This week's Bible Study - November 20, 2016
Quotes of the Week:
In every day, there are 1440 minutes. That means we have 1440 opportunities to make a positive impact.
Impact. We all want to have impact, don't we? In the past few weeks, our nation has elected a new President, although the Inauguration won't happen for a few more weeks. If you are on facecbook, you likely have seen 'news clip' after 'news clip' shared by people who tried to make statements for or against a candidate. Unfortunately, many of the stories are so blatantly fabricated, that you really have little way to know if something is true or not. And, that type of convincing tends to only pull out the extremes who will not change their stance anyway. I have had to hide posts from a few political friends, because I didn't want to keep viewing lies on either side. Of course, some of them were truth, but when I have been personally involved with a news story, the truth is seldom published without an obvious bias. Unfortunately, at this time, much of our nation is divided, at least in the thought of where we should be headed and it won't change until some significant changes are made and the honest truth is shown and accepted by all.
You can see that people want to impact others. People generally want everyone else to accept them, no matter what and there is something about being accepting of all people, at least as much as we can, right? People may live near you and have a whole different worldview than you do. If you haven't heard the term worldview, it can be defined as a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. I have heard it said that it is like the lens through which one views the world. Worldviews will differ based on how you were raised and specific beliefs you have. All of us have encountered people whose concept of life is radically different than our own. There have to be some commonalities for a society to exist peacefully. For example, to kill someone else because they believe differently will crumble a society. To destroy property of someone else because you believe differently is a sign of a worldview failure. People can protest and try to get others to understand their cause, but some of the things we have seen recently have gone way too far. There need to be some commonalities of a worldview for a society to deal with differences of opinions and beliefs without seeking to cause undue distress on others who disagree.
As believers, there is a worldview that we have that sees things in our world from a different perspective. We could spend a lesson or two dedicated to what that means. However, we won't go into the details during this lesson, but suffice it to say that our worldview is not based on majority opinions, but on the truth of God. It can be difficult navigating through life with the preponderance of things that are seen as acceptable these days and will continue to diverge even more, based upon the tide of public opinion. The question is how we can have an impact while respecting other's views, but freely sharing our faith with others.
In the first part of chapter 17 of Acts, we are exposed to Paul's techniques. He would preach the risen Christ in the synagogues until the Jewish zealots, which he once was, would threaten him and intend to do bodily harm. Paul would then go to another city, where the same thing would happen. Paul was having impact in the synagogues, which made the Jewish leaders jealous. This threatened their very existence. In this passage, he was waiting for his helpers in Athens. While he was waiting for them, he saw that the city was full of idols and he became greatly distressed.
We often try to look at passages like this and identify idolatry in our culture. There are many things that people worship, at least conceptually. They are things that outrank God's priority on a daily basis. It could be material possessions, wealth, relationships and so forth. This is true, but what Paul saw was blatant idolatry. This is hard for us to consider, at least in a prevalent sense, in our country. My eyes were literally opened on my first mission trip to Taiwan. Everywhere you looked, you saw gods. There many temples with idols that were worshipped and to whom incense offerings were made. They were in every store, restaurant and had prominent places in homes. We even came across a store where you could buy your own god. When I saw this, I could more easily relate to this passage. It wasn't just the idols that were troubling, but seeing the lostness in so many people's eyes was astounding.
Paul had the same message that he shared everywhere he went. The philosophers that Paul encountered spoke of gods freely and they would listen to Paul, not based on eloquence of speech, but because he spoke of something new. They loved to hear new things spiritually. As opposed to the Jews who were indignant at the message of Christ, because He represented an alternate truth, these guys could care less about the truth; it was the intellectual pursuit that fascinated them. When we share our faith, reactions may differ based on who you share with. Some are closed to listening and others may be open to what you have to say, but it really doesn't matter if we don't share.
Paul stood up to speak in the meeting of the Areopagus. I find this fascinating. Paul seemed to be a person who
was never intimidated. Certainly, there are personality types and Paul was surely a Type A personality. However,
I believe that the real secret is much deeper. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote in chapter 6, verses 19 and 20,
and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
It is noteworthy that Paul asked for prayers that he would be bold. As you think of those in ministry or on the mission field, you will likely find many praying for them, but more for safety, and less for boldness. While it is good to pray for specific situations, we should also be praying that all believers would be bold.
Paul could have handled this in a variety of ways, including telling them how wrong they were, but had he done that, he would have likely lost his audience. There may be times where launching into others may be called for, but that is seldom the best tactic. Even Jesus seldom launched into anyone other than the self righteous. However, Paul found something to work with; they were fascinated with gods. Certainly, there is a difference between Christianity and polytheism. If you are a polytheist, could you ever be sure that you appeased all the right gods? They seemed to cover the gamut with the altar to an unknown god.
Paul was going to tell them about the God that they didn't know. This God made the world and everything in it. He didn't live in a temple or shrine. He is not served by human hands. It is interesting that the God of the Old Testament instituted a tabernacle, as defined in Exodus. This continued until Jesus was crucified and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies was torn. So, there had been a temple that was served by priests, but the God that was worshipped was the one True God. When I saw those temples in Taiwan, there were similarities of the Exodus Tabernacle, with the exception of many, many gods.
Paul continued that this one True God gave life and breath to everyone, as well as instituted the nations. In short, our very lives and our world revolves around God. We are associated and identified with God. Paul said that in Him we live and move and have our being. Even some of their poets had said 'we are His offspring". While they had prided themselves in their intelligence and openness, they had missed the most basic point.
There would have been a problem if Paul had stopped there. He had built the argument and was convincing, but he couldn't leave them hanging. They had information, but what were they to do about it. He had basically said that their thoughts and worship was futile, if they neglected to acknowledge the one true God.
Paul said that God had overlooked ignorance in the past, but now God was calling all to turn from their ways and repent. Then, Paul said that the world will judged with justice by the man he had appointed, the one who was risen from the dead. Some of them ridiculed Paul and others wanted him to return
I believe we often forget the impact that we can have on others. This is not about trying to get someone to agree with your argument, but we have the key to real life. There are a few things that we should think about in sharing.
We need to be willing to share. If we are not looking for opportunities, the rest doesn't matter. It is a true shame if we believe what we say we believe, but never care enough to share with others we meet.
When we do share, we should be compassionate. The whole concept of empathy has hit me deeply recently. When people are struggling, the last thing they need is for someone to go on the offensive against them. I recall a poster I saw one time that had a pastor throwing spears at the congregation. Even when discipline needs to occur, it should be done with compassion.
When we share, we need to be bold and take a stand. Paul asked for people to pray that he would have boldness to speak as he should. Boldness does not imply harshness, but rather standing to say what needs to be said. Sometimes, you may find yourself with an opportunity with a friend, co-worker, neighbor or someone else and keeping your mouth shut may seem the easy way out, but be bold to take advantage of your opportunities.
When you share, look for points of commonality. When you care enough to associate with them, it is a way to make sharing easier. Remember to be humble, as none of us is any better than another. It is only because of the grace of God that any of us can be a child of God. There is no greater impact that you can have on another's life than to share your faith. It is indeed the most precious thing any of us has.