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The Spirit Explodes

Part 22 of 22 - The journey to Rome – at last.

Acts 27:1 – 28:31


by Roger Kirby


It really is rather puzzling that Luke spent so much space on his precious scroll describing this sea journey from which we, like everybody else, are not going to be able to get much spiritual nourishment.

~~

There are at least 3 possible reasons:

  1. this sort of exciting sea voyage complete with shipwreck was commonplace in Greek literature and Luke wanted his work to fit the normal pattern to make it as acceptable a read as possible;
  2. this is a ‘we’ passage, indicating that Luke himself was on this voyage and so was complying with the expectation of those days that historical writers should have had some involvement in the events they described;
  3. Luke wanted to set Paul’s journey to Rome and his death there in parallel to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his death, thus showing how the life of a Christian should imitate that of Jesus.

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Read Acts 27:1–12.

Sea voyages around the eastern end of the Mediterranean in those days were difficult and dangerous. Most ships hugged the coast, putting into a safe harbour every night if they could. The date of the Fast, mentioned in this passage, was variable but it probably fell in October, by which time sailing had become very dangerous because of the autumn storms. Paul was an experienced sea traveller and clearly had as good an idea of what was safe as the sailors and a better one than the centurion. There is a good example of Luke’s accuracy here: Paul suggested there might be loss of life, and there wasn’t. This is presumably a bit of everyday advice rather than prophetic insight. Getting Egyptian grain to Rome was such a high priority that the Caesars promised to reimburse the owners of any ships lost on the passage, hence the willingness of the owner to take the considerable risk of proceeding.

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Read Acts 27:13–26.

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Paul even says ‘I told you so’ which cannot have endeared him to the sailors. But his general sense of optimism based on his certainty through visions that he would reach Rome would have helped everybody aboard the stricken vessel. The Syrtis mentioned is off the coast of Africa so a long way from the course they intended to sail, which is an indication of how panic struck they were.

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Read Acts 27:27–44.

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By this time it seems that Paul was effectively in charge of events. It is easy to imagine that, prisoner though he was, everyone was looking to him for wise guidance.

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Question 1: What was Paul’s attitude to his fellow travellers and the ship’s crew?

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He showed great sympathy to them as fellow human beings. He did not start trying to ‘save souls’ in this dire emergency!

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Read Acts 28:1–10.

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It would seem that Julius, the centurion, had by now given all control over to Paul. There was a widespread belief in paganism in those days (and perhaps in Judaism too – think of the story of Jonah) that those who were guilty of crime would not survive a sea voyage. It is interesting, therefore, that Luke says it was the islanders who thought Paul must be a murderer getting his just deserts from the snake. Those who had been in the ship with him clearly had a very different view of him. By the time they left the island when the better weather came in springtime the islanders respected him as well. The whole episode is a great example of how a Christian should carry him or herself in times of difficulty and adversity.

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Question 2: What, therefore, is Luke suggesting by the way he described this voyage?

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In the eyes of his fellow travellers, perhaps even including some of the less perceptive Christians, Paul was innocent of any crime. To them trial before the Emperor was unnecessary as he had already been judged by the sea and found innocent.

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Throughout the story there is a wonderful blending of natural wisdom on Paul’s part and the open statement of occasional visions from the Lord that directed them all to safety against all the odds.

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Question 3: What picture of the relationships between Christians and non-Christians do the events on Malta place before us?

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There is a remarkable sense of friendship and mutually beneficial relationships presented here. The islanders show ‘unusual kindness’ to the shipwrecked folk, the local big man is friendly towards them, Paul is ready with help to sick people, and the islanders honour the disciples when they come to leave. It is a reminder that although we may think theologically of non-believers as sinners they are also our fellow human beings and we should relate to them as such.

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Read Acts 28:11–16.

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The last part of Luke’s ‘we’ passage is first an easy trip by ship from Malta, round Sicily and up the west side of Italy to Puteoli some 200 rough Kms south of Rome. Then something of a triumphal procession for Paul by land, meeting various Christian groups on the way. The ‘we’ passage ends as they reach Rome so Luke presumably left them at that point.

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Paul’s treatment in Rome was very relaxed. There is good reason to think that he met up with a high Roman official and was placed under only a form of house arrest with a soldier keeping an eye on him. This all suggests that the documentation about Paul sent from Caesarea did not contain a serious case against him.

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Read Acts 28:17–31.

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Paul’s explanation to the Jewish leaders that he had done nothing, and did not intend to do anything, contrary to their interests suggests that the case against him had been dropped by the Jews of Judaea. He did not intend to bring a counter case of wrongful arrest. What follows is a repetition of events in many cities in the east when Paul started to preach, but without the rioting and general antagonism evident in so many of them. Presumably the presence of the Roman authorities in this great city had a quietening effect on their sensibilities.

~~

The great unsolved mystery about this final chapter is what happened after the two years of house arrest. Did Luke write another scroll that has since been lost? We have no evidence to that effect. Was Paul acquitted after the two years and go on mission again? That is what an historian called Eusebius thought writing 250 years later. Did he reach Spain as he had hoped? We have no solid evidence of that? Was he eventually martyred in Rome? There is a strong tradition that he was.

~~

Question 4: Triumph or tragedy? What do you think of what Luke says happened in Rome to summarize his long and vivid account of the acts of the apostles?

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There is much more triumph than tragedy here. Luke started off his scroll by emphasising the way that the good news of Jesus was to be taken to the ends of the earth. A necessary step in that direction was to take it to the centre of the earth. The saying is ‘all roads lead to (and from) Rome.’ Even today if you live anywhere in the southern half of Europe you will probably have seen how true that was. Their roads were so well built they still exist in many places. Paul had used them to best advantage for the message of Jesus. Paul must have been approaching the end of his natural life span anyway. He would be happy to die, especially if that was in the service of Jesus. To him it was a triumph indeed.

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There was, of course, some tragedy mixed in as well. Paul’s comment to the Roman Christians a little earlier had been “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart … for those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Once again here, in the heart of Empire, the Jewish population was split right down the middle, as it had been nearly everywhere Paul had been.

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For one last question think back over the way Luke has described the work of Paul in all these many places he visited. He has consistently described Paul as starting with the Jews and the Gentiles associated with the Jewish faith.

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Question 5: What does that imply for the work of the gospel today?

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It seems to suggest that the right place to start with the preaching and teaching of the gospel is with the nature of God, the Law and our struggles with it. So much modern preaching starts with the benefits of following Jesus as a way to a more satisfactory sense of personal fulfilment. That does not seem to be the place where Paul started. Should we copy him rather more than we currently do?

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Luke had given Theophilus an exciting and challenging story to read, as he has us. I hope it has excited and challenged you as you have read or listened to it. His very last sentence captures so well the whole story “he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus – with all boldness and without hindrance!” We, you and I, cannot do anything about the “without hindrance “ bit. The rest we can! Let’s do so. May the Lord bless you in your endeavours to that end.

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 21 of 22 - Roman Justice.

Acts 23:12 – 26:32


by Roger Kirby

This lengthy section, though important in showing to Theophilus that Paul was innocent of any crime against Roman law and providing the opportunity for Luke to recount the story of Paul’s conversion for the third time, is of no great interest to us. So we will take it at the gallop.

First there is the rather amusing account of how Paul started out on his much desired journey to Rome.

Read Acts 23:12 – 35.

What is interesting here is that the young man, Paul’s nephew, is able to gain access to the commander of the garrison. This suggests that he, and therefore Paul’s family, were of some considerable status and rank. Their society was exceedingly status conscious. Everyone knew where they stood in the hierarchy and acted accordingly. We have already seen this in the way that the commander reacted to the information that Paul was born a Roman citizen while he had to purchase his. That this comparatively young man is able to speak to the senior authority suggests he was from a well known and respected family.

So late in the evening Paul set off for Rome escorted by 470 Roman soldiers.

Question 1: What would Paul’s reaction to this have been likely to be?

I don’t know about you but I think he would have seen this as a great comedy and have been finding it hard not to roar with laughter! ‘I want to go to Rome, Lord. Please could you supply me with a Roman escort? Oh, dear! 470 is rather more than I expected.’

The letter from commander Lysias is interesting. He puts the best possible slant on what happened though it is not all strictly accurate; he rescued Paul before, not after, he realised that he was a Roman citizen.

The foot soldiers turned back after they had completed the more dangerous half of the journey to Caesarea.

From the possible clash of arms we turn to the clash of words as two men accomplished in the art of rhetoric speak before governor Felix.

Read Acts 24:1 – 9.

First Tertullus, a hired lawyer - His praise of Felix is a pack of lies! Felix was not one of the best Roman high officials. He was a brutal and sadistic man who eventually dealt with the Jewish people so badly that he had to be recalled to Rome. His accusations against Paul were all similarly wrong, at least the only ones he could bring evidence about were. Paul had not done anything to desecrate the temple, but he had stirred up riots amongst the Jews in all the places he had visited.

Paul is quick to latch on to the fact that they could prove nothing against him in Jerusalem. Obviously he had realised that they had no witnesses against him from his missionary journeys. Roman court procedure insisted that accusers had to be present in court in person and there were none such in this court.

Read Acts 24:10 – 21.

Now Paul’s reply. All that Paul said was true. But it was all carefully related to events in Jerusalem. He said nothing about events during his travels except for pointing out that there was nobody there with first hand evidence of those events. He could have been found guilty of stirring up riots if his progress through Asia Minor and Greece had been considered!

Read Acts 24:22 – 26.

Felix is intrigued by this unusual prisoner and was prepared to argue with him, but soon found that this amounted more to listening than talking. Presumably Paul could have easily obtained his freedom with a bribe but he did not want to do so. It is likely that his family back in Jerusalem or the church in Judea and Galilee would have been able to raise enough money for that.

Question 2: In countries where bribes are expected even for things like justice, should Christians be prepared to pay them?

That is a difficult question to answer to cover all situations. Probably most local churches in such countries have decided what their policy is on such matters and the individual Christian should fall into line with that collective decision.

Read Acts 24:27 – 25:12.

This passage is all complicated political manoeuvring. Festus was a much better man than Felix but he came to the job presumably with no background and the Jews attempted to manipulate him without success. Paul realised that, if he was taken to Jerusalem he would be unlikely to come out alive and therefore his best chance of getting to Rome was as a prisoner of the Romans. That this would also mean that he would be on trial for his life was of no consequence to him. So he appeals to Caesar, as every Roman was entitled to do under certain circumstances. Festus checks with his advisers and decides this case is of that type.

But now the local king, Agrippa II, great-grandson of Herod the Great turned up with his sister Bernice, a lady of easy virtue, to welcome Festus.

Read Acts 25:13 – 22.

Festus sensibly asked for advice from Agrippa with his local knowledge.

Read Acts 25:23 – 27.

Notice how Luke was carefully building up the case that Paul had done nothing wrong in Roman law. He was reminding Theophilus that a respectable Roman could become a Christian.

Read Acts 26:1 – 23.

This third description of Paul’s conversion follows much the same pattern as the previous ones. The bit about ‘kicking against the goads’ is new, goads were pointed sticks used to prod slow moving beasts into moving faster. More interesting is the fact that Ananias does not figure in this account; the statements attributed to him previously being given as direct and more detailed statements from the Lord. Perhaps this was to protect Ananias from any interest by the authorities.

Question 3: What is the crux of what Paul said?

One again it is the resurrection of Jesus as the first to rise from the dead. Should this not still be the focal point of all evangelism?

Read Acts 26:24 – 32.

Luke doesn’t give up! Paul is innocent.


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The Spirit Explodes

Part 20 of 22 - Jewish justice.

Acts 21:1 – 23:11


by Roger Kirby


From this point on Luke tells his story with big incidents, difficult to ask questions about. These first two and a half chapters are about how Paul was tried before the Jewish authorities and found innocent; the next two and a half are about how the Romans found him innocent; the last two tell the story about his voyage to Rome. We will have to take them in those big chunks with more explanation and less questioning than we have been used to.

But first Paul still has to get to Jerusalem. Luke is still with him on this journey and so we get a vivid account of where they went.

Read Acts 21: 1–16.


Luke must have been aware that he was leaving a great puzzle behind for all this readers. In the last chapter he records Paul saying: ‘compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem’. Here he tells us the Christians in Tyre ‘through the Spirit urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem’.

Question 1: How can the Spirit have said these two apparently contradictory things? How can we resolve the conflict and what should we learn from it?

The Spirit was, as always, speaking through fallible human beings, so here we have human misunderstandings of what they were being told. With hindsight it is easy to see that Paul was being led in his thinking to look at the long-term implications of what he was to do. He had done a good job of evangelising what we now call Turkey and Greece and he was looking to the next step: Rome, modern Italy and modern Spain. He was right, at least in part, eventually reaching Rome and therefore Italy. Whether he ever reached Spain we do not know but he may well have done so. The good folk in Tyre were taking a very short-term view, thinking that Paul should avoid the problems they correctly foresaw awaiting him in Jerusalem. Both these prophecies turned out to be right in their own way.

For us this is a warning. People may correctly understand what the Spirit is saying to them but misinterpret its implications. Be careful of those who are sure they have the only local correct hotline to God!

The other interesting point in this passage is the description of the four daughters of Philip, who reappears here having been last heard of in Caesarea shortly after his conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch. All four are described as prophetesses. The role of women in the church is much disputed with great attention being given to what appear to be absolute statements about what they should wear (head coverings) and should not do (talk in church and teach). The early church had to work out carefully what it was appropriate to do within the culture in which they operated. We have the difficult task of deciding which of their cultural decisions are binding for all time and which are not – requiring different and apparently contradictory decisions from us. When we have finished with the inevitable arguments that this will create we need also to ask whether Philip’s daughters, Priscilla, Dorcas, Phoebe, etc. would be able to carry out the ministry they clearly had in the days of the NT, if they were in this church and that church in the present day. The practice, which is not so culture dependent, needs to be roughly the same in every cultural situation.


Question 2: Would they be able to do carry out those or equivalent ministries in your church? If, why not?


Read Acts 21:17–29.


What the leaders in Jerusalem said they had heard about Paul is, of course, quite wrong. He had argued against Gentile believers having to be circumcised or obey Jewish customs but he had never suggested that Jews should not continue to follow all their ancestral customs if they set out to follow Jesus. It is hard to know what to make of the advice Paul received from these leaders. Was it ever likely to work? We cannot tell. This passage does remind us that we need to do all we can to attract people to the Lord as Paul was prepared to do.

Read Acts 21:30–39.


By the time he reached Rome Paul had many things to thank the Romans for. Here they rescue him from the mob, thus probably from certain death. The commander was very quick to intervene and rescue Paul; full marks to him!

Read Acts 21:40–22:22.


It is hard to understand why the mere mention of the Gentiles should have caused such a strong reaction from the crowd. The foundational text for Israel was Genesis 12: 2 and 3 which include the statement ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’, that is Abraham, who they all claimed as their ancestor. ‘All peoples’ must include the gentiles, indeed they must be nearly all gentiles.

Question 3: What particular aspects of human nature does this teach us about?

The power of crowds is one obvious factor. In a large crowd people can do things they would never think of doing when acting as individuals. The power of strong teaching is also in evidence here. People can be taught to think and do things that are totally inconsistent with their core beliefs. Totalitarian states have made great use of this quirk of human behaviour in the last 100 years. Beware!

Read Acts 22:23–30.


Everything that happened in New Testament times happened in the social setting so clearly visible here: the top Jewish controlling body, the Sanhedrin, could be ordered to assemble and try Paul, by the garrison commander of this one city. Imagine how much the Jews must have hated the Romans because of things like that.

Read Acts 23:1–11.


At sometime in the events of this study, probably more easily when he first arrived in Jerusalem, Paul could have decided he had had enough and quietly withdrawn from the scene.

Question 4: Why did he not do so? What should we learn from his experience?

Paul had a strong and compelling conviction that he still had much more work to do. He was the sort of character who was single-minded and would not take ‘no’ for an answer but kept on going through all the things that would discourage a more ordinary mortal. Such people tend not to be the easiest of folk to work with but they are vital for the church and many other human endeavours. He had received visions, at his conversion, as he planned his ministry journeys, as he determined to go to Jerusalem and then Rome and now one assuring him that he would actually get to Rome, unlikely though that must have seemed.

We will probably never see an angel but an angel was just a messenger. The words ‘angel’ and ‘message’ are closely connected in Greek, and the Lord has many ways of getting a message to us – through the word of God written, other people, things written or just from a strong inner conviction. Be careful to listen for such messages and be even more careful to hear them!

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 19 of 22

~Goodbye and Encouragement to the Ephesians

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~Acts 20:1-38

by Roger Kirby



There is a very end of term feel to this chapter. Things do not go according to plan. One student falls asleep in the middle of a lesson. Then Paul exhorts everyone to a vigorous future just like a headmaster at an end of term assembly.



Read Acts 20:1–6.


Question 1: What more does Paul do than the work of an evangelist?



Paul was also a teacher. He taught long and carefully both before people were converted and, as here, after. He was great on encouragement. Some present-day evangelists need to follow his example more carefully!



Question 2: What was Paul’s attitude to danger, as when the Jews, perhaps Jews planning to sail on the same boat as him, plotted against him?



He avoided danger when he could without weakening the gospel. He was quite prepared to put his body and his life into danger when it was necessary, but he took wise precautions when he could.

This is the second ‘we’ passage in Acts. The writer of the book was with Paul for this part of his journey. This is why it is thought right to say that Luke was the writer of this book and therefore of, what we call, Luke’s Gospel too.



Read Acts 20:7–12.


What an odd way of becoming historically famous! Eutychus, whose name means ‘lucky’, may have been a slave, very tired after a long, hard day’s work. This event establishes that Paul is a prophet-like-Jesus. He is a prophet because, as well as prophesying, this is very similar to what Elijah and Elisha were able to do in bringing back to life those who had just died (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4). He is like Jesus because this is similar to what Jesus did on more than one occasion. Note that the episode is bracketed by 2 references to the breaking of bread.



Read Acts 20:13–17.


This is a curious journey. We are not told why Paul went by land while everybody else we are told about took a ship to Assos. Perhaps he needed the peace and quiet of the road to do some thinking, meditating and praying. Or perhaps he had a lot of money on him to take to Jerusalem and reckoned the land route was safer. We are not told. Then although he did not want to stop at Ephesus he asked the leaders of the church in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus and that was a journey of about 45 Kilometres each way. Again we are not told why he did that. But then we come to the account of what he said to them. This is the only account we have of what he said to a group of Christians rather than to those who had not come to faith. It covers much the same ideas as the epistles to Timothy and Titus do in greater detail. We will take it in several small bits to make it clearer what he was saying.



Read Acts 20:18–24.


We might call some of this boasting but Paul lived in a different age and a different culture and this was acceptable behaviour then. He holds himself up as an example of how they should behave and he is, of course, seeking to imitate the example of Jesus.



Question 3: In what particular things is he telling them, and therefore us, to follow his example?

He was happy to live in Ephesus as an ordinary person quite humbly without claiming any special privileges for himself. He worked steadily and devotedly at the task that had been given to him of teaching and preaching. He did not let any apparent obstacles stop him doing what he knew he had been called to do.

It is unlikely that we have been given so great a task or so demanding a one as Paul had, yet we should work away at what ever we have been set to do in the work of the Kingdom with similar humility, steadiness and persistence as he did. That is not always a very easy thing to do. We find it easy to lose impetus and mental strength. Sitting looking at a computer screen, as I am doing right now, week in, week out, is not the easiest thing in the world! So I know very well what the problems are. The race you are called to run is different from my race; the completion of your task will be different from the completion of my task. Let us press on together in the work of the Kingdom, remembering always whose Kingdom it is.



Read Acts 20:25–31.


The word ‘overseer’ is misleading. It comes from the Greek word ‘episkopos’ which is made up of ‘epi’ which means over, and ‘skopos’ which means looking as in telescope and microscope. We get ‘bishop’ from ‘episkopos’ when it loses the initial ‘e’ and is mispronounced. But our main use of the word ‘overseer’ in English is in the management of slavery–not a good connection to make–so it is a rather unfortunate word.



Question 4: An image from slavery is a poor one to relate to Paul’s description of how the elders in Ephesus were to operate. What better image of where overlooking occurs can you think of than that?



My favourite image is of how a mother acts as the baby sleeps and she works around the house. She keeps checking quietly that the baby is all right. She watches over the baby in a loving and caring way. That is the sort of watching over that the Holy Spirit is concerned with in what Paul says. Think ‘watching over’ when you come across ‘overseeing’.



The next verse is tricky. The NIV translates it as ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ but it is equally likely to be ‘with the blood of his own’ that is with the blood of Christ, which fits better with what the rest of the New Testament says. Either way it shows the closeness of Jesus Christ and God the Father and the power of their work in our salvation. Note that the idea that our salvation was purchased is a metaphor and there is no indication who or what it was purchased from. It certainly does not mean that we were bought from Satan–that would give him far too high a profile.

Paul goes on with stark realism to say that there will very soon be people trying to cash in on the infant Christian movement and draw people away from the truth. The latest revision of the NIV correctly says that this will be done by ‘some’ from your number not confining the problem creators to men only! Sadly the number of men and women doing this has increased over the years.



Question 5: How do we know what is the truth to which we are to firmly adhere?


Only by sticking close to the Bible as the written word of God can we stay on course. It does not change from century to century. People’s thoughts and ideas do. Problems of interpretation exist but they are trivial compared with the erratic nature of people’s minds.



Read Acts 20:32–38.


Paul is sometimes presented as a hard character, but this and many other incidents show that that is not correct. He was a very sensitive people person, greatly loving and greatly loved by those he came in contact with. He returns to his main exhortation, which can be summed up in what he says to the Corinthians: ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’. If we do that we will not go far wrong!

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 18 of 22
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~Success and trouble in Ephesus.

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~Acts19: 1 – 41


by Roger Kirby


Some time has passed since the main events we read about in the last study. Since Paul left Corinth he has been to Jerusalem and Antioch, travelled through the area he has already been to in the south of what is now Turkey and then travelled over land to Ephesus in west Turkey. As already noted Ephesus was a large city, third largest in the Empire, and correspondingly important both to Rome and the developing churches. Though it is interesting to note that in the book of Revelation the church in Ephesus is warned that ‘if you do not repent I will remove your lamp stand from its place’ and they did not repent and the city no longer exists today except as ruins.

 

Read Acts 19:1–7.

 

This episode has clearly been put next to that about Apollos not knowing the baptism of Jesus. This time the situation is much clearer: although they are called disciples they did not have the gift of the Holy Spirit. When asked whether they had received the Holy Spirit their reply was literally ‘we have not heard that the spirit is’ probably meaning something like ‘we have not heard that the Spirit is available to the likes of us’. John had spoken about the Spirit so they must have known of his existence.

 

Question 1: - They answered ‘no’. What can we conclude from that?

 

They recognized his non-action in their lives. Although we do not need to experience any particular event or activity to know we have the Spirit when we set out to follow Jesus his presence will become obvious in our lives. Because there had been doubt in this particular case about their status in Christ Paul placed his hands on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied, none of which always happened. Again we see there was no essential pattern in what happened. Following Jesus and experiencing the gift of the Holy Spirit are the two essentials.

 

Read Acts 19:8–16.

 

That ‘all’ the Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord sounds like an exaggeration when they had no television or radio but there were no newspapers to read so they had a lot of time to talk and gossip and there will have been many travellers between cities.

 

Question 2: - Why do we find it so much more difficult to get everyone to hear the word of the Lord than they did?

 

We cannot control the media and in many countries there is a careful exclusion of Christians from the main media outlets, usually because of competing ideologies or religions.

This in vs 3,14 is magic, not in the sense of tricks and sleight of hand, but in the sense of using occult practices, or evil spirits as they are called here.

 

Question 3: - What is the essential difference between magic and miracle?

 

There are probably many answers to that question. The one I like is this: magic is the deliberate manipulation of evil spirits by the use of spells, incantations, rituals and other devices to achieve a desired end. Miracles are events carried out in response to a developed relationship between an individual and the Creator and Redeemer God.

 

Question 4: - Where in this passage do we hear of the direct challenge of miracles to magic?

 

God did extraordinary things using handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul; this was a use of spiritual power. That this was so successful was a tribute to the power in Paul because of his relationship to God, not the manipulation by other people. But the attempt to use the name of ‘Jesus, whom Paul preaches’ was an attempt to use an incantation without any relationship behind it which was magic.

 

Question 5: - Where, in your culture, can you see similar things happening?

 

Of course, I cannot answer that one for you in detail. Note that the idea that icons, or texts from the Bible or any other religious book can protect one from accidents on the road etc. is a playing with the occult that is highly dangerous. All sorts of superstitions are similarly very doubtful indeed and to be avoided. The idea that there is any value in astrology is similarly dangerous. If you are following Christ truly you will avoid these and all sorts of other dangerous practices that attempt to manipulate spirits or even the Lord God himself.

 

Read Acts 19:17 – 22.

Ephesus was a major centre of occult practices. The value of what was burnt equates to something like 50,000 days pay for a labourer, not that they would have been the ones owning the scrolls! This was clearly a major turning point in the life of the city. Would that the name of the Lord Jesus were held in high honour in many more cities today.

 

 

Question 6: - Is there anything you should be burning or dumping? Up to you. I hope not though.

 

 

Read Acts 19:23 – 31.

 

Question 8: - For the second time in this chapter Christian faith is called ‘the Way’. What does this title emphasise?

 

If you start on a Way and don’t go forward you will soon be stuck in the middle of the path. We must go forward, grow in our faith, move from baby food to adult food, walk in step with the Spirit. We must not say I am saved I don’t need to do anything else. We look and are plain stupid if we act like that. Also if we are on a Way we are going somewhere. Our somewhere is glory, the Kingdom of God, the near presence of Christ, heaven, the new earth and the new heaven.

 

Demetrius was a sort of shop-steward type. You can’t blame him. The silversmiths would need to develop some new trades if Christianity prevailed. Paul wanted to go into the theatre (a huge amphitheatre still existing) , presumably thinking he was the cause of the trouble and should take the wrath of the mob rather than Gaius and Aristarchus, but his friends realise he would be in greater danger than they were.

 

 

Read Acts 19: 32 – 41.

 

We don’t know who Alexander was or why he was pushed forward. Possibly he was to represent the non-Christian Jews planning to say that they had nothing to do with what was happening. Fortunately the local Roman official turned up and had sufficient strength of mind and enough authority to quieten things down. I expect it took him quite a while to calm his nerves down afterwards!

Luke presents this as the culminating event in Paul’s missionary travels. The story of Jesus, the Way, had challenged one of the greatest cults of the ancient world, the cult of Artemis, the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Diana, in the place of its greatest influence and come out triumphant.

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 17 of 22

The magnificent couple

Acts18:1–28


by Roger Kirby

I am going to cheat a little in this study! All our recent ones have been determined by geography – following Paul’s travels. If we do that here we shall have a very short study on Corinth followed next time by a very long one on Ephesus, so I am going to focus on Aquila and Priscilla, the most significant couple in the early church. Our study will cover them in both Corinth and Ephesus and glide over the fact that in between those two cities Paul finished his second journey, spent time at Antioch, and then started his third journey.

Corinth was an unpromising place. It was more important than Athens in all except cultural matters. It was a seaport on the narrow isthmus of land between southern and northern Greece (as we call it now). It was a vigorous commercial centre notorious for loose living. Yet it proved to be more receptive to the Gospel than many other quieter cities.

Read Acts 18:1 – 4.

These verses introduce us to Aquila and Priscilla. Presumably they had been converted in Rome. It has been suggested that not all the Jews in Rome can have been thrown out – since there were about 40000 of them, that would have been difficult. So perhaps they had been treated as troublemakers because of their belief in Jesus.

This passage tells us more about what Paul did than we have been told previously. All Jewish men, however study minded, were expected to learn a trade. Paul was a worker in canvas and leather, probably cutting and stitching at a bench or sitting cross-legged with them in a small open fronted shop in the street of the tent-makers. The three of them, working together, would have had many opportunities to chat with the passers by and tell them about Jesus.

Question 1: What are the advantages and disadvantages in working while also being a pastor or evangelist?

They would not be isolated from the working world – a distinct advantage. On the other hand they would have less time and energy for the work of persuasion and study.

Read Acts 18:5 – 11

Things follow the usual pattern of initial teaching in the synagogue, followed by opposition and enforced turning to the non-Jews. But then Paul has a vision and realises he is to persevere in Corinth rather longer than had usually been his practice in other cities. Things were going well: the leader of the synagogue was baptized (we are told in 1 Corinthians) so presumably was Titius Justus and ‘many others’.

Question 2: What about where you are? Does the Lord have many people in your city, as yet unrecognized as Christians as is implied in Corinth? Have you any assurance about that?

Only you can answer that one, or perhaps I should say: only the Lord can answer that? 18 months is really not a long time but it is long enough to remind us that perseverance is a great virtue.

Read Acts 18:12 – 17.

What Gallio said and did represents a step forward for the Christians. His decision means their dispute with the Jews is outside Roman concerns being a matter local to Judaism. For the time being at least that cleared the way for Paul’s mission. Gallio, from a high and important Roman family, correctly saw that the state had no role to play in people’s religious beliefs provided they did not affect the well being of the community. Would that all states realised that these days.

Read Acts 18:18 – 23.

Ephesus was a grand city near the west coast of modern Turkey. It was a short sail across from Corinth in modern Greece. It was destined to be an important place in the story of the early church being written to and written from several times.

Paul clearly has a high regard for Priscilla and Aquila, taking them with him as he sailed across to Ephesus. Note that they are referred to as Priscilla and Aquila, with the woman mentioned first, as she is in all but one of the remaining 5 places where they are mentioned.

Question 3: What would you infer from that?

It would seem very likely that Priscilla took the lead in spiritual matters over her husband particularly, as we shall see in the rest of this passage, in the context of teaching Apollos about Jesus. It should be the case that in some couples the man leads, in some the woman, according to their spiritual maturity.

Read Acts 18:24 – 28.

It is good to read how teachable this learned man, Apollos, was and how quickly he was accepted into the work of the church. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Corinthians as the nearest match to himself as an evangelist and teacher. I don’t know what it is like in your context but all too often very human weaknesses like jealousy come to the fore when someone like Apollos is around.

Question 4: How can we avoid that sort of human weakness?

By seeking to live like Jesus at all times. Though perhaps the first step is to be quick to recognize that people are prone to weaknesses – that we are as prone to weaknesses as everybody else. The dangerous person in church life, and indeed in all life, is the one who cannot see his or her own weaknesses.

Apollos knew all about Jesus but there was something short in what he knew. He is described as ‘knowing only the baptism of John’ which may imply that he did not have the gift that baptism in the name of Jesus represented.

Question 5: if that is so, what is it implied that he did not have, that was much more important than a mere matter of baptism?

Although Luke does not actually say so he may have been lacking the gift of the Holy Spirit in his life. We can try to learn as much as we can, we can work very hard at preaching the gospel, we can be active in all sorts of areas of church life, but, if we do not have the Holy Spirit in our lives we shall be but as ‘a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’ as Paul put it. We shall not see any positive results from all our labours. Make sure you have the Holy Spirit in your life. Baptism is a very good idea but not absolutely essential if it is not possible for any reason. Setting out to follow Jesus, positively and purposefully is completely necessary.

What a grand couple Priscilla and Aquila were!

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 16 of 22
Many challenges!
Acts 17:1 – 34


by Roger Kirby

There are many intriguing things happening in this part of the journey as the apostolic band travels south towards the great cities of Athens and Corinth. It sounds as though they did not stop for more than a night until they reached Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Unlike Philippi it was a free city in the Emperor’s favour because it had been on the right side in the civil war three generations earlier.

 

Read Acts 17:1 – 9.

 

The verbs in this description of what Paul did are interesting. They are:reasoning, explaining, proving, proclaiming, persuading.

 

Question 1: - Probably few or none of us are good at all these things, but we will all be better at some than others. Which are you good at?

 

Think about it! Make sure you use your gifts in this area.

 

Question 2: - The proving bit reads ‘proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead”. How would Paul have proved that? How can we do something  equivalent?

 

Paul will have done that by reference to the OT since he was in a synagogue. It would be much more difficult to do when he reached Athens and had to argue in the market place with people who will have had no knowledge at all of the history of God’s dealing with mankind. For most of us the problem is the same:how do you prove the importance of the cross and resurrection to those who know little or nothing about it?

 

What happens next is the same as has been happening in all the cities they visited. It is interesting to see that even without printing presses, and therefore newspapers, the news of what was happening seems to have travelled from one city to another remarkably quickly.

 

So the apostolic band has to move on, the bail that Jason and the others had to post would be a surety that they would leave the city reasonably quickly.

 

Read Acts 17:10 – 15.

 

That Luke seems to know so much about these cities does suggest that this may indeed be where he came from. We are told that the Bereans were ‘more noble’ than the Thessalonians because they ‘examined the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true’.

 

Question 3: - Of the people you know who are not yet Christians who would be the most likely to ‘examine the scriptures’ diligently?

 

They should be the people you will try hardest to attract to follow Jesus.

 

And so we come to what happened when they reached Athens. This was the intellectual centre of that world, the only equivalent in their day of a major university city of today, although it was somewhat past its best reputation. Listen carefully as Paul tries to cope with an antagonistic pagan audience.

 

Read Acts 17:16 – 34.

 

We read that Paul was “greatly distressed” at the sight of so many idols in Athens. That was perhaps a bit odd as there must have been many idols everywhere he went. Yet the extreme number of them in the city caused him to think more deeply about what they meant.

 

Question 4: - What makes you think more deeply about the sad and bad things in the world around you? If you don’t, what should do so?

 

It is so easy to get used to things like the endless sequence of nonsense on television. It needs thinking about. Paul acted. What should you do in reaction?

 

The Epicureans and Stoics were two schools of philosophy. Epicureans believed the highest human good was a quietly enjoyed pleasure. Stoics aimed to live in tune with the world around them taking pain and pleasure with equal stoicism (so to speak!). The root meaning of ‘babbler’ as they called Paul was a ‘bird pecking seeds’, so it meant somebody was a sort of inconsequential gossip. Not exactly complementary then. The accusation that he was advocating foreign gods was dangerous. It invoked memories of the most famous of all philosophers, Socrates, who was condemned to death in Athens 500 years earlier for much the same thing.

 

Paul’s speech follows the now familiar pattern most of the way through starting with the exordium, that is to build a bridge with his audience, he says ‘Men of Athens! I see that you are in every way very religious.’ From that start he proceeds to argue from what he sees in the city. The basic idea behind what he says is that God is a spiritual presence and what he sees around him is all too physical.

 

Question 5: - Depending on where you are coming from, what your surrounding culture is, you may be surrounded by images, or completely free of them. Is your situation right? Would you be able to worship the true and only God better if all or most of the images you see were removed or could you do with some (perhaps a cross) to help you worship?

 

Once again this is something you need to think through for yourself. I cannot help you.

 

Paul goes on to say that Jesus will judge the world, but he does this without saying what he will judge the world about.

 

Question 6: - What is he assuming here?

 

That there is enough natural understanding in everyone to show them how they should behave. He tells the Romans in 1:18 – 20 ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.’ On that basis the world can be judged. Think of how that harsh fact relates to the people round about you.

 

It is only when Paul gets to talking about the resurrection that he hits trouble.

 

Question 7: - The resurrection seemed as unlikely then as it does now. How do you argue for its reality?

 

The honest answer in most cultures must be ‘with difficulty’. One possibly effective approach might be to emphasise the way it fits into history. Beyond doubt there was a Jewish nation in AD 1; beyond doubt there was a Christian church in AD 100. What happened in between to move from one to the other? Something major and mind changing. No other possibility has ever been suggested with the impact of the resurrection. Unlikely as it was it is still the fundamental foundation point of our faith.

 

Some people criticize what Paul did here arguing that it was his relative lack of success that made him talk about ‘preaching Christ crucified … foolishness to Gentiles’ to the Corinthians. But it is hard to see how he could possibly have been any more successful in such a hotbed of philosophic thought where they ‘spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.’ At least a few people, two of whose names he knew, came to belief as the result of his preaching.

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 15 of 22
Excitements at Philippi!
Acts 15:36–16:40.


by Roger Kirby

This is the beginning of what is usually labelled the Second Missionary Journey.

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Read Acts 15:36 – 41.

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We do not know why John Mark had left the little group of missionaries to return to Jerusalem. Of course it turned out that the most important thing he would ever do, writing his Gospel, was still some distance in the future. It is also clear that Paul forgave him enough to have him working with him and then to be anxious to be visited by him when in prison.

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Question 1: What about a bit of guesswork? What reasons might Mark have had for going back to Jerusalem that he thought were good reasons and Paul did not?

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I think these must almost certainly have been family reasons. Perhaps he had heard someone was dying, or perhaps he had left a pregnant wife behind and wanted to be near by as she reached the time to give birth. Family events like these are still difficult for people working overseas with the Gospel.

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Read Acts 16:1 – 5.

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Question 2: Why did Paul circumcise Timothy just after it had been agreed that non-Jewish Christians did not need to be circumcised?

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With mixed race parents Timothy’s status must have been ambiguous. Was he a Jew or not? If he was going to work amongst them it would be best if the ambiguity was removed. In doing this Paul was following his usual policy of not letting any practical thing stand in the way of people accepting the good news of Jesus.

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Read Acts 16:6 – 12.

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This is an interesting passage. As I read it Paul had a policy of deciding what to do next on the basis of common sense, only following spiritual guidance when he was forced to do so.

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Question 3: Would you agree that this is a good way of proceeding?

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There is distinct possibility of disagreement here. I guess it depends on our personality types and our faith and church background how we approach the question of what we should do next. My argument is that the Lord has given us brains and he means us to use them! I think relying on feeling we have a small voice telling us what to do after prayer is susceptible to too much personal desire creeping in. You may disagree; think about it.

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We do not know who the man of Macedonia was. The most common guesses are Luke himself, or Alexander the Great. Who ever it was Paul was quite sure this was the word of the Lord to him and immediately obeyed. It was a comparatively short voyage from the port of Troas, on the shore of modern Turkey, to Neapolis in modern Greece. But for Paul and his companions this was not a journey from one country to another but just a slight extension of their travels within the Roman Empire. They then go on to the important Roman settlement of Philippi.

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Read Acts 16:13 – 15.

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Lydia must have been an important woman, perhaps a widow, trading in the cloth that was only worn by the Imperial family.

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Question 4: What does the fact that she was baptized mean?

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The Holy Spirit must have come upon her. The fact that her household, presumably family, servants and slaves, were all baptized is recognition that their culture was very different from the strictly individualistic culture of modern western society. Theirs was a pluralistic culture where her dependents would unquestionably accept her decision as being theirs as well and would expect to receive the Holy Spirit as she did. Their action was no less meaningful even if we find it a bit incomprehensible.

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Once again Luke draws attention to the positive role a woman played in the early church.

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Read Acts 16:16 – 40.

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Luke is almost teasing his readers when he has the jailer cry out “what must I do to be saved”! Biblically that sounds more like a theological question than the intensely practical one it is here. As we noticed in the story of Peter’s escape from prison jailers who lost their charges were liable to the death penalty themselves. Paul needs no second invitation. He immediately tells the jailer about Jesus in sufficient detail to convince him of the truth of what they said.

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Question 5: What is the sequence of actions that lead to the joy of the jailer?

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An act of physical rescue, instruction, baptism and caring fellowship. We may assume that the gift of the Holy Spirit fitted in there somewhere. Luke is instructing us in the story he tells.

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A much harder question to answer is this:

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Question 6: Why did Paul and Silas not say they were Roman citizens before they were beaten and avoid a very painful experience?

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It may have been for the simple reason that they could not make themselves heard in the hubbub of the crowd. But it may perhaps have been for the sake of the brand new little church. They did not want it to be dependent on the authorities for its continuation. After the beating they should not have received the local believers were in a position of superior honour in relation to the authorities and not beneath them. They could spend time encouraging the believers before acceding to the authorities request and leaving the city.

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All of which is a good illustration of how to obey the instruction of Jesus in Matthew 10:16: ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 14 of 22
Who are the people of God?
Acts 15:1–35.


by Roger Kirby


Who are the people of God? That is and was indeed the question. About 4 weeks ago we heard about the problems that arose over the question of what the people of God could eat. As a result of a vision, Peter understood that there were no foods that the people of God could not eat. That was the second of the 3 requirements; circumcision, food laws and Sabbath keeping, that had come to dominate the concerns of the serious Jews who thought of themselves as the only true people of God. Now we come to the first of these and the most important – circumcision.
 

This was a very critical question. Reluctance to be circumcised as adults would affect the willingness of non-Jewish men to become full converts and follow Jesus completely. It affected the role of women, who, not being subject to circumcision, would forever be second-class citizens in a kingdom for which that was the badge of entrance. Since not being circumcised would mean that followers of Jesus would no longer belong to Judaism they would not enjoy the freedom from harassment and persecution because they did not worship the Roman gods, that the Jews had enjoyed since the days of Julius Caesar.

Much was at stake, as some former Pharisees, now seeking to follow Jesus, correctly realised. They wanted Jesus’ followers to constitute a sub-group of Judaism. We read Acts 15:1–11.

There was therefore a profound theological disagreement between the Pharisaic believers and what was happening far away from Jerusalem. The fundamental underlying question was ‘how do we know who are the people of God in this new situation?’ or ‘what are the marks of a Christian?’. Before we go any further you need to think very carefully what the answer to the following question is in your place and culture. We have already come across this question and its Biblical answer. But what is the practical identifier where you are?

Question 1:  What are the marks of a Christian?

Your answer – very obviously. I hope you are able to give the same answer as Peter gave when he said: ‘God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.’ Possession of the Holy Spirit is the true mark of the Christian.

Next we are going to read the speech of James. This is the point when James, the brother of Jesus, appears as the leading person in the central church of Jerusalem. Presumably Peter was, from this point on, off on his travels of which we know nothing in comparison to the fairly full knowledge we have of Paul’s journeyings. Notice too that the discussion was going to take place in front of ‘the whole assembly’ and later ‘with the whole church’. This fundamentally important decision is taken by all the believers, not by some small selected group with authority over everyone else. The speech of James follows very closely the approved rhetorical pattern that we used 2 studies ago.

We read Acts 15:12–21.

The introduction: Acts 15:13b.

The narration, including a quotation from Amos 9:11-12 using the Greek LXX:8–18.

Question 2:  Why did James quote from scripture?

The written word of God stands beyond dispute. The opinions of men and women, even when they claim the guidance of the Holy Spirit, never stand beyond dispute. Interestingly James quoted from the Greek translation of the original Hebrew because that version fitted what he wanted to say better. Today, no single version in English, or any other language, stands beyond correction as the only valuable translation.

The proposition to be argued: Acts 15:19–21.

But there is no final exhortation since this is a communal decision.

Much the most interesting part of this is the proposition in v20. There are 2 possible ways of understanding this.

The first comes from the fact that it follows quite closely what was required of any Israelite or foreigner living in Israel according to Lev 17. Thus the Gentile converts far away from Jerusalem were being required to live in the way considered appropriate amongst Gentiles living in the land of Israel.

Question 3:  How would this relate to what Paul says in Romans 15: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up? How does it relate to us?

In this context the strong are the ex-pagans and the weak are the Jewish believers as is clear from the preceding chapter. Paul was saying that it was important that the Jewish converts should not turn away from following Jesus because they found the eating habits of the ex-pagans unacceptable. There are some lands where eating pork, from pigs, is unacceptable. We should not needlessly offend people who have been brought up to think that. In all societies we cannot be too careful in our business dealings, for instance. Those who are not Christians are often only too happy to remember when they thought a Christian did not show maximum honesty in a transaction.

The second possibility is that it comprises a requirement that they should have nothing to do with the activities common in a pagan temple: eating meat sacrificed to idols and not prepared in the way Jews did, and indulging in the general promiscuity often indulged in in temples.

In all probability we should read this not as an either/or but as a both/and. Obeying this would prevent there being two different standards of behavior for converts from the Jewish faith and converts from the pagan world and ensure that the ex-pagans did not slide back into the appalling behavior common in the cities of those days.  That it was important there can be no doubt since Luke uses his usual device of telling us 3 times: here, again later in this chapter and in chapter 21.

If we take it that whatever is given primary value in place of God is an idol we have.

Question 4:  What idol do we have the most difficulty in avoiding?

Another one for you to think about and answer yourself. Don’t forget that shopping malls and shopping centers look remarkably like temples!

We read Acts 15: 22 – 35.

Question 5:  The letter said ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’. How did they know the mind of the Spirit? How do we know the leading of the same Spirit when we are so liable to add in our own desires to what we think he wants?

I think in those early days of the church they had a sharper and more accurate understanding of what the Spirit was saying. We cannot expect to be so secure in our understanding. We must rely even more heavily on the statements of scripture to guide us. When we need guidance as private individuals we must rely too on the Spirit-filled wisdom of our friends. We are all weak creatures too prone to wanting our own way. Those who are most sure of what the Spirit is saying to them are very often the most dangerous!

And so the future of the infant church was assured. It had been a critical moment. Was the church to be a subset of Judaism or was it to be what it had always been intended to be: the vehicle by which the blessing promised to Abraham would come to all peoples on earth. To our great delight they got it right under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And here we are, where we were always meant to be.

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 13 of 22
Mixed receptions
(Acts 13:42–14:28)


by Roger Kirby

What happened next in Pisidian Antioch proved to be a foretaste of what would happen in city after city. With a few variations this was:they arrived, they spoke to the Jews, usually in the synagogue, a few days later those who had heard what they had said before arrived and contradicted them, stirring up a riot and having them thrown out of the synagogue and often the city. All that took a varying length of time, not noted, but probably a few weeks. They then continued on their travels, returning later, when things had quietened down to make sure the believers were meeting in a regular and controlled fashion. It would be a mistake to think they spent just a couple of weeks here and a couple there after the fashion of modern evangelists. Life went much more slowly in those days and they clearly spent long enough, or as long as they could, in each city to establish a viable church. 

 

Read Acts 13:42 – 52.

 

The next Sabbath after Paul’s sermon we are told that there were two very different reactions to what they were saying. Some wanted to hear more but some of the Jews were jealous.

Question 1: Imagine that you were one of the crowd who heard Paul when he preached for the first time. What would he have said that particularly attracted you? What would he have said that you were not so sure about? Would you have been for him, or against him?

 

I can’t really answer that one for you. You will need to look deep into your own heart to know how you would have reacted. You might have thought that what had happened to Jesus was a very new and exciting development in the history of the people of God. Or, you might have been very upset that the things you had believed for so long were being challenged.

 

Question 2:Are you the sort of person who likes to be first to have some new thing that has just come onto the market – like the latest I-Pad or I-Pod? People who rush to buy such things are called the innovators. Or, are you the sort of person who waits cautiously to see if they really work the way the advertisements say before you buy – just before the next new marvel comes on the market.

 

Even less can I answer that question for you! Obviously such things are a result of temperament, personality and background. The next question is going to be the really important one.

 

Question 3: Are you so stuck in your ways that you cannot react as you know you really ought to do to the challenge that the Lord has laid before you through the work of the Holy Spirit?

 

I can imagine our listeners and readers dividing into two distinct groups at this point. These are wonderful things that happened say some, excited by what we are reading. Perhaps something like this will come into my life and I shall never be the same again. What a lot of nonsense say others.  I like things the way they are.

 

I do hope you are one of the excited ones. May the Lord be with you – either way.

 

We must move on. That bit about some of them being appointed for eternal life is something some people find difficult. Think of it this way: as you walk beneath the great arch at the entrance to heaven you will see the words in front of you which say ‘everyone who has chosen to believe in Jesus may come’ but if you should happen to turn and look at the other side of the arch after you have passed through you will see the words ‘appointed by the Lord for eternal life’. You cannot and will not be able to add those two things up but you will learn to rejoice in both of them.


 

Read Acts 14:1 – 7

 

There are, sadly, many cities in our world where Paul and Barnabas would have to flee for their lives. Those who really have it hard are the Christian folk, our brothers and sister, who live in those cities and cannot easily leave. 

We move on to the next city of that ancient world which is now modern Turkey.


Read Acts 14:8 – 20.

 

It is known that there was an ancient myth story about Zeus and Hermes visiting an old couple living in this area. Hence the excitement the apostles caused when they approached the city. Did you notice how differently Paul preached in this pagan environment from the way he spoke in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch?

 

Question 4: What is the chief difference you noticed as we read it?

 

I hope you realised that Paul was not talking about the history of the people of God this time. Instead he was talking about the Creator God, clearly hoping that this idea would make more sense to the people in the crowd who knew nothing about the story of the Jews and their history. It reminds us that we too when we preach or talk about the good news of Jesus must start from where people are and not where we would like them to be.

 

Read Acts 14:21 – 28.

 

We must admire these people who started to follow Jesus so long ago. They cannot have known very much about what it all meant and what they were doing. They will have had no Bible such as we have. They may have had copies of some of what we call the Old Testament but probably not even all of that since the scrolls will have been very expensive things. They will only have known the very basic facts about their new faith. Jesus had died, he had risen again, therefore showing that in due time all who followed him would also rise again to new life, in a new earth, and that in the mean time they should live in constant expectation of that happening, living good lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we ever do the same!



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The Spirit Explodes

Part 12 of 22
Opening the door to the Gentiles
(Acts 12:26–13:41)


by Roger Kirby

As we noted in the last study, in the sometimes surprising purposes of God, the gospel was to go to all nations, as promised to Abraham long ago. It is now clear that Antioch was to be the centre of this great movement.

Read Acts 12:25 – Acts 13:3.

The 5 named leaders in the church in Antioch were a Jew from a priestly family in Cyprus, a black African, a North African Arab (probably), a boyhood friend of Herod, and a Hellenistic Jew.


Question 1: What does that tell us about the early church? How does your church compare with this?

This really is rather amazing. We tend to think of our world as more civilized than theirs but this shows a very mature attitude to the diversity of people present in Antioch. From this group of 5 men God chose 2 to go on mission. It says much for the devotion of Barnabas and Paul that they were prepared to leave the security of the city for a life of mission in a very uncertain world. Fortunately there are still people in many churches prepared to do the same.

Read Acts 13:4 – 12.

They set off for Cyprus on their first evangelistic tour. This was the home island of Barnabas, so he was presumably keen to take the Gospel there.

This is the second, and not the last, time Luke reports conflict with sorcery and magic. He also reports a lot of conflict with Jews both before and after this occasion but very little with pagans.


Question 2: What reasons can there possibly be for this? Where should we expect most conflict to come from and where will it not come from?

The apostles will have resisted Elymas because he was doing and teaching things that were wrong, evil and anti-Gospel. We need to be prepared to take the same principled stand against things, which are anti-Gospel. But more conflict came from the Jews who were more nearly right but still anti-Gospel. Unfortunately we too will find most opposition coming from the nearly correct, particularly other religious people who oppose the Gospel.

We are told that SergIus Paulus, the proconsul, believed so he was probably the first member of the elite of the Empire to come to faith.

Read Acts 13:13 – 15.

The mission band continued to the south coast of modern Turkey and then on to another Antioch, which was high up on the central Turkish plateau. It is thought possible they may have gone there on the insistence of Sergius Paulus. It is likely that he was one of the Pauli, a family of noble Romans whose home area was near Pisidian Antioch.

Paul is invited to speak in the synagogue. What follows must be a précis of what he actually said since it takes only about 5 minutes to read through. It may even be a later compilation giving the structure of the sermon that Paul usually preached in a synagogue since Luke is not present here but will be later on many other occasions.

The ancient Greeks studied rhetoric, setting down rather rigid rules for the structure of an argument. It is not easy to grasp the full import of what he said so we will look at it section by section using their structural principles:


Read Acts 13:16
the Exordium (introduction setting up contact between preacher and audience).  The Greek is more accurately translated “brothers and sisters”!


Question 3: How do we expect a preacher to establish contact with his audience?

A good preacher will often use a story illustrating some problem that the passage under consideration will relate to. Paul simply talks nicely to his audience.


Read Acts 13:17 – 25
the Narratio (the narration of the events related to the central issue).

In these verses Paul “spins” things a bit, that is he only talks about the things that will support his argument.


Question 4: In which direction? What would he have said to  “spin” it in the other direction? What would have been the result? Why does he mention John the Baptist?

He only talks about the good things that happened, not the many problems both in the wilderness and in the days of the Judges and then, later, of the prophets. He wants to remind them of the great days of David and to stress that Jesus was a descendant of David. John seems to have earned a great reputation throughout Judaism so his testimony to Jesus is important.


Read Acts 13:26
the Propositio (major proposition to be argued). Imagine you were in Antioch of Pisidia, more than 500 miles from Jerusalem, a long walk or a dangerous journey away.


Question 5: What would your likely reaction to this statement be?

It might well have not been too much interest. I presume that there would have been little information or interest in Antioch in what happened in Jerusalem.


Read Acts 13:27 – 37
the Probatio (main arguments for the proposition).


Question 6: What was Paul’s main argument in these verses? Where did he get confirmation of his arguments?

Jesus was condemned though he was not guilty of any crime. His resurrection established that he was the expected Messiah. All of which was a fulfilment of scriptures they will have been thoroughly familiar with.


Question 7: What are our main arguments in defence of our faith? Where can we get confirmation from?

They should be exactly the same as Paul’s. The only difference is that those we may be trying to convince will not have the knowledge of, and the confidence in, the scriptures that Paul’s listeners had. So the story of Jesus, told at length and in detail, is now of fundamental importance.


Read Acts 13:38 – 41
the Exhortatio (exhortation based on the preceding argument). 

Question 8: What did Paul want his hearers to do?

To believe in Jesus, that is that he was the Messiah and therefore the appointed way that sins were to be forgiven and approach to God possible. Thus they would be ‘justified’, that is they would be declared now to be free from all condemnation in the Day of Judgment.

There was the usual mixed response of acceptance and violent rejection. Like the people of Pisidian Antioch we have to decide. Do we accept or reject what Paul was asking us to do?



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The Spirit Explodes

Part 11 of 22
The expansion of the church
(Acts 11:1–12:25)


by Roger Kirby

These two chapters record the events that led to the transfer of the significant heart of the early church from Jerusalem to Antioch. Antioch was the third largest city of the Roman world, strategically placed near the north-east corner of the Mediterranean sea.  First we read the third account (Luke’s technique for emphasis again) of how Peter came to recognize Cornelius and his friends to be true Christians. In the first verse Luke signals that another milestone has been reached: the Gentiles received the word of God. The rest of this passage adds nothing significant to what we have already heard. Note how, curiously, Luke never mentions the name of Cornelius in this passage. To ask ‘why’ would make a good question but I don’t know what the answer is so I wont!

 

Read Acts 11:1–18.


Question 1: What does Peter say is the mark of the Christian? How does he identify the true followers of Jesus?

The mark of the Christian is the possession of the Holy Spirit. Not what they have done such as ‘making a decision’; not what has been done to them by others such as baptism or confirmation; not the possession of any piece of paper making a statement about them; but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, unseen yet powerful within them. What about you?

This development through Peter starts a process that will not stop and has not stopped: the steady expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Antioch and then from Antioch to all the world, from Jews to Gentiles, that is non-Jews, and then, it must be said as we are unlikely to think of ourselves as non-Jews, to all nations, to us!


We read Acts 11:19–30

Barnabas was a great guy. Antioch to Tarsus was about 100 dangerous miles by sea, more by land. But, if you know something of what happened subsequently you will know that there were other dangers in fetching Paul. Paul was a very strong and dominant character. Barnabas might have hesitated to fetch someone who might overshadow him very quickly – which is indeed what happened

The final comment in this chapter is about the famine that was to play a significant role in the next few years as it led to much activity on the part of Paul in organising famine relief and the strengthening of ties between the giving Gentile churches and the receiving Jewish churches.

After introducing us to Paul Luke switches back to the story of Peter and the Jerusalem church. This is now a very mixed story of persecution and progress, imprisonment and freedom, death and survival, modest Christians and an arrogant king.


We read Acts 12:1 – 23.


James was executed; Peter was saved out of prison where he would probably have been executed the next day after a brief trial. No reason for the difference in what happened to the two of them is given – there probably was no discernable reason. That is just the way life is. We have to accept what we might call the ordinary chaos of life. Christian faith does not protect us from it.


Question 2: What does this chapter tell us about where the ultimate power lies?

It does not lie with Herod! It does lie with the Lord, who was able to fetch Peter out of prison. That is still true even although we may be no more certain of where the power lies now than was Rhoda when she could not believe it was really Peter at the door.


Question 3: Peter walked through many gates on his way out of prison but was left standing at the door of a Christian house. Is this anything more than an incidental detail? If so, what?

It is tempting to think this is Luke’s sense of humour showing. It really is a most amusing reversal of what might be expected. Or, is it saying that while the Lord can achieve anything it is possible for Christians to stand in the way of his plans?

One nasty question for which there is no answer would be about the validity of escaping from prison if you thereby condemned 4 or 16 men to death. If you are in a group you might want to discuss that problem.

We are told that Peter ‘left for another place’ which probably means he realised his life would be forfeit if he was found and caught. The command of Peter ‘tell James’ indicates the point at which the leadership of the Jerusalem church passed from Peter to James, the brother of Jesus.

The Herod of the final story in this section is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of the Herod of the gospels. This is the only place in Acts where we have a story not obviously related to the early Christians and the progress of the Gospel.


Question 4: Why do you think Luke put it in here?

I think he liked the contrast between what happened to Peter and the death of Herod as a result of his failure to repudiate the praise of the crowd. Josephus, a Jewish historian active at the same time, records this same incident. He says that Herod dressed in a silver robe and stood in the sun so that he looked like an angel or a sun-god. He attributes Herod’s death to the same thing: his arrogance and blasphemy.


Finally we read the last 2 verses of this chapter.

Thus Luke summarizes the history of the church in Jerusalem as he prepares to tell us about what happened in the great missionary expansion that would shortly start as Barnabas and Paul went back to Antioch.



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