The Public Square: Acts 17.16-34

It’s been a bad week for our tech giants. As is now apparent, we’re not nearly the free thinkers we thought we were when we click and “like” our way through the digital universe. In fact, it looks like we’ve been sifted through algorithms and pitted against one another, resulting in one (but not the only) cause of some pretty hateful speech in the public square.

And then, there’s the Apostle Paul, in Athens, circa 50AD. Acts 17.16-24 is often touted as the New Testament’s best example of how to speak the gospel into a culture that is totally unlike ones own. But, it’s also a clinic on constructive public square speech. The passage includes a setting with a problem (:16-21) and then a sermon with a beginning (a hook), a middle (four points), and then an end that gets broken off through the Athenians’ lack of responsiveness. Paul wouldn’t have called it his finest hour, but we get an excellent primer on how we might introduce the gospel into our thoroughly post-modern, therapeutic culture.

When speaking in the public square, be generous and take people to JESUS. That summary captures the flavor, the character of Paul’s interaction. And, if studied and learned from, his example will help us in our own public square.

Here’s a few questions for further discussion with others:

  1. Why is it so hard to say anything in the public square, in our own American marketplace of ideas?
  2. How do we see Paul modeling generosity in speaking with his audience which is at once confused and distracted?
  3. What connection points does Paul make with his audience? What connection points might you make with yours?
  4. What particular things does Paul establish about God?
  5. What about Jesus does Paul definitely, absolutely, not leave out?
  6. Describe how you, form your own place in the public square, might likewise be generous and take people to Jesus? What might these encounters look like?
  7. What response should you expect when you do take people to Jesus?

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you at Woodland!

JESUS, in Times of Trouble: Acts 17.1-15

 [Paul] reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ (Acts 17.2b-3).

This week in Acts our passage turns on that message from Paul, especially the truth that Jesus suffered—before being raised, before being glorified. The unbelievers in Thessalonica won’t like that one bit, because a Messiah who suffered for them means that they’re not all that good. In fact, they’re far from God and will need to change to embrace this Jesus who suffered. That’s the “jealous” response of the Thessalonian unbelievers Luke describes for us (:5).

We struggle in the same way, don’t we? If we embrace Jesus who suffered, then Jesus might expect us to suffer in following Him, then following Him will cost us, in leisure time, personal peace, and affluence. Do we really want that?

That all depends on whether we really want Jesus. The  Thessalonians’ neighbors to the south, the Bereans, will be more “noble” (a word having the idea of generosity). The Beareans will “receive” the word, examine the Scriptures daily, and finally believe in this Jesus who suffered.

In the end, JESUS is worth embracing, because in embracing JESUS who suffered we get to embrace JESUS. That makes all the difference in our own times of trouble. Knowing that JESUS suffered means we’re on the right path when we experience trouble in following Him. Knowing that JESUS suffered means we’re raised with Him in newness of life now and will be raised in every sense at His return.

Knowing that JESUS suffered means we can eagerly embrace Him in our times of trouble.

Here’s a few questions for discussion with others. We’ll see you this Sunday at Woodland!

  1. What about the idea of a suffering Christ would have been offensive to the Jews, then to the Greeks?
  2. What about this same idea is most offensive to Americans, and then (gulp!) to you?
  3. How did the Bereans respond differently than the Thessalonians? And what difference did it make in receiving Paul and Silas?
  4. How does knowing that Jesus suffered before being raised invite me to think about my own trouble?
  5. How does knowing that Jesus suffered before being raised invite me to think and feel about Jesus?

Attacked! Acts 16.16-40

This week we’re going to see what happens when God works and we respond: God’s people get attacked!

We’ll see it in Acts 16, and we’ll recognize the reality in our own lives. Paul and Silas have just seen the church of Jesus planted in Philippi, on the new continent that today is Europe. And, you know what, God’s enemy doesn’t like it. God’s enemy tried to distort the gospel and discredit the messengers.

But, you know what else? God protects His Word and leads His messengers through: When in the place of spiritual attack, know that God will lead you out!

Here’s a few questions to consider with others as we get ready to meet tomorrow at Woodland. See you here:

  1. Why is it helpful to think about the difference between natural evil and spiritual attack?
  2. What are some ways that the gospel gets confused in our response to evil? (:16-24)
  3. Where do your thoughts go in the “midnight hour” when you are under attack? (:25-26)
  4. What is your typical pattern of response to people who have hurt you when you are under attack? (:27-34)
  5. How can we promote the reputation of God’s people when we’ve sustained an attack? (:35-40)

Decisions … Decisions … Decisions: Acts 15.36-16.15

This week we’re thinking about decisions. We make them more than ever, right? Decisions about scheduling and technology, rides and healthcare. Decisions about machines we can’t live without, but suddenly can’t use. More than ever, routine decisions are complicated and make us tired, don’t they?

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas (then Silas) take off on what we’ve come to call their Second Missionary Journey. They’ll revisit places like Derby, Lystra and Iconium where they’d introduced Gentiles to Jesus, the Savior of the world. Only this time, they’ll carry with them the verdict of the Jerusalem Council, reached earlier in Acts 15: JESUS is enough! You don’t need to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.

But, as clear as that message might be, there’s more questions that arise from the doing of their trip. They involve those bedeviling details about whether to trust their young, but unreliable companion, John Mark. They involve how to present their new, half-Jewish companion Timothy, in their ministry to the Jews. They involve where to go when the Spirit tells them not to go where they’d planned on going.

Who to trust? … What to do? … Where to go?

Any of this sound familiar? Do you think there’s something we can learn for our own decision-making as we consider this passage?

Yes, there is. And, as we prepare to gather together at Woodland this Sunday, here’s some other questions we might consider together.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do we learn from the decision about John Mark? What was the process that Paul and Barnabas went through in arriving at their decision? How did God work this out? (15.36-41)
  2. Do you have a story about a time when you had to make a decision only to find later that you “couldn’t have made a bad decision,” because you were trusting the results to the Lord?
  3. What principles do we see worked out in Timothy’s decision to become circumcised? (16.1-5)
  4. Have you ever had an experience where God refined your mission? Maybe, He told you to stop doing something He’d previously told you to do; or He told you to do something He’d previously not allowed you to do? What did that experience teach you about time and place and the timing of God’s work?
  5. What does the account of Lydia show us about the end toward which the Spirit reveals God’s will and guides us?

We’ll see you this Sunday, at Woodland!

JESUS is Enough: Acts 15.1-35

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; the good news about Jesus had been accepted by those who didn’t even know the God of the Jewish Scriptures, the good news about Jesus had been rejected by most of those who did know the God of the Jewish Scriptures; Paul and Barnabas continued to teach new believers in Antioch that faith in Jesus is enough to know God, some claiming to know Christ continued to add requirements to faith in Christ; Paul and Barnabas wanted to make it simple to come to Jesus, some claiming to know Christ wanted to make it hard to come to Jesus. 

In short, it was an age like every other age God’s people have seen, in which we must ask the simple question: Is Jesus enough?

That’s the picture we find in Acts 15.1-35. There’s a threat! And it comes, not from outside the people of God, but from inside the church. And, as we see God’s people work toward resolution,  we’ll see them identify an issue that is just too big and important for compromise—call it a Truth Issue. We’ll also see them unify around less important matters—call them Unity Issues.

And, as we gather at Woodland this Sunday (and perhaps in small groups early next week) we’ll get to help each other with the truth and unity issues in our own cultural situation, all while we remember the one, big idea from Acts 15: JESUS IS ENOUGH.

Here’s some questions that, once we’ve read the passage, will help us do just that:

What is really being discussed in this passage? Why can’t they just “agree to disagree”? 

How are the “unity issues” of verse 19-20 different from the major “truth issue” (salvation by faith in Christ, not law-keeping)? 

What are some “truth issues” we encounter in our cultural situation? What are some “unity issues”? 

What are some takeaways from the way the apostles and elders handled this dispute? How might they become important for us? 

Have a great week. See you Sunday, at Woodland!

JESUS, in a New Place: Acts 14

Have you ever found yourself in a new situation? Starting a new school, maybe? Or a new job? Or a new city? What’s everybody’s idea of “the good life” here? you might have asked.

This week, in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas continue their mission to the Galatian cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. And, like Dorothy in Oz said, they just as well might have said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore”.

Paul and Barnabas’s journey—there and back again—gives us insight in just how we’re to respond to cultural situations where we find ourselves among a people who don’t share the same assumptions about reality that we do. How do you serve God in that place? 

To serve in a new cultural situation … persist in the truth of Jesus (:1-7), help people question assumptions about reality (:8-20), and strengthen the gathered people of Jesus (:21-28). 

As we consider Acts 14 together, here’s some questions that can be considered—alone or with friends or family:

What is the truth about Jesus? Who is He, and what has He done? (:1-7)

When we find that we’re in the minority as a follower of Jesus, what obstacles do we encounter? (Consider, again, Acts 14.1-7 for some ideas.).

What assumptions about reality do people in our own culture hold without even thinking? (:8-20)

How might we help our friends in our own culture question these assumptions, and in a way that would have them consider the truth of who Jesus is? 

How does your view of the local church gathered change after reading about how Paul and Barnabas revisited those places where people had trusted Jesus, appointed leaders, and then celebrated with their sending church in Antioch? How central are local churches to God’s plan for this age? 

I’m so looking forward to seeing each of you this Sunday. See you at Woodland!

How about a bigger idea?

It’s been about a year since I posted. Did you miss me? Ah, it’s ok if you didn’t. We’re moving on …

I took time off, not because I didn’t want to connect with you in this way, but because I didn’t want to be another voice in the echo-chamber this last year has become. At last posting we at Woodland had just regathered after ten weeks of sheltering. We’d celebrated, hoping we’d all heal throughout the summer to enjoy a healthy fall and new year, 2021.

That didn’t happen, I think. Our culture continues to pull apart—positions on the vaccine, including government (and now corporate) mandates for vaccinations; the place of virtual education with the beginning of school at hand; masks, if you can believe it, again!

Our church has suffered too. While not many Woodlanders actually left, our losses pain us still. I believe I am fair in making the observation that all those who departed the church did so seeking another group of like-minded people, somewhere else. Those seeking more caution and distancing left to find those more cautious and distanced; those not pleased with the caution and distancing we did practice left to find others more like them. Neither group (polar-opposites, in some ways) wanted to find a bigger idea than those things that divide us in our cultural moment.

All this brings me to the book of Acts where we’ve spent the year in our Sunday morning teaching times, and where we’ve made it all the way to Acts 14. Have you noticed how the early church started out? They were pretty much like one another: Palestinian Jews from the homeland of Israel, many of them from the same families even—James and John, Peter and Andrew; James, the earthly brother of Jesus Himself.

By the time we get to chapter 6 we’ve added Hellenistic Jews—those like Barnabas, Phillip and Stephen who speak Greek and the local Aramaic with Greek accents. Pushing further into the book, we get Samaritans, in chapter 7, and the Ethiopian, who first converted to Judaism and then to Christ, in chapter 8. By the time we come to chapter 10, we’re dealing with rank, uncircumcised Gentiles. When Paul and Barnabas get sent off from Antioch, chapter 13, the leadership includes Manaen, from Herod’s own household (social standing), but also Simeon and Lucius of North Africa, probably black men (race). Later in that chapter the followers of Christ include Sergius Paulus, from the pagan culture of Cyprus.

Hey, question! Do you think this eclectic group, included in the church of Jesus through faith by the Spirit of God, had much of anything in common? I bet not. In fact, when we get to the chapter 15 the head honchos are going to have to have a big-time pow-wow to answer this question: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA THAT HOLDS US TOGETHER? If not the time-honored practice of circumcision, then what? You know what they came up with? …


That’s Him. That’s all. Add anything to the perfect and complete work of Jesus received by faith in Him and you’ve got something other than the Gospel (See Galatians 2).

My point is this: The local church, Woodland in our case, is a place where we can talk about and even disagree about all kinds of things. We can disagree because Jesus is the “bigger idea,” the person we all have in common. 

So, at Woodland, there’s space for differing convictions about what “neighbor love” looks like for the whole rainbow of convictions we all have about our societal responses to the virus. There’s a place for discussion about the relationship between our societal responsibility to everybody outside the church and our concerns to keep God-ordained government in its proper sphere. My goodness, you can even be a Democrat or Republican (or independent), and at Woodland! But, the minute any of these categories become more important than Jesus the fabric starts to tear away, and we start to “go wild inside,” as C.S. Lewis wrote of those Narnian animals who turned from Aslan. Start adding to Jesus, and the first sign that we have is that we’ve turned on His people. After that, it’s probably sayonara, and I’m sure that’s what’s happened in lots of churches this year.

The year ahead of us can be a fantastic year. So much better than the year behind us! That will happen at Woodland, if God’s people rightly celebrate who we are in Jesus. All that joins us together. All we’ve inherited. All the bought-from-heaven by the deep plans and purposes of God through Christ DNA that binds us together.

And you know what else I think will happen? I think we’ll be patient with each other. We’ll give each other time to think. We won’t expect instant maturity from those who are just beginning to walk with Jesus.

I like that picture. It makes me want to be here at Woodland more than anywhere else in the world, and with the particular people God has put me and our Regier family together with. And, if you’re reading this outside our Woodland family, you can like that picture for your local church too!

I’m so looking forward to connecting with you regularly over this blog. Why don’t you hit “subscribe” at the side bar, so we can travel this year together?

See you soon!


The Ideal … and the Real

So, we’ve done it. We’ve kicked off, pulled the trigger, dropped the hammer … We’ve met as a church, in person.

That was Sunday. And it was a fine beginning to our regathering process—90 people at first (socially distanced) with a few more joining us as we went along; and that beautiful constellation of people catching the stream from home.

I’ve never done anything like that—addressed the scattered saints, gathered in person, and then loved and cared for that other group on the other side of that little black camera with the green light.

And here’s another thing I’ve never done … I’ve never led an in-person but also virtual communion service. And that’s what we’re planning for this next Sunday!

And that’s where the story of personal transformation in all this starts for me. I’m an idealist. I love (LOVE!) the idea of the church gathered. I’m not crazy about the multi-site movement. I don’t even want to have more than one service. I love the picture we make at Woodland when we gather (especially at the Lord’s Table) of one body of believers, resting in the finished work of Christ, pressing toward that future, in-person, meeting with Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). And we do this united, all in one place, together.

But, I’m also a realist. And I see we’ve been blown asunder in these last months. Now we’ve begun to regather, but we aren’t all gathered yet. There’s that beautiful part of our fellowship that’s worshipping at home, every bit a part of the whole as those who come and share space and air.

The idealist in me would wait to go to the Table till we’ve ceased the stream and seen all gathered in. But the realist will win the day, and we’ll go to the Table Sunday.  The reason comes from two verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here’s the first:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Did you get that last bit? … until he comes. The Table is given to us to remind us (among other truths) that the terminal point of our struggle in this world is our regathering with the Lord Jesus, in person. Until then, we’re kinda … we’re kinda “streaming”. We’re really, really with the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit, but we can’t touch him, be held by him, or feel His breath. To wait till we’re with the Lord to celebrate communion is to miss the point of the ordinance. The Table is our help for now … until he comes. It’s for His people in the process of being regathered. When we’ve finally arrived we won’t need the ordinance. We’ll have Him, Himself.

Now, I don’t want to blur the theology of the local church with the theology of the church invisible. (And don’t build your end times theology or your theology of the church on my meditation.) But do think with me about what we’re doing Sunday when we take the elements to proclaim the Lord’s death, united, together; some in-person, others streamed. We’re recognizing that we’re in the process of being gathered up. The regathering of our local church is a picture of the wider church universal that Jesus is gathering to Himself. And we’re to go to the Lord’s Table … until He comes.

The other verse is one that has long fascinated me: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face … (1 Corinthians 13.12a, KJV).

Paul is talking at the end of this chapter about love triumphant. While many gifts of the Spirit will cease at the great regathering of Jesus with His people, the reciprocal love of Jesus for His people and His people for Him (and one another) will endure. And, until we’re with Him, we’re living in a “stream” that grows ever stronger, sharper and clearer, until we see Him … face to face. Maybe the COVID-19 crisis with all its streaming and Zooming and virtual, but not quite satisfying, interaction can help us appreciate what it means to be … face to face. At least, I’m still thinking about this.

Whatever you take from my mid-week meditation, I hope you come to see the Lord’s Table we’ll celebrate Sunday as something we do to “remember” Jesus’ work (1 Corinthians 11.24-25); but also as something we do while we’re being “regathered” to Him, something we do till we’re in His presence. Until then, we’re in process, we struggle, we move together, we receive His grace.

That’s a big enough thought for one week, don’t you think? If you’re in our church family and you’re preparing for the Table Sunday, let me hear from you at [email protected]. Let me know what these recent months have taught you about God and His people.

And have a great week, in the Lord!



Bodies and Souls …

This past Monday our church team leaders met to discuss how to regather our people after two months of disembodied streaming and Zooming. The meeting in sum revealed that spectrum of postures and positions that every church is finding right now—some want to reopen, others prefer to wait for more certainty. Old news by now. (We’re going to meet this coming Sunday, so you know. We’re also going to unite through this and be fine.)

But what interested me most in the meeting proved to be one quick exchange—a crease in that rambling discussion, a kairos moment in my thinking that entered like the whir of a hummingbird, hovered for a moment, then vanished on invisible wings, taking my thoughts with it.

“Why do the elders want to regather now?” one of our team leaders wanted to know. An obvious but excellent question.

My instinctive answer, an instant later: “Because we NEED to” … I’ll stand by that answer. But just like I finish every preached message in the car on the way home, I’d like to complete it.

Our Present Worldview Crisis

Just as Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings described himself as “butter spread over too much bread,” we all feel instinctively that something is wrong in the world, and we’re all somehow wrong in it. There’s a moral and spiritual haze in our dispositions—a certain cast covering our every action. At different times and places none of us has been certain whether or not we’re within or outside the law of the land. Even when legality is defined, the spirit of the law defies simple explanation. What does social distancing say about how we value people? Do we love others by running toward them or hiding from them? Does meeting as a church family mean we’re careless, or that we care about our community? What is the relative value of safety verses, say, courage? And, above all, what does love look like?

We’re not helped by looking to public figures. Dr. Fauci, head of the Center for Disease Control and a household name by now, strikes me as a nice man I’d like to have for my own doctor. He describes himself as  “… a scientist [who] gives advice according to the best scientific evidence  .”  Our Wisconsin governor, before being overruled by the court, said, regarding models and case tracking,  “… we follow science” . Christian leaders in the blogosphere have largely and deferentially followed civil authorities, citing Scripture like 1 Timothy 2.1-2 and 1 Peter 2.13-14.

Fine and well. God has made a world that can be studied, and Christians should love science. God has put government in place to protect, and Christians should honor civil authorities. But what does defining the crisis and our proper response to it in purely material terms say about the human person? If I am no more than a physical, material being quantified by empirical evidence, then I am no more than a potential virus-carrier. I owe you the debt of keeping my potentially diseased self away from you, so you can enjoy what scant years you have left  in your own virus-free body—until we get a vaccine, or maybe forever.

Do you see what I mean by a worldview crisis? The virus is serious and bad, but it’s our truncated response that strikes most profoundly at the heart of what we believe ourselves to be as human persons.

So, what’s the right answer? What are we, exactly?

We are bodies and souls!

This answer is nothing new. It’s as old as Adam, really. But notice what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we are bodies OR souls, or that we’re bodies WITH souls, or that we’re souls that happen to have a body in tow. I’m not saying that either the body or the soul is more important than the other. Or that we have a body now and will get a soul later.

None of that. I’m saying that we each have a body and and a soul NOW. And that this self-understanding is crucial to our understanding of who we are as human persons. It’s in keeping the two together that we live. It’s in seeing the two separated that we die. It’s in this understanding of who we are as humans that we grasp what a big deal resurrection is—Jesus’ first, then ours eventually. And it’s in seizing the significance of our being bodies and souls that we understand why we need to meet as a church family.

We’re in a global crisis. We get the trickle-down effect locally. In our Northwoods community, crime is on the rise. A grown man I met with last week broke down mid-conversation and simply wept. Even as I write this a total stranger drove in from Highway 13 just to find “someone to talk to.” People are starting to do crazy things. All this provides “scientific,” if you want it, evidence that we are doing enormous damage to peoples’ souls, because we are treating them as bodies only … But, what do we do about it?

For starters, we meet together as a church family. Meeting itself is our manifesto to God’s design in creating us as His image-bearers. In doing so we celebrate God’s wisdom in creation, … then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. It’s not just an imago Christi (“image of Christ”) thing (as though that weren’t everything). It’s an imago Dei (“image of God”) thing. No human being is excluded from the need for ministry to her soul. The great thinkers (I call them “great souls”) of our civilization knew this—the Tolkiens, the Lewises, the Chestertons. It’s the narrow thinkers—the Freuds, the Marxes, and the Nietzches—who followed their dialectical reasoning to destruction in the last century.

Now, when we regather Sunday we don’t meet flippantly or defiantly. When we come together we’ll recognize our bodies with common-sensical practices. This is no time for the holy kiss (1 Thess 5.26). We’ll be careful and respectful. But, we’ll also recognize that “soul ministry” is every bit as “essential” as searching for a vaccine.

And that’s because people are bodies and souls …

Let me know what you think about the idea. I hang out at [email protected]. I’d like to chat more about what this response means for the robust care of human persons in their entirely.








Productive Faith: James 1.1-4

This week begins a new season in the life of our church in the great Northwoods of Wisconsin. We’re one week away from the beginning of the process that will lead to regathering.

For reasons that everybody can imagine by now, that’s a big deal. And it’s because of the immensity of the project that I’m super happy we’re beginning a summer study in the Book of James.

James is about faith producing spiritual fruit. In the keynote verses that we’ll look at tomorrow (1.1-4), we’ll see that TESTING of our faith can result in either fruit or failure. A consistent pattern of ENDURANCE results in MATURITY that leads to JOY in trials. The whole book is about individual case studies of what that spiritual fruit leading to maturity and joy looks like.

James is just the place for us to be for our present test at Woodland Community Church!

Right along with our study, we’ll be doing what I call the James Projekt. Below is a sample of what that project will look like. We’ll see a great many of you on the stream tomorrow.

Have a blessed week in the Lord!