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Archive for May 2014

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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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Partakers Friday Prayers!

30th May 2014


We pray together and when Christians pray together, from different nations, different churches and different denominations - that reveals Church unity! Come! Let us pray together!

Order of Prayer Service

Opening Prayer

1 John 1:8-10

Confession

Lord's Prayer

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Prayers for those facing challenging situation

Prayers for those grieving & in despair

Prayers for those imprisoned

Prayers for Churches Worldwide

Prayers for the world

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Time for your own prayers

The Creed

Benediction

Closing Prayer

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Thursday with Tabitha


9. Obadiah by Tabitha Smith

This week we’ve reached the little book of Obadiah. He was the most minor of the minor prophets, in that his book is the shortest! In fact, it’s the shortest book in the whole of the Old Testament with just one chapter, containing 21 verses.
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Obadiah means “one who serves Yahweh”. We’re not told anything else about the prophet himself. In the course of the prophecy, the fall of Jerusalem (which happened in 586 BC) is referred to as a past event and the fall of Edom (which happened in 553 BC) as a future event. So it is likely that the book was written between these events.

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To understand the background to Obadiah, we need to head back to Genesis, to the account of the brothers Jacob and Esau. These two non-identical twins were born to Isaac and Rebekah. Even from their birth, they showed signs of not exactly getting along. Esau was born first, all red and hairy, and Jacob followed after him, grasping his heel. They grew up to be very different. Esau was a skilled hunter, favoured by his father, whilst Joseph was an introverted man who preferred to stay with his mother in the proximity of the family tents.


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Jacob famously tricked the hungry Esau out of his birth rite and later stole his father’s blessing by disguising himself as his older brother and fooling the elderly, blind Isaac. So Esau swore revenge on his brother and fully intended to kill him. Rebekah helped Jacob to escape and he fled to the territory of his uncle Laban. There he met and married his wives, Leah and Rachel. Esau, who was also called Edom, married several wives, including an Ishmaelite woman (that is, a descendent of Abraham’s first son by the slave girl Hagar).

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Jacob and Esau did meet again some years later, and much to Jacob’s relief and surprise, Esau didn’t kill him on the spot but appeared to have forgiven him. Jacob still didn’t trust him though, and he took his family off in a different direction to avoid having to be in close proximity to his brother’s family.


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Jacob had 12 sons by his two wives and their two servants. His 4th son, one of Leah’s children, was Judah, and from his line the tribe of Judah came into existence. From Esau’s line came the tribe of the Edomites.


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The Edomites lived in the hill country of Seir. This was a mountainous region about 1500m above sea level. Their territory appeared to be impenetrable and they felt quite safe in their high dwellings. In Numbers 20 we read that after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites asked the Edomites for permission to pass through their territory along the King’s Highway. The Edomites refused, adding to the tensions between these two tribes. However, in Deuteronomy 23:7-8, God commanded the Israelites that they should not hate an Edomite in view of the brotherly connection between the two tribes.

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Edom was defeated by king Saul in the 11th century BC and subdued again by king David 40 years later. Edom became a vassal state of Israel but it was never completely de-stroyed.


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Fast forward to the time of Obadiah, and we find that the tribe of Judah, the sole remnant of the original 12 tribes of Israel, had been conquered and the capital city of Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians. During the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, some of the Judeans had tried to escape from the city and flee into the surrounding coun-tryside. The Edomites, rather than helping their neighbours and brothers in the time of their distress, sided with the foreign invaders and handed over the fleeing Israelites to the Babylonians. Psalm 137:7 recalls how the Edomites gloated over the destruction of Jeru-salem:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!”

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The main theme of Obadiah is the judgement of the Edomites for the way they betrayed the people of Judah during the Babylonian invasion.


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The first 15 verses of the book are addressed to the people of Edom. God scorns the pride and arrogance of the Edomites, who say to themselves, “who will bring me down to the ground?” (v3), referring to their perceived safety in their high mountain region. But God will bring them down and they will be punished for their evil deeds. The prophet mixes both past tense and future tense verbs when describing Edom’s fate. This is a technique that can be found in prophetic writing, when future events are sometimes described as if they had already happened.


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God’s message through Obadiah is that Edom will be completely destroyed, with not a trace left behind. The main charges against Edom are found in verses 12-14: "But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress."


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The judgement is summarised in verse 15: "As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head."

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The final part of the book relates to the people of Jerusalem. God promises that he will preserve a remnant of his people who will survive the exile and reclaim the land that is theirs, according to his plans and promise. To the devastated people of Judah, this would have been an incredible promise of hope. It seemed, to all intents and purposes, that their future was doomed and that God’s promises to Abraham had come to nothing. But God promises that Judah will become like a raging fire once more, whilst Edom is reduced to stubble. Judah’s time of judgement for her own sin would be over, and then God would judge her enemies.


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The final words of the book, in verse 21, declare that “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” The promised land of the Old Testament foretells the reality of the greater promised land, which is the coming kingdom of God. Matthew’s gospel in particular speaks of this prom-ised kingdom, which Jesus ushered in during his time on earth. The whole of the Bible is the story of this ultimate kingdom, reaching its climax in the book of Revelation. The king-dom of God is already here, but it is not yet fully here. That won’t happen until Jesus re-turns.

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In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the writer recounts the names of the men and women of the Old Testament who trusted in God’s promises to them regarding the coming kingdom.

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He then writes in verse 13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.


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This city is the new Jerusalem, the heavenly kingdom. Jesus used several metaphors to try to help his listeners grasp the nature of the kingdom of God. He described it as a tiny mustard seed which grew into a huge tree, or as a tiny amount of yeast which could make a whole batch of dough rise. From tiny, seemingly in-consequential beginnings, something great grows. When all seemed lost to the exiled people of Judah, God says “just wait and see what I will do”. And the glory of the final kingdom is made all the greater by the trial of the journey.

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You and I are invited to be part of this coming kingdom of God. No matter how small and insignificant we might feel in the great plan of God, and no matter how dire our circumstances seem to be, we can be assured that God’s kingdom is coming and we can be part of it. It is surprising and mysterious, hidden and yet revealed, wonderful and awesome. It is something new, something different, something glorious. It is possible for the wisest brains to miss it completely whilst little children understand and embrace it.

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God is doing a new thing and he invites us to come and see. The prophet Isaiah recorded God’s words to his exiled people:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


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Some 700 years after Isaiah, Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and declared:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

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Even the seemingly obscure prophecy of Obadiah is part of Jesus’ great story. It’s all about him. Between the lines of prophecy about Edom and Judah we see the greater picture of God’s redemption plan and his justice, mercy and grace. When the risen Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus and explained to the amazed disciples how the Law and all the prophets spoke about himself, I like to think that he said a bit about Obadiah.


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We’ve got four more books to look at before this series draws to a close, and there are lots more interesting things to come as we look at Haggai, Zechariah, Joel and Malachi. Join me next week if you can!

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Think Spot 26 May 2014

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Think Spot 26 May 2014

Philippians 2:4,21 "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ."

Listen to and/or download the mp3 file to hear this challenge to the Church in the 21st century! It will help you into this new week and see your Christ-light shining out!

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God - So What?

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God - so what?

Ezekiel 36:22-28


Introduction

Good evening. Glad you could be here. For the benefit of those who were not here this morning, let me quickly recapitulate. We saw from Ezekiel first vision in Chapter 1 several things about God! We discovered that God is holy; that God is universal in presence, power and knowledge. We also saw that God is mission-minded and that He is personal!

The Context - Story of Ezekiel from Chapter 2 onwards...

  • a. Symbolic Actions (4v1-5v17)
  • b. Vision of Jerusalem (8v1-11v25)
  • c. Symbolic Actions (12v1-20)
  • d. Prophecy Concerning Israel (12v21-24v27)
  • e. Prophecy Concerning Foreign Nations (25v1-32v32)
  • f. Salvation for Israel (33v1-39v29)

1. A God who is holy (Ezekiel 36v22-23)

2. A God who gathers (Ezekiel 36v24)

3. A God who cleanses (Ezekiel 36v25) and operates (Ezekiel 36v26)

4. A God who indwells (v27)

5. A God to live for (v28)

Conclusion - What about you?

What about you? If you are already a Christian here tonight, then it is not because of anything you have done. It is because of the events at Easter that you are a Christian, when God took the necessary steps so that all people could have the choice to either follow Him or not. We are primarily Christians, not because we come to church services or just happened to have been born in a supposedly Christian country. We are primarily Christians, because God first chased and harried us into His arms. We are Christians, if you are one, because God first loved you. And as a tremendous lover, He beckons and calls people all the time to respond to His call, and back to Him.



When I was younger, in my more smug moments I used to congratulate myself for being a Christian. How proud I was that I, Dave Roberts, was a Christian and that God was a jolly lucky God that I had decided to follow Him. It was during one of my less self-deluded moments, that I examined myself and I found God pricking my conscience and correcting me, and I read the New Testament "For the Son of Man came, not to serve but to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mk10v45).

So... If you are a Christian here tonight, go show and tell the transformation that the all-powerful living God has performed in you. If like me, you are a Christian today, our sins were forgiven through Jesus' death on the Cross. That is when we had our "bath" as it were. That is the point when we were justified before God and we are declared His child. Having been justified already, we don't need a bath anymore! But we do need the equivalent of a foot-washing daily and or every time we take Holy Communion and a cleansing of our sin when we confess it before our God and repent.

If you are not a Christian here today, then God is actively pursuing you. I, of course, don't know the circumstances in which He is, but I do know that He is. He wants all people to be followers of Him. That is why He is gathering, cleansing, and indwelling His people. If you would like to know more about the Christian faith, then please don't leave here tonight without talking to somebody about it.


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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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