The Attempt: Day 13

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene,

Remember the men From Cyprus and Cyrene who first went to Antioch? These could be those guys. The first guys who fled Jerusalem and headed north past Samaria through Syria to Antioch; these men might specifically be the ones mentioned who spoke to the Greeks.

Simeon is quite possibly the same Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus. He becomes a disciple, has two sons, Alexander and Rufus; and years later writing to the Romans Paul will greet Rufus and his mother, Simeon’s wife. What a great story. And in this case, it’s as likely to be true as not.

Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch),

Little is known about Manaen, but consider the Herods. Herod the Great, builder of the temple, Caesarea, and… oops I made a mistake the other day (and if Rick Cook is my source we’re gonna have a good talk) … here’s my chance to fix it.

Tetrarch means ruler of 1/4. But it’s more complicated then saying Herod had 4 sons and divided the kingdom four ways. His first son was named Antipater. He would be accused of a plot to murder his father and executed and would then be succeeded by Archelaus, who would get replaced by a Roman prefect not many years later. Herod the Great’s will was contested when he died, and I forget all the details, but I know that of his sons still alive,  Antipas did receive and keep Galilee as his region to rule. There’s a lot of cool, pretty evil, history here; but I’m just going to focus on Antipas.

He’s the Herod for whom Salome danced and then, at her request, cut off John the Baptists head. He’s the one Pilate sent Jesus to see, trying to pass the buck; he wanted to see Jesus do a miracle.

About 10 years later he lost his rule to his nephew Herod Agrippa. It was Herod Agrippa who executed James son of Zebedee, and arrested Peter. He’s the one who just got eaten with worms in the last chapter.

Herod the Great is known as the great architect, among other things. His son Antipas, having been given the region of Galilee to govern; set out to surpass his father in building amazing things to impress Rome. He made his capital at Sepphoris, which was a city on hill, about a 4 mile walk from Nazareth. One of the wonders of Sepphoris was the building of the theatre. I attributed that, wrongly, the other day to his dad, Herod the Great. I get mixed up occasionally, and I will enjoy correcting that now … if you can right a wrong, right a wrong; if you can’t,  just write a song. get some folks to sing along, then the throng might right the wrong… anyway, righting a wrong here. Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch and son of Herod the Great, built a theatre in Sepphoris and the magnitude of the work drew labor from miles around; making it likely Joseph the carpenter accompanied by his son Jesus would have worked on that theatre. This is the basis for the musical I wrote, “Carpenters and Kings” aka “Build”, the punchline being God chose a carpenter to raise a king, a man who felt so daunted to have the son of God under his charge, fretting over the fact that all he had to teach him was how to build. I picture the Lord saying, “exactly!”

This song “Sepphoiris” AKA “City On A Hill” is in the new little Johnson/Mackintosh musical “Beyond Reach” #beyondreachmusical (Scamardella, how do I do #s?) which is going to be performed Friday and Saturday at the Ed Jones Dome next month.

But I’m not sure whether it was this Herod that Manaen, one of the teachers in Antioch, grew up with; or could it have been with Herod Agrippa?  It’s a cool story either way; in one version he’s a little older and knew the king who tried Jesus. In another, he’s a contemporary of the King who was just eaten by worms about the same time he, Manaen, as being called a “Christian.”

Manaen reminds me of Bud Chiles.bud and kitty

Bud and Kitty are good friends of ours; I miss them. We used to see each other all the time. Life has rolled us a continent away from each other these days. But it was Bud who introduced me to the president, twice; my Forest Gump moments. Was with us when we met the Queen of Jordan. Bud met Mandella and Lord knows who else. Bud gets around.

Bud grew up the son of the governor of Florida. He’s sat up all night in the governor’s mansion with dignitaries from all over the world. Back in another universe, Bud and Kitty lead our HOPEww work in Africa and the Caribbean and the U.S. around New York. Bud has grown up around a lot of Herod’s, but when he became a disciple all those relationships took on another purpose.

Manaen’s relationship to Herod Antipas doesn’t seem to have helped him during the dispersion and we find him in Antioch, one of the four main teacher dudes.

What a group of teachers, leaders, evangelists! Barnabas, eyewitness to Jesus, esteemed by the apostles; Simeon, perhaps from Cyrene and another eye witness to the Christ and possibly an original planter of the Antioch church; Lucius from Cyrene, again maybe one of those original disciples blown to Antioch by the dispersion; and…

…and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

They head immediately to that island just off the coast of Syria out in the Mediterranean :

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

Good a place as any to talk about John Mark, who in our show is played by:


I’ve known Josh his whole life. There’s so many things I could say about this talented man, but few people make me laugh as much Josh. Thank you so much for joining us, dude.

John Mark is a character that I take very personally. I’ve spent years traveling all over the world with a little rolling case carrying a costume Terri Knight made in 1987 for that production of “Upside Down” and doing a one man show of John Mark telling his story the way I see it. It’s going to be so much fun to see someone handsome do it for a change.

John Mark’s story is fascinating: scribe for Peter, and quite possibly for Paul; eye witness to the life of Jesus; and in our musical, the young man in our young love story. Of course they had love stories going on during the drama of spreading the gospel. You can’t have apostolic fathers without apostolic mamas.

6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,

And here’s another one.

Doggone Sorcerers.

Though we know little about them during this period, there’s tons of history about sorcerers from the Babylonian captivity and then skipping over to the third century on up through medieval times. In the bible, our Simon the Sorcerer appears only once; back in chapter 8. But he is a main character in early church lore and features prominently in the events that lead up to Simon Peter being executed. I was just a kid when I first read the story of Simon Magus in Fox’s Book of Martyrs. In that opus,  Peter goes to Rome to confront Simon Magus who is leading many in the church astray. Of course, one of our most illustrious cast members plays our Simon Magus, Marc Thompson:marc thompson 2


I’m having a deja vu here; have I already said all this? day four of the z-pack. I’m on the other side of pneumonia, but sometimes I’m still a little bit on the other side of the moon…

Marc is incredible in so many ways. But I’ve known Marc as one of the most gifted and committed preachers in our fellowship. It’s an honor to finally have him in a show with me!

7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul,

This is the first time you see the name change mentioned…

filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

I never noticed that before, “…for a time…” seems like Paul is being a little encouraging, nothing cruel in the Lord’s hand being against Elymas. It’s temporary, like a “time out”.

“You’re going to be in the dark, literally, but just for a while; so while you’re sitting there, blind, with everything dark; you think about all the dark stuff you’ve been up to and let this be a lesson for you!”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
13 From Paphos, Paul…

… and from now on, it’s Paul. Some suggest that it was his time with Sergius Paulus that prompted him to adopt the Roman version of his name.

…and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.

Just a few words, but this sets up one of the big heartbreaks in the book of Acts. Something I read a few months ago for the first time says there’s an implication that John left without permission. I’ve heard preachers my whole life talk about how maybe the sorcery in Cyprus scared him; or how he was homesick. Maybe. But if the implication I read about is true, one aspect that’s not often noted is the disrespect implied is that he just left without talking to Barnabas and Paul. The fact that two chapters from now Paul is going to say that John Mark, “…deserted them; and had not continued in the work with them…” makes this a serious offense, whatever John’s motivations or intentions. A new picture in my head is Paul and Barnabas coming together for morning prayer and breakfast, only to find out John has left without a word.

If it’s true, as many believe, that this is the same young man who ran away naked in the garden, his linen ephod ripped off his body the night Jesus was betrayed; then it’s not too difficult to want to build a character profile of John as “flight” person: as in, fight or flight… when conflict appears, he’s a runner. If my picture of John is accurate, and he was already on the road before Barnabas and Paul knew he was gone, he does seem to be avoiding something. All the more reason to admire him as time goes on and he becomes someone of whom Paul would later tell Timothy, “bring Mark, because he is helpful to me with my ministry”. What a great come-back story.

14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.

“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

“‘You are my son;
today I have become your father.’
34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’
35 So it is also stated elsewhere:

“‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’
36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

This is similar to that first sermon of Peter’s on Pentecost.

38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.

Remember the way atonement worked under the old law; it was imperfect and temporary. The sins were “rolled back” until the next sacrifice; kinda like making the minimal payment on a credit card, but the balance is always there. That’s why Jesus is called the “once for all” sacrifice for sins.

40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’ ”

This powerful closing is a warning: don’t be the ones the prophets were talking about; don’t scoff and harden your heart to this message. We’re the tellers, be the believers.

42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.


46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

The evangelistic fervor that fueled this missionary journey is passed on to anyone and everyone who has a heart to want to share Jesus with a lost and dying world. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. Never forget that when we’re singing and dancing and losing sleep. We believe in helping people to find Jesus. We believe in helping disciples remember the Lord.

Like Paul and our disciples before us, we are attempting to turn the world upside down.

Prayer and Epilogue:

What a horrible, tragic, murderous event in Florida. Last night, I went to bed having finished this page, and woke up in the middle of the night to the awful news. Marginalized people being targeted, hated, murdered… we should lament.

I love what Guy Hammond says: love the sinner, hate your own sin.

We’re all sinners, and, until anyone oppressed in the world feels more love from the church than anywhere else they can go, I’m not so sure we’re turning anything upside down at all.

I don’t think we have to be soft on sin to be repulsed by the hate that surrounds us and anything that provokes the kind of darkness that supports killing people for being different.

Sometimes on days like this, when I’m surrounded by loving family and brethren, and hear about the bloodshed caused by people drunk on hate; with twisted, dark thoughts that they are doing the world a favor… I can’t just say a nominal prayer and call it a day. Please pray with me:

Father in heaven,

Help us hurt with the hurting, mourn with the mourners, and give comfort and compassion where we can, when we can.

I don’t know what it means sometimes when I ask you “to be with” somebody; to “be with” those suffering. to “be with” the families burying their loved ones cut down as victims of a hate crime; to “be with” me. I know you are always with us and sometimes you must wonder where in the world are you, steve? Please forgive me for not being with you all the time, to let my heart wander and get distracted; to not call on you all the time, ceaselessly.

But at this time, Father, I’m praying, yes, be with me Lord, but don’t just be with me, help me be with you! More, in every way. Father, please let me, a sinner, beg for more right now.

More strength, empathy and heart to not waiver in my convictions, but to find no conflict in trying to follow Jesus and loving everyone regardless of their sins. Lord, I know Jesus did! He was with us, he was the only sinless one; he was always with sinners! But Jesus was humble and patient and fearless with those different from him…. and who isn’t different from a perfect messiah?… and known for loving everyone; and the harshest judgements he said out loud were on the religious. Help me to be more like Jesus and less like me. Help me to have a discerning mind, an accepting heart and steadfast spirit.

And please, yes, be with us and those crying right now. Please bless our attempt to help people remember the Lord and to overcome the darkness and spread a light that will change the world.

In his name I pray,


slj june 13, 2016


Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the https://portlandchurch.org

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