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Acts 9:23-43: Saul, Peter and Tabitha, a.k.a., Dorcas

March 31, 2010 1 comment

I read this passage yesterday and found it to be interesting to get in some more first-century Christian history. When it comes to reading the Bible and blogging, I prefer to read the entire passage first and then take notes on what I read. It works so far and I hope the readers like that. I also try to mix in what I was doing at the time so that it doesn’t read as a cure-for-insomnia exegesis.

Saul: “Hey! I’m a Christian! Honest! No kidding! No more persecuting Christians! I even now wear a W.W.J.D.? bracelet!”

Saul, soon to be known as Paul, the Apostle Formerly Known as Saul, had quite the transformation. Earlier in this chapter he was on his way to Damascus to continue persecuting Christians. Now, he had to be rescued from some angry Jews who wanted to kill him. Before they got to him, disciples came by night, lowered him down the wall from his room in a basket and transported him to Jerusalem.

Despite rescuing Saul (who, again, will soon become Paul), the other disciples were still very reluctant to accept Saul as a fellow Christian. It reminds me a little of the mass reluctance among many Christians when shock rocker Alice Cooper announced he’d become a Christian.

If ever Alice Cooper were to record a new song, it would probably be titled, “No More Mr. Unsaved Guy!”

It seemed so unfathomable that a man known for his outrageous performances would actually be a fellow believer in Jesus.

Seeing the concern, Barnabas vouched for Saul to the disciples and convinced them to give him a chance to prove themselves. They did, no doubt some worried that Saul was a double agent. If only he’d had with him a Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye signed copy of Left Behind, or perhaps if he’d had a W.W.J.D.? bracelet.

We read that Saul was sent to churches in Caesarea, Tarsus (his hometown), Judaea, Galilee, Samaria and that many people were saved and edified.

Peter continued fishing, healing

It’s hard to believe that, at the end of the Gospel According to John, Peter was found to be a defeated disciple with a heavy Galilean accent (which would probably make him sound like the Jewish equivalent of redneck). In this chapter, we see him preaching, teaching and healing. Specifically, healing.

First, a gentleman named Aeneas who’d been bedridden with palsy for eight years. God used this healing to bring people to him in Lydda and Saron.

Peter then wowed people at Joppa through his miracle performed on a disciple named Tabitha, also named Dorcas. Verse 36 described her as a woman “full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.” Unfortunately, she became sick and died and was apparently prepared for burial and placed in an upper chamber.

With people weeping, Peter came and kneeled down and prayed and commanded Tabitha to rise. She opened her eyes, saw him and sat up.

Tabitha’s return from the dead was no doubt the talk of the day in Joppa as people probably texted, blogged and read newspaper accounts about it. Verse 42 tells us many believed in the Lord.

Peter then stayed in Joppa a while with a tanner named Simon. It really is amazing to see what the Lord accomplished through Peter, and it never ceases to amaze me how God chooses to work with seemingly-humble, lowly people instead of relying on the well-educated, upper crust.

Richard Zowie is currently blogging his way through the Bible and has no idea how long it’ll take. He hopes to have it done within two years. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

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Acts 9:1-22: Saul becomes a Christian named Paul

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve always found Acts 9 to be one of the more fascinating chapters in the Bible as it tells the story about Saul’s unusual conversion. We know from Biblical history and from his subsequent autobiographical snippets that Saul had plenty of head knowledge of God, but not a heart knowledge.

There are countless paths people take to come to a saving knowledge in Jesus Christ. In my 28 years as a Christian, I’ve concluded that God fishes for souls the way we fish for, well, fish. Each type of fish requires a different bait, and even the same fish will require different types of bait depending on the time of day, the time of year, the water conditions, and so on. We don’t all walk down the aisle during the invitation.

One minister, a former practitioner of the Amish faith, recalled stopping plowing in the middle of a field to pray the sinner’s prayer.

For me, it came from attending services at Kings Row Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas in 1981. One night, in October that year, the pastor came to our house and I prayed the sinner’s prayer. Based on the teachings I’d heard, I knew it was the right decision.

One guy I knew at Pensacola Christian College, had a different path. Ray was into Christian rock music (which, of course, was frowned upon by PCC) and he told me he’d been saved a few years earlier at a Petra concert.

Yes, that same Petra rock band that so many independent, fundamental Baptist ministers decried (one even saying during a sermon that Petra was “going to hell”).

One high school friend told me of how he went to a church because he heard lots of pretty girls would be there. He became a Christian, and I could tell by his walk it was legitimate.

And then there was Saul.

Fresh off tormenting Christians and on his way to Damascus to apprehend Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem, Saul fell victim of a witnessing session–by Jesus Himself.

A bright light came from heaven, Saul fell and heard someone saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”

Saul, no doubt, was very overcome and flabbergasted by this vision and asked, naturally, who they were.

The answer in verse 5: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

There was no mistaking who this was. Saul, I’m guessing, was by this time a very well-read scholar of Jewish law, a rabbi. He had to have known who Jesus was and probably remembered Jesus’ earthly ministry extremely well. As for “kicking against the pricks”, I suspect this meant that Saul was rebelling against God despite all the clear, insurmountable evidence of Jesus and who He is and who Christians are.

Jesus then told Paul to go to Damascus. Initially he could see but then his sight was gone for three days as they continued their travel. He also for that period of time was without anything to eat or drink.

God then spoke in a vision to a Christian in Damascus named Ananias and told him to meet Saul of Tarsus at the street called Straight and that Saul would be praying. Ananias was to lay his hands on Paul so he might receive his sight.

Naturally, Ananias was reluctant. God, you do realize who Saul is, right? He’s killed a lot of Christians and is a wicked man! he probably told God.

God then explained to Ananias that Saul was a “chosen vessel” of God to bear God’s name before the Gentiles, kings and even the Jewish people. Furthermore, God said, Saul would suffer many great things for God.

So, Ananias went, laid his hands on Saul, and prayed for him to receive his sight and receive the Holy Spirit. Both immediately happened. Verse 18 says it immediately fell from Saul’s eyes as if it had been scales, making me wonder what disgusting mixture of dust and ocular fluids must’ve accumulated in his eyes and sealed them shut when he gazed upon Jesus’ brilliantly-bright white countenance. Saul was then baptized, cleaned up and given something to eat and drink.

From there, Saul (who would soon become known as Paul) preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the synagogues, declaring Jesus is the Son of God. This, no doubt, amazed those who heard him and they probably wondered if this was some joke or some elaborate attempt to draw Christians out to the open. But Saul increased and confused those in Damascus.

There are two questions this text poses:

One, wasn’t Saul in his conversion “forced” to come to Christ? Doesn’t the text suggest that Saul succumbed to irresistible grace? No. The Bible is filled with many other stories, such as Cain, Judas and even Queen Jezebel of people who either had direct contact with God and Jesus or directly witnessed the works of God yet chose to turn their backs on Him. Saul could’ve easily chosen to turn his back on God. Clearly, he was misguided in his persecutions as he thought he was doing God’s work. When he realized he wasn’t, that was part of what led him to Christ. There are also many people out there who feel the call of God and yet turn their back on it. The evangelist David Benoit, who lectures on rock music and the occult, often has told this story: a young man came up to him after a sermon and said, “Brother Benoit, I know I need to be saved, but becoming saved means I’d have to quit having sex with my girlfriend, and to be honest, I’d rather go to hell than stop doing that.”

Not to mention the unsaved in Revelation who, after seeing Scripture after Scripture being fulfilled, will still turn their backs on God.

Two, some have wondered if Saul being referred to as a “chosen vessel” indicates he was “chosen” to become a Christian. I think it refers to his work as a Christian. We make the decision whether or not to accept Christ as our personal savior, and once we become a Christian, God has a plan for our life of how we can best serve Him. This plan is what is “chosen” for us. Saul decided to become a Christian and God chose him for hte service of evangelizing the Gentiles, kings and the Jewish people.

And, of course, writing most of the New Testament.

Richard Zowie runs several blogs and enjoys blogging about the Bible and getting an improved understanding of it. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 10: A vision that troubles Daniel

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I read this on Thursday and planned to blog about it last night, but I decided to wait for two reasons: this is one of those chapters that must be read carefully (preferably several times) and I was a little too tired. Blogging about the Bible’s something I prefer to do on a fresh mind. You never know who will stumble upon this blog, and I want them to get something out of it rather than read the ramblings of someone who’s a little too sleepy to make sense.

Since I’m still shaking off rust as I read parts of the Bible that–sadly–I haven’t read in years, it’s very possible the next few times I go through this area of the Bible and as I grow more as a Christian, I may have a more elaborate analysis. Or, perhaps I’ll sound a little less dumb than I do now.

(That was supposed to be a joke, in case you were wondering).

With that…

During the third year of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel experienced yet another vision. What he saw bothered him. Greatly. For three full weeks, he mourned and fasted and even refrained from personal hygiene. It sounds like the activity one would normally associate with extreme distress and mourning.

Why the anguish?

Daniel, during the 24th day of the first month, walked by the great river Hiddekel (or the Tigris River) when he saw a man in a glorified body: clothed in linen, wearing a gold belt, his body bright, his eyes as “the lamps of fire”, his skin like polished brass and his voice “…of a multitude”.

Was this a pre-incarnation of Jesus? No, it was an angel. Daniel wrote that he alone saw the vision; those with him saw only a shaking of the earth that caused them to flee.

This experience left Daniel physically and emotionally weak, but he was assured by this angel there was nothing to fear. He learned he was greatly loved by God and that he was in excellent favor. I assume that due to Daniel’s spiritual and perhaps even social conduct, a man who behaved himself wisely, that he was chosen to receive this vision.

The angel told Daniel he came to meet with him, but that he (the angel) was delayed for 21 days by a demon of Persia. The conflict became such that Michael the Archangel came to help.

The angel’s message to Daniel? To help Daniel understand what would happen to the Jewish people in the “latter days”; the vision to be shared was for many days.

As the angel spoke to Daniel, he experienced the “simultitude” of many people and described as it as a vision where “my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength.”

Further, Daniel asked something else that tells how distressful the vision was for him in verse 17: “For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me.”

Daniel was then strengthened by the angel and was encouraged to be of courage. The angel then returned to fight the demon in Persia and then, after that, against the demon of Greece.

The chapter ended with the angel telling Daniel: “But I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and [there is] none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.”

What exactly happened in the vision? It’s possible Daniel saw the persecution the Jewish people would face in a distant future. Perhaps during the Great Tribulation, and perhaps even the Holocaust. Whatever it was broke Daniel’s heart. Instead of being ill for a few days, he was ill for a few weeks.

Richard Zowie plans to read about the Minor Prophets once done with Daniel. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Acts 8: Saul, Philip, Simon, Ethiopian

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I look at Acts 8 as a historical chapter, in that it’s telling what happened in the early church rather than reporting on Biblical truths.

Starting with Saul, who soon would exchange his S for a P and become Paul, we read in the first four verses that while the beloved Stephen was being buried, Saul ratcheted up his persecutions of the church. It said he “made havock” among many Christians, which my Bible notes say carries the idea of the ravagings of a wild animal. Yikes! He’d enter houses, drag out the Christians and place them in prison.

Moving onto Philip, this apostle did the unthinkable: he preached in–GASP!–Samaria! As we know from the Gospels, the Jewish people had virtually no dealings with the Samaritans and considered them beneath the Jews. To evangelize undesirables must’ve seemed disgusting for many.

Verse nine to 25 tells us that among Phil’s converts was a sorcerer named Simon. Unlike the book of Revelation, where the word “sorcerers” come from the Greek word pharmakeus is what we borrow to create our word pharmaceutics, this time sorcerer in Greek is mageuō, which carries the idea of being a magician. Apparently Simon could perform tricks, and based on the reading it looks like it was an elaborate sleight-of-hand but even, to an extent, something supernatural. He was able to use this to his advantage over the people.

Which leads us to Simon seeing the apostles performing miracles. When he saw them lay hands on people and impart on them the Holy Ghost, Simon offered to pay the disciples to give him the ability to do this also.

Peter and the others rebuked him. Peter told him he’d sinned thinking that God’s gifts could be bought with money and that his heart was in the wrong place.

This leads to an important question: was Simon really saved?

One school of thought is no. He saw the miracles and was enthralled by them and then “converted” as a way of trying to get closer to learning how to perform this elaborate trick that, no doubt, he would’ve loved to add to his repertoire.

Another school of thought is yes. Simon was simply a brand-new Christian who had a lot to learn about God and the Christian walk.

What do I think? I think it’s a mixture of both. Yes, he did get saved but he also didn’t grasp the concept of spiritual gifts. It is possible that his conversion was a scam, but only God knows for sure.

Finally, in verses 26-40 Philip met with an Ethiopian eunuch. The text suggests this eunuch was very well respected back home. He read Isaiah 53 and had questions about it. Philip then explained to him what the verses meant and how they pointed to Jesus as the Messiah.

And in verse 36, the Eunuch saw water and asked about being baptized. In 37, Philip told him if he believed in all his heart, he could be baptized, to which the eunuch replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The chariot was stopped, and both Phil and the eunuch went into the water as Phil baptized him.

I notice that some versions omit verse 37 while some notes say that this verse isn’t found in some/many/most manuscripts. Could it be Satan’s way of trying to subtly point people towards a baptism-is-required-for-salvation viewpoint?

The baptism completed, the Holy Spirit transported Philip to Azotus.

Richard Zowie hopes someday to blog about every chapter of the Bible. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 9: Humble prayer and explanation of 70 weeks

March 23, 2010 2 comments

After far too many days, I spent time this morning getting back into reading God’s Word. It was a glass of ice-cold, freshly-brewed tea. When I think of my own struggles walking with God and why it seems so hard for Christians to stay on the path of righteousness, the answer to “why?” is simple: they either neglected or misinterpreted the Bible and got out of fellowship with God. From there, the many other problems surfaced.

This chapter covers events that took place during the reign of Darius, meaning we can close the door on Belshazzar and his Reign of Error. During his study time, Daniel studied the Hebrew prophets. Troubled by the mention of 70 weeks God had previously spoken about to the prophet Jeremiah, Daniel prayed for understanding. He wanted to understand what Jeremiah meant when he wrote “Seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.”

There are two things I find interesting: One, that Daniel would have access to the writings of the prophets (for some odd reason, I’d always assumed they’d been left behind in Jerusalem). I suspect it was either smuggled or Daniel was able to use his influence to have a copy brought from back home. Or perhaps he’d built up such a stellar reputation that he was able to study the sacred writings without interference.

Second, his prayer. Here’s a prophet who had lots of political power and had no doubt become a respected person with his ability to understand and interpret dreams. As we learned earlier in this book, Daniel’s reputation, both personal and professional, was impeccable. Yet his prayer suggested great humility on his part. His prayer was somewhat of a historical record of Israel’s continued disobedience towards God. He recalled all the blessings and mercies and how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and gave them their own home.

And so, he prayed for God to help him understand the 70 weeks. God sent the angel Gabriel to reveal the interpretation.

In verse 24, Gabriel told Daniel the 70 weeks are meant to complete the transgression of the people, end the sins and to “make reconciliation for iniquity” along with ushering in eternal righteousness, “seal[ing] up the vision and prophecy” and bringing honor to God.

Here’s one chart that “explains” the 70 weeks.

Again, my understanding is from a lay perspective, but it looks like the 70 weeks apply to several future times. One, the return to and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. Two, Jesus’ crucifixion and, three, the end times. Gabriel said the end would be with a flood, and that the Messiah would cause sacrifices and oblation to discontinue. This sounds like something that has not happened yet.

Some say 70 weeks could actually represent hundreds of years. Who knows for sure.

Here’s another chart. Same basic idea, different layout.

Perhaps the next time I read Daniel 9 in a year or so, I’ll have more to add.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since 1981. He had a reassurance of salvation in 1984 and has actually been baptized twice–first in 1981 and then in 1990 for his reassurance of salvation. Whenever Satan tries to remind Richard of his past, Richard gladly likes to tell Satan, “Hey, Satan, don’t you have an eternity in the lake of fire to get ready for?”. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 8: A vision that troubles Daniel

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Things have been hectic lately, and I’m trying to develop better time management skills. I read this passage late last week. Forgive me for just now getting around to posting this.

We’re continuing on into the next phase of Daniel, where he sees visions of both the near future and not-so-near future. Forgive my redundancy, but it must’ve been terrifying seeing visions. Imagine seeing images based millennia into the future and seeing people, cities, styles, machines that make no sense because they’re too far technologically advanced.

This vision occurred in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar before the fifth chapter of this book. Daniel, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to group his dealings as a government official in one part of the book and all the visions in the rest of the book.

In this vision, he saw a ram (the Media-Persia empire) and a goat (Greece). The goat, Greece, prevailed over the ram, telling Daniel that the MP empire that’ll soon overthrow Belshazzar will itself eventually collapse. The vision also foretold the death of the great Greek emperor Alexander and, eventually, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The vision told Daniel that A-IV eventually would try to set up pagan worship in Israel and would try to exalt himself above God.

Verse 12 says he was successful awhile and then finally, as all men with overinflated egoes who exalt themselves above God, he was defeated and the Temple was rededicated. History tells us A-IV was defeated by an army led by Judas Maccabeus. Verse 25 says he was “broken without hand”, indicating that he was probably humiliated in his quest to become godlike.

The vision troubled Daniel, and at the end of this chapter he mentioned being ill several days and even taking a few days off from work. This is probably not unusual, even in the days before people filled themselves with caffeine, processed foods and other things not good for them. What Daniel saw, no doubt, made him sick to his stomach.

What made him ill? Maybe the sickness of seeing what would happen to this current kingdom, or the sickness of seeing what God’s people would endure a few hundred years into the future. It’s hard to tell for sure.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian for 28 years and likes to write about the Bible. Post comments here or contact him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Why Christians quit serving God

March 10, 2010 3 comments

At church years ago, I heard a missionary speak. He and his wife were about to head to the mission field. “Jack” sounded very excited and struck me as a man absolutely driven to serve the Lord and bring as many people to Christ as possible. In Christian circles there’s that cliché of a person so energetic to serve God that they are “ready to attack hell with a squirt gun.” While I never personally knew Jack, his testimony made him seem like he was just that person.

Fast forward about 15 years. On a website where Christians can post comments and converse with each other, I found “Veronica”, Jack’s wife. Jack was nowhere to be found on the site, and I soon learned they were no longer married. Veronica told me that not only was her ex-husband no longer a missionary, he also wasn’t living for the Lord. It was heartbreaking.

“Jack seemed to love the Lord and seemed really driven to serve Him. What happened?” I asked Veronica.

She told me it was a simple answer: sin.

It reminded me of a proverb every Christian should have written in their Bible: “This book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this book.”

By “This book”, of course, we mean the Bible.

We also know from a children’s song that you will grow as a Christian if you read your Bible and pray everyday. If you neglect your Bible and forget to pray, you’ll shrink. A child’s song, yes, but to paraphrase what Jesus says in Matthew 18:3, children have this magical way of not overcomplicating a Christian’s walk with God.

Sadly, Jack isn’t the only Christian I’ve known of who’s fallen by the wayside. One suitemate at college, who planned to be an evangelist and who seemed very sensitive towards God, is now a college professor with a radically different view of Christianity. He told me once he felt the New Testament, which he quoted often during prayer group, was now a politically-altered, unreliable text. Another Texas-based evangelist known for his fiery salvation messages later left the ministry and went to work for a shipping company. And then there was the faithful Sunday School teacher who would regularly go door-to-door on Saturday visitations; he later left his wife of more than 30 years for a much-younger woman. I’ve also known Christians who have converted to atheism and Christians who no longer attend church due to what they deem as hypocrisy.

In my own life, I’ve had bouts of not being in church, not regularly reading the Bible and not praying regularly. It was like meandering in a desert in a futile search for water. In these periods, it became far easier to do the wrong thing than it is the right. When you don’t read the Bible and don’t pray, you become far less in tune with who God is and what He wants for you. And when a Christian does the wrong things too often, it’s like going down a long, slippery slide; climbing back up to the top is impossible unless you hop off and find the ladder.

Why do people give up living for God? I posed this question to Dave, a former college roommate of mine who now pastors in Maine.

Dave offered three reasons:

First, some people grow tired of doing the right thing and just give up. Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:9: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (NLT)

We all have our times where we feel tired spiritually and want to quit. Why don’t we? Dave feels it boils down to making up your mind to follow Jesus and to stick with that decision.

Second, some people love the things in this life more than God. It is a subtle seduction and enticement. Paul writes of such a heartache in 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica.” (NLT)

Demas worked alongside Paul but decided he loved the things of this life more—whether it was another vocation or something in his personal life. Some people want to serve God but don’t want to make the sacrifices to do so.

Third, some people just decide to go directly against what God says in His Word because they don’t want to believe it. It may too hard for them to handle.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:19-20: “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” (NLT)

Dave also believes that while some may “shipwreck” their faith, there is hope. They can turn back to God and allow God to rebuild their lives. Hebrews 12:3 reminds us to “Think about Jesus. He held on patiently while sinful men were doing evil things against him. Look at Jesus’ example so that you will not get tired and stop trying.” (ICB)

As Christians, we know that Satan hates us and wants to hinder our walk with God. There’s nothing more damaging to Satan’s kingdom than pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Bible translators, Sunday School teachers, parents and other Christians completely driven to serve God.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since 1981. Post comments here or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.