I was reading this blog post today by Darin Smith (which I recommend to you) and agree with it completely. Except for one sentence. confused

In the penultimate sentence, the author says, “It is important to pray for governmental leaders because the circumstances they create either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.”

Hmm…

Is it right to pray for religious freedom? Yes. Surely there is a benefit when laws do not restrict religious belief and expression. Is the Gospel dependent on religious freedom to flourish? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that leaders can create conditions that can “either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.” No person or group of people have that kind of power

History proves this. Christianity grew in its earliest days under government systems that weren’t always favorable to the message. Sometimes, civil disobedience was even called for because of early restrictions:

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:27-32 

Current statistics prove this. According to the mission research organization Operation World, the Gospel is currently growing the fastest in Iran and Afghanistan. China is in the top five. Laws do not determine whether truth will spread. Faithful followers of Jesus who share their faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, determine whether the Gospel spreads.

I applaud Darin’s great article to remind us to pray 1 Timothy 2 prayers for those in authority. He gives some great suggestions for the content of those prayers. But let’s not forget on whom the spread of the Gospel depends.

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

Leave me a comment with your thoughts!

Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

The concept of “The Paphos Paradigm” (intentional, targeted ministry of the gospel to governmental leaders) is taken from Paul’s encounter with the governor of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, in Acts 13:1-12, but the pattern is seen all through the Bible.  Five chapters earlier, an African treasury official gives us another encouraging example of the life-changing power of the gospel.  Acts 8:26-39 has important lessons for today’s church.  Let’s look at ten of them (not necessarily in order of importance):

1.  There was a political official God wanted to reach.  “. . . there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. . .” (v. 27b)  If you know even a few stories from the Bible, you’ve seen this before.  God repeatedly sends messengers into the lives of political leaders to speak His truth into their lives with the goal of heart-change.

2.  God called a messenger to go to the political leader.  “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) . . . Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” (vv. 26, 29)  The call of God was made clear to the messenger, in this case the apostle Philip, but that call still necessitated action (we’ll get to that in the conclusion).  Philip immediately followed the Lord’s call and plan.

3.  Philip went to where the leader was.  So he got up and went . . . Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” . . . And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (vv. 27a, 30, 31b)  In that day there weren’t too many choices for communication, so Philip had to physically go to where the Ethiopian was.  This is, of course, the most effective place to be to talk with anyone, but the church today has so many technologically creative ways to share love and good news with leaders.  Face to face can’t be beat, though, and has a tremendous impact.

4.  The leader was outwardly religious.  he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” (vv. 27c, 28)  How often do we see this?  Our leaders are often seen speaking in churches, attending prayer breakfasts and quoting Scripture during speeches on the floor.  But just because there is a profession of faith or an outward appearance of religiosity, a leader may have never repented of and been forgiven of sin.  We cannot assume that and the church should be on the front lines of exhorting leaders to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

5.  The Word of God is powerful.  “Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
         ‘HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER;
         AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT,
         SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. 
    ‘IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY;
         WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION?
         FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH
.'”  (vv. 32, 33)  This is a point we could include in every top ten list.  But we must pause to acknowledge the powerful moving of God’s Spirit in this whole narrative was through the reading, meditating, asking about, and proclaiming Scripture.  Philip’s opinion doesn’t show up anywhere.

6.  The leader was seeking God and open to Him.  The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” (v. 34)  He had worshiped in Jerusalem, had the book of Isaiah open on his lap and was clearly wrestling with the meaning of the passage.  What a blessing when someone asks a question about the Lord.  When they do, we should have an answer ready!

7.  The message was clearly communicated, starting from where the leader was.   “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture . . .” (v. 35a)  When is the last time you opened your mouth, or email or letter, to share Christ with your representatives?  Ever?

8.  The content of the gospel message was centered on Jesus.  “. . . he preached Jesus to him.” (v. 35b)  If we believe Christ has the answers for all man’s problems, that has to be shared.  There is no other definition of the gospel than Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  Speaking up for godly, biblical laws to be enacted in our land is great, but lawmakers may still go to a Godless eternity if we stop there.

9.  A believing leader should be an obedient leader.  “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (vv. 36-38)  Just like any believer, visible fruit will accompany true faith.  The Ethiopian’s desire to obey and identify with Christ showed a heart that wanted to please the Lord.  This is the kind of change our leaders need.  We all do.

10.  God desires leaders to move from despair and confusion to joy.  “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (v. 39)  What a change of heart, emotion, action and purpose this eunuch went through in these few verses!  Many of your leaders are rudderless in life.  They are on the pointless treadmill of life without purpose or meaning.  The church has been left on earth to go to all nations with the direction-changing, hope-producing gospel that we can be forgiven and know God personally.

Conclusion:  When Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, this poor, confused, desperate Ethiopian treasurer responded with a most important question: “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”

We should be like our God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2:4).  Pray for your leaders and consider how you can share your faith in Christ with them.

Dr. fruit of the SpiritJohn Piper posted this to his Twitter page recently:  “Filled with the HOLY SPIRIT Paul said, “You son of the devil, enemy of righteousness, full of villainy” (Acts 13:9). Which fruit is that?

It caught my eye for two reasons: 1)  I’ve wondered the same thing many times and 2) it’s a crucial question in the Paphos Paradigm found in Acts 13:1-12.  If you want a little more background on the quote above check out the entry on this blog from June 1, 2009 (“Lessons from Wichita and Paphos – Appropriate Confrontation of  Evil”).

So here are the two seemingly contradictory concepts Piper is asking us to reconcile:  1)  Paul was full of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of which is found in Galatians 5:22, 23a: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” yet 2) Paul verbally rips into the false prophet and magician Bar-Jesus with the words quoted in Piper’s tweet.

There are several layers to the answer, I think.  The first is Paul’s motivation for addressing Bar-Jesus so firmly.  It’s the same motivation that drove him to be the greatest missionary as well as endure suffering, hardship and loss.  Paul’s primary goal was to proclaim the gospel and Bar-Jesus was keeping that from happening.  Hence the reproof and judgement of temporary blindness (Acts 13 :10, 11).

Another consideration, as I wrote on June 1, is that these words we read in Acts 13 probably weren’t the only ones Bar-Jesus heard from Paul.  Chances are Paul spoke the truth of the gospel in the magician’s hearing, offering to him the same forgiveness and new life as any other hearer in Cyprus.  He just chose to reject it and tried to prevent the governor, Sergius Paulus, from hearing it also.  That sent Paul off.

So, to answer the original question, which fruit of the Spirit did Paul display in his treatment of the false prophet, Bar-Jesus?  A couple come to my mind.  The first is love.  I doubt that in 21st-century America we have a very accurate idea of what love really is.  Our definition is to make much of a person; if we are the recipients, our expectation is to be made much of.  Without getting into a deep theological discussion, God Himself doesn’t always treat people He loves by this definition.  His definition of love is to give people the opportunity to make much of Him, which is our highest good.  What happened to Bar-Jesus showed the greatness of God, pointed others to Him and had a part in the salvation of Sergius Paulus.  It was the loving thing for Paul to do.

Faithfulness would be another fruit seen in Paul’s words and actions here, again based on his goal of getting the gospel out.  How many times do we let obstacles keep us from sharing the truth as we should?  Is faithfulness in shorter supply in today’s churches and if it is, can we trace that back to not being controlled by the Spirit as we ought? 

All followers of Christ should reflect Him and these fruits that show the Spirit indwells.  But we will collide and disagree with our culture.  It will make us mad (which is not necessarily wrong biblically, but can be sinful).  But WHY does it make us mad?  What will our response be?  How does Paul’s example inform our motivation and our treatment of those who are hostile to our message of the gospel? 

It’s an interesting question.  How would you answer it?

OT scrollI recently started a new Bible reading plan conceived and promoted by Grant Horner, Associate Professor at The Master’s College in Los Angeles.  This plan is based on reading a chapter from ten different lists of varying lengths.  The result is a unique combination of readings as you finish each list and start over.  I recommend it to you, but the website will explain it better.  You can access a pdf of the plan at: http://www.4shared.com/file/84820158/92ad7a9e/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.html

At any rate, I was reading yesterday in Chapter 2 of the Bible books on the list and I was impressed with the similar message contained in the poetry of Psalm 2, Proverbs 2 and Isaiah 2 as it relates to culture and politics:

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
         Take warning, O judges of the earth.
    11Worship the LORD with reverence
         And rejoice with trembling.
    12Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
         For His wrath may soon be kindled
         How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
    Psalm 2:10-12

6For the LORD gives wisdom;
         From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
    7He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
         He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
    8Guarding the paths of justice,
         And He preserves the way of His godly ones.
    9Then you will discern righteousness and justice
         And equity and every good course.
   Proverbs 2:6-9  

Isn’t that what we long for in our leaders?

7Their land has also been filled with silver and gold
         And there is no end to their treasures …
       8Their land has also been filled with idols;
         They worship the work of their hands,
         That which their fingers have made.

22 Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;
         For why should he be esteemed? 
  Isaiah 2:7, 8, 22 

Do those words remind you of 21st-century America?  Characterized by greed, self-indulgence and finding meaning apart from God, our nation seeks answers from mere men.  The clear call of Isaiah, though, is to find guidance from a supernatural Source, the one true Creator Redeemer God.  The leaders of men should acknowlege this call as well as the people of God.  The Church must take care as God’s ambassadors in our world to seek His ways, power and wisdom while pointing our decaying culture to the same spiritual priority.  True, lasting change only comes from the inside out.

There is a great temptation to depend on laws, lawmakers and law-interpreters – the governmental system which is the “work of our hands, that which our fingers have made”.  According to the Lord (as He inspired Isaiah to write), that’s the very definition of idolatry.

touching the worldThe Paphos Paradigm of ministering to government officials is found at the beginning of Acts 13, and immediately the emphasis on the local church is made.  Five men are listed who were teaching in the Antioch church when two of them (Saul and Barnabas) are singled out for a new task.  Two important things are evident:

1)  The Holy Spirit called Saul and Barnabas – “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).  There was no strategy session, no committee meeting to express opinions and take a vote.  While this staff of teachers carried out their ministries of teaching and prophecy, the Spirit spoke and called out who He wanted to go on the missions trip.

The process of “the call to ministry” has long been a mysterious source of debate in the Church, but at the core of the issue is the working of the Holy Spirit – in the heart of the one called as well as in the church as a whole, who should observe, pray, affirm and commission the called one.  There’s something deeply inspiring about seeing someone who’s available to follow this spiritual leading and willingly submits themselves to the oversight and authority of the church who also seeks the Spirit’s leading.  This whole endeavor must be initiated and sustained by the Spirit of God.

2)  The church sent Saul and Barnabas – “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:3).  The “they” in this verse was the Antioch church and it’s a pattern that we must follow today.  What a connection, an identification is in this verse.  The church is behind this effort because it is an extension of its ministry, just in a different location.  Saul and Barnabas aren’t leaving to independently set up their own autonomous work.  They are an extension of their church, still connected, supported and encouraged by them.  They will later return to Antioch to give a report of the trips and be accountable to the church’s leadership (Acts 14:26, 27).

Missions begins and ends with the local church; that’s the pattern in Acts.  Any ministry activity apart from the oversight of the church has no accountability or direction to prevent derailments like discouragement, lack of counsel or doctrinal error.  The partnership and support displayed between the First Church of Antioch and Saul and Barnabas is an indispensable example we must duplicate.

From there, the ministry on Cyprus took off, with the eventual opportunity to witness to the governor.  When Sergius Paulus came to faith in Acts 13:12, it was the result of the church carrying out the mandate to make disciples, not just two men on an independent gospel expedition.  Taking the good news to leaders and everyone else is a responsibility we all share in the church.

May we think of that the next time we see our representatives on TV or in the papers.  The onus is on us to care for them spiritually.