Monthly Archives: August 2013

Learning from History ~ Acts 28:11-31

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Acts 28:30-31

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from...

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from the last edition of the bible originally translated by Johann Dietenberger, published in Augsburg 1776 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With these two verses, The Book of Acts concludes. Paul and his entourage depart from Malta and finally arrive in Rome. Awaiting his trial before Caesar, Paul is placed under house arrest, living alone with one guard to watch over him. He continues his ministry from his rented house, sharing the Good News of the Gospel with all who come to see him.

Paul calls the Jewish leaders to his house to explain to them what happened in Jerusalem and why he is in Rome. He explains that the government wanted to release him, but at the objection of the Jewish leadership they did not. Interestingly, the Jews reply that they did not receive any letters from Judea concerning Paul, but they had heard of the “sect” of which Paul is a leader and wanted to hear Paul’s views. Paul shares the Gospel with them and, as usual, some believe and some don’t. Paul quotes from Isaiah 6 a passage prophesying that many of the people would hear but not understand the Gospel, and tells them that God’s message of salvation has been taken to the Gentiles, who will listen.

My kids ask from time to time why they must study history in school. The answer, of course, is we have much to learn from history. In The Book of Acts, Luke faithfully records the history of the early Christian church. Through this divinely inspired record, God offers several takeaways that the modern church must heed. And for the believer who truly seeks to serve the Lord, we see shining examples through Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Stephen and many others of what steadfast faith and faithful witness ought to look like. So, what do you say? Are you up to the task?

Ponder this: What is my ministry? What is my role in sharing the Gospel?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sharing the history of Your Church through Luke’s writing. Help me, Lord, to learn from Your Words and discern Your calling for my ministry; then let me faithfully answer. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Godly Leadership ~ Acts 27:1-28:10

Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” ~ Acts 27:23-26

Storm at sea.

Storm at sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is time for Paul to travel to Rome and face Caesar. He is placed on a ship carrying 276 passengers and crew that encounters a storm of hurricane force. The storm is so fierce that the crew abandons all attempts to steer the ship as they throw cargo and tackle overboard in an attempt to save her. As the storm rages, Paul encourages the crew and passengers by sharing with them a vision from God: each of them would be spared but the ship would be lost. He encourages them to keep up their courage as he shares the vision. Later he encourages them to take food, and taking bread, he breaks it, distributes it, and everybody eats their fill. For 14 days they endure this storm until running aground off the shore of an island called Malta.

The shipwrecked passengers and crew are shown “unusual kindness” (38:2) by the residents of Malta. They are cared for and fed. Paul, along with others who are unnamed, is invited into Publius’ estate (he is the chief official on the island). Paul heals Publius’ father and several others on the island. They are later provided with provisions and prepare to set sail.

When God appoints a leader, He doesn’t mess around. He has already appointed Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. And now, in this perilous situation, the appointed man of God assumes a leadership role that ultimately saves the lives of 276 passengers and crew. This wasn’t something Paul did on his own; he did it in direct response to God’s message to him in that vision. This is another example of Paul’s steadfast faith in the Lord, but more so, it shows how God intervenes through the man of God who responds in faith. No matter what trials we face in this life, God is there. We must be tuned in; we must listen. And when God speaks to us, we must stand firm and be guided by what He tells us – even when we are outranked.

Ponder this: Do I trust God enough to listen for Him during life’s storms and trials? Is God calling me to Godly leadership?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me about faith and Godly leadership through Paul’s example. Help me to seek you in all situations and circumstances and let me be a Godly leader according to Your good and perfect will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Boldly Standing on Faith ~ Acts 24:1-26:32

But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” ~ Acts 26:22-23

These three chapters cover a span of just over two years, during which Paul was imprisoned in Caesaria. Governor Felix held him for two years because he didn’t know what to do with Paul, and he was hoping Paul would offer a bribe in exchange for his freedom. Felix was replaced by Festus, who promptly summoned the Jewish leaders to Caesaria to present their charges against Paul. After hearing the charges and Paul’s defense, Festus realizes that there is no merit to the charges, but wanting to appease the Jews he asks Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried there. Paul, probably knowing he would never survive the trip, appeals to Caesar.

Festus recognizes that the charges against Paul have no merit, yet because of Paul’s Roman citizenship he must honor Paul’s request. King Agrippa pays a visit to Festus, so Festus discusses Paul’s case with the king. The king summons Paul, who presents his case and the Gospel. Festus and Agrippa agree that Paul has done nothing to deserve imprisonment or death. They would have released him then and there, but since Paul has appealed to Caesar, he would be sent to Caesar.

Cross Quilt at San Rafael's

Cross Quilt at San Rafael’s (Photo credit: lars hammar)

“And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today,” (Acts 26:6). Faith is one of God’s most precious gifts. Through faith we stand firmly on God’s Word in any place under any circumstance knowing that God will honor that. Through faith we share the Gospel with those around us – even if they happen to be senior executives or top government officials like Caesar. If we surrender our life to Him, God will work through us to advance the Gospel just as He worked through Paul. Our modern world sorely needs to hear the Gospel; honestly, fully, and completely. Think about that for a moment. If we simply live out our lives in silence, blending in with the world, we are of little use. Instead, let us stand boldly for Christ in faith. Let us be available to serve the Lord according to His good and perfect will.

Ponder this: In what places and under which circumstances might I serve the Lord?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, Thank you for gifting me with saving faith in your Son, Jesus Christ. Let my life, in both words and actions, be a walking witness to Him. Show me, Lord, how you would have me serve You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Miley Cyrus – Tear Her Down or Lift Her Up?

Miley Cyrus at MMVA Soundcheck.

Miley Cyrus at MMVA Soundcheck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seems that the chatter on social media and entertainment sites is at a fever pitch over Miley Cyrus’ recent performance on the MTV Video Music Awards. For the record I don’t watch celebrity award shows, so I didn’t see Miley’s VMA performance – but I’ve sure heard a lot about it. And, of course, the media chatter ranges from praising her creativity and courage to burning her at the stake for her depravity.

Although big-time celebrities make tons of money, celebrity carries with it great personal risk. Personal security is at risk as fanatical fans sometimes turn into celebrity stalkers. Privacy is lost as the celebrity cannot meander about without paparazzi or fans trailing behind. Make a bad movie, commit a personal indiscretion, or push the moral envelope and the celebrity faces the wrath of a society that seems eager to tear them down and then rip them to shreds once we have them pinned to the ground.

When one chooses to put herself out there, especially in a manner in which she has to know is pushing the moral envelope (it appears that’s how Miley is marketing herself these days) she opens herself to critique. Critique is warranted and the celebrity knows that critique will be sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Based on what I’ve read and seen, Miley will not see a dime of my hard-earned money. Here ends my critique of Miley Cyrus’ performance.

Christ of the Abyss Key Largo

Christ of the Abyss Key Largo (Photo credit: Serge Melki)

Speaking as a Christian, when I look at Miley I see evidence of a lost soul. It breaks my heart to read comments from Christian friends who have jumped aboard the “tear down Miley” bandwagon. Instead of tearing her down, we Christians should be lifting her up in prayer, praying for Miley and others who appear lost and so desperately need the Gospel. Christians, let us rise above the fray and do what we are called to do. Let us pray for all who are lost and for our nation that all too often seems to relish in their demise.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her,”Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” ~ John 8:3-11

Remaining Steadfast ~ Acts 22:30-23:35

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” ~ Acts 23:11

The Roman government takes some rather extraordinary measures to protect Paul, a Roman citizen. Seeking an understanding of the charges of the Jews, the commander brings Paul before the Sanhedrin so they can explain the charges and question Paul. But before they ask their very first question, Paul declares, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” (23:1) The chief priest orders another to slap Paul in the mouth, and Paul rebukes the chief priest. Paul then artfully turns the group on itself, Pharisee versus Sadducee, declaring, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” (23:6) The session erupts into a “great uproar” with Pharisees declaring they find nothing wrong with Paul as a group of 40 form a conspiracy and take an oath not to eat or drink until they kill Paul.

Paul’s nephew learns of the conspiracy, reports it to Paul, and then at Paul’s request to the Roman commander. The commander sends Paul to Caesarea under cover of night with military protection to be tried by Governor Felix. The journey to Caesarea is successful, and Governor Felix places Paul in protective custody until his accusers arrive to present their case against him.

I continue to be struck by Paul’s steadfast faith. Standing before the Sanhedrin, he does not waiver. In the face of a conspiracy against his life, he does not waiver. Paul knows that God is with him, and he knows that the Gospel is worth dying for, should that be God’s will.

Christians today face pressure from a different source. Our society scorns the Gospel. Believers are expected to mute the message of Scripture in order to fit into a secular system of norms and values. Those who resist or refuse face persecution, sometimes intense persecution. There are Christian churches that have given in to this pressure to various degrees. Others, like Paul, remain steadfastly faithful to God and His good and perfect will as revealed through Scripture. The divisions within the Church on these matters concern me deeply. False and watered-down doctrine gives the enemy a foothold as many believers and would-be believers are led down a dangerous road of deceitful false teaching. Jesus warned about this when He said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

Christians, we must faithfully pray for the Church, for fellow Christians who have been led astray by false or watered-down doctrine, and for our nation. As we pray, we must seize opportunities to share God’s Truth – the Gospel – as the Lord presents such opportunities to us.

Ponder this: Although the battle is ongoing, Jesus Christ has already won the war. How is God calling me to serve?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, I lift up Your church and those in leadership within it. I pray that Your Word would be the sole authority for preaching and teaching, and that false teaching would be exposed and removed. I pray specifically for my pastor, our staff, and our teachers. Guide, direct, and bless them so that the Gospel is always at the forefront of our teachings. Help us, Lord, to stand steadfast on Your Word when persecution comes our way. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Answering the Call ~ Acts 21:37-22:29

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” ~ Acts 22:21

As the commander is about to lead Paul into the barracks, Paul asks if he may address the crowd. The commander grants his request, and Paul addresses the crowd in Aramaic, which immediately silences them.

Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus

Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul offers his personal background as a citizen and as a Jew, describing his persecution of the earliest Christians before his conversion. He describes the stoning of Stephen as he stood aside and guarded the cloaks of those who stoned him. He then describes his conversion on the road to Damascus and God’s subsequent instruction that Paul leave Jerusalem: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (22:21).

The crowd listened intently until Paul said this. The riot begins again, and Paul is taken into the barracks where a centurion prepares to flog him. Paul cites his Roman citizenship, and is thereby spared of the beating.

It appears that Paul’s ministry is drawing to a close, and he knows it. But, is it really? Centuries later, God speaks to us today through Paul’s letters to the churches he founded. Countless people have come to know Christ via the “Roman Road”, a series of passages from Paul’s letter to the Romans that walk the sinner through our sinful nature and resulting death to sanctification through Jesus’ act of mercy and grace and eternal life through Him. God continues to speak through Paul today, and He will continue until the end of the age.

God chose Paul to be a messenger of the Gospel to the Gentiles. We believers are to share the Gospel in our world. For some of us, it’s an office and for others a warehouse. For some, it’s a schoolhouse and for others an airport. It really makes no difference; we are called to witness where we are. Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Our light is our very life; our words and actions always witness to something. Let us speak and behave as witnesses for the Gospel knowing that God can and will work through us.

Ponder this: Do my words and actions point to the Gospel? How can I live as God’s witness in my world?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, I know that if I walk through life according to Your will, I will impact the world as You intend for me to do. Help me to fully trust You so that I may be an effective witness. Help me to live my life for You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

God’s Will be Done ~ Acts 21:1-36

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” ~ Acts 21:13-14

When I consider the concept of placing God’s will above my own, it is not in the context of dying for Him, for I am not facing that threat. In Caesarea, the prophet Agabus predicts Paul’s arrest and demise in Jerusalem. The believers beg Paul not to go there, and he offers the response above. Knowing what is to come, Paul presses on.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem, the disciples tell Paul that word has spread among the Jews that Paul is converting Gentiles, and teaching the Jews that live among the Gentiles to “turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (verse 22). The disciples introduce four men who have taken a vow to follow Judaism. They ask Paul to participate with these men in their rites of cleansing believing that this would demonstrate to the Jews that Paul had not abandoned Jewish law. Paul agrees.

As the period of cleansing draws to its end, some Jews from Asia publicly accuse Paul, claiming he “brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place” (verse 28). An uproar ensues, and Paul is arrested with the crowd shouting, “Get rid of him!” (verse 36). Here in Jerusalem, the Jews who have been hounding Paul all along the way finally succeed in having him arrested.  Although he knows his demise is imminent, Paul presses on; he continues to preach the Gospel.

Satan uses all sorts of things to distract our attention away from Christ. For me, in this place in my life, it’s a question of priorities. These past few days have been very busy and I’ve neglected to read God’s word as a result. It’s not the fault of my “busy-ness”; it’s a case of misaligned priorities. Satan sometimes wins small battles; thank God that through Jesus the war is already won! Today I pray that God would give me that same degree of focus on Him.

Ponder this: What distracts me from God’s will for my life? Are my priorities distracting me from opportunities to serve Him?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending faithful servants like Paul to share Your Gospel and inspire us with their dedication to You. Thank you for modern-day believers who unwaveringly preach, teach, and live Your Truth. Help me, Lord, to continuously seek and follow Your will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

%d bloggers like this: