The Gospel Trickled Out of Jerusalem

People like to say that, in Acts, the Gospel explodes across the known world. But it doesn’t really explode. It trips, tumbles, and trickles out of Jerusalem, sometimes one person at a time.

Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  –Acts 10:43

Everyone.

Still, it took believers awhile to catch on to what everyone meant. Continue reading

Acts Progression: Philip and Paul

We’re making our way through Acts, talking about the situations and verses that rise to the top this time. Now we’ve come to my favorite story in the New Testament: Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). Not surprisingly, I’ve already written a bit about this here on #NotAboutMe.

Philip 1
(c) Carole Sparks

In Things Not Said: Philip, part 1, we spend the whole post in Acts 8:26. Meeting Philip at the height of his career in Samaria, we watch his obedience take him down an unknown road–literally.

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  -1 Samuel 15:22

Philip 2
(c) Carole Sparks

Watch God arrange innumerable circumstances so that Philip and the Ethiopian cross paths at the right time. In The Right Place at the Right Time: Philip, part 2, we cover Acts 8:27-29 and rest in the confidence that God is in control.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  -Isaiah 55:9

Philip 3
(c) Carole Sparks

Finally! In Intersection: Philip, part 3 we see Philip speak to the Ethiopian guy, climb into his chariot, and share the Gospel. It’s Acts 8:30-40, and the principles for evangelism are clear.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  -Hebrews 11:6

I’ve also spent some time with Saul-who-became-Paul. Click on one of these links if you’d rather read more about Saul/Paul.

Paul inauspicious beginning
(c) Carole Sparks

Acts skips over it, but Paul spent three years in the wilderness before his ministry was effective. Paul’s Inauspicious Beginning pulls from Acts 9 and Galatians 1 to explore the early days of what became the most fruitful Christian ministry ever. The principles for us are clear.

An early post, “Do Me a Favor?” looks at the way we responded to God’s personal leading in our lives, using Ananias (Acts 9:10-19) as an example. There’s also a bit about my friends asking me for money.

This post, A Martyr Mindset, came up in conversation just this week. Sometimes our greatest personal sacrifice isn’t the path to God’s greatest glory. Sometimes we sneak out of town in a basket (Acts 9:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:21-29)…or the modern-day equivalent.

A pile of previous, but still pertinent, posts on Philip and Paul as we progress through a pair of chapters in Acts. Both my alliteration and my #BibleStudy are #NotAboutMe.  (click to tweet)

With over six years of blogging now, I’ve covered a lot of territory. Which of these posts looks most interesting to you? I would really appreciate it if you leave me a comment on that post or pop back over here to let me know. 

 

Called to Brokenness

Bread doesn’t grow on trees. If I want to make bread, I have to use flour. Flour typically comes from a grain, such as wheat.

Grain  ⇒  Flour  ⇒  Bread

We once lived in a place with less strict processing standards than the United States FDA. Sometimes, a few kernels of our rice retained their tough outer hulls. That hull was like the shell of a nut! It was difficult to break with your hands and almost impossible to chew. We checked and cleaned our rice to remove those pieces before we cooked. Other grains grow the same way. Continue reading

What If God Put Controversies in the Bible on Purpose?

One aspect of a bigger thought process I’m in right now.

There are some things in the Bible that just aren’t clear. When Paul talked about mystery (e.g. Ephesians 6:19), he wasn’t joking! If you read your Bible honestly and extensively, you’ll see why there are controversies among modern believers. Just to name some of the big ones,

  • Timing of the rapture
  • Role of women in church leadership
  • Baptism’s relationship to faith
  • election/free will

There’s a part of me that says, “If the brightest minds haven’t resolved these issues in the 1500-ish years since the Bible was codified, I’m not going to figure them out.” But there’s another part of me that says, “I need to know the right answer, and I need to know it now!!!!!” I’m still trying to find a balance because I believe God enjoys our inquiry and wants us to pursue knowledge of Him (Romans 11:33my favorite, Hebrews 11:6), but He also expects us to practice our faith, which often means we trust without evidence (Hebrews 11:1). Continue reading

Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

Our Identity Has a Purpose

or The ‘That’ We Can’t Delete (originally a 3-minute speech for Enrich Writer’s Conference)

As a writer, I’ve been told to ferociously edit, to remove unnecessary words and watch for repeated words. I’ve learned to limit my uses of ‘so,’ ‘like,’ ‘that,’ and similar words.

But sometimes we need to keep the ‘that.’

For the grammar nerds among us (if you don’t love grammar, you can skip this paragraph), the ‘that’ I find so important is not a demonstrative adjective or the introductory word for a descriptive clause. This ‘that’ leads into a purpose clause. One thing happens in order to produce the following thing. Purpose clauses may begin with that, so that, in order that, or lest.

The biblical authors knew we needed purpose clauses, and the translators, when the text called for it, used ‘that’ or ‘so that.’

We find a crucial example of ‘that’ for a purpose clause in 1 Peter 2:9.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…  -1 Peter 2:9a

If we stop there, we feel pretty good about ourselves. We are chosen, royal, holy, and special. That’s awesome. I feel super-good about myself when I read that.

But there’s more.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  -1 Peter 2:9b

The first half of the verse reveals our identity. The second half reveals the reason we’ve been given the identity. It declares our purpose: to declare the praise of him who called us.

These days, our Christian culture focuses a lot on identity. There are songs and sermons about it, t-shirts you can wear, and signs you can hang in your house. The things you’ve read about identity are absolutely true, but it’s an incomplete truth without the attached purpose. Focusing so heavily on our identity makes our faith about us rather than about God and His glory.

IMG_0096
Mt. Kilimanjaro (the snow-capped one on the right) (c) Carole Sparks

Our identity is not the summit of the mountain we’re climbing but the equipment we shoulder to climb it.

02-28 ready to run this year shoes race
new running shoes (c) Carole Sparks

Our identity is not the gold medal for which we strain but the shoes we lace up to run the race.

Our identity is not a landing point in our faith but a launching pad.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you…

So let’s take our identity, our chosen-ness, our special-ness, and let’s embrace it! Let’s declare it! Let’s scream it at Satan and hold our heads high! But then, let’s buckle that belt of truth on tightly (Ephesians 6:14) and step into our purpose, which—no matter what your calling—is His Glory!

Our identity is pointless without the purpose for which it was given. On purpose clauses, words our editors like to delete, and the reason we are who we are in Christ. My #identity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

How does your identity equip you to fulfill your purpose in Christ? Have you tended to rest in identity without considering the attached purpose? I know I have. Whatever you’re thinking, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

More on identity: The Idol of Identity and Q & A with John the Baptist

More on not ignoring the second half of the verse: Stillness