Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

When the Lord says to wait….

Acts 1: Judas must now be replaced.

The story of the resurrection doesn’t conclude the story of Jesus. This is no “and they lived happily ever after” kind of story. Now we learn about the response to the Gospel and how it, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus, begins its spread across the face of the earth. That journey, though, gets off to a rather poor start. Jesus told his followers to wait in the Upper Room for “power from on high.” Peter, though, (bless his heart) thinks that while they’re waiting they can conduct some business. He has some scripture to quote and some logic to apply as he suggests that they make good use of this waiting period to select a replacement for the fallen and now dead Judas. Criteria are laid out and people are nominated. Then, using an ancient method, they select a good man, Matthias. Since hindsight is 20/20 we know that this isn’t the Lord’s intention. Matthias, good man that he is, isn’t intended to be the replacement disciple. The criteria, as Biblical as they are, aren’t going to be applied. The man God has selected is, right now, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He’ll soon be the greatest enemy of Christ on the face of the earth. The lesson to be learned here is simple: when the Lord says to wait, just wait.

Take Away: The best of disciples must guard against running ahead of the Lord.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park
What do we do now?

Acts 2: Get out of this sick and stupid culture!

It’s the Day of Pentecost.  Those in the Upper Room have received the Promise of the Father.  The power of the Holy Spirit flows out of them and they proclaim the Good News of Jesus with authority they’ve never had before and in languages they’ve never spoken before.  Thousands come running to see what’s happening and Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon.  Good people hear this message and are alarmed that the Messiah has come, been executed, and has risen from the grave.  Is it too late for them?  Has the long awaited Messiah come and they missed the boat?  Pleading, they ask, “So now what do we do?”  Peter’s answer is this: “Change your life…turn to God…be baptized…receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  A corrupt, Christ-denying culture has brought them to the brink of disaster.  Their only hope, Peter says with Spirit-filled confidence, is to “get out of this sick and stupid culture.”  This message of both warning and hope is still the one people need to hear today.  Our culture of self and materialism is destroying our souls.  We’re on the brink of eternal disaster.  Our hope is in the resurrected Savior of the world.  The message of God to this generation is the same as the one Peter gave to his so long ago: “Repent, turn to God, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit.”

Take Away: There’s a way through to God and that Way is named Jesus

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Giving credit where credit is due

Acts 3: Faith and nothing but faith put this man healed and whole right before your eyes.

Peter and John are on their way to a prayer meeting when they encounter a pitiful lame man at the Temple gate. Peter has no money but he does have faith in Jesus’ power to heal. By that faith the man is wonderfully healed. This healing causes quite a commotion and a crowd gathers. It’s now that Peter brings a quick sermon giving Jesus all the glory for the healing and calling on his listeners to put their faith in this Jesus who makes a real difference in people’s lives. As I watch all this unfold I can’t help but wonder how good a job I do of giving Jesus the credit. Here’s what I think: Christians do a wonderful job of giving the Lord credit for organized, intentional ministries. We make sure that people helped through official channels know that we’re ministering to them in Jesus’ name. On the other hand, I don’t think we do a very good job when we minister in unofficial ways. I fear that often people just think we’re nice folks because we take it for granted that they know we’re acting as representatives of Jesus. We need to develop a better strategy along these lines. I need to come up with a line to say when, for instance, I stop to help my neighbor carry some bit of heavy trash to the curb for pickup. When he says “thanks” I need to be ready to say something about my being a follower of Jesus and I just try to do stuff I think he’d do. It may not always be appropriate and it’s probably not a time for me to preach a sermon like Peter does in this passage, but then again, helping carry a worn out clothes dryer to the curb isn’t as big a deal as healing someone like he did.

Take Away: Christians need a strategy for giving Jesus the credit for simple acts of kindness they do it his name.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Pentecost 1b

Acts 4: Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message.

The “silver and gold have I none” healing of the lame man gets the attention of everyone, including the religious leaders. Peter and John are arrested for starting a riot, but the city has caught “miracle fever” and the leaders are in danger of having a real riot on their hands if they don’t let the “miracle workers” go. The disciples are seriously warned to stop talking about Jesus and then let go. Victoriously, they return to the gathering of believers, telling all that has happened. Knowing that these leaders don’t make idle threats, the Church goes to prayer. On one hand, they ask the Lord to deal with their threats. On the other hand, they ask him to fill them with “fearless confidence in preaching.” If the Lord will, then, they seek an easy path in proclaiming Jesus. However, easy or not, they ask for boldness in telling about him. Luke reports that as they pray there’s a “mini-Pentecost” as the ground trembles and the Holy Spirit re-fills them. Out the doors they go in Pentecostal power to tell the story of Jesus. It may be that we go about this “telling” business all wrong. We tend to focus on the “make it easy for me” part rather than the “make me bold” part. There’s nothing wrong with asking the Lord to open the way, after all, that’s what happens in this passage. However, we might just see a more powerful display of the Holy Spirit in our lives if we backed it up by praying the “easy or not, make me more bold” part of the prayer.

Take Away: Maybe we lack boldness because we don’t ask for it.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Free will offering

Acts 5: The money was yours to do with as you wished.

As the Church is being established there’s wonderful unity among the believers. These first Christians love and care for one another. If someone is in need, those with resources take care of that need. We first meet Barnabas because he sells some land and brings the money to the Church to use in meeting the needs of some of his fellow believers. Apparently, the action of Barnabas has the unintended result of making him somewhat of a celebrity among the believers. I say this because immediately following is the story of a couple that attempts to gain favor in the Church without making the same level of sacrifice. Ananias and Sapphira are part of the Church. They see what Barnabas does and the reaction of people and decide to follow suit. However, they don’t want to give all they receive in the sale of their land. Instead, they scheme together to claim to give it all, but to actually hold back a portion of it. The result is the condemnation of the Lord and their untimely deaths. They’re judged by God, not for withholding a portion of the money from the sale of their property, but for doing so and then lying about it. I find it interesting that Peter, as he realizes what they’ve done, says, “Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished.” Sometimes I read about how the early Church operated, that they “shared everything,” and come away thinking that the preferred model for the Church is communal living in which there’s no private ownership. I might even go a step farther and think that socialism is more “Christian” than is capitalism. It’s enlightening to balance the “shared everything” statement against “before you sold it, it was all yours” and “the money was yours to do with as you wished.” As I make this connection I see that the action of Barnabas and some unnamed others is the real deal. They don’t give what they have because socialism is God’s preferred mode of operation for the Church. Rather, they give because they want to. It’s theirs and there’s nothing wrong with them keeping it. Instead, though, they see the need of fellow believers and want to meet that need.

Take Away: Obviously, required generosity isn’t really generosity at all.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Pastors and their congregations

Acts 6: Choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts.

One of the growth pains of the infant church has to do with the distribution of resources among the church’s own needy. Some women, apparently due to a language barrier, aren’t getting a fair share of the food the church is providing. The disciples realize that this is an important concern and willingly share the leadership responsibilities with seven non-apostles. The result is that the disciples are able to focus on their role in the church while sharing some responsibilities with those who have gifts for that purpose. The needs of the people are met and the church continues to advance. As a pastor I’ve read this account again and again trying to understand it in light of the current pastor/congregation scheme that’s generally in place. I’ve tried to translate it into the 21st century average Protestant church with an average attendance of 70 to 100. On one hand, I realize that the church of Acts now numbers in the thousands. Even if the disciples try to handle it all it simply can’t be. The question that comes to mind is, is that the only reason for the addition of non-clergy leadership? I think that a lot of church people think so. In their smaller situations they’re very pastor-centric. They want the pastor to be the one who visits them when they’re sick and who makes regular nursing home visits. They expect the pastor to attend every committee meeting and to pray every public prayer. Then, if the church grows, they’ll take care of things by hiring an assistant pastor. I can’t help but think this is mistaken because I have the idea that the division of leadership in the Acts church isn’t all about size and work load. Rather, I believe the leadership and ministry opportunities need to be shared because it’s healthier for the church. Had the disciples been perfectly capable of caring for the widows while handling the preaching and teaching responsibilities, I still think they would have done, under the Spirit’s leadership, just what they did. Some church people need to find a place of ministry and plug in, not always looking to the pastor to do it all. Some pastors need to quit hogging all the ministry opportunities and give others a chance.

Take Away: The Lord didn’t come to be served, but to serve and we aren’t his followers unless we follow him into lives of service of others.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

How not to win friends and influence people

Acts 7: And you continue, so bullheaded.

The ragged transition in righteous Stephen’s sermon feels so out of place. He’s been debating with the religious leaders, and winning, so they come up with a scheme to lie about him and get him arrested. The charge is that Stephen claims Jesus of Nazareth is going to destroy the Temple and toss out the customs of Moses. Stephen’s defense begins innocently enough. For some reason he decides to recount the history of their people, from Abraham on. Everything he says is plain vanilla, middle of the road facts that every Jew knows. After several minutes of this walk through history Stephen arrives at the story of the building of the Temple. Now those who have made the charge that Stephen says the Temple is going to be destroyed by Jesus sit up and take notice. When Stephen reminds them that their own Scriptures state that God doesn’t live in any building made by man they, I think, decide he’s about to say the Temple isn’t important at all. Although it isn’t recorded in this passage, I believe that people start shouting Stephen down. That’s when he drops out of his sermon and responds by calling them “bullheaded,” “traitors,” and “murderers.” His enemies don’t take kindly to being thus accused and the result is that the mob lives down to Stephen’s description of them as murderers. I know I’m not anything close to being worthy of making a judgment call on this good man who, even as he’s being murdered prays for those doing the horrible deed. Still, I can’t help but wonder if things might have turned out differently had Stephen responded differently. It seems to me that when he gets into a shouting match with his adversaries that his opportunity to make any case at all is lost. Again, I know I’m not in a position to judge here but I think Christians are almost always more effective in spreading the Good News of Jesus when they live servant-lives, humble and kind. After all, Jesus said that when we’re rejected we’re to shake the dust off our feet and meekly move on. That feels a lot different to me than telling people they’re bullheaded murderers.

Take Away: Likely the best way to influence people for Christ is to take on the role of a servant while avoiding calling them names!

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt St Helens, WA

Philip and the Ethiopian

Acts 8: He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road.

Philip is deeply involved in a great revival in Samaria. Miracles are taking place, and people are coming to faith in Jesus by the hundreds and, probably, thousands. The Holy Spirit is filling lives and Philip is at the heart of a real move of God. Then, the Lord speaks to Philip, sending him away from the action and out to the wilderness. Rather than ministering to thousands, he’s to watch for just one man, the one known in history simply as the Ethiopian eunuch. This person is more or less a mystery in the Bible. Here’s an African traveling to Jerusalem to worship. What’s up with that? Some think this proves the, mostly fictional, connection between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and that because of her visit to Solomon hundreds of years earlier that there’s now a pocket of Jehovah worshipers in northern Africa. Perhaps this man is one of those worshipers and, because of his standing in government, he’s able to make the long journey to Jerusalem to worship. It’s fun to speculate about stuff like this. However, for Philip, none of this matters. He’s on a mission from God to tell this mysterious man about Jesus and that’s what he does. The man believes in Jesus, asks to be baptized, and, as he’s baptized, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit to a town thirty miles away. As I read this story, I not only enjoy thinking of the mystery of the Ethiopian, but of Philip’s obedience to the seeming unreasonable orders of the Lord. If I’m in the middle of a great revival and the Lord tells me to leave it all and head out to the wilderness to find one person, I might be a bit hesitant, wondering if I’m hearing the Lord’s command correctly. Philip, though, just obeys and the result is this incident. Why this Ethiopian? My guess is that he becomes the first missionary for Jesus in Africa, boosting the spread of the Gospel in the direction opposite from Rome, which will soon be Paul and Silas’ territory. I may be wrong here, but it’s fun to think about stuff like this.

Take Away: The Lord’s definition of success is often quite different than ours.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt St Helens, WA

From persecutor to follower

Acts 9: Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for awhile.

From the Day of Pentecost on there’s tension between the followers of Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Obviously, the murder of Stephen is the primary example of that. Now, Saul, who was there as Stephen’s last words were addressed to Jesus, becomes the main enemy of the believers. He terrorizes them, showing no mercy. Then, on the way to Damascus to root out even more Jesus followers, he encounters Jesus, himself. It’s a dramatic turnaround. The greatest enemy of Jesus and his people is now one of them. Saul is as zealous for Jesus as he had been zealous against him. Following the martyred Stephen’s approach Saul debates the enemies of Jesus in Damascus. Then, when opposition is stirred to murderous proportions he returns to Jerusalem. Thanks to Barnabas, Saul is welcomed into the Church there. Soon he’s debating with the Hellenists of that city. Before long they decide to deal with Saul as they dealt with Stephen. Saul is hustled out of town and soon is sent to his distant home town, Tarsus. It’s only then that things calm down for the infant Church. As I read of these events, I once again wonder if debate is the best way to advance Christianity. It’s Stephen’s use of this approach that touches off the firestorm of opposition and it’s when Saul, with his debate style is moved from the mix that things calm down and the Church advances under a banner of peace. Also, I can’t help but wonder if Saul’s conversion doesn’t frighten the enemies of the Church. Saul was one of them, in fact, the most zealous of the lot. If attacking followers of Jesus can somehow make a person into one of “them” maybe it’s best to just leave them alone! No real application here but there’s plenty to think about as I consider this chain of events.

Take Away: Debate probably isn’t the best way to influence people for Jesus.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt St Helens, WA

Revival!

Acts 10: No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners.

The story of Cornelius is such a wonderful story. Here’s a good man, a Gentile, who cares for the needy and who makes time to pray. He’s such a good man that he gets the attention of the Lord who wants to do something more in his life. Then, miles away, we see another good man, a Jew, who loves the Lord and is a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus. God’s intention is to bring these two men together. Connecting this Gentile and Jew at the level the Lord wants takes some doing involving an angelic visitation and a vision from God. It works! As Cornelius gathers a house full of expectant friends Peter arrives and soon begins telling them the story of Jesus. The sermon has barely begun before it becomes unnecessary. This gathering of people are already on the verge of faith and all it takes is a gentle nudge from Peter to open the way for the Holy Spirit to take command of the service and their lives. How wonderful it is to experience such a move of God! It’s a blessing that both satisfies and causes hunger for more. Once we have such an experience we’re not likely to be fooled by some counterfeit!

Take Away: Sometimes the Lord has prepared the way for revival and all it takes is one or two acts of obedience to put that revival into full motion.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt St Helens, WA

Back at the beginning

Acts 11: As it sank in, they started praising God.

The event at the house of Cornelius sets the table for the next big thing from God. At first the Church in Jerusalem is skeptical. They’ve had trouble from the religious powerbase in Jerusalem before and if word spreads that these followers of Jesus are mixing it up with Gentiles there’s bound to be renewed opposition. However, when Peter tells what happened, especially how the Holy Spirit came to them even as he came to the 120 in the Upper Room those who have been critical of Peter can’t help but praise God. Their Messiah is, indeed, the Savior of the world! Such an eye opening and faith-expanding event has come just in time because even as the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are beginning to grasp the enormity of what Jesus has accomplished things are happening hundreds of miles north of them in Antioch. The Gospel is being proclaimed and non-Jews are coming to Christ by the hundreds and maybe thousands. Because of what happened at one house in Caesarea and with just one Apostle, Peter, the Church in Jerusalem is ready to respond to the big thing happening in Antioch. From a micro point of view, the event at Cornelius’ house is pretty cool, but not that big a deal. However, God is doing something much bigger, preparing the way for the Good News to spread like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean region. It is fun to be part of the big deal, but it’s pretty neat to be there when the “big deal” was still a relatively “little deal.”

Take Away: What a blessing it is to be in on the ground floor of some great movement of God!

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Sometimes God answers right now!

Acts 12: The house was packed with praying friends.

Herod decides it’s time to put the followers of Jesus in their place. He murders one of them, James, brother of John. Then he arrests Peter, intending to publicly execute him. However, Herod has heard some of the stories of miracles and he well remembers how the body of Jesus somehow escaped the tomb so he assigns sixteen guards to the fisherman. Two are actually chained to him. Meanwhile, the Church prays like it’s never prayed before. God hears and sends an angel to rescue Peter from the jail and the clutches of wicked Herod. Poor servant Rhonda gets the laugh line every time this story is told. She gets so excited that their prayers are answered that she leaves Peter standing in the street. I’m sure she laughed about it herself in the years to come. When God answers prayer like that, in such a surprising and timely way, even the most faith filled prayer warrior might get a bit confused. I can just imagine years later as various people who were present at that prayer meeting gather with friends for prayer. Someone brings a seeming impossible request, maybe with a bit of defeat already mixed in. That’s when one of those prayer warriors from this passage speaks up. “Don’t count God out. Why, I remember a time when Peter was being guarded by sixteen soldiers….” Everyone already knows the story but no one wants it to stop. Answered prayers feed faith. We need to cherish some of the really good answers and draw strength from them. In fact, we need to use them to encourage those who need a “faith-lift” as they pray over some difficult situation.

Take Away: Answered prayers feed faith.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Enjoy the moment but realize it may not be permanent

Acts 13: Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.

When Paul’s converted the Lord says “I have picked him as my personal representative to Gentiles and kings, and Jews.” From the beginning it’s clear that the Lord intends for this man to minister beyond the current reach of the Church. Now, years later we find Paul, along with his friend and mentor Barnabas working among the Gentile believers in Antioch. It’s reasonable to assume that Paul thinks he’s fulfilling that calling, living distant from Jerusalem, ministering across cultural lines. Then there’s an unexpected stirring in his heart. The Lord is moving him in a new, and somewhat unexpected, direction. Soon the church leaders receive word from the Holy Spirit on this matter. Paul and Barnabas are to be set apart to take the gospel into new territory. The move a few years earlier to Antioch may have felt as though it was the ultimate response to God’s call but now Paul sees that it was but a step in the direction the Lord had for him. The rest of his life will be lived “out there” proclaiming the gospel in new places, doing just what the Lord said years earlier in Damascus. To some extent we’re always on a journey. Even when we stay in the same place the circumstances around us change. However, at times the Lord tells us that what we took for a permanent assignment was merely a stepping stone to the next thing. Just because the Lord puts me in a place for a time or blesses me in a particular way as I do things in some specific manner doesn’t mean that I’m to institutionalize it and refuse to budge from there. I must not confuse a step for a permanent assignment.

Take Away: Don’t get too settled. The Lord may just be preparing you for the next step in your journey.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Telling thankful people just who to thank

Acts 14: We don’t make God; he makes us, and all of this.

Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra and open their ministry there by performing a miracle, healing a lame man. The town goes wild and before they know it Barnabas and Paul are identified as the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. In the mythology of the day Hermes is the spokesman of the gods and since Paul does most of the talking they identify him as Hermes. Barnabas, though, gets the highest title. Maybe there’s a lesson here that if we keep our mouths shut people will think more of us than they would otherwise! Anyway, it takes some doing to calm the crowd down so that Paul can preach the Good News of the gospel to them. Since the theme of the day is already set, Paul focuses in on the true God and his good will toward all people. That good will, he says, is evident in the blessings that surround each of us. Here’s evangelism fueled by Creation. Even a person who’s secular to the core looks at the majesty of the Grand Canyon or some other natural wonder and feels a sense of gratitude. A good place to start a conversation about the Lord is to tell them who it is that we thank for it all.

Take Away: One of the ways the Lord has revealed himself to us is through his Creation.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

No yarmulke or “minor surgery” necessary

Acts 15: So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules.

This is a huge moment in the life of the church with far reaching implications. Some of the Jewish Christians want the Gentiles who convert to adopt Jewish rites, specifically circumcision. Peter, Barnabas, and Paul argue that it’s all about Jesus and that faith in him as Savior and Lord is all that’s necessary to be saved. Will Christianity be a branch of Judaism or will it be a religion of its own? It’s a tough decision for this group, made up of Jewish men who follow a Jewish Savior. However, the answer’s really easy. As Peter points out, the Holy Spirit has already ruled on the issue, earlier, as he preached at the house of Cornelius. Barnabas and Paul affirm this. They’ve been “out there” and seen what happens when Gentiles simply believe in Jesus. Now James weighs in, this time with Scripture that declares God’s intention to include the Gentiles who will, indeed, have a place at the table of his grace. If these new followers of Jesus will just avoid a few things that the Jewish followers of Jesus find especially objectionable there will be, not two flavors of Christianity, but one. Obviously, this new religion will be diverse but it will, never-the-less be united.

Take Away: Christianity is about the Christ and any focus elsewhere is mistaken.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

The question for the ages

Acts 16: Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved?

Obviously, the two prisoners are harmless men. They’ve arrived in his European city and made friends with some of the nicest people in town. They like to talk religion and have some unusual ideas, but talking religion and having unusual ideas isn’t especially uncommon or damning. Still, their growing popularity gets the attention of some people who stand for the status quo and some more powerful people in town have decided enough is enough. To teach these outsiders a lesson they’ve been beaten and thrown in jail for the night. Once they’re released they’ll waste no time getting out of town, that’s for sure. Now, bloody and bruised they’re chained up like common criminals. Their behavior, though, isn’t like criminals or even people who’ve been beaten up. They’re singing! The jailer thinks these nice men are probably crazy. Still, there’s something about them that disturbs him to the core. Who is this Jesus they sing about anyway? Suddenly, an earthquake shakes the neighborhood. The jailer runs to the gate of the jail to find it open, swinging on it hinges. He’ll be held accountable for any escapes and surely his prisoners are gone by now. To save himself the public execution he prepares to kill himself and is about to fall on his sword when Paul cries out for him to stop, they’re still there. There’s a second earthquake, this time in the man’s heart. Whatever it is that these two singing prisoners have is what he wants. He asks a question for the ages: Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved?

Take Away: The wonderful thing is that there’s an answer to this question…the answer is “Jesus!”

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park – feed me – feed me – sitting on my pickup mirror

The Unknown God

Acts 17: He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him.

Paul is speaking at the Areopagus in Athens. He’s disturbed by all the shrines to all the deities worshiped there. He’s even seen one shrine dedicated to the “unknown god.” The folks there don’t want to overlook some god and unintentionally get on the bad side of him! When Paul gets a chance to be heard, he uses that shrine as his launching point. He’s there to tell them about the God they’ve missed. His argument is right out of the Old Testament. The prophets of old often called their people to worship the God not made with human hands. Paul tells them that the God he serves is good and gracious, blessing their lives even though they haven’t acknowledged him. This God reaches out to them, inviting them to live in a relationship with him. However, there comes a time when the “unknown” becomes the “known.” It’s one thing to enjoy the blessings of God in ignorance. It’s something altogether different to know of this good God and to intentionally ignore him. In fact, God intends to divide people along that very line. He’s so serious about it that he’s already appointed a Judge over the people of the earth. To make it perfectly clear to the whole world that this is his chosen Judge, God has raised him from the dead. Many of Paul’s listeners, worshipers of a variety of gods, can’t swallow this “resurrection business.” They can’t imagine their gods having that kind of power. They walk away believing that they’ve just heard an impossible myth. Others, though, are drawn to this good God and his resurrected, appointed Judge. They want to know more. I know where I stand on this issue. Where do you stand?

Take Away: This “Unknown God” can, and wants to be known by all.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Method upgrade

Acts 18: Paul had finally had it with them and gave it up as a bad job.

Paul spends a lot of time in Corinth, likely over two years. In the beginning he focuses his ministry on the Jews living there and has some success. However, others become more and more entrenched in their rejection of his message. At some point he decides there are more productive ways to minister in the Name of Jesus and ends up next door to the Jews’ meeting place at the home of Titius Justus. There Paul sets up shop for at least 18 months, preaching about Jesus and establishing a church in Corinth. After working primarily with the Jews Paul realizes that continuing to do so is not a profitable use of his time and energy. In his case, there’s a better place right next door. How often do we get so locked into a certain way and place that we continue to try to ride a horse that’s long dead? As the truism goes: “when the horse is dead it’s time to dismount.” Some churches are still trying to do things the way they were done in 1950 and they wonder why what worked so well then no longer packs any punch today. They blame others who aren’t on board for not being spiritual enough or yield to living in a defeated shadow of yesterday. Paul decides that continuing to do what he has been doing is no longer effective so he changes his approach, opening the way for a long and productive ministry. His message remains the same, but his method is upgraded. The mission is permanent but the method is fluid.

Take Away: We must not confuse the message with some transitory method.

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Believers becoming receivers

Acts 19: We’ve never heard of that – a Holy Spirit? God within us?

They’re a small gathering of believers in the town of Ephesus. They’ve repented of their sins and been baptized with water, believing in the One John the Baptist preached about. When Paul arrives in Ephesus and makes inquiries as to whether there are any followers of The Way in Ephesus, someone tells him about them. They welcome him with open arms and soon Paul is updating them on what God’s doing. As he brings them up to speed he tells them of the awesome events of the Day of Pentecost. They’re thrilled at the idea of God’s Holy Spirit living in their lives. It sounds almost too good to be true. Soon these believers are receivers. They’re filled with the Spirit. Years earlier Jesus so values this infilling that he tells the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. Now, Paul encounters this group of isolated disciples and almost immediately tells them about the Holy Spirit’s infilling. This work of God is, apparently, a priority in the Book of Acts and, is, therefore, a priority for all God’s people. Paul’s focus on the status of their relationship with the Holy Spirit is a good focus for all of God’s people.

Take Away: Have you received the Spirit since you believed?

Devotional on Acts

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Taking care of God’s people

Acts 20: God’s people they are…God himself thought they were worth dying for.

As did Jesus several years earlier, now Paul “sets his face toward Jerusalem” knowing that his arrival there will result in hardship. To speed his journey the Apostle doesn’t go back into Ephesus but, instead, sends word to the church leaders to meet him in Miletus, located about fifty miles south of Ephesus. Here he has an emotional meeting with his dear friends and co-workers. He charges them to guard and protect God’s people in Ephesus, reminding them that “God himself thought they were worth dying for.” Even as this great Apostle is going to go through trials so will this great church. As I study this passage I can’t help but think of the role of the ministry. Paul, I see, isn’t worried about the organization and program of the church. He doesn’t urge the leaders to focus on current worship trends or new technology. Rather, he reminds them that they’re to guard and protect the “sheep” placed under their watch care. They’re to value God’s people as God, himself, values them. Happily, Paul has good news for these leaders of Ephesus and for church leaders across the ages. He tells them that God “can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends.” The work of the ministry includes guarding and protecting God’s people from false teaching. The power for accomplishing that task comes from a gracious God who works in our lives, giving us everything we need to successfully do the work to which we’re called.

Take Away: The Lord not only calls people to spiritual leadership, he also empowers them for that task.

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