Background Scripture: Acts 8:26-35
Quotes of the Week:
Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.
Carpe diem! Seize the day! What comes to your mind when you think of that? For many people, it is simply a phrase to make the best out of a day. For some people, it might mean to keep your eyes open for opportunities. For some, it might mean to have a good perspective and look for good things to happen. It would seem that much of our lives becomes routine, with the same things happening each day. Perhaps Saturday and Sunday are different than the other days, but we tend to get in a pattern of what we do, and although we do different things each day, we still seem to conform to the pattern. We get up at a certain time, do whatever we need to do in the morning and then attack the day. There may be different tasks that we do, but we make time for meals and breaks and then the days wind down into perhaps a normal pattern in the evenings too. The events may change with the seasons, as far as indoor or outdoor activities, but it is easy for days, weeks, months and years to pass by and other than getting older, and dealing with things with kids or jobs or whatever, we can easily get caught in a rut of sorts.
If you read these lessons, you know I like to use sports analogies often. In just about every sport, momentum is often the key ingredient. Momentum may matter much less if one team is markedly better than another team. For example, nearly any college basketball team can beat any junior high team. However, when the teams are fairly even in talent, momentum can cause one team to look like Goliath and the other to look like David (in the example where in nearly all cases, outside of God's hand on David, Goliath nearly always wins). However, in any sport, it seems that the momentum can change if a team makes the most of their opportunities. In baseball, an error or one single hit can begin to change the momentum. In football, a turnover can inflate one team and deflate another (and no, this is no reference to the infamous 'deflategate'). In our lives, we are not looking to defeat others, but trying to make the most of our opportunities can be a very beneficial thing for us to do.
When I used to have to fly a lot for business, I often found it most convenient (and much more peaceful) to keep to myself and not go any further than polite conversation with other passengers. However, on at least a few occasions, when I talked to people next to me, I found that in many cases, God was already working in their lives. When we started to speak, I found that many of them were struggling in one area or another, or had other things going on. It was as if God had placed us next to each other. In Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God, there is a section on things only God can do. When a person is convicted of sin, or when they begin speaking of spiritual matters or even bring the subject of church up, that can be a cue for us. On multiple occasions while traveling, I was able to share my faith with others, without trying to 'fit it in', as the other person was the 'instigator' of the spiritual conversation. It made me wonder how many times God may have been working in the life of someone, and I chose to ignore it. It also makes me wonder when I do fly and pass thousands of people in the terminals and in different airports what God might be up to in each of their lives.
In many churches, the subject of evangelism often comes up. Some churches have dedicated ministers of evangelism, and others have evangelism classes. Some people seem to be geared towards evangelism, but I also know that the concept of 'personal evangelism' freaks some people out. Some are terrified that they would have to share their faith, because of a variety of reasons. Some feel guilt, because they have always steered away from anything spiritual outside of church or Bible studies. Many feel inadequate or incompetent, because they believe that if they share their faith, they will instantly be put on the stand and made to answer hard Bible questions. On the other hand, there are others who are very excited about the prospect of sharing their faith, and they are excited and joyful about any potential opportunities. I believe that part of the difference in individual responses to evangelism is based on how we each are gifted, and evangelism is certainly a gift that some people have.
In the last lesson, we talked briefly about the testimony of Paul, and how he had gone from a Christian hunter to a Christian missionary. Each of us, as believers, have a testimony of how our lives have been impacted. We each have a past, or a time where we have strayed from God. As believers, we each have an experience where we have acknowledged our sin and trusted in Jesus Christ, and we receive the forgiveness of sins that He freely gives. We each know of God's grace and mercy, and our story is our story. It is important that you know your story, so that you can share it if the time comes up. If you are unclear on how to share your testimony, you can find plenty of researches online with a simple google search. There are many resources, but if you are interested, click here for help in creating your own testimony
In this lesson, we are looking at passages from Acts 8. At the beginning of Acts 8, Stephen was stoned for sharing his faith. Persecution of Christians was becoming a larger issue, with folks like Saul (Paul) gleefully seeking the demise of the Christian faith. Because of this persecution, Christians scattered, and with that scattering, the gospel of Jesus Christ went into many places that it had never been. Philip and others were among those spreading out and successfully taking the gospel to the Samaritans. It is interesting to think that the intended destruction of the Christian faith by persecution resulted in its being spread out to other parts of the world. The Christian faith cannot be contained.
I mentioned that we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives today as believers. So, what do you think that means? Well, in Ephesians 5:18, we find out that the only way to be led by the Spirit is to be filled with the Spirit. The contrast of being filled with the Spirit is being drunk. Hopefully, that is not something that you relate to often. I know with my condition right now, I probably appear as if I am drunk when I am walking, because my balance is off, and when I talk, my voice is slow and slurring. Unfortunately, that is a result of being 'filled with ALS'. However, when we are filled with the Spirit, we allow ourselves to be controlled and 'consumed' by the Spirit. There are specific things that the Holy Spirit does in our lives (and could be a subject for many more lessons), but briefly, we need to ask the Spirit to guide us and help us live as God intended. The Spirit also brings us comfort when we are hurting, as Jesus promised that the Spirit would bring us peace. Jesus said that the Spirit would help us recall things we have learned about God, which will help us share our faith. The Holy Spirit is a counselor and guide. We are often convicted by the Holy Spirit, even through our own conscience. The Holy Spirit will help us to pray, when we do not know what to pray. In short, when you are filled by the Spirit, the fruit of the spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23, is in us - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.
In verse 26, we read that an angel of the Lord came to Philip. The angel of the Lord was used often in the Old Testament, but now, Philip, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, have both the angel and the Spirit working together, which further confirmed what he was to do. The angel of the Lord told Philip to go to a very remote location. He was not told to go to Gaza, but to go to the desert road leading to Gaza. The first thing that was required by Philip was simple. He was to go. Effort and a willing heart was required by Philip, as it is for us today. Earlier, I had mentioned that the faith was spreading successfully, and I am sure Philip was part of that success. However, he was told to leave that success and go to a desert road. The success was where God was working, but he was being told to go to the wilderness. If you were in a position that was successful and you truly felt God leading you elsewhere, what would you do?
It is noteworthy what Philip did not do. He didn't ask why. He didn't ask what he should do. He didn't say that he would pray about it (that's our favorite line to say no politely, right?). Often, in our lives as believers, we dig the trench where we want, and then we line it with concrete and ask God to start flowing where we want Him to flow. Sometimes, we may have felt led to that "trench" at one point in time and God may have been working there, but over time, that trench may dry up. We could have another lesson right here, but the long and short of it was, Philip didn't argue. He didn't complain. He went.
What do you think you would have done if you were Philip? I generally hate those kinds of questions, but perhaps you can think of a time when God has impressed you in one way or another to do something. What did you do? Or, maybe the question might be how would you like to receive guidance from God? I would believe it would not be a stretch to say that we would want to hear God clearly and completely. We might want to have all of the steps laid out, in writing, preferably. Interestingly enough, in our lives, we often purchase things and put them together without reading the instructions (and end up with leftover pieces!). However, we seldom want to follow God if He doesn't lay out the plan fully. I've heard some pastors say that the best way to receive guidance from God, was to sign a blank page, and tell God you are willing to do whatever He calls you to do. Be willing to do whatever, whenever He calls you. It can be hard to distinguish when God is calling at times, and at times, it may seem easier to ignore it.
On the road to Gaza, there was a chariot, with a eunuch, who was an important official in charge of all of the treasury of the Queen of the Ethiopians. It is important to realize that Ethiopia was likely considered to be the end of the earth at that time. And, the eunuch was a person who had chosen to castrate himself for a job. In Deuteronomy 23:1, the Jewish people had laws regarding a eunuch - they were not allowed in the assembly of believers, so you might imagine that he was not very well accepted in the temple. He had been to Jerusalem to worship, but on his way home, he was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah, which is remarkable for a number of reasons, including that he actually had a copy of the scroll which was not readily available. He wasn't able to stop at Lifeway or the Christian book store and simply pick one up. God was already at work in this man's heart, and you would have to imagine that he had passed many other religions on the way to Jerusalem. It would be nice today if when people realized that they had a spiritual hunger, they turned to the one true God. Unfortunately, there are many counterfeits that try and sway people away from the truth. In this case, the eunuch was seeking and He was being prepared.
Philip asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading. He replied to Philip, "How can I, unless someone explains it to me?" I've been a believer for most of my life and I have taught Bible Studies for most of my adult life, and have been to literally thousands of other studies and sermons in my life. As I read through some of the passages in Scripture, I wonder how others cannot understand it, but once again, this goes to the role of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, stories are just stories and there is no meaning. However, there are times where I don't clearly understand Scripture and the context of passages. I've found other tools to be very useful, when I don't have a Seminary professor in my presence. One of the best tools I used is called the Blue Letter Bible. You can find it online at https://www.blueletterbible.org/, but if you have a smart phone, you can find the App. For each passage, you can look up the original words and multiple commentaries to help you understand better. As much as I've been around Bible Studies, I still find that as an invaluable resource to help understand Scripture better.
As some might say, God put the ball on the tee for Philip. The eunuch was already reading and waiting for someone to explain. In fact, the eunuch asked for help. Sometimes, we think that if we are going to share our faith or be a witness to others, we need to shoehorn it in somehow. I firmly believe that when God is at work, you will not have to force the opening. We know that there are no words that we can say that will convince anyone - it must all be the Holy Spirit. So, when God prepares people, He is already at work in their lives.
Philip was able to begin where the eunuch was reading and even through the direct question that he was asked, he was able to share of Jesus Christ. We often get so caught up in what we will say and how we will orchestrate the event that we miss the opportunity all together. We seem to want a script, but if you are working on a script for memory, we often focus more on the words and less on the person we are talking to. However, what was required was for Philip just to listen, then speak and go from there. Now, likely you will not encounter a eunuch in a chariot on a desert road, reading Isaiah and asking questions. So, where do we begin? I believe that there is more that we can do with our ears at first than our mouth. We need to listen to their situation. We need to identify the needs that they have expressed. Yes, it is important for you to know your testimony, but it doesn't work like that - where you see God working and then break out in your best presentation- instead you will find that parts of your story may resonate with theirs. Be sure you listen and let God impress you on the best way to apply your story.
Do you need to know Scripture? I believe you need to know how to navigate the bible to find Scriptures, but none of us will know it all from memory. Don't get caught up thinking that you will be asked tricky questions, in an attempt to catch you off guard. Yes, you might get that, if you are pushing yourself on someone. But, if God is at work, He will be preparing that person and if something comes up that you don't know, simply say that you don't know. Just make sure that you do know about Jesus Christ and realize that He is the most important thing. If someone is searching, they will be interested in how you found Christ and how your life has tangibly changed.
We often think that we just need to get others to our church. Around Christmas and other times of the year, churches will often encourage members to invite neighbors, friends and coworkers. Well, that can be helpful at times, but honestly, people are less concerned about what happens in the church and are more interested in what the church people are like on the outside. It is great for us to be involved in the church and have church friends, and go to church functions, and go on church mission trips, and work with church ministries. However, the truth is that often the longer we are in church, the greater the distance there gets to be from us and spiritually hungry people on the outside.
We need to remember that we have good news for all people. However, with that good news comes the bad news that we must understand. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In short, none of us is good enough on our own. It doesn't matter how altruistic a person is, the charities that they support or how much they help others - we all have fallen short of perfection. Each and every one of us, as well as anybody else we meet. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of our sin is death and separation from God. We cannot be good enough for God. I often think of the analogy of trying to match pure white on a wall in your home. I never knew that there were so many whites, but no matter how white, none are pure. Some think that they are a 'shade' off, and in reality our goodness is much like a different color. However, it doesn't matter if your goodness is 'off-white' or 'dark grey', the end is the same - separation from God based on your own goodness. Now, for the good news. Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were sinner, Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus is the pure white, and He paid the price for all of us 'off color' people. Do you get that? He died for you! He died for me! In Him, we find forgiveness and can enter the presence of God. We are not made perfect, but we are indeed forgiven and set right with God.
Have you ever thought that God may have placed you where you are for a purpose? Who among us does not need to hear this good news? I don't believe our job is to go and shove it down people's throats, but we need to realize that God is at work in many people around us. If we would open our ears and our eyes, we may see that God is 'teeing one up' for us. However, it doesn't much matter if one is teed up, if you don't realize that you are 'playing golf'. Let us open our ears and our eyes and see where God is leading us. Let us seize the day!