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Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of July 7th, 2019

... And the Truth Shall Make you Odd! /​ Amy B.

key text / Acts 8: 1-40  (The Message)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.


God’s kingdom is expanding and we are tasked with helping others to enter in.


At the beginning of the Acts story, Jesus tells his disciples they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them, and when that happens, they will be his witnesses locally, regionally, and all over the world. And then he leaves them, ascending to heaven in a cloud. 


Some time later, while celebrating Pentecost in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit does come on them, with rushing wind and tongues of fire. And from that moment, they began to teach and be witnesses to the good news of salvation through Jesus. They perform miracles, are unified in community, and preach and teach to bystanders and in the temple. 


But they also have to deal with conflict, arising from among their own internally, and also from the Jewish leaders externally persecuting them for this movement and teaching that they can’t control and don’t agree with. The internal conflict they are able to work through, and this becomes a witness of the power of Jesus in itself. The external conflict in the form of persecution results in arrests and beatings, and then culminates in the murder of Stephen, one of their leaders. 


This leads us to where we are in our text this week, as the persecution has reached a point where these Christians no longer are safe in Jerusalem, so they leave the city, and continue to speak about what they’ve seen and experienced of the power of Jesus.


In our text this week, geography plays an especially important role, as there are a few different things happening in different areas of this middle-eastern region. 


Read about the region of Judea here. Read about Samaria and its significance, especially as a destination for being a witness to the gospel, here. Remember, these are two places that Jesus said the disciples would witness with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

See here for a map with great commentary of this chapter of scripture, especially Philip’s journey throughout this land.



Us to Acts: Despite the matter of fact-ness of the text talking about the spreading of the gospel outside Jerusalem, what obstacles did you have to overcome in witnessing cross-culturally?


Acts asking Us: what are the similarities or differences to the obstacles you face in witnessing to people different than yourselves in present-day?


Us to Acts: What do we miss out on when we turn away from discomfort in our pursuit of discipleship?


Acts to Us: Where is the Holy Spirit urging us as individuals in our pursuit of discipleship?




  • “The good news about Jesus should evoke rejoicing especially among those living on the margins needing to know what the text means for them. The Ethiopian's story vividly demonstrates how God in the Jesus-event will and can draw different persons, not of our choosing, to experience the power of the resurrection,” writes Mitzi Smith in this wonderful commentary on this text.  

  • “Maybe we can learn something from Philip’s radical act. Maybe instead of talking and arguing among ourselves for years and years, we ought to just jump into the water and trust the Spirit to take care of the details.” Rev. Jeremy Wicks writes in this blogpost in his teaching series on Unlikely Heroes.  

  • Brian Zahnd shares, “Book of Acts results requires Book of Acts methods.”  Read more here about his reflections on the ministry of Philip. 

  • Listen to this week’s spotify playlist by Amy Buff, and her insightful commentary here.


As we’ve seen this week what happens when the followers of Christ are persecuted and have to leave Jerusalem, next week we look at one of the most significant turning points not just in Acts or in scripture, but in all of history, when a major persecutor of the Church, Saul, has an experience with Jesus that changes his world, and the whole world. Read about it in Acts 9:1-31

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of July 14th, 2019

Unlikely Disciples /​ John Ray

key text / Acts 9: 1-31  (The Message)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.


Conversions, even dramatic ones, are never done alone.


Jesus has promised his followers they’ll receive the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and everywhere. And then He leaves them. His words, come to fruition though, of course. 


In Jerusalem, the followers begin forging their communal identity, as they eat and pray together, giving of their personal resources for the benefit of the whole. They perform miracles in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, and make it known that they are regular people testifying to what they’ve seen and experienced in Jesus. 


But they have to deal with problems, from among them in the form of deception and ethnic favoritism, and from outside, as the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem threaten, beat, imprison, some of the Jesus people, and eventually murder one of them. But these things don’t defeat them, in many ways it emboldens them. 


The persecution culminating in this murder will drive these Jesus people out of Jerusalem, the epicenter of Jewish culture, where it’s no longer safe to practice following the risen Jesus. But that will bring the news of Jesus to folks outside the city, including people the Jews despised for being ethnically impure (but the Jesus followers had already worked through that one).


Our text this week tells us that Saul got arrest warrants in Jerusalem, in order to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus. And thus he went to Damascus to do just that. Damascus was (and still is) in Syria, which borders Israel on the Northeast. Damascus is about 135 miles from Jerusalem, with the sea of Galilee being a little over halfway.


While likely not exact, Paul’s path to Damascus has been mapped here. And the Lord tells Saul to go to a house in Damascus on Straight Street, which still exists to this day, with some basic information and modern images on wikipedia


Worth noting is that this was a Roman road. It has been notoriously stated that “All roads lead to Rome” during the reign of the Roman empire. And when we touched briefly on the time between the Old and New Testament, we established that the Roman empire built the roads all over the known (Mediterranean) world that the gospel would travel on. Here we are!


Us to Acts: What was it like to welcome in a former enemy, such a forceful one at that? How did y’all navigate what the message was and how it was to be shared? 

Acts asking Us: What prerequisites are we putting on people before we include them in our fellowship? How much of our ongoing conversion are we trying to do alone? 



At this point in our story of Acts, the followers of Jesus have taken the message of salvation all over the region. Unlikely people right and left are professing faith in Christ. And yet, the Jewish identity is still strong, and we have no record of someone coming to faith who did not have a Jewish identity, or in the case of the Ethiopian, was not attempting to worship the Jewish God Yahweh.

But in our text next week, that will change. There will be a conversion of a non-Jew, a Roman. And this presents yet another world-changing shift in the life of the early church. Read about it in Acts 9:32-11:18.

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of July 21th, 2019

The Table Gets Bigger /​ John Ray

key text / Acts 9:32 - 11:18  (The Message)


For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.


The Kingdom of God is not limited by our prejudices, ignorances, or assumptions. God’s table to endlessly large.


Jesus has risen from the dead, gone to heaven, and left his 12 disciples and his several other followers to spread the message of salvation through Him locally in Jerusalem, regionally, and all over the world. The disciples encounter the spirit while celebrating one of their annual holidays, and from that point, begin to preach the message of the good news of saving grace through Jesus.

In Jerusalem, the followers of Jesus begin to grow in number, they meet regularly, pray, eat, share their resources for the greater good, and scripture tells us there was much harmony. But there was also conflict, as they deal with issues from among their own people, as well as the Jewish leaders threatening, beating, and jailing them for spreading a message that does not adhere totally to mainline Judaism. Both their growth and harmony, as well as their response to the issues they have to face, are a witness to the power of God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.


The external threats culminate in the murder of one of their leaders, Stephen, who gets stoned by the Jewish power brokers. This effectively ends the growth and witness of the early church in Jerusalem, as most Jesus-followers leave the town for the preservation of their own lives. This leads to the message spreading to the Jewish populations in Judea, outside Jerusalem, and even Samaria, where Jewish people looked down on the Samaritans for differences in genetic heritage and different Jewish practices. But the early followers of Jesus made no superiority claims and brought them into their Jesus-centric community.


And then a man named Saul, who had been behind much of the persecution of the believers, has a radical encounter with Jesus, and becomes a Jesus follower. The other followers are skeptical at first, but he proves his faithfulness and begins to teach and preach the message of Jesus. At each step of the way, new and different people have been welcomed in the community of Christians. But they all have a Jewish background or have attempted to worship the God of Judaism.


Which brings us to our text this week, another seismic shift in world history: non-Jewish background people are accepted into the church, with their faith being acknowledged by God and man.


The majority of our story this week happens in Joppa, also called Jaffa or in Hebrew Yafo. It’s a fascinating port city, the same one from which Jonah departed on his trip to Tarshish, and where the Cedars of Lebanon came into Israel en route to Jerusalem for the construction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.


Read and see modern pictures of Jaffa here. Check it out on the map, especially in relation to Caesarea, where Peter travels in this week’s text, here (4th map down).


Caesarea was another coastal town, about 30 miles north of Jaffa, that was  initially a Roman province built by Herod the Great. But as we learned this week, it becomes the sight of the first baptism of a gentile.


Us Asking Acts:  What was blocking y’all from including people before Peter’s vision? How did y’all overcome these things in practice? 

Acts Asking Us: What blocks us today from including people at the table? How do we overcome those obstacles?



In our text next week, the message of Jesus continues to spread across geographical and ethnic lines. The message that there are no favorites, no pedestals, no haves and have nots in the kingdom of God continues to be woven into the fabric of culture of earliest Christians. Read about it in Acts 11:19-30.




Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of July 28th, 2019

Check it Out /​ John Ray

key text / Acts 11: 19-30  (The Message)




For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.


Barnabus (and the early Church) let their theology and entire worldview be shaped by humble responsive interaction and engagement, by God the Holy Spirit and by continual study of Scripture.


At the beginning of Acts, we saw Jesus depart from his disciples and life on Earth, but left them with the promise they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses near and far. They waited for this empowerment, and it happened while they celebrated an annual holiday, as they all began to speak different languages, languages they didn’t previously know but that were intelligible to witnesses that were in Jerusalem for this holiday. 


That began their witness in Jerusalem of the things they had heard and seen from Jesus. They began to meet regularly, praying and sharing resources, there were miracles of healing, they used any opportunity to speak of salvation through Jesus. and scripture tells us there was unity among the Christ-followers. But they had struggles as well, from dishonest people within the group and generations old ethnic tensions that flared up. And they had threats from outside from a Jewish culture that was not comfortable with this Jesus-centered movement, and some of the Jesus followers were threatened, beat, and imprisoned. 


All the while, they continued to their ways of meeting together and speaking the name and message of Jesus to those who had never heard. This persecution culminated in the murder of one of their leaders, which predicated their fleeing Jerusalem to evade these existential threats. But they took this message with them wherever they went. 


And then two major shifts happen in the life of these early believers that change world history. First, one of the main enemies of these people, Saul, has an experience with Jesus and comes to saving faith. And then Peter has a vision and experience that makes it clear that the message of Jesus is not just for those from a Jewish background, but it’s for everyone of all backgrounds, no one has a stronger stake to claim to the good news of Jesus than anyone else. And that brings us to our text this week. 


As we’ve moved to the middle section of the book of Acts, our text this week does something remarkable: it gives us a great geography lesson of a large swath of the Mediterranean world. Simply noting the locations listed in this text is a testament to the first few verses of the book, that the witness of Jesus will have no geographical bounds. 


See Map 13 here, taking note of where Phoenicia, Antioch, Cyprus, and Cyrene are. As you can see by this time, the gospel has spread to modern day Syria and Turkey, and even north Africa. Note that each of these locations were Roman or Gentile places, with reputations of worldview varying significantly from that of the Jewish people. 

See more information about these locations here.


Us Asking Acts:  Where did you find the motivation to take the risk and join the gentiles? What was the actual evidence you saw in them that helped you overcome your ideas about them? 

Acts Asking Us: What criteria are you using to determine what it true, what God is saying? What are you willing to risk to be obedient?



As we’ve seen in recent weeks major shifts in how the early church accepted people that were often deemed unacceptable, we revisit a theme next week we’ve seen previously in the book of Acts: persecution. Complete with a good jailbreak story, read it here in Acts 12:1-25

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