How to Deal with Religious Opposition

Paul and Barnabas respond to hostile nonbelievers with boldness and perseverance

How to Deal with Religious OppositionIn the Old Testament, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, are a set apart nation. They are to keep separate from the other nations around them and if they will, God promises to bless them. They also look forward to a promised king who will change everything.

Jesus—a Jew, by the way—comes as foretold. Most of those who accept him, assume he is there only for the Jewish people, that he is their savior and only theirs, that they must continue to keep the Gentiles at a safe distance and isolate themselves from unholy contamination.

A careful reading of the Old Testament, as well as Jesus’s words, however, gives us an expanded view: that Jesus comes for everyone, both Jew and Gentile.

With this in mind, let’s look at Paul and Barnabas when they arrive at Iconium. As is their practice, they head to the synagogue, the place where Jews hang out. Clearly their initial focus is the Jewish people. Their message connects with many of the Jews, as well as many Greeks (Gentiles). The Bible says, “that a great number believe.” So far, so good.

But some Jews don’t believe. Perhaps they don’t like change. (Sound familiar?) Maybe they see Paul and Barnabas (who are also Jews) as a challenge to their longstanding traditions. Or it could be they don’t appreciate that Paul and Barnabas are letting the Greeks in on the good news of Jesus.

Whatever the reason, they don’t disagree quietly. They stir up trouble. How this must vex Paul and Barnabas. They come there to tell their fellow Jews some good news, but some of them object and respond by forming an opposition movement.

How do Paul and Barnabas react? They get out of town as soon as possible, right? No! In the face of opposition, perhaps because of opposition, they stick around, for a good long while, speaking boldly the whole time.

As we follow Jesus, we should expect conflict and not be surprised if it comes from within our own tribe instead of from the outside. And when that resistance shows up we can opt to follow Paul and Barnabas’s example by doubling down and increasing our boldness.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 14, and today’s post is on Acts 14:1-3.]

Will We Act Boldly For God in the Face of Fear?

Ananias obeys God to heal Saul who wants to arrest him

I like the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, turning him from a murderous bigot into a passionate follower of Jesus. A flash of light, a voice from heaven. It has all the makings of a great story. In this account, God is the hero, and Saul is the focus, but an essential, though minor, character is Ananias. Without Ananias, Paul’s transformation would have been incomplete. Without Ananias, Saul would have floundered.

You see, after the flash of light and the booming voice of God, Saul is left sightless and befuddled. God then appears to Ananias in a dream. He says, “Go find Saul—the man who is here to arrest you and your friends for your faith—and heal him.”

It sounds like a trap to me, a ruse of Saul’s making. Though Ananias does object, God shows him the big picture, and then he obeys. From a human standpoint, Ananias takes a huge personal risk. All evidence suggests he will be the next follower of Jesus thrown into the pokey. From a human perspective the safe thing, the wise course of action, would be to ignore God, forget about Saul, and leave town.

To be completely honest, I fear I would have done just that. But Ananias doesn’t. He boldly does what God tells him to do and heals Saul. As a result of Ananias’s obedience, Saul, later known as Paul, becomes the most traveled missionary in the early church and its most prolific writer.

Thank you Jesus, thank you Paul, and thank you Ananias.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 9, and today’s post is on Acts 9:10-17.]

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4 Things Christians Need to Avoid

Paul warns Titus to stay away from unprofitable and useless things

4 Things Christians Need to AvoidPaul, the superstar missionary, writes to his protégé Titus, who Paul left on the island of Crete to wrap up the work he started. As Paul’s letters go, it’s a short one. But he packs it with practical information that any pastor could use. Since we all should effectively function as pastors to one another, these words apply to us all. We will do well to heed them.

In one short verse, Paul warns Titus to avoid four things, and they’re not what you might expect. Paul tells Titus to stay away from:

1) Foolish Controversies: This might include which translation of the Bible to use. Then there are churches still neck deep in the issue of women in leadership. Seriously, folks? At one time, the issue of the day was slavery. Yes, churches do fight about such things.

But let me dive into the heart of controversy. Another one is . . . wait for it . . . baptism: when to do it, how to do it, and what it means. If these details were all that important to God, you’d think he’d have provided more clarity on the matter. Yet his followers have killed each other over this controversy. Jesus didn’t say that people would know we are his followers by our great doctrine, but by our love (John 13:35).

2) Genealogies: Though I don’t see too many people tracing their lineage for generations in order to claim some special appointment or consideration, I do see people throwing around their heritage, as in “My grandparents started this church,” to “My daddy’s on the church board,” to “My family has been a member of this church for seven generations.”

3) Arguments: This might include the pews versus chairs debate, what color to paint the sanctuary, if drums are allowed in worship, a dress code, what to pay the pastor, and so forth. Use your imagination. At some time, someone has likely argued about it. Shame on them.

4) Quarrels About the Law: Sorry to say, but I see this a lot. It’s fighting about what the Bible says and how we apply it. We like people who agree with us and call everyone else a heretic. According to Paul, we need to stop it.

As I see it, these four things cover about every source of conflict that churches and church members face today. Paul labels these four tendencies as unprofitable and useless. I agree and will do my part to avoid them. I hope you will, too.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Titus 1-3, and today’s post is on Titus 3:9.]

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

As Followers of Jesus We Need to Live in Harmony

Jesus prays for the unity of his followers and Paul commands it, yet we don’t comply

As Followers of Jesus We Need to Live in HarmonyThe last thing Jesus does before his arrest and execution is to pray. The last part of his prayer is for the unity of his future followers (John 17:20-26). Yet two thousand years later, we still wait for Papa to answer this imperative request from his Son. We are not one, far from it.

When John records Jesus’s prayer for unity, he uses a poetic flare. But when Paul later writes about the necessity of unity, he is direct and unequivocal.

Paul says we must “make every effort” to live in unity, to pursue peace. To underscore this essential need for us to live in harmony, Paul reminds us that there is one church and one Spirit. We have one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (that’s a hard one for many folks to accept), and one Father God.

With all of this oneness that surrounds our faith, why do we feel a need to divide it and divide us? It is our sin that causes division. It is our human nature that results in us moving in direct opposition to Jesus’s prayer and Paul’s command. Our selfishness and lack of godly righteousness has resulted in a plethora of churches to pick from on any given Sunday and the 43,000 denominations in our world today. That’s a lot more than the one that Jesus and Paul envision and desire.

Jesus prays for our unity. Jesus and his Father model unity. Paul commands unity and then explains why a lack of unity makes no sense. Yet we persist in our division with ungodly fervor and in unbiblical error, when we should make every effort to live as one.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ephesians 4-6, and today’s post is on Ephesians 4:3-6.]

What Does It Mean to be Yoked With Unbelievers?

The Apostle Paul presents a series of contrasting situations for us to avoid

What Does It Mean to Not be Unequally Yoked?Paul writes to the church in Corinth. He warns them not to yoke themselves, that is, to pair themselves, with people who don’t believe. The image of a yoke applies to two animals paired together to pull a load. They need to be of equal strength, and they certainly need to move in the same direction if their efforts are to be effective.

This verse is often applied to marriage, for a person who follows Jesus to not marry someone who does not believe. While this may be a sound application, I don’t see it as absolute. (I’ve also seen this misapplied by asserting, for example, that a Baptist can’t marry a Lutheran or a person of one race can’t marry someone of another race.)

A secondary application relates to business, for a Christian businessperson to avoid forming partnerships with non-Christians. Again, there is wisdom in this as well, yet it is not unconditional either.

Look at some of the contrasts that follow the illusion of a mismatched yoke:

  • Right living versus wrong living
  • Light versus darkness
  • Jesus versus those opposed to him
  • A believer versus an unbeliever
  • God versus idols

Instead of applying this passage to marriage or business, let’s focus on the final contrast of God versus idols. What if the primary intent of Paul’s writing is a warning to not yoke the God of the Bible with other religions?

This mixing of diverse spiritual practices is a popular trend these days. People take what they like about Christianity, stir in some Eastern religions or add a bit of Judaism or Islam, and season with some ideas of their own. The result is a manmade religion, an idol of their own making. God is not pleased.

The Bible warns us not to place God and idols under the same yoke. Don’t mix God with anything else.

What do you think about the various contrasts in this passage? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4-6, and today’s post is on 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.]

How to Learn about the Bible

Don’t study books about the Bible, study the Bible.

How to Learn about the BibleIn college I was excited to take a class on C.S. Lewis. My enthusiasm, however, didn’t last long. I wrongly assumed we would study the writings of Lewis. Instead we focused on what scholars said about what he wrote. Yes, we did read one of C.S. Lewis’s books in the class, but the rest of the syllabus had us merely examining books about him. My interaction with Lewis was filtered through intermediaries.

This approach disappointed me. It left me frustrated. With so much we could have learned, we were diverted to secondary sources.

Many people wrongly take this same approach with the Bible.

Instead of reading the Bible, they read books about the Bible. Instead of studying the Word of God, they study what scholars say about it. What if the experts are wrong? What if our authoritarian sources lead us astray? After all, theologians stand in stark opposition to one another on what the Bible means, so we have a very real chance of picking up the wrong book to teach us about the Bible.

If we want to know what the Bible says we need to simply read it and not scour some secondary source.

I extend this same errant thinking to Sunday morning where trained clergy teach us about the Bible, spending the majority of their lecture sharing what they think the Bible says (and what other people think the Bible says). Why not just read the Bible together to learn what is in it?

In the past, when the laity was illiterate and didn’t have access to the scriptures in their language, it made practical sense for the clergy to teach what the Bible said. Never mind that throughout history trained ministers have consistently led their people astray. If you disagree with this assessment, then why are there 42,000 Protestant denominations in the world today? Why did we need the Reformation? We needed it to correct wrong teaching. Surely there is much disagreement among our learned leaders over what the Bible says.

Today we are literate. We have access to the Bible in multiple versions, both in print and online. And if we follow Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us as we study the Bible. We don’t need a human guide to tell us about God; we have God and his Word to tell us about God.

Yet I write about God and the Bible. Do I consider myself an exception? Certainly not.

My goal in writing about the Bible is to encourage others to delve into it themselves, to read it, study it, and seek Holy Spirit guidance as to what the Bible means. (My website ABibleADay.com focuses on this.) I seldom cite secondary sources. I don’t hold myself up to be an expert. I share my journey and encourage others to do the same.

Paul affirmed the Jews in Berea as having noble character, for they studied the Bible daily to make sure that what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11). We must do the same.

In lieu of listening to a sermon, how can we better use that time to learn about God? Who do you rely on to teach you about the Bible, man or God? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How Much Do We Love Others?

The depth of love is revealed by how much we are willing to give up

How Much Do We Love Others?It is easy to say we love others. It is harder to show it, to prove our words through action. Despite what I may profess, I fear I may be more selfish than I care to admit. I may not love those closest to me as fully as I think I do. And to be honest, I may not love those who are not so close that much at all.

However Jesus shows his love for us by dying in our place. We mess up; we deserve punishment. In fact our mistakes are so many, that our sentence is death. Out of his deep love for us Jesus volunteers to take our place and receive our punishment. He dies so we don’t have to. This is the ultimate expression of true love.

Yes, there are some I would die for. But not everyone. My love has limits. God’s love does not. Jesus proves that.

Yet as incredible as it seems, Paul offers to take love one step farther. His love for his people is so deep, his compassion so strong, that he is willing to be forever separated from Jesus if it will save them, the Jewish people. Not some of them, but all of them, even those who are trying to kill him and want him dead.

Paul claims he is willing to spend eternity in hell, forever separated from Jesus, so that his people can spend eternity in heaven, forever in community with Jesus. He offers to give up so much. Frankly I wonder if he really means it or maybe it’s just hyperbole, an exaggeration to make his point.

Of course he can’t actually carry out such a grand offer, an extravagant show of love. Yet this certainly gives me something to consider, professing love deeply like Paul and showing it profoundly like Jesus.

Are we willing to die for others? Would we go to hell so others can go to heaven? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 8-10, and today’s post is on Romans 9:3.]

Why We Shouldn’t Argue Over Theology

When Paul writes to his protégé Timothy, he instructs Timothy to warn the people not to quarrel over words. Isn’t that what most theological debate is, people arguing about words? People who claim to follow Jesus end up arguing about the meaning of certain words. They build their own theology around their understanding of these words and then reject everyone who thinks otherwise. This is the primary reason why the world has 42,000 protestant denominations. People who should know better quarrel over words and then storm off in a huff to form a new denomination of people who think just like they do.

Why We Shouldn’t Argue Over TheologyDon’t they read what Paul wrote? He says quarreling over words “is of no value” and “only ruins those who listen” (2 Timothy 2:14).

Later on he says to not “have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments,” which only “produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

This isn’t the first time Paul tells this to Timothy. In Paul’s first letter of instruction he talks about false teachers and their “unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words.” The result is “envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4).

So we must stop fighting over words. The Bible says to. Nothing good ever comes of it.

Isn’t quarreling about words the source of our theological debates and divisions? We need to stop arguing about theology and instead unite to tell the world about Jesus.

Can you think of a theological debate that wasn’t a quarrel over words? How should we treat those we disagree with? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Train With Purpose: Pursuing the Best in What We Do

In Paul’s letter of advice to his young protégé Timothy, he acknowledges the value of physical training. Even better is training to live a godly life. Physical training has some value, but godliness has even more, both in this life and the life to come, in the physical world and also in the spiritual world.

Train With Purpose: Pursuing the Best in What We DoHe contrasts physical training, which is good, to spiritual training, which is better. How often do we pursue things that are good, while pushing aside things that are better, God’s things? The best things. Even when it comes to our faith, there are good things we can to with our time, money, and attention and there are better things we can do. May we live wisely and always focus on the best.

In other letters Paul uses the metaphor of a runner to teach about life. As people who follow Jesus we should train for our race and run our race with the purpose. We want to finish, win, and earn a prize for how well we run. We don’t want to be disqualified; we don’t want to quit before we reach the finish line. Coasting through the race – or through life – isn’t an option.

We must press forward with the end in mind. To do these things, we train with purpose. Our eternal future is at stake. We run to win.

What are you training for? Are you striving to finish strong and win? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[1 Timothy 4:7-8, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Galatians 2:2, Galatians 5:7, Hebrews 12:1]