy on him - He could not for shame say otherwise, though he thereby condemned himself and overthrew his own false notion of the neighbour to whom our love is due. Go and do thou in like manner - Let us go and do likewise, regarding every man as our neighbour who needs our assistance. Let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race, but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between man and man, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.

From John Wesley’s Sermon #39 "Catholic Spirit"

love is due to all mankind, the royal law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," carrying its own evidence to all that hear it: and that, not according to the miserable construction put upon it by the zealots of old times, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour," thy relation, acquaintance, friend, "and hate thine enemy;" not so; "I say unto you," said our Lord, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children," may appear so to all mankind, "of your Father which is in heaven; who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust...
Is thy heart right toward thy neighbour? Dost thou love as thyself, all mankind, without exception? "If you love those only that love you, what thank have ye?" Do you "love your enemies?" Is your soul full of good-will, of tender affection, toward them? Do you love even the enemies of God, the unthankful and unholy?

From John Wesley’s Sermon # 4: "Scriptural Christianity"

He that thus loved God could not but love his brother also; and "not in word only, but in deed and in truth." "If God," said he, "so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11); yea, every soul of man, as "the mercy of God is over all his works" (Ps. 145:9). Agreeably hereto, the affection of this lover of God embraced all mankind for his sake; not excepting those whom he had never seen in the flesh, or those of whom he knew nothing more than that they were "the offspring of God," for whose souls his Son had died; not excepting the "evil" and "unthankful," and least of all his enemies, those who hated, or persecuted, or despitefully used him for his Master's sake. These had a peculiar place, both in his heart and in his prayers. he loved them "even as Christ loved us."