Acts: The Good News of the Holy Spirit (Six Weeks with the Bible)

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9780829414486: Acts: The Good News of the Holy Spirit (Six Weeks with the Bible)
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The Acts of the Apostles, better known to us as Acts, is the story of the birth of the church. In Acts, Jesus departs, the Spirit descends, and a dynamic new faith is born. We meet St. Paul and travel with him on his missionary journeys. And we discover that the greatest acts of the apostles are actually a result of the work of the Holy Spirit—the conversions of hearts and lives everywhere.  
A Guided Discovery of the Bible
The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the Bible series of Bible discussion guides offers both in a concise six-week format. Whether focusing on a specific biblical book or exploring a theme that runs throughout the Bible, these practical guides in this series provide meaningful insights that explain Scripture while helping readers make connections to their own lives. Each guide · is faithful to Church teaching and is guided by sound biblical scholarship
· presents the insights of Church fathers and saints
· includes questions for discussion and reflection
· delivers information in a reader-friendly format
· gives suggestions for prayer that help readers respond to God’s word
· appeals to beginners as well as to advanced students of the Bible
 
By reading Scripture, reflecting on its deeper meanings, and incorporating it into our daily life, we can grow not only in our understanding of God’s word, but also in our relationship with God.

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About the Author:

Kevin Perrotta is an award-winning Catholic journalist and a former editor of God’s Word Today. In addition to the Six Weeks with the Bible series, he is the author of Invitation to Scripture and Your One-Stop Guide to the Bible. Perrotta lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

How to Use This Guide
You might compare this booklet to a short visit to a national park. The park is so large that you could spend months, even years, getting to know it. But a brief visit, if carefully planned, can be enjoyable and worthwhile. In a few hours you can drive through the park and pull over at a handful of sites. At each stop you can get out of the car, take a short trail through the woods, listen to the wind blowing in the trees, get a feel for the place.
 In this booklet we’ll drive through the Acts of the Apostles, making half a dozen stops along the way. At those points we’ll proceed on foot, taking a leisurely walk through the selected passages. The readings have been chosen to take us to the heart of the book’s message.
 After each discussion we’ll get back in the car and take the highway to the next stop. “Between Discussions” pages summarize the portions of Acts that we will pass along the way.
 This guide provides everything you need to explore Acts of the Apostles in six discussions—or to do a six-part exploration on your own. The introduction on page 6 will prepare you to get the most out of your reading. The weekly sections feature key passages from Acts, with explanations that highlight what these words mean for us today. Equally important, each section supplies questions that will launch you into fruitful discussion, helping you both to explore Acts for yourself and learn from one another. If you’re using the booklet by yourself, the questions will spur your personal reflection.
 Each discussion is meant to be a guided discovery.
 Guided. None of us is equipped to read the Bible without help. We read the Bible for ourselves but not by ourselves. Scripture was written to be understood and applied in and with the Church. So each week “A Guide to the Reading,” drawing on the work of both modern biblical scholars and Christian writers of the past, supplies background and explanations. The guide will help you grasp the book’s message. Think of it as a friendly park ranger who points out noteworthy details and explains what you’re looking at so you can appreciate things for yourself.
 Discovery. The purpose is for you to interact with Acts. “Questions for Careful Reading” is a tool to help you dig into the book and examine it carefully. “Questions for Application” will help you consider what Acts means for your life here and now. Each week concludes with an “Approach to Prayer” section that helps you respond to God’s Word. Supplementary “Living Tradition” and “Saints in the Making” sections offer the thoughts and experiences of Christians past and present in order to show you what Acts has meant to others—so that you can consider what it might mean for you.
 How long are the discussion sessions? We’ve assumed you will have about an hour and a half when you get together. If you have less time, you’ll find that most of the elements can be shortened somewhat.
 Is homework necessary? You will get the most out of the discussions if you read the weekly material in advance of each meeting. But if participants are not able to prepare, have someone read the “What’s Happened” and “Guide to the Reading” sections aloud to the group at the points where they occur in the weekly material.
 What about leadership? If you happen to have a world-class biblical scholar in your group, by all means ask him or her to lead the discussions. But in the absence of any professional Scripture scholars, or even accomplished biblical amateurs, you can still have a first-class Bible discussion. Choose two or three people to be facilitators, and have everyone read “Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups” before beginning (page 92).
 Does everyone need a guide? a Bible? Everyone in the group will need their own copy of this booklet. It contains the sections of Acts that are discussed, so a Bible is not absolutely necessary—but each participant will find it useful to have one. You should have at least one Bible on hand for your discussion. (See page 96 for recommendations.)
 How do we get started? Take a look at the suggestions for Bible discussion groups (page 92) and individuals (page 95).A History We Can Share In
Introducing the Acts of the Apostles The philosopher George Santayana wrote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In this view, the reason for studying history is to learn about the errors that people made in the past so as to avoid committing those errors again. In remembering the past this way, a generation of Americans used the disaster of Vietnam to shape a foreign policy that shied away from foreign military involvements.
 St. Luke, who wrote the history of the early Church called Acts of the Apostles, saw another purpose for remembering the past. If asked for his view, I imagine he would have said that those who are ignorant of the past cannot play their part in the present. Luke wrote his history to give his friend Theophilus a better understanding of the origins of the gospel he had received and the Church he had joined (1:1; unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this booklet are to Acts). Theophilus would then be prepared to take part in the Church’s life and mission.
 Unlike Americans in the 1980s and 1990s who urged their fellow citizens to “learn the lessons of Vietnam” and avoid making the same mistakes again, Luke wanted Theophilus to learn the lessons of the Church in Jerusalem, Joppa, Antioch, and Philippi so as to continue living the same life that the first Christians began to live when the Holy Spirit came to them.
 Nineteen centuries later (Luke probably wrote around the year a.d. 80), Luke’s history can serve the same purpose for us. Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with the foundational events of the Church to which we belong. By understanding our history, we can enter more deeply into it. The first Christians’ situation was quite different from ours, but we can share their experience, for God calls us to open ourselves to the same Spirit, to practice the same mutual love, to carry out the same mission that we read about in Luke’s history. This is George Santayana in reverse: those who remember the past are enabled to repeat it.
 The book that Luke wrote. If Luke could examine one of our Bibles today, he might be surprised by the location of his writings. Luke composed a two-part work, but in the New Testament the parts are not placed together. Part one, Luke’s Gospel, is grouped with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. Part two, Acts of the Apostles, follows the Gospels. In this arrangement, the two sections of Luke’s work are separated by the Gospel of John.
 While there are good reasons for this arrangement (putting all four Gospels together at the beginning of the New Testament indicates the paramount importance of Jesus himself), when reading Acts it is useful to mentally reconnect the two parts of Luke’s work. Luke wrote a two-volume history because he was describing a two-stage action of God. Viewing the two volumes of the story together helps us grasp how the two stages of God’s action are related to each other.
 In very broad-brush terms, Luke’s two-stage narrative can be summarized as follows. God had given the people of Israel a special relationship with himself and had promised that he would rescue them from oppression. He fulfilled this promise through Jesus of Nazareth, his absolutely unique Son. Through Jesus’ teaching, miracles, reconciliation of sinners, and inclusion of outcasts, God made himself powerfully present to men and women. When Jesus accepted a painful death in obedience to God’s plans, God raised him from death and placed him in authority over all things. That was stage one. In stage two, God sent the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers. The Spirit enabled them to continue in the way of forgiveness, humility, and care for the needy that Jesus had initiated. And the Spirit empowered them to invite men and women everywhere to join in this graced life by believing in Jesus.
 The two stages are linked by parallels. Just as God sent his Son Jesus to make his kingdom present in the world, he has now sent his Spirit to Jesus’ followers, commissioning them to extend the presence of his kingdom. Just as God confirmed the authenticity of Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom with powerful signs, he now gives signs to authenticate the Church’s message about Jesus. Jesus had to suffer to accomplish God’s purposes; suffering is likewise unavoidable for the members of the Church as they carry out their mission.
 Surveying Luke’s two-part narrative in this bird’s-eye manner helps us identify the principal actor in the whole drama. The main character is God. God exercises the initiative. God unfolds a grand plan, first through Jesus, then through the Church. This, in turn, highlights the importance of the Church. By his Spirit, God continues through the Church the work that he began through Jesus. The Church is not an afterthought, not a mere human attempt to remember Jesus. The Church is God’s instrument in the world.
 I have been referring to Acts as a history. Before I proceed, it is appropriate for me to say something about the type of history it is. Acts is a history from the ancient Greco-Roman world, and ancient writers of history went about their task differently from the way that modern writers do. In Luke’s culture, history writers felt freer than modern writers to reshape their material in order to bring out the meaning of past events for their readers. Scholars who have examined Luke’s work closely have found many indications of the historical nature of his reports. Yet in many ways Luke has designed his narrative to convey his theology of the Spirit and of the Church. We should read Acts, then, with confidence that we are getting a fundamentally reliable picture of the early Church, but also with the awareness that Luke has not tried to present the kind of objectively factual account that would be the goal of a modern academic historian.
 Acts of the Apostles is full of drama and conflict. In order to appreciate the drama, we need to see the situation of the first Christians from their point of view. Let us imagine that we could travel back to Jerusalem around the year a.d. 30. We arrive in a world that has no international Church. In fact, there are no church buildings or external signs of Christianity at all. No one keeps Sunday as a religious day; no one celebrates Christmas; no one follows a calendar counting years from the birth of Christ.
 Let us suppose that we arrive in Jerusalem just after Jesus has finished appearing to his disciples following his resurrection. He has told them to remain in Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them. They are now gathered in a spacious home, praying and waiting. There are only about 120 of them, men and women.
 All the disciples are Jews. Quite naturally, they have a thoroughly Jewish outlook. If you were to ask them questions, they would give you Jewish answers. If you asked them who Jesus is, they would tell you that he is the Messiah—the one whom God appointed to bring liberation and holiness to the people of Israel—and that he now reigns with God. If you asked them what God is doing for Israel through Messiah Jesus, they would say that he is inaugurating the final period of history, the end times, in which he will give saving help to his people. If you looked around the room at the disciples and asked them who they are, they would identify themselves as the renewed community of Israel—the portion of Israel gathered around the Messiah.
 You might ask them to explain how it is that Messiah Jesus does not seem to have a program for bringing Jews back to the land of Israel from the foreign lands where most of them live; for purifying the temple so that it might be a place where God’s presence is powerfully manifested; or for freeing the Jews from the oppression of the pagan Romans. In other words, why isn’t Jesus doing the things that most Jews are expecting God to accomplish for Israel? The disciples might reply that they themselves have been deeply puzzled by this, but that, while they still have questions, they have begun to grasp that Jesus is fulfilling God’s plans for Israel in a different but better way.
 If asked what implications the coming of the Messiah has for non-Jews, the disciples might admit that they don’t know. Jewish expectations on this question varied, and Jesus did not fully clarify the matter for them. If you asked whether non-Jews without being circumcised would be able to join the renewed community of Israel founded by Jesus, the disciples might stare at you in astonishment and terminate the interview, thinking that you are no longer interested in asking serious questions.
 Drama and conflict arise in Acts because God’s actions transcend traditional Jewish understandings of God and Israel. God leads the disciples to bring the message of the expected-but-surprising Messiah Jesus to their fellow Jews. Some Jews accept the message and experience dramatic changes in their lives. Others reject it, and begin to argue with and persecute the disciples. Conflict occurs among the disciples also, as God leads them to a new understanding of his purposes for Gentiles.
 Our reading in Week 1 is all drama. Peter, with the rest of the Twelve, makes a heartfelt appeal to his fellow Jews to reverse their thinking about Jesus and to recognize him as the promised Messiah. In a remarkable change of heart, thousands of Peter’s listeners come to believe in Jesus and join Jesus’ community of the renewed Israel. Among the new disciples, the salvation that Jesus brings takes concrete shape: it is not a nationalistic restoration but a life in the Spirit. A community of believers develops in which men and women experience forgiveness and joy through the Spirit as they worship God together, share a community life, and care for each other’s material needs.
 Before long, conflict sets in. In Week 2 the apostles’ proclamation of Jesus brings them into confrontation with fellow Jews, especially the religious leaders, who do not accept Jesus because he does not fit their expectations for how God will come to save Israel.
 Among the Jews of the day was an influential party called the Pharisees, who were known for being strict observers of the Mosaic law. While there was much common ground between Jesus and the Pharisees, many of them reacted against Jesus, for he claimed that God’s kingdom was becoming present through himself—a claim that displaced the Mosaic law from its central role in Judaism. Jesus’ followers’ claim that he was now risen from the dead and ruling as Messiah and Lord over the final phase of God’s dealings with Israel struck Pharisees as blasphemous. Many Pharisees hoped that their scrupulous observance of the law would hasten the day when God would grant national restoration to Israel. From their perspective, Jewish Christians’ devotion to Jesus appeared to be a dangerous diversion. Our reading in Week 3 shows us a Pharisee named Saul (also called Paul), who puts himself in the forefront of efforts to excise the Christian cancer from the body of Judaism. And then—in one of the most dramatic t...

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