Acts


Acts 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: One holy night long ago He sent His presence to abide with us

Selling a home, especially in today’s market, can be tricky business.  Through the years, I’ve had several home sellers tell me that their home sold before they even had it on the market or shortly thereafter, and this miracle was God’s stamp of approval on their upcoming move or change.  I’m always at a momentary loss of words at this point. The two beautiful homes we owned in the past took months and months to sell even though well priced.  Does this mean we were moving outside of God’s will?

Knowing that we were in God’s will is what carried us along during those difficult months.  And this begs the question in our reading today – Was Paul out of God’s will when he insisted his case be tried in Rome?  The hardships he incurred on the way to Rome were extraordinary, but in spite of it all, he ultimately answered God’s call to preach to the Romans.  As we celebrate Christmas, another question comes to mind. Were the difficulties, then, that Mary and Joseph faced at the time of Jesus’ birth an indication that God was not with them?

@ Acts 27-28
Paul was under armed guard as they set sail for Rome, and the trip was treacherous to say the least.  A violent tempest tossed the ship for days, and Paul’s life was threatened as the soldiers attempted to kill the prisoners rather than risk their getting free in the storm. When they finally ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta, miraculously not one life was lost.  If this wasn’t enough peril, Paul was bitten by a deadly viper, yet not even a mark remained.

“Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him… Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (28:16,30-31)  The sailing was not smooth, the house did not sell, but God was with Paul on his trip to Rome and his mission was accomplished.  Paul preached the gospel to the Romans. 

@ Luke 2
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (4-8)

Having just accepted the unbelievable truth of an Immaculate Conception, Joseph and pregnant Mary traveled the difficult road to Bethlehem to find there was no lodging available.  Then Mary went into labor and gave birth to the Messiah, the very Son of God…in a stable.  And, if that wasn’t trial enough, the king tried to kill their son.  With all these difficulties, some would say that this couple was out of the will of God and perhaps this Holy Spirit conception was a farce.  And they would, of course, be wrong.

Now, some 2,000 years later we honor this glorious birth as we sing, “Joy to the World,” “The First Noel” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  We join with the multitude of the heavenly host praising God and say:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (14)

As with Paul, Joseph and Mary and so many others who have gone before us, the path to our future may not be always smooth sailing, and we may find ourselves in difficult situations from time to time. However, there is one thing we can be certain of today in our celebration of Christ’s coming to this earth and it is that He is with us.  As we travel His path, He is with us.  Merry Christmas, fellow travelers! 

Moving Forward:  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” He has come, and He is with me as I travel life’s path. 

Tomorrow @ Jude

Acts 23-25 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He enables us to fulfill our calling

Even though lawyers are often the target of jokes and ridicule, we evidently enjoy observing them work.  At any time of the day, we can watch them wax eloquent in the courts of justice on the ever popular Law and Order, Matlock or the original defender of the accused, Perry Mason.  With so many injustices in the world, apparently seeing justice reign supreme for an hour does our hearts good.

The Apostle Paul was accused of several crimes by the Jewish leaders and spent some time in court himself, but he didn’t hire a high profile overpaid attorney to defend him.  It seems he offered his own defense, and the case moved along in just the direction he wanted it to move.  From scripture we know that Paul was a great defender, not only of himself, but of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

@ Acts 23
“Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: ‘Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!’ Instantly Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. But Paul said to him, ‘God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite!  What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?’” (1-3)  I’m not very savvy about courtroom etiquette, but I’m fairly certain that calling the judge a corrupt hypocrite was not proper protocol. Even though the judge was out of line in his command, Paul did not defend his words to him but quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,’ Paul replied, ‘for the Scriptures say, “You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’” (5)  For Paul, it was prudent to move to the matter at hand.

“Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (6)  With this the courtroom became volatile – Pharisees who believed in the resurrection against Sadducees who did not and everyone calling for the death of Paul.  Paul had a knack for stirring the pot.  I can imagine the judge’s gravel demanded a call to order but with little effect.  Fearing for Paul’s life, the Commander in charge whisked him away to safety to stand before the court in Caesarea and Governor Felix. 

@ Acts 24
Regardless of the plans of the Jewish leaders and the Roman government, Paul was on a mission to present the gospel.  His defense was not for his own life, but for the sake of the mission that Jesus confirmed to him in the lonely jail as he awaited trial, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” (11)  The high priest, Felix, Festus and the angry mob were all witnesses, pawns of God, in the case against Paul.  The Roman jail was his destiny and preaching the gospel to the Romans was his heartbeat.  When Paul appealed to Caesar, the courtroom moved to none other than Rome.

In the meantime, his case held him in Palestine for over two years, and Paul used every opportunity to share about the very One who was the cause for the charges against him.  The ruling governors, the Jewish leaders and finally King Agrippa heard the message of Jesus Christ.  At the end of the day, Paul was not guilty of any of the trumped up charges by the Jewish leaders except one and he boldly admitted to it, “These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors.” (13-14)

I, too, boldly admit that I follow the Way, the gospel of Jesus, and I pray that the evidence is strong enough to convict me.  As in Paul’s day, some may not like it and may bring distractions and accusations my way. However, as a believer in Jesus, I am commissioned with a message of hope to our world just as Paul was.  And let the chips fall where they may. 

Moving Forward:  Today if someone accuses me of being a Christian, I’ll declare, “I follow the Way!”  And just like Paul, I’ll take the opportunity to tell that someone all about it. 

Tomorrow @ 3 John

Acts 21-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He places a resolve in yielded hearts to do His will

I know several missionary families that have left the comforts of home to travel and live in dangerous parts of the world.  Some met with opposition from family and friends at their decision to do so; but with resolve, they moved forward in obedience to God.  Paul, the greatest missionary that has ever lived, faced some opposition in his decision to return to Jerusalem.  When prophets shared a word from the Lord to discourage him from going to Jerusalem, Paul stuck to his resolve.  Was he right?

@ Acts 21
“We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.” (4)  “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit declares, “So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (10-12)

This was Paul’s resolve in response to their warnings, “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lies ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (20:22-24) And so it is with the missionaries that preach the gospel around the world.  They are bound by the Spirit who calls them, and their lives are worth nothing unless they do the work God has assigned them.  Those who love them must understand this.

Were the prophets who warned Paul in error?  Let me just say that the life of the prophet can be as difficult as the life of the missionary.  The responsibility of the prophet to speak only what God has revealed to them, without their personal input and interpretation is a challenge.  Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:20-21, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said.  Hold on to what is good.”  God had revealed truth to the dear brethren who were warning Paul about his trip to Jerusalem, but how he should respond to that truth was between Paul and the Lord.

“Even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture.” (I Corinthians 13:9) Only part of God’s plans for Paul had been revealed to the prophets, and there was a higher purpose in Paul’s trip to Jerusalem.  It was the first step toward his movement to Rome, God’s final purpose and destination for Paul.  Bound by the Spirit, Paul was moving ahead in his calling.

“Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’  When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’  After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem.”(21:13-15) Paul’s companions were not going to desert him now.  They would give aid, comfort and support to Paul to accomplish his mission.

How could we do any less for those we love who are fulfilling God’s calling on their lives?  To parents, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your children no matter how difficult.  To children, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your parents regardless of personal desires – He will reward you.  The very least we can do for those bound by the Spirit to do God’s will is to not hinder them, and God will bless all our efforts to support and enable them. 

Moving Forward:  Bound by the Spirit to present the gospel, may we not be hindered or discouraged by those who see only part of the picture. 

Tomorrow @ 2 John

Acts 19-20 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He blesses us when we share the message of Jesus

Several years ago we took a team of youth to a city in Paraguay to help a pastor establish the first evangelical church in the community.  Expectations were high as our team distributed invitations throughout the city to attend the nightly Tent Crusade and as they prepared their skits and testimonies.

What we didn’t know was that in response to the success of a previous team, the religious leaders of the city who had ruled for over 150 years threatened the success of our mission.  They informed the townspeople that education would be denied the children of any families that attended the Tent. The enemy doesn’t like it when the message of a personal relationship with Jesus invades his domain. 

@ Acts 19
Paul had spent three years in Ephesus establishing a strong church in this city known for its occult practices.  “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles.  When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.” (11-12)  God demonstrated His great Holy power to people who looked to the mystical and supernatural, and we should never limit what God will use to reach the lost of our world. However, all was not a bed of roses for the believers of Ephesus.

“About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis…‘Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business.  But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all.’” (23-26)  The bottom line – Demetrius was losing money because the Ephesians were receiving Christ and no longer needing his idols.  We learn Demetrius was not only a successful businessman, but he also had a knack for inciting riots.

“At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater…” (28-29)  The amphitheater held 25,000, so imagine the t-shirts sold that day!  A mob mentality took over to the point, “Everything was in confusion.  In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.” (32)  Whenever confusion is present, we can be certain that the enemy is close at hand.  Ultimately, a politician, of all things, brought calm to the scene that day, the lives of Paul and his companions were spared and the church in Ephesus moved forward.

This story answers the question – Is the enemy threatened by our message of Jesus Christ to our world?  Yes, however, Paul did not storm the Temple of Diana or berate her followers.  He simply presented the gospel of Jesus, and its power changed the lives of many Ephesians.  The fear of our message in the town in Paraguay was a threat to the religious leaders because they had seen lives changed that no longer needed to pay for their atonement.  Only a handful braved the edict from the town leaders to attend our services; but undaunted by this news, our team fasted and prayed for a breakthrough and held nightly services as if the tent was packed with people.

As the nights progressed, we noticed people sitting on the fringes of the property listening to the music, so we brought the music out to them.  Before long they were singing and clapping and eventually joined us in the Tent.  We had a great crusade with many accepting the Lord as their Savior because the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any other force.

When we tell the simple message of Jesus to our neighbors, families and co-workers, we may experience some persecution because it is a threat to the enemy of man’s soul.  Sometimes it’s not easy to take, but be encouraged.  It means we are doing something right, and the enemy considers us a threat.  Jesus said, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right…Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10,12)  He would know. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful for the power of the gospel to change the hearts of men and for His power to stop the enemy’s threats. 

Tomorrow @ I John 4-5

Acts 17-18 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is the known God; and in Him, all things exist

A somber moment in my life was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It’s a monument that honors fallen soldiers of war whose remains had not been identified but who are our heroes just the same.  We would never want to miss out on the opportunity to honor and remember those who so valiantly gave their lives for our freedom.  The Greeks of Paul’s day had a monument to an “Unknown” as well because these pantheistic Greeks did not want to miss out on an opportunity to honor and worship all gods.   In Paul’s visit to Athens, he let them know exactly who their unknown god really was. 

@ Acts 17
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: ‘Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” (22-23)

Paul didn’t try to impress the council with his exhaustive knowledge of Jewish history, but he talked in terms that were relevant to his listeners.  He talked to them about the attributes of the true and living God they had not yet discovered but who was the God of their search.  They had reserved a place for God in their thinking but could not put a name or face to Him so Paul did his best to enlighten them.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” (24-25)  In Verse 16 we learn that Paul was deeply troubled by the many idols he saw everywhere in the city of Athens, but the God they were seeking could not be put on a shelf or displayed on an altar.  Men could not create God in their own fashion because God is the creator “who made the world and everything in it.”

Our world today is similar to Paul’s day in Athens.  Men today are searching for the “unknown” to fill their deep longings inside.  They talk about and worship a God that they do not know, or they create a god that sits on a shelf to serve their purposes when needed.  The true and living God will never live inside the definition of man’s understanding of Him.  Many individuals want to create a God that fits their own image of Him. Paul added, “For in HIM we live and move and exist,” and it’s not the other way around. (28)

Our job is to bring an understanding of God through the message of Jesus Christ to those we meet each day.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us present a relevant message and to touch the hearts of our listeners.  Of course, it’s difficult for us to talk about someone who is unknown to us or to share a testimony we don’t have.  God expects us to be informed and equipped just as Paul was in his day to combat the darkness in our world. 

Moving Forward:  My very existence today is in HIM and my every move is by HIM, and I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to share this truth with others today. 

Tomorrow @ I John 1-3

Acts 15-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He guides our decisions through His Word and godly leadership

I really look forward to the biennial meeting of the ministers in my fellowship from churches all across the United States.  It’s a great time to visit with old and make new friends from all over the country.  We eat together, shop together and talk for hours about our lives, the ministry and the future.  The evening services are inspirational, encouraging and they challenge us to reach more souls with the gospel. What I must admit is that I don’t enjoy the business sessions, a primary purpose of the General Council meeting.

In these business meetings as well as those on a state level, I’ve observed a few men and women through the years act in a way that should have been an embarrassment to them.  Fortunately, I’ve seen godly leadership respond with grace and wisdom in these situations, and decisions were made in a calm and friendly atmosphere…for the most part. That being said, I still rather spend my time visiting with a friend over a cup of coffee or walking around the huge exhibition hall receiving free pens, mints and other good stuff, but I guess somebody has to do the business. 

@ Acts 15
Well, a little altercation had developed in the early church, and it was causing some dissension within the body of believers.  Some were insisting that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised like the Jewish Christians.  They were calling for a strict adherence to the Old Testament laws.  Paul and Barnabas, who were out on the front lines, strongly disagreed with this requirement.  “So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.  At the meeting, after a long discussion…” (6)  Yes, welcome to the first General Council!

The main contributors to this discussion were James and Peter, elders of the church in Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, missionary evangelists.  Paul and Barnabas, who were in the trenches ministering to the Greeks and others, had come to accept the Gentiles as is.

Peter’s very liberating experience with Cornelius earlier in Acts 10 had softened his heart to the acceptance of Gentiles, “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (8-11)  According to Peter, circumcision was not going to change God’s love and acceptance of the Gentiles.  Let’s hear it for sound reason in a business meeting!

James, who had been a strict Palestinian Jew and who was obviously the leader of this Council, could have been the sticking point in this discussion, but instead he only proved his godly spirit-led character.  “When they had finished, James stood and said, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself…And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’” (13-14,19)   All were in agreement and the matter was settled.  Letters confirming the agreement were delivered throughout the church world. “And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.” (31)

This agreement not only affected the church world at that time, but also right up to today.  Godly men discussed and reasoned together according to scripture. (16-18) From what we read, it appears there were no politicians or agenda-driven dialogues to cloud the issue or bring division.  I think I could have handled this business meeting and would have been blessed for having been there.   However, at this juncture in church history, I wonder if women were welcomed in the dialogue.  Just as the decision that day, change and acceptance can be good. 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful for our early church leadership and for leaders today who listen to all sides and make godly decisions to bless the church.

Tomorrow @ 2 Peter

Acts 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He gives His Holy Spirit to guide our mission in life

When we set out on a mission to buy a new product of any kind, we’re the most successful when we do our homework first.  We check the advertising flyers and then visit the store to touch and hold the product.  Or we scour the internet for consumer reports, special sales and anything that will inform us about the product.  Really, a savvy consumer would not depend on impulse or guesswork to complete a mission like this.  However, as believers, we are on a mission every day and so often we don’t take the time to do our homework.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, the Gospels presents to us our mission, the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15)  When we step out into our world each day, how prepared are we to accomplish our mission? 

@ Acts 13
It’s only right that Paul, the Great Evangelist, the great consumer of souls, would serve as our template for our mission. “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them’…So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit… Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit.”(2,4,9)  Paul did his homework!  He spent time in prayer, worship and fasting to where his will was surrendered to God’s will.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit to where his steps were surrendered to God’s steps.

Throughout Acts, we read how God guided Paul to the right place at the right time. “On the Sabbath [Paul and Barnabas] went to the synagogue for the services.  After the usual readings from the books of Moses and the prophets, those in charge of the service sent them this message: “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.” (15)  I just love when God opens the doors for our mission.  When we are led by the Holy Spirit, we see the open doors, His set-ups, and walk right through them to present the Gospel.

Sometimes we are hindered by the response we receive on our mission.  Once again, Paul was not threatened by the response of his listeners.  Many people, especially Gentiles, accepted his message and received the Lord as their Savior, but many others rejected his message to the point of physical attack, “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.” (14:19)  Paul was not responsible for the response of his listeners.

It’s our responsibility to present the Gospel, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to touch the hearts of men.  Of course, when we surrender our day to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we have Him right there with us, partnering in our mission.  We need not be discouraged when our message is rejected because we have no idea where the Holy Spirit will take it in those hostile lives.  Remember, Paul was present at Stephen’s stoning.  Every day we are challenged to accept our mission, do our homework and follow through with unhindered tenacity. 

Moving Forward: Yes, I’ll accept my mission today. Yes, I will do my homework.  And yes, I will tenaciously complete my mission just like any savvy shopper would do.

Tomorrow @ I Peter 4-5

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