Monday, August 31, 2009

Romans 2

One of the good things about Romans is it clarifies the role of our works in our salvation and the role of grace. Many evangelicals, believe that all it takes is the confession of Christ as the Savior and you go to heaven. That's why they feel that even a murderer can confess on his death bed and be saved, but a good person who doesn't confess Christ is going to hell. Romans will contradict this. Twenty percent of Romans is about grace, but thirty percent is about works. In this chapter Paul shows that a person who is good, who has never heard the gospel, is in a better position than one who has the gospel but doesn't live it.

In the first 16 verses of this chapter, Paul teaches that all will be judged according to gospel standards because everyone has, as Moroni says, the light of Christ and knows right from wrong. What Paul says the Lord is concerned about is the condition of the heart. Isaiah says that the Lord looks not on the outward appearance but on the heart. Our inner intentions are more important than our outer motions. If our heart isn't right, our works will do us no good. The Lord wants us to do the right things for the right reasons. Verses 6- 7 sums it up: "[God] will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life."

We can't get to heaven based on words alone. Billy Graham, the great evangelical preachers, once said there is a difference between cheap grace and cheap conversion and genuine repentance.

Romans 1

When the church was young and small, it was mostly Jewish and the problems in the church were related to the Jews and the Law of Moses. Now it is becoming more of a gentile church and the majority of the gentiles are Greeks whose immorality had been a form of worship. As a result, we will hear Paul's condemnation of immorality more and more often. Romans was written between 57 and 58 AD and it appears that he is writing it to prepare the Romans for his visit. Some consider Romans to be Paul's greatest theological writing. It is also one of the most difficult epistles to understand because of the style of the language and the way it has been translated. A good commentary is really helpful.

Verse 16 is an important lesson to me. "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" isn't just a indication of Paul's deep commitment, but a reminder to me that I should let nothing take precedence over my own beliefs. I shouldn't hide them but be bold in my example of them.

Verses 23-27 are a clear condemnation of immoral homosexual activity. To me, as a nation grows in its acceptance of this kind of behavior, the importance of the family unit is undermined. It was immorality of the Roman Empire and the loss of the family unit that brought about its downfall. As we see the acceptance of immorality, abortion, and non-traditional families in our own times, we cannot but expect that our country will be greatly weakened and vulnerable to attack from within and without. All of this, was prophesied and warned against in the scriptures and we will be without excuse in the end.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Acts 27-28

These two chapters contain the story of Paul's first journey to Rome. Luke is evidently on this trip with Paul as they make the 2,000 mile journey to Rome. They experience all kinds of problems which causes the trip to be far longer than it should have been. It is a the bad time of year to be sailing and Paul advises them not to go, but they give him no heed. They experience no wind, contrary winds, a small hurricane, and many days with clouds and rain so they can't calculate their course. They are nearly killed on a number of occasions. At one point, the soldiers want to kill the prisoners rather than risk them escaping (for which they would be punished). But Julius, the centurion who seems to have liked Paul and gave him liberties that other prisoners probably didn't have, refuses their request and lets them all live. They end up jumping ship and swimming to the island of Malta where the 276 passengers are all safe as Paul promised they would be after having been visited by an angel. Paul is bit by a poisonous snake and because he isn't harmed they think he must be a god. Probably more so after he heals many on the island. After two months on Malta, they enter a third ship which takes them to the southern coasts of Italy. From there, they take the Appian Way, the most famous of all Roman roads. It was built about 300 years BC and by the time of Paul was 344 miles. At one time, after a slave rebellion led by Spartacus, 6,000 slaves were crucified and hung on poles the whole length of the road. What a message that must have been to everyone.

Paul was given a certain amount of freedom during his two years in Rome (61-62 AD). He is evidently the first Christian missionary in the city. During this time, he wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. During his second captivity in Rome (64-66AD), he wrote Hebrews, I Timothy, Titus and II Timothy before he was finally martyred sometime before 68 AD during the time the Nero began persecuting the Christians. Peter was also martyred prior to 68 AD. That ends the book of Acts. We'll learn a little more about Paul in his letters.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Acts 26

Paul recounts his conversion story to Agrippa and as Elder Maxwell says, Agrippa is sincerely touched by what he says. Paul's testimony rings true like any testimony borne in the Spirit and in humility. However, Agrippa is evidently not converted. But he pronounces Paul innocent and if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, he would be a free man. Normally, you would say this is unfortunate, but with all of the Lords servants, he has a plan. And it would seem the Lord wants his testimony heard in Rome.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Acts 25

There are so many parallels between Paul and Joseph Smith. No matter what city either of them was in, people flocked to hear them and people sought to persecute and kill them. They were continually arrested but there was nothing that could ever be found to prove any guilt. They were fearless in bearing testimony that they had seen the resurrected Christ and the established religions looked on them as heretics and threats to their positions of power. The church that is persecuted is the one that has the truth. We should not be surprised that if people in high position were willing to kill the Savior, at the least they will be willing to put for false statements and ridicule about his church and its leaders. Nor should we be surprised when a Mormon political candidate, like Mitt Romney, has his religion used against him. But as the scriptures say, we should be grateful that we are counted worthy to be persecuted for Christ's sake.

If given to the Jews, Paul will face certain death. They ask Festus to send him to Jerusalem for trial so they can kill him while he is on the way. Even two years later they still hate him. Paul has no choice but to appeal his case to Caesar which he has a right to do as a Roman citizen. Festus can find no fault in him and refers him to King Herod who is living in incest with his sister. Festus is hoping that Herod can find something to accuse Paul of because he doesn't want to look like an idiot for sending a prisoner to Caesar without a good reason for a trial.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Acts 24

Ananias brings a great orator to testify against Paul. I find it interesting that Paul is accused of being a member of a sect called the Nazarenes. It reminds of how evangelicals will call us a sect of Mormons. A sect is an offshoot of religious fanatics that believe in doctrines that are extreme and sometimes dangerous. To accuse someone of being a part of a sect is to brand them a heretic and a believer in things that common sense says are false. Paul testifies that he did nothing to break the law and the Jews know it. Felix, realizes that Paul is right and this is a matter for Jewish law, not Roman. So he leaves Paul under house arrest for two years until he is replaced by Festus. As a favor to the Jews, Felix does not render any decision on Paul when he leaves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Acts 23

Paul is brought before Ananias and a council that is half Pharisees and half Sadducees. Ananias commands Paul to slapped in the mouth (this was unlawful) and Paul prophecies that God will smite him. Ananias was later killed by his own followers. Then Paul does a smart thing. He tells the Pharisee how he is a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee and believed in the resurrection like them. The Pharisees then defend Paul against the Sadducees and such an uproar starts that Lysias, the chief captain, has to come and take Paul away to the Antonio Fortress to avoid having a riot in the city he is in charge of.

Jesus appears to Paul a third time and tells him that he will bear witness of Christ in Rome. Meanwhile, Paul's nephew hears about an oath that 40 men take that they will not eat until they have killed Paul and he informs Lysias. Lysias then orders Paul to be taken to the Felix, the governor, in Caesarea where he will be safer in a Roman city more than in Jewish Jerusalem. We can get an idea of how big the uproar over Paul is because to avoid any confrontation and keep Paul safe, Lysias sends Paul away at 3 am surrounded by 440 soldiers, spearmen, and horsemen. Paul is then kept in the governors quarters in Antipatris, a fortress and city built by Herod the Great and named after Herod's father Antipater.

One interesting thing about Felix. He was married to Drusilla, a Jew and sister of Herod Agrippa II. Drusilla had left her husband and "married" Felix which would have been adultry and against Jewish law

Monday, August 24, 2009

Acts 22

Paul is in Jerusalem at great risk to his life. Having spoken in Greek to the Roman tribune, he now tells his conversion story in Hebrew to the Jews on the steps of the Antonio Fortress. In this chapter we get a more detailed account of his vision of Christ on the way to Damascus and also learn in verses 17 and 18 that he sees Christ a second time in vision. It's in this chapter that we learn he was taught by Gamaliel who was a renowned doctor of law and celebrated Jewish teacher. Gamaliel's influence carried great weight with the Sanhedrin. We learn Paul was born a free person. Not all Romans are born free. After Paul tells of his visions and baptism, and tells the crowd how he consented to Stephen's death and held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen, the people become angry and remove their robes and throw dirt because the are getting ready to stone him.

The Roman tribune comes out and arrests Paul so he can find out why Paul is causing such a commotion. The Greek suggests that Paul isn't just bound, but he's stretched out so he can be scourged. That is when he tells the chief captain (who is Claudius Lysias, the tribune and commander of the Roman garrison) that he is a free Roman citizen. It would be against the law to scourge a Roman citizen without having been condemned in a trial. The chief captain is impressed with Paul's freeborn status because the chief captain had to purchase his own freedom at a great price.

It is obvious Paul understands how much the Savior suffered for him, because he courageously faces danger and is willing to suffer beatings, prison and death because of his bearing witness of Christ.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Acts 21

Paul goes back to Jerusalem even though he's told by many that it is very dangerous for him to do so. The Prophet Agabus, who previously predicted the famine, tells Paul he will be placed in chains. This chapter shows the difficulty the apostles have in getting Jewish converts to stop living the Law of Moses. Evidently 25,000 Jewish converts are still trying to live a combination of the Law of Moses and the gospel 25 years after the death of Christ. Paul goes to the temple but is immediately seized by the Jews and such a riot transpires that Roman soldiers are sent from the Antonio Fortress to stop it. They actually save Paul from being beaten more than what he was.

Paul is absolutely fearless in teaching the gospel. He knows what will probably happen to him, but still goes forward. In the end, no one knows who those people were who opposed him, but we know who Paul is over 2,000 years later. It's the same with the Savior. Those Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests who were worried about losing their high positions, are long forgotten. But the one who spoke the truth is still remembered and worshipped.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Acts 20

The "we" and "us" is Luke who is with Paul. Verse 7 is the first indication that the new Sabbath is "the first day of the week." I love verse 9 because it tells me it's okay if we fall asleep in church once in awhile. Unfortunately, it's probably saying that long sermons are necessary sometimes. The year is 57 a.d. and in that year, Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians.

Paul's tearful farewell tells us of his love for the saints and his love and dedication to the Lord. Verses 23 and 24 tell us of his courage in teaching the gospel because in every city he entered he faced prison and "afflictions." He says none of those things would stop him, that he didn't worry about his life, he just wanted to finish his mission with joy. He ends it quoting words of the Savior that are not in the New Testament "It is more blessed to give than to receive." When he finished his farewell, Luke says he had prayer with them and then they all "wept sore" and embraced him because they knew they would never see him again.

We learn for the first time that the apostasy has already started. Members and leaders alike are teaching false doctrines, are leaving the church and trying to take away others with them. Apostates, those who leave in sin, can never leave the church alone. They will persecute the church and the members and try to persuade others through false statements to leave with them. Notice that Paul says, "For I know this, after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. It won't be too many years before the apostasy is complete.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Acts 19

The beginning of this chapter shows how big an influence John the Baptist had. Years after his death and very far from Jerusalem people are claiming to be his followers and have been baptizing in his name. They haven't even heard of the Savior or the gospel so they are taught and baptized with the correct baptism and by those who have the authority to do so.

Paul is working many miracles. Rather, in verse 11 it says that God is working special miracles through Paul's hands, such as passing out handkerchiefs that if people touch they are healed. When the Saints were first in Nauvoo and everyone was very ill, a man came to Joseph and said he had 3 month old twins who were dying and wanted Joseph to come heal them. Joseph himself was extremely ill and unable to go so he gave his handkerchief to Wilford Woodruff to go with the man and wipe the faces of the babies with the handkerchief and they would be healed. Wilford did and they were healed. Joseph told Wilford to keep the handkerchief and that it would be a symbol of the bond between them. Wilford kept it to the time of his death.

Ephesus has become the center of missionary work and the works is spreading throughout the region from there. In the city is a huge temple dedicated to Diana. It is 425 feet long and 225 wide with 60 foot high columns. Many of the people make a living off of things related to it so when Paul begins preaching and they see the many miracles, they get very nervous because they know how widely spread the church is becoming. If the church continues to grow takes in Ephesus, they could be out of business. There is a large meeting in the center theater which holds 24,000 people and the town clerk tells the people they have to resolve their complaints about Paul through the law. Paul has to leave because of the threats on his life. He talks of going to Rome for the first time.

One story emphasizes the necessity of having the ordained priesthood authority. Seven unfaithful Jews decide they are going to cast evil spirits out of a man who is possessed. It says that these seven were sons of the chief of all the priests in the synagogues. When they attempt to cast the evil spirit out, the evil spirit says "Jesus I know, and Paul know; but who are ye?" Knowing they have no priesthood authority or power over him, the possessed man leaps on them and begins beating them and it says the seven men fled naked and wounded.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Acts 18

Paul leaves Athens and goes to Corinth which is 60 miles away. In verse 23, he will begin his third mission which will be his longest. It will be four years in length. During his stay in Corinth, over a year and a half, he writes his first and second epistles to the Thessalonians. The epistles that follow the Book of Acts are not in chronological order but arranged by order of length. So Romans, which is the longest is first because it is the longest epistle. Hebrews is placed in the middle because early Biblical scholars didn't think that Paul had written it.

The year of this chapter is about 52 a.d. Roman historians at that time speak of the Jews being driven out of Rome by Claudiu in 49 a.d. adn this has already taken place.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Acts 17

In this chapter we learn the Thessalonicans were more faithful than those in other cities. I find it interesting that they received the gospel "readily" but they "searched the scriptures daily" to see "whether those things were so." Meaning they questioned, they didn't just accept what they heard, they proved it through the scriptures.

Paul's experience in Athens tells us something about him. Athens was the center of education and would continue to be so for 150 years. To them, original sin was a lack of knowledge and their most important principle was wisdom. Paul was invited to speak at Mars Hill or Areopagus. Here the Stoics and the Epicureans gather with the city council to have debates and discussions.

Stoics believed that everything created was a part of divinity. They shunned luxury and lived a simple life. To them, knowledge came from reason. They believed in an afterlife. Epicureans rejected religion and believed that it was through the senses that all knowledge was gained. Pleasure was good, pain was bad. They did not believe in an afterlife. They would probably be the ones who would reject Paul for preaching the resurrection of Christ.

So when Paul was invited to speak to the men and women on Mars Hill, he was speaking to a highly educated people who placed great importance on rhetorical (speaking) skills. These people loved to gather to give and hear speeches and have debates; they were a people who loved speeches. In all activities though, reason and logic were the prime factors, and for someone to speak with emotion would have brought rejection.

So what do we learn about Paul? First, this Jewish scholar spoke fluent Greek. He was very knowledgeable in their philosophies. His line, "In him we live and move and have our being" is the fourth line of a poem written by a stoic philosopher. So Paul was no novice in speaking to these people. He had to of been a skilled, eloquent and educated speaker or he would not have been given an audience on Mars Hill.

But here is what impresses me about Paul. Rather than try to convince the Greeks through logic and reason which he probably could have, he declared the truths of the gospel by the power of the Spirit. Standing in the middle of all of their idols and statues to false gods, Paul's speech was not meant to have "enticing words of man's wisdom," but be as he said in Corinthians, be "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that [their] faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but [in] the power of God." Paul could logically show the Athenians the error of their unknown god, but as an ordained witness of Christ, his means of persuasion had to be by the power of the Holy Ghost so that member of the Godhead could bear witness to the hearts of those present.

He undoubtedly knew he would be rejected, but he still gave his witness by the power of the Spirit. To me, that would have taken great courage because he would have been branded an uneducated fool.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Acts 16

In Lystra, Paul meets Timothy who he will later write the epistles to that are in the New Testament. He evidently thinks a great deal of him and later calls him his "son in the faith." I have to admire Timothy for being willing to be circumcised so that Jews In Lystra are not alienated. Paul was very against circumcision in Jerusalem. He argued against Titus being circumcised but here is a adapting to the circumstances he is in. Something he will often do in
the future. I would call this an Isaac-like experience.

We can see in this chapter how Paul is following the promptings of the Spirit. He avoids several cities and the Spirit forbids him to go into Asia and Bithynia, all because he's needed in Macedonia so he goes there to the city of Philippi. Luke, who is writing Acts, has evidently joined them at this point. The ruins of Philippi are still there and there is a stream that still runs by the city as Luke describes.

There are two modern parallels to what happens in Philippi. The authorities arrest Paul and Silas and throw them in prison and have them placed in stocks. They don't know that Paul is a Roman citizen and this is illegal for them to do. While in prison, they sing hymns and preach to the prisoners. There is an earthquake and the keeper of prison fears they have escaped for which he can be executed. He ends up listening to their message, believes and is baptized. In England, a rector (pastor) send a sheriff to have Wilford Woodruff arrested. Wilford invited the sheriff to hear him first before he was arrested and the sheriff agreed. After hearing his sermon, the sheriff was baptized and confirmed along with seven others. The rector then sent two of his associates to spy on what was being preached and they were baptized. After that the rector didn't send anyone.

Paul's being led by the Spirit as to where he should go reminds me of the story President Monson told in conference awhile back. There was a girl in another city who was deathly ill and told her parents that President Monson would come and give her a blessing. Her parents knew the chances of that happening were non-existent since they didn't know him and lived thousands of miles away. But the little girl prayed that he would come and bless her and kept telling her family that she knew he would. Unaware of any of this, President Monson felt impressed by the Spirit to change his up-coming stake conference assignment from one city to the city this little girl lived in. As he was sitting in stake conference, he was told about a girl who was ill. He felt impressed to leave the conference and go give the girl a blessing. He appeared at the home of the little girl, much the surprise of her parents, but not to her.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Acts 15

It's hard to imagine how difficult it was for the apostles to deal with some of the Jews regarding the Law of Moses and the traditions that have been practiced for hundreds and hundreds of years. In this chapter, a debate arose over circumcision, the very covenant that marked you as a child of God, as a one of His people. Some men "came down" and taught that the apostles were teaching that everyone must still be circumcised in order to be saved. This was easy for the Jewish men to propose since they were circumcised when eight days old. I would think it's not a pleasant thought for the adult male converts who were gentiles.

This caused quite a division among the church and so a general conference was held in Jerusalem. This is about 50 a.d. The big question was, do gentile converts have to not only keep the covenant of circumcision, but the hundreds of obligations and traditions the Jews attached to the old law.

Peter, who is presiding, stands and bears testimony that none of these things can bring salvation; salvation comes only in and through Christ. Paul and Barnabas then give a missionary report. James stands and bears witness that the old law is insufficient and but suggests that the gentiles be asked to refrain from eating meat offered to idols and abstain from fornications, things strangled and blood - all of these were involved in the mystery cults such as those of Dionysus and Cybele. James is asking Jews to stay away from the Law Of Moses and gentiles to stay away from pagan practices. For Jews, this is a very sensitive issue and the apostles are approaching this gently. A letter is sent out and then leaders are sent to teach all of this to the people.

Paul begins his second missionary journey and Barnabas wants to bring Mark. For some reason, Mark and Paul have sharp differences and Paul goes one way and Mark and Barnabas another. Later, Paul and Mark will apparently reconcile. It's good to see that apostles are human with problems and shortcomings like the rest of us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Acts 14

This is the first mention of Paul as an apostle. We do not know how replaced in the 12. But as an apostle, he is ordaining leaders in the various places the church is being established. Most of the cities mentioned in this chapter are in present day Turkey. This is also the first time that we see Paul severely persecuted. After working a miracle and the people thinking that Barnabas is the god Jupiter and Paul the god Mercury, the people want to offer sacrifice to them. But persecutors come from Antioch and Iconium and stir up the people. Paul is stoned and thrown out of the city and left for dead. But the next day he is up and on his way to Derbe to preach the gospel in Derby. This is reminicient of when Joseph Smith was pulled from his bed and tarred and feathered and beaten. He spent the night getting cleaned up (what would have been a very painful process) and then was out preaching the next day.

Paul is perfect for his missions. He was a Roman citizen and a Hebrew. Saul is the Hebrew form of his name, Paul the Roman form. He was born in Tarsus, a center for education and prosperity. He always traveled to the important metropolitan centers so the church could spread to outlying areas. He was fearless and unwavering in his missionary work. He traveled 13,400 airline miles which would be more when you consider he took more circuitous routes in some areas. He was imprisoned in Rome for two years and later imprisoned again. Because he was a devout Jew to begin with, he would have been married and you wonder how much his wife would have accompanied him. Or as his family would have disowned him for becoming a Christian, perhaps she disowned him too and that left him unattached to do the work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Acts 13

This is Paul's first mission after spending three years in Damascus. Actually, by this time, Paul has probably been doing missionary work for about ten years, but now he is called on a specific mission. Once again, we find the leaders of the church fasting and praying before calling Barnabas and Paul and laying their hands on their heads to ordain them. They start their mission in Antioch and eventually it will end in Rome, a total distance of 1400 miles.

It says that they eventually make their way to Antioch of Pisidia. There are about 16 cities named Antioch at this time. To reach this Antioch, they would have had to walk 100 miles climbing into the mountains where the region of Pisidia is. The main street of the ancient Antioch still exists.

Verses 15-41 contain one of the most complete discourses by Paul in the scriptures. Like Stephen and Peter, he traces the history of the Jews and shows by scripture how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies that are in them. Paul's preaching draws large crowds, nearly the whole city comes out to hear him. But the Jews become envious and openly oppose them. Like what is being done in other cities, Paul and Barnabas turn from the Jews and take the gospel directly to the gentiles.

Joseph Smith said this about this principle: "After the chosen family had rejected Christ and his proposals, the heralds of salvation said to them, 'Lo, we turn unto the Gentiles.' And the Gentiles received the covenant and were grafted in from whence the chosen family (or Jews) were broken off. This is a powerful illustration. It is as if the kingdom of God is a tree and the branches are the House of Israel, or the Jews. Because they reject the gospel, the Jewish branches of the tree are broken off and the Lord grafts Gentile branches into the tree to replace the unfruitful Jewish branches.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Acts 12

The Herod in this chapter is the grandson of Herod the Great. The James that he has killed is James the first counselor in the first presidency of the church. Evidently, they were having so much success with the gentiles that this upset the Jews in Caesarea who formally respected Peter and James in contrast to the Jews in Jerusalem. I wonder if since it is Passover and the time of the Savior's resurrection, Herod is going to publicly execute Peter as a demented commemoration of the Savior's death. While Peter is in prison and sleeping in chains between the first and second guards or detachments of soldiers (wards), an angel comes and leads Peter out of the prison. Peter thinks he is seeing this in vision and probably thinking this is something that will happen in the future.

I find it humorous that when he comes to the house of Mary (who is the mother of Mark who probably wrote the gospel of Mark), the girl doesn't answer the door but leaves Peter outside calling to them while the rest of the people argue with the girl that it can't be Peter.

I like to think that the angel coming to Peter is no different than what happens to us. I believe that angels minister to us far more often than we realize, but they do it without our being aware of it. I believe that angels are with us during times of great difficulty and stress. I rejoice with us in our happiness and are troubled with out sins. I think they protect us, guide us, and influence our lives. After this death, I think we'll come to realize how much this has happened. And I also believe that like President John Taylor said, these angels are our ancestors.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Acts 11

Two things impress me that Peter says when he comes back to Jerusalem and meets with the other apostles and disciples and they "contend" with him about gentiles being baptized. This was more than just a sharp right turn for the church. In answer to their earnest questions of why, Peter recounts his vision and the angelic visit to Cornelius. Then says that there "was nothing doubting." Peter knew and he acted on what he knew. He says that when he saw the Holy Ghost fall on Cornelius and his household, "Who was I, that I could withstand God?"

So many times we fight against the things we already know are true. Like Paul, we kick against those sharp little spiritual sticks that keep nagging at us with their little prods. We may wonder why life seems a bit meaningless. It's so much easier to go with and trust the Spirit. It will not lead us anywhere except to more happiness, more success, and more peace of mind. Sometimes it means a little change of direction, and sometimes it means a sharp right turn. Regardless, the change is always to something better.

On hearing Peter's testimony, the rest of the 12 and the others gathered accept it and they "glorified God." Then we're told how the church is spreads remarkably throughout the Mediterranean. People seem to refer them as Christians in the same way people refer to us as Mormons.

I would like to know more about the Prophet Agabus. He predicts a famine in Jerusalem which actually happened in 46 a.d. He also predicts Paul's imprisonment later in Acts. The apostles recognize Agabus as a prophet because they prepare for the famine by sending food and supplies to the members of the church.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Acts 10

This is an important enough incident in the church that two chapters are given to it. This is the first time that a gentile has come into the church that had not become a Jew first. Hundreds of years of obedience to a doctrine is now ending and this is a strong witness that the Law of Moses is fulfilled and all previous commandments and revelations regarding this are no longer in effect. To me, this also shows that the church at certain times, according to God's plan, can change doctrine and practices.

Cornelius is a Roman officer in charge of 100 men. He is fasting and praying and at 3 pm, an angel appears to him and tells him to send men for Peter. At noon the next day, Peter, being the presiding authority of the church, has a vision that is repeated three times. In this vision, all of the animals that are considered unclean in the Law of Moses appear on a sheet. Some say this sheet could be a Jewish prayer shawl. A Jewish prayer shawl wrapped around unclean animals would make an even stronger impression on Peter .

Peter leaves Joppa with the men sent from Cornelius and they walk the 11 hours it takes to get to Caesaria. Ceasaria is the Roman capital in Judea and has temples of Roman gods there that were built by Herod the Great. This would have been an offensive place for Peter to enter. Cornelius gathers all of his people, the Holy Ghost testifies to them as Peter teaches and bears witness of Christ and they are all baptized. Undoubtedly, after being baptized they all receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

When the Holy Ghost fell on the gentiles, the Jewish converts were astonished. That would be the natural reaction for them at that time. The big lesson for them and now for us is that God is not a respecter of persons, but accepts all who are righteous. He hears the prayers of every person. He grants forgiveness to every person that repents. It tells me I should do the same. We should never consider a person of another race or religion to be inferior or lacking in any way.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Acts 9

Saul is the Helenistic form of Paul. Why does Paul want to go to Damascus to arrest the saints? Damascus is 150 miles from Jerusalem and is one of the ten cities of the Decapolis. It is an important crossroads and if Christianity takes hold there, it will spread more rapidly. Plus the Christians are teaching in the synagogues. The Savior tells Paul that it is hard to kick against the pricks. A prick was a short stick with a sharp point used to prod animals. The more you fought against it, the more it hurt. Maybe Paul was feeling promptings by the Holy Ghost and was ignoring them and feeling strong moments of guilt for what he was doing.

There are three accounts of Paul's vision in the scriptures. Each one is different from the other and critics have pointed this out. It reminds me of Joseph Smith. Each account of his first vision is a little different. I think this is because when we tell an experience to someone, it will differ a little each time depending on who are are telling it to. The JST corrects one thing in this chapter. It says the men with Paul saw the light but did not hear the voice. This agrees more with the account in Acts 22.

Ananias, who Paul is sent to, is the local leader of the church in Damascus. Undoubtedly, Paul would have had him imprisoned. It's interesting that Ananias, the one Paul would have persecuted, is the one who heals Paul's blindness, teaches him and baptizes him. Now Paul proclaims that Jesus is the Christ. You have to wonder how the Christians accepted him after what he had done to them, and how his friends reacted when he preached to them. Evidently not well because Peter sends him 350 miles away to Tarsus.

Paul is now persecuted and suffers because of his preaching. He had a vision, but now he has to struggle each day like everyone through trials and obstacles. We all have to do this. I like this quote from President Kimball:

"Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, longsuffering, and self-mastery.

Peter is touring the branches of the church on the coastal plain and performing great miracles like Jesus did. He raises Dorcus from the dead. He also calls her Tabitha. Dorcus is the Greek form of the Tabitha. Tabitha is the Aramaic form.

One thoughts about Paul's preaching of his revelation of Christ and the church's claim to being led by revelation from Christ. The Jews vehemently denied revelation. All that was need to be known was in the Torah and the traditions. It much like today with Christian churches saying that all that is needed is in the Bible while we profess revelation. The Jews would deny the miracles just as Christians do today

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Acts 8

I think yesterday I said this is the chapter that Paul has his vision, but it's chapter 9. I think in Chapter 8 there are four important things taught: 1. Paul is a great persecutor of the church in Jerusalem. 2. A person must have the Melchizedek Priesthood to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost. 3. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is given by the laying on of hands. 4. Baptism is by immersion only.

The first words in this chapter tell us that Paul was happy to see Stephen stoned to death. Then it talks about how he takes great pleasure in wreaking "havoc of the church," entering homes and have the parents and adults arrested and put in prison. It gets so bad that all those who have become Christians must flee Jerusalem and only the apostles remained in the city.

Philip goes to the city of Samaria and there is a man named Simon who has a lot of followers. It says that Simon acts like he is a great person. But when Philip begins to preach and work miracles, the people believe Philip and are baptized. Simon believes and is baptized too. Evidently, Philip does not have the Melchizedek because the people do not receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. So Peter and John come down to take care of that.

Here we learn that the Gift of the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of hands. It can't state it more plainly. "When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given..." That's how it was done. No other church does that that I know of. Simon shows his true colors when he offers the apostles money to have the ability to give the Holy Ghost to others. The apostles condemn him and he pleads for forgiveness.

Philip then goes into Gaza and finds an Ethiopian, who is a Jewish convert, sitting in his chariot studying Isaiah. The Spirit prompts Philip to go to him and it says when Philip felt the prompting, he didn't just mosey on over, he "ran." If only I would follow the promptings of the Spirit that way! I think we can all sympathize with the Ethiopian when Philip asks him if he's understanding what he's reading. The Ethiopian says, "How can I, except some man guide me?"

He's studying the beautiful prophecy of Christ in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah and asks Philip who the scripture is talking about. Hmmm. I don't think that's a coincidence. So Philip teaches him about Christ and the Ethiopian asks if he can be baptized. Philip takes him "down into" the water and baptizes him and it says when they "come up out of the water," it's obvious that Philip didn't just sprinkle his head like they did when I was baptized in the Methodist Church.

As we see all of the these practices we do in the church confirmed in the scriptures, I'm grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith. Every detail matches in every important way. So many men have started churches, but he was guided by the Lord, and that it why everything falls into place as it should.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Luke's account of Stephen's testimony is amazing in its detail. Stephen eloquently traces the history of Israel from Abraham down through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph to their present time. We learn that Moses was about 40 when he fled Egypt. And contrary to the movie, he knew then he was to lead Israel out of Egypt. But it wasn't until he was 80 that the Lord appeared to him on Mount Sinai and commanded him to go back to Egypt and lead Israel out.

Stephen traces this history in such a way that the people cannot deny the truth of what he says. Stephen masterfully uses Moses as a prototype of Christ and just as ancient Israel rejected Moses for the golden calf, these people rejected Christ. They reject the Holy Ghost just as their fathers did. Their fathers rejected and killed all of the prophets and when Stephen tells the people they are no different than their ancestors because they killed Christ, it says they were cut to their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. Meaning they ripped him apart with fierce words as a wild animal would rip apart its victim with its sharp teeth.

Stephen then is filled with the Holy Ghost and the Father and the Son are revealed to him by the Holy Ghost. Here again we have scriptural proof that God isn't some immaterial spirit nothingness that can't be seen or comprehended, but has a body of flesh and bone. Christ stands at his right hand. How can he not have a body if he has a right hand? So Stephen, filled with the Holy Ghost, sees and experiences the Father and the Son as separate beings. He testifies of this and the people become a raging mob and stone him. This is illegal because they cannot do this without approval from the Roman authorities. And here is something I didn't know before. The Jewish law and tradition stated that when you stoned someone, you were first supposed to give them a great deal of wine so they suffer less. Then a stone large enough to kill them was placed on their chest. Only then could the people cast their own stones. If stoning occurred in any other way, it is contrary to Jewish law.

Holding the robes of those stoning Stephen is Saul. He is about 30 and he will have his own vision in the next chapter.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Acts 6

This chapter is good evidence of the church having an organization. Grecians (who in this case are Jewish Grecian converts) are complaining that the 12 are not feeding their widows as well as the Hebrew widows. The 12 apostles realize they can't do everything. They can't feed the poor and be effective teachers and witnesses of Christ. So they appoint seven men to oversee the welfare program of the church. One of the seven is Nicolas who is a proselyte, a Greek who converted to Judaism and now to Christ. It's important to note that once these seven men are called, they are set apart with hands laid on their heads. In the church, one must be called, and one must set apart by the laying on of hands.

Stephen is evidently appointed as the head of the seven and it says he is full of faith and power and does great wonders and miracles. Then a group of Jews stir up the people and the leaders against him and bring him before the council. They bring in people to bear false witness against him and all the while they are testifying against him, it says his face was if "it had been the face of an angel."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Acts 5

The story of Ananias and his wife show me how much the Lord hates lying and deceit, especially in the church. Maybe these people were old and the stress and embarrassment brought on heart failure. It doesn't matter how they died, only that they were caught in in the lie. Of course in those days, to break an oath was punishable by death.

These poor priests and sadducees. They are just beside themselves because the people are converting in multitudes and they are loosing their influence. I like the Greek translation for the word indignation in verse 17. Envy is a much better word.

Peter and the apostles are fearless of these men and I like the wisdom of Gamaliel: "If this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; be careful, therefore, lest ye be found even to fight against God (JST)." Smart man. I wonder if he later joins the church.

This is the first time of many that the apostles are physically beaten for teaching and bearing witness of Christ.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Acts 4

In verse 22, we learn that the man healed was more than 40 years old and this is causing a huge stir among the people. Peter and John are fearless in teaching at the temple, the center of all Jewish authority and belief. The affect of the miracle and the power of Peter and John's teaching bring the foremost Jewish leaders they have Peter and John arrested until they can decide what they can do about them. When the leaders ask Peter by what authority they teach and heal, it says he is full of the Holy Ghost and in verse 10 he bears witness that the resurrected Savior is the source of this power and authority. In Acts, we'll se that when the apostles teach, the thing they emphasize is the resurrection of Christ.

The leaders are amazed that uneducated, plain men are able to speak with such power and authority and they don't know what to do since an obvious miracle has been performed. So they threaten them and tell them not to preach or perform any more miracles. Peter tells them to decide what if it is right for the apostles to hearken to God or to them. Not able to find anything wrong, they let Peter and John go and they return to their people and continue teaching. After praying with the people, the people are filled with the Holy Ghost and it says that 5,000 men were converted. If you were to count the women and children, it would probably number more than 10,000 people converted at this time, and it's because "with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all."

The change that comes in the lives of the people is evident when all of the people share things in common to take care of the poor. Many of the people sell their land and give the money to the apostles to help the poor. I think it's important to remember that there is an organization established and this is not just a group of men going about preaching. A church has been formed and people are coming to it. Soon, the churches will be established all over the middle east and into Italy.