Saturday, March 31, 2012

Acts 10:1-3

Summary retelling of Acts 10:1-3

Today we get to meet Cornelius, a centurion.  He was a part of the Italian Cohort – putting him in one of the most significant groups of people in the Roman army.  He was devout and he feared God.  His whole household (family, kids, slaves, etc) feared God.  He was generous.  He prayed.  One day an angel comes to him and addresses him by name.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Cornelius is said to “fear” the Lord.  This word fear is literally the Greek word “phobeo.”  From this word we get the word phobia.  However, the Greek word phobeo doesn’t mean what phobia means.  Phobeo can mean innate fear – like the flight instinct in prey animals.  But it can also mean a fear that is derived from awe.  Think about standing in the presence of God.  Does that make you want to run away, or does it merely make you want to bow your head and absorb a greatness that you cannot understand?  That is what it means to have fear of the Lord.  We don’t fear Him in that we run away From His presence.  Rather, we acknowledge how much we don’t belong in His presence, how much we can’t understand Him, and just soak up what we can while we are there.

Have you ever been in a time and place where you “feared the Lord?”  When was it and how did it feel?

Second Thought:
Notice the list of things that is true about Cornelius.  He was devout (meaning that he likely worshipped God and studied God’s Word).  He prayed regularly.  He was generous and served.  His whole household was engaged in spiritual relationships with one another.  Cornelius is a model for PoWeR SuRGe!  (Pray, Worship, Read/study, Serve, Relate, Give)  Bet you didn’t see that one coming!  But notice that Cornelius prepared himself for his meeting with the angel by being a true disciple beforehand.  Cornelius was already devout before God got in direct contact with him.  We are called to be devout from day one.  We are called to prepare.

How good are you at sticking to your spiritual preparation?  Do you take it as seriously as you should?  Do you recognize the goal of being spiritually prepared?

Third Thought:
An angel comes to Cornelius.  Now, fess up.  How cool would that be?  I’m not going to make a big deal about it here beside saying that this would be really cool.  And yes, I’m going to point out that we need to believe it was an angel.  It wasn’t some vision.  It wasn’t a figment of Cornelius’ mind.  A messenger of the Lord comes to Cornelius to deliver a message to him.  That’s really cool.

Do you honestly believe angels exist?

Ironically enough, as I wrote this thought the song “Looking for Angels” by Skillet is playing over my computer speakers.  God’s pretty cool like that.  Only he could have worked out this timing when I turned on my computer almost 2 hours ago!  (Click on the Song title to go to Youtube and hear it if you aren't familiar with it.)

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 10: 4-8

Friday, March 30, 2012

Acts 9:40-43

Summary retelling of Acts 9:40-43

Peter hears all the mourning and all the stories, but he puts everyone outside the room.  Peter then kneels and he prays and invites Tabitha to wake up.  Tabitha did, and she saw Peter and sat up.  Peter helped her to her feet and called in all the people who had been mourning her death.  The story of her resurrection spread throughout Joppa and more people came to believe in Jesus Christ.  Peter stayed in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Peter sends everyone away.  He pushes people out of the room.  There might have been many reasons for this.  Some say that Peter didn’t think they genuinely believed she could be raised from death – much like people laughed at Jesus when he healed Jairus’ daughter in Mark5:38-43.  Some say Peter needed quiet to be able to genuinely sense God’s will.  Some say God’s power is so great that only the genuinely faithful could endure the moment of resurrection.  Others say that seeing Tabitha open her eyes might have caused health problems in some other people from shock.  Whatever the reason, Peter pushes everyone outside of the room.

Have you ever felt like you needed space to genuinely get with God?  Have you ever felt like the people around you weren’t focused on what you were focused upon so you needed to be alone?  Can you think of any other reasons Peter might have pushed people out of the room?

Second Thought:
Notice that Peter prays before turning towards the body.  Peter needed to be in contact with God before doing anything about Tabitha.  Christianity is about preparation.  Being in touch with God is about preparation.  A Christians does not have an idea and then prepare to succeed.  The Christian prepares for success and waits for God to come out of that preparation and give them the idea.  So many Christians get this wrong.  So many Christians start with the idea.  True Christianity is about preparation, letting God direct, and letting our preparation move us to where God is directing us to go.

Why do you think so many people mess up the order?  Why do so many people not prepare (or become disciples) until after they think they have an idea?

Third Thought:
Again we see that the healing of someone comes so that God would be praised and people would come to know Him.  Yes, Tabitha gets to reap the benefit of an extended life.  But the real benefit is not Tabitha’s coming back to life – it is that people hear about her story and come to know God.  People are healed primarily for God’s glory and for the sake of others as a calling to know God!

Do you think it is possible that we don’t see “miraculous healings” today because God knows that even if He did work in that manner people wouldn’t choose to see it as Him being at work anyway?  Do you think that we don’t see healings like this because the person being healed would focus on their “life” rather than “using their life to tall God’s story?”

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 10: 1-3

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Acts 9:36-39

Summary retelling of Acts 9:36-39

In this section we meet a woman named Tabitha, who is a very faithful woman to God and her community.  She dies.  Her friends – and probably family – prepared her body according to their custom.  Then they heard that Peter is hanging around Joppa, so they sent for him to come.  Peter decided to go to Tabitha’s friends.  When he arrived, those who were there spent time talking to Peter about all the great things that Tabitha had done in her life.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
This story has a bit of added emphasis – more than we would experience today.  Remember that in those days there was no source of governmental aid.  Orphans and widows often had to rely on the benevolence of friends to survive.  Clearly, there was a group of widows who were dependent upon Tabitha.  With her dying, a large portion of their support network may have just vanished.  For the people in Joppa this may be a sad day because of death, but it certainly is a day where everyone knows that from here on out life was going to get substantially more difficult.

Who do you depend on in this life?  How much of your life is spent working towards independence?  Do you think that is ultimately a good thing or a bad thing?

Second Thought:
When Peter hears of the request to come and be with them, he goes.  We don’t know if Peter knows what he is going to do when he gets there or not.  But Peter does go.  If he does know how God is going to use him, then clearly this is a story of obedience.  If Peter doesn’t know, then this story becomes a story about making oneself open to God.  Either way, Peter is interested in being used by God.

Are you open to what God might be calling you to do?  Are you obedient to what you know God is calling you to do?

Third Thought:
The widows take time to show why Tabitha was important in their life.  This is a tribute to Tabitha’s generosity.  It is also a tribute to God’s generosity.  It is a sign of love, trust, and community.  It is evidence of what God can do among us if we are obedient to Him and His ways.

How do you honestly think people would react if you were to die?  Would people talk about your faith?  Your generosity?  Something else?  How much do you think they would talk about your relationship with God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9: 40-43

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Acts 9:32-35

Summary retelling of Acts 9:32-35

As peace settles in on the church, Peter begins to journey in the areas around Jerusalem.  Peter comes to Lydda, a town towards the Mediterranean Sea as you leave Jerusalem.  He comes across a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years due to being paralyzed.  Peter commanded him to rise up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ and he did.  Everyone in Lydda and the nearby town of Sharon was amazed and turned to God.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Peter does not sit still well.  In the time of peace, Peter takes the opportunity to go out and about in the surrounding areas.  He is actively looking for people with whom he can share the favor of the Lord.  This is one feature of the true disciple of Jesus.  The true disciple is always looking for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone.

Do you find that you care more about God in times of peace in your life or in times of stress?  Why is it important to take advantage of peace as the prime times to go out and be assertive about doing the work of the Lord?

Second Thought:
Peter comes across a man who is in need of seeing the power of God in his midst.  Peter tells Aeneas to get up and walk around.  He tells Aeneas to stop being paralyzed.  Perhaps most importantly, Peter does it in the name of Christ.  There can be no doubt that although Peter is the vessel, it is God who is at work in this story.

When someone does something noteworthy in your midst, are you likely to be impressed with the person or with God?

Third Thought:
When the people of Lydda see the work of God through Aeneas, they turn to the Lord.  This is ultimately the true focal point of the healing – of all healings.  Yes, Aeneas can walk again and that is a great side benefit for him.  But the important part of the story isn’t that Aeneas was healed, it is that through God’s work in Aeneas people turn to the Lord.  When God heals people, it is so that His power is displayed and people turn to Him.

Do you normally think of healings as happening for this reason?  Are you tempted to see the healing as having the primary focus upon the person being healed instead of upon God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9: 36-39

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Acts 9:31

Summary retelling of Acts 9:31

Now that Saul is on the scene, God has taken care of bringing peace to the church.  The first major wave of persecution is over, and the church can focus on building itself up.  People walked in the fear of the Lord.  People walked being comforted by the Holy Spirit.  The church grew.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
I love the fact that immediately after the story of Saul’s conversion ends and he flees Jerusalem we get the verse about peace.  It is one of the reasons why I wanted us to read just this single verse in the Bible today.  God knew what he was doing by making Stephen speak so courageously.  God was using Stephen to evoke an emotional response in Saul and God was going to use that response for His glory.  Now that Saul has been affected by God, God has all His “pieces” in play.  God is ready to go out and change the world once His pieces get enough experience.  This verse is a great summary of God using turmoil to get everything in position and then letting the church be at rest while they experience personal and communal growth.

Have you ever thought about the church in this context?  Have you ever thought about God using conflict and peace this way?

Second Thought:
The church is built up.  We are told clearly how the church is built up.  It’s really quite simple.  The church is built by people walking in fear of the Lord and by being comforted by the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the church is built up by doing the work of the Lord and by opening ourselves up to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  The church is built up by people actually doing what disciples should be doing.  The church is built up when people give up the pursuit of their own agenda and start following God.

Look at the churches that you see that are experiencing growth.  What’s the difference between those churches and the rest of the churches that you see?

Third Thought:
We are told that the church grew.  This is what churches are supposed to do.  When churches don’t grow, it is evidence that something is wrong.  Perhaps the people aren’t acting like disciples.  Perhaps the people aren’t humbling themselves before God.  For one reason or another, churches are supposed to grow and when they don’t there is evidence of some kind of problem or obstacle.

What kind of obstacles typically get in the way of church growth?  What kind of obstacles often get in the way of personal growth?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9: 32-35

Monday, March 26, 2012

Acts 9:28-30

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 28-30:

Once Barnabas accepts and introduces Saul, Saul is allowed to go in and among the Christians.  He also begins debating with the Hellenist Jews.  (The word Hellen means Greek, so the Hellenists are Jews who are not from a Jewish heritage but rather a “Greek” or more accurately “worldly” heritage.)  As one might expect, as Saul opens his mouth to begin to debate what truth is, his opponents seek to kill him.  When the plot against his life is discovered, the Jerusalem Christians help him escape to Caesarea and Tarsus.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
Again we can see the power of Barnabas’ influence.  Barnabas is trusted, and once Barnabas extends his covering to Saul he is allowed to go in and out and debate.  Barnabas tends to be a forgotten person of the Bible, but without Barnabas’ willingness to put his neck on the line for what God is doing in Saul – there may have been no Paul.  And had there not been a Paul, well, chances are we’d all be Jewish-Christians living a much different life!  {Yes, I realize God could have used other people to bring about His agenda had Barnabas been unwilling.}  But this passage reminds us of the unsung heroes and the subtle people of faith who impact us more than we realize.

Who are your unsung heroes?

Second Thought:
Saul’s opponents seek to kill Saul.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  The story of the Bible is that those who bring God’s truth are simply unpopular.  In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the people loathed the prophets because their messages were difficult to hear.  In the New Testament, the leaders in Jerusalem hated John the Baptizer and had him killed.  They hated Jesus and had him killed.  They hated Jesus’ disciples and eventually have all but one of them killed.  The world hates truth.  Truth points us to God and exposes our self-centeredness.  People hate that.  They want to focus on what makes them happy and what is fun and what “they want to do.”

Are you willing to be unpopular – or even hated – because of the Truth?

Third Thought:
Saul runs away and escapes with his life.  This is going to be a pattern in Acts once Saul really gets going in ministry.  I’m not saying that Saul is a chicken and can’t battle.  I’m actually saying that Saul is such a good battler that his opponents feel that the only way to win is to kill him.  He is quite an impressive figure in that he desires to speak the truth so much that he is willing to put his life on the line.  And God always provides a way out for him.

How much are you willing to trust God’s ability to protect you from harm?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9: 31

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Acts 9:26-27

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 26-27:

Saul goes from Damascus to Jerusalem.  He tries to join in with the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, but they are afraid of him.  Barnabas takes some time to get to know Saul and after hearing his story Barnabas becomes an advocate for Saul before the apostles.  Barnabas tells Saul’s conversion story for Saul.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire.  There would be no more dangerous spot for Saul to go than Jerusalem.  After all, Saul was known in Jerusalem.  It’s not like he could hide.  If he was seen in Jerusalem by the traditional Jews but yet was not seen hanging out with the Sanhedrin, then they would certainly know something was up.  If he was seen hanging around the disciples, the Sanhedrin would definitely know that something was up!  It seems like a horrible choice for Saul to make, but it is where he goes.  After all, who better to learn the faith from than the disciples in Jerusalem who had endured persecution after persecution?

Would you have the confidence to “walk into the teeth of the enemy” as Saul does here?  How does this impact your perception of Saul?

Second Thought:
Saul is immediately rejected by the disciples in Jerusalem.  Who can blame them?  Saul was there when Stephen was martyred.  Saul gave approval when the disciples were persecuted.  Saul even had a letter to arrest any Christian he found and drag that Christian before the Sanhedrin.  They had every right to be afraid of him!

Have you ever found yourself not understanding and not following God’s lead because of fear?  Why is this natural?  How can we overcome this natural human instinct?

Third Thought:
Thank God for Barnabas!  This goes to show us how important a good spiritual mentor can be.  The mentor can help introduce us to a community of faith.  The mentor can “lend” us some of their credibility until we gain our own credibility. On the same token, it is important that we do not disappoint our spiritual mentors or show their willingness to lend us credibility to be wrong.  After all, what would have people thought of Barnabas had Saul turned on the disciples?  They would have lost faith in Barnabas because he lent Saul credibility!  When a mentor reaches out to embrace us, we must strive hard to prove that the mentor’s faith in us is well-founded!

Who has lent you some of their “spiritual credibility” in your life?  Have you lived up to that credibility or have you shown that person foolish for trusting in you?  How often do you think of spiritual relationships in these terms of being able to affect another person’s standing in a community because they stood up for you?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:28-30

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Acts 9:23-25

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 23-25:

Some time goes by with Saul preaching in the synagogue.  Some of the Jews decide that like Jesus, he needs to die.  They start watching the public roads to try and find a time to kill him.  Saul finds out about the plot.  Some of Saul’s students take Saul and help get him out of Damascus safely by lowering him down in a basket. 

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
I don’t find it hard to believe that people wanted to kill Saul at all.  After all, he had come to Damascus to help solve the problem of the Christians and now he seemed to be joining their side!  From the perspective of the Jews, Saul had to be the Benedict Arnold before there was a Benedict Arnold.  He was a turncoat, and what’s worse is that he was making disciples.  The turncoat was taking people among them and turning them away from traditional Judaism.  From their perspective, he needed to be done away with.

Are you at all surprised by the actions of the Jews?  Have you ever been a victim of someone who used to be on your side that turned to the opposition?  How does this point us to the greater truth that we should not be concerned with “who is on our side” but rather be concerned with “am I on God’s side?”

Second Thought:
Saul makes disciples.  There it is, plain as day.  Saul isn’t fully prepared yet.  He isn’t “officially trained.”  He’s not been “rubber-stamped” by the church to make disciples.  But he is doing it nonetheless.  It’s on his agenda, and he accomplishes this fact.

How are you doing with the whole “make disciples” concept?  Are you talking to people who either don’t believe or who believe differently than you and trying to get them to see your point of view?  Are you trying to bring people into the truth?

Third Thought:
Saul sees the intentions of death by those around him.  At first, it has got to be neat to realize that you are being so effective that people want to kill you.  I mean, the death thing aside and all – isn’t it cool to think that Saul is so effective that people want him dead, and dead right now?  On the other hand, it is pretty scary, too.  If Saul is going to live, he needs to let go of the “pride” that comes from realizing just how effective he has been.  He needs to humbly be lowered out of the town in a basket.  He needs to run and flee from the fight in order to survive.

How often does our pride get us into trouble?  Is it usually better to stand up in pride or run to fight another day?  How can you learn to decide when to take either tactic?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:26-27

Friday, March 23, 2012

Acts 9:20-22

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 20-22:

While Saul was in the synagogues, Saul was teaching about Jesus.  Those who heard Saul talking were amazed because they knew that he had come to Damascus to drag Christians back before the Sanhedrin.  In spite of their questions, Saul continued to proclaim Jesus to them and he confounded the Jews in Damascus. 

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
Yesterday I spoke about Saul spending a bunch of time just hanging out with the disciples.  Today we learn that this isn’t all that Saul did.  Saul wasn’t just soaking up the information; Saul was taking the information and applying it wherever possible.  Saul was very familiar with Judaism, so he took it into the synagogues with which he was accustomed.  Saul soaked up what he could from the disciples and then he took it out and distributed it where he was comfortable doing so until he became an “expert” in Christianity himself.

Where are your safe zones of talking about what you are learning?  Do you talk about what you are learning within those safe zones?

Second Thought:
The people who heard Saul talking about Jesus must have been confused.  They understood that Saul had come to Damascus to arrest Christians, but here he was talking about Jesus himself.  I can only imagine their confusion.  As an outsider, it is often difficult to understand what is going on inside the spirituality of another person.

How might you be giving off mixed messages to the people around you about your faith?  What can you do to communicate what is going on inside of you more clearly?

Third Thought:
Saul is persistent.  As we continue in the book of Acts, we will see his persistence over and over again.  It doesn’t matter that people are confused by his change of heart.  It doesn’t matter what people will think about him.  Saul knows the truth, and he is persistently driven to tell the truth to others.

Does Saul’s persistence inspire you?  Do you know the truth?  Do you tell the truth to others?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:23-25

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Acts 9:18-19

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 18-19:

Immediately that which was obscuring Saul’s vision fell from his eyes and he could see again.  Then he got up and was baptized.  Then he ate, found some strength, and got back to life.  Then he hung out with the disciples for a while.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
Immediately Saul was healed.  God had obstructed Saul’s vision; now God un-obstructs the vision.  This is a demonstration for Saul to show him that Jesus was the one with all the power.  It meant that God could do what he said and was capable of being trusted.

I understand that most of us have not ever had this kind of experience.  But have you ever been in a place where God seemed to give you exactly what you needed at a moment in life?  How does that affect you?

Second Thought:
Saul ate and regained his strength.  I think that there is a physical description and a spiritual description going on here.  Literally, Saul had been fasting without food or water for three days.  He had to be hungry and his body had to be running on empty.  By eating, Saul is resolving that issue.  However, there is a spiritual issue here as well.  Saul was dazed and confused by how God seemed to be turning his life upside down.  He was so much in spiritual shock that he wasn’t even interested in eating.  Now that Saul has received a demonstration of Jesus’ power, Saul knows that he has his answer.  He needs to change.  He was wrong.  It was going to be work to get himself into this new place of faith, but it was time to quit putting it off, quit resisting, and get to the work.  So he eats.

Do you ever put things off from a faith perspective?  Do you ever feel mired down as though you are just spinning your wheels?  What do you need to do to get straightened out and get back on course again?

Third Thought:
Saul’s first task after eating to regain his strength is just to hang with the disciples.  Saul doesn’t immediately go out and start doing missionary journeys.  Saul doesn’t immediately go out to non-Christians and start converting them.  Saul has to learn the ropes.  He has to deepen his faith in Jesus.  He has to legitimately spend time with the disciples and learn from their example.  If he is going to have anything to offer, he has to learn it first.  We know from history that he is perhaps the greatest evangelist to have ever lived.  But he begins in humbleness.  He hangs out with the disciples and soaks up everything that he can possibly learn from them.  He wants God to use him, so he needs to grow as much from what the people around him can offer.  Saul genuinely submits to the authority of the disciples so that he can learn.

There is a famous saying: “Every great act done by a Christian begins on our knees.”  How is humbleness and submission reflected in that statement?  How good are you at being willing to be humble and submit?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:20-22

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Acts 9:13-17

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 13-17:

Ananias shows a little bit of fear.  Ananias explains to Jesus that He has heard about Saul and how much Saul is persecuting the church.  Ananias reminds Jesus that Saul has the same authority to persecute the church in Damascus as he does in Jerusalem.  Jesus explains to Ananias that He has personally chosen Saul to go to the Gentiles and the powers of Israel.  Jesus explains to Ananias that Saul will suffer for His name.  Ananias went to Saul and laid his hands upon Saul, declaring what he knew about Saul’s incident with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
Notice that Ananias is honest with Jesus.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being honest with God – so long as you ultimately trust Him.  Jesus knows that many things that He asks us to do are going to be hard and they are going to challenge us.  We are foolish if we think we can hide our fear from Jesus.  Furthermore, notice that in talking about His fear with Jesus Ananias finds the ability to overcome his fear.  Bringing our fears and  worries before Jesus will naturally help us overcome them through His power.

Do you tend to hide you fear?  Does your fear ever paralyze you?  How can revealing your fear help you see it and overcome it?

Second Thought:
Ananias ultimately trusts Jesus.  This is key, especially when talking about one’s fears and how they might get in the way of following Jesus.  When we are hesitant to do something or we question something Jesus tells us to do we must always do it under the assumption that we will ultimately let Jesus have His way and follow Him.  From this perspective Jesus can help us.  If we are stubborn and argue with Jesus without believing that we will eventually do His will we are just being argumentative and an obstacle to His will.  And trust me, you don’t want to be an obstacle to Jesus!

Is it difficult to be open to anything even though we might be afraid of it?  How do we become open to anything that Jesus might ask of us?

Third Thought:
Ananias goes to Saul.  Can you imagine the fear and trepidation that Ananias must have had.  Saul had every authority to have Ananias arrested once he declared that Jesus told him to go to Saul.  Yet, Ananias obeyed.  Ananias risked everything to follow God.  This is the portrait of the genuinely faithful.

Would you have been able to go?  Why or why not?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:18-19

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Acts 9:10-12

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 10-12:

There was a guy named Ananias who lived in Damascus – the town to which Saul was headed.  Jesus talks to Ananias and Ananias let’s Jesus know that he’s listening.  Jesus tells Ananias to go to the house of Judas where Saul is staying and praying.  Jesus tells Ananias that Saul has already received a vision about Ananias coming to talk to him.  Jesus also tells Ananias that there will be a sign of his work: Saul’s sight will be restored.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
Okay, today we have three things happening that the world would really struggle with believing.  The first – and probably most obvious – is that Ananias is said to have heard the voice of Jesus.  And we are expected to believe it!  And we do.  Yet, I guarantee you that if any of us heard someone proclaim that they had heard a direct voice from God we would immediately be skeptical of the story.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I do think there are people out there who hear voices because of chemical imbalances in their brain.  But I also think that most people who call themselves followers of God could also stand to benefit from being a bit more open-minded to the supernatural power of God, too.

If someone you knew said that they heard a voice from God, how would you respond?

Second Thought:
Another odd thing is that we are told of Saul seeing a vision.  Again, most of us would look funny at a person if they claim to have seen a vision.  Yet, we are told here that Jesus says that Saul has seen a vision.  We told it as though it is fact and we are to believe it.  God does send visions when He wants to get a particular message across.  Now, visions might not be commonplace – but as with the prior thought I think we as Christians could benefit very much from being more open-minded about God’s use of visions.

If someone you knew told you that they had a vision from God, how would you respond?

Third Thought:
The third strange dynamic of this story is that we are told of a healing that is coming.  God tells Ananias that he is to lay his hands on Saul and Saul will see again.  In today’s day and age, this is a very strange thing indeed.  Today people get better through surgery.  People get better through medicine.  But we don’t think people can get better just by touching someone else.  Yet, this story asks us to believe that it can really happen.  I think most Christians could benefit from being a little more open-minded about God’s use of healing.

If someone you knew claimed that God told them that they were to heal you of something, how would you respond?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:13-17

Monday, March 19, 2012

Acts 9:7-9

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 7-9:

The companions of Saul heard the same voice that Saul heard, but they didn’t see anyone.  They were speechless about what seemed to be happening around them.  Saul picked himself up off of the ground and realized that he was blind.  He was led by the hand into Damascus.  Saul neither ate nor drank after this experience {Well, for three days, until Ananias comes for him.}

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
 Saul’s companions were speechless.  Wouldn’t you be?  I can’t say that I blame them for having nothing to say when Saul drops to the ground and this voice booms out of nowhere.  To their credit, they stay beside Saul!  If I saw a guy I was with get knocked to the ground by an unseen power that is feeling particularly persecuted, I think I might want to distance myself from the guy who’s on the ground.

What kind of courage did it take to stand by Saul in the midst of his encounter with Jesus?  Do you have that kind of courage to stand by others as they are attacked?

Second Thought:
Saul didn’t move until the conversation was over.  We aren’t told that he got up until after Jesus was done speaking.  This may have been Saul being submissive to the unseen power, but more than likely it was Saul having no choice in the matter.  The presence of God is so powerful and so all-encompassing that we seem like nothing in His presence.

How does this story affect your image of God?

Third Thought:
Saul didn’t eat or drink while in the turmoil.  Saul is likely doing a voluntary fast.  Saul has just felt the power of God and heard that God thought he was behaving badly.  Saul had a lot on his mind and he had more than a few things that he needed to sort out.  By fasting, Saul can let his hunger remind him of the fact that he has some spiritual growth to accomplish.  By fasting, Saul can let his hunger remind him that he needs to hunger for God’s truth, not the truth that he has made up in his own image.

Have you ever fasted meaningfully?  What was your experience with fasting?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:10-12

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Acts 9:5-6

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 5-6:

From his knees – or likely from the fetal position – Paul inquires to know who is it that has the power to knock him to the ground.  Paul calls the mysterious power “Lord.”  The voice declares itself to be Jesus, the one that Paul is persecuting.  Then the voice gives a loving command.  The voice tells Paul to go into the city where he will receive further instruction.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
 Again, it is neat to see the humility of people when they are genuinely in the presence of God.  From these verses, you get the idea that Paul had no ability to resist God.  He had no ability to do anything under the powerful thumb of God except fall to the ground.  I’m saying this so that we are afraid of God.  But I am saying it so that we are mindful of how small we really are.  We like to be macho and think that we are invincible.  But we are not.  When push comes to shove we are ultimately pretty fragile people.  It is nice to be reminded of this fact from time to time.

How do you see yourself as overly macho?  Where do you see yourself as frail?

Second Thought:
Jesus continues to be direct.  Jesus identifies himself as the one that Paul is persecuting.  What I like about this is that Jesus does not say, “I am the God of the people that you are persecuting.”  No, Jesus says that Paul is persecuting Him directly.  When people pick on Christians because of their faith, they are actually challenging God to His face.

Is it neat to think that God takes it personally when we are persecuted for our faith?

Third Thought:
I can only imagine how relieved Paul must have been when he heard Jesus tell him to continue on in the city.  As he is folded up on the road under the watchful eye of God, I bet he genuinely thought he was a dead man.  I bet he genuinely thought that he was going to pay for his actions.  Then God says to him that his life will continue and he needs to start listening.  Now that’s grace, folks!

Have you ever thought about this event from this perspective?  How often have you done something for which God has every right to judge you negatively and yet He has chosen to forgive you and let you live?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:7-9

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Acts 9:3-4

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 3-4:

As Saul approaches Damascus, he is hit with an insanely bright light from the heavens.  The light was so intense that Saul fell to the ground.  That was the only defense that he could muster.  Out of the light, Jesus speaks to Saul.  Jesus asks Saul why it is that Saul feels it necessary to continue to assault His followers.

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
 I love the fact that Saul just folds up on the ground in the presence of Jesus.  There is something genuinely neat about Saul collapsing into the fetal position as his only defense.  And I’m not being snarky here.  It is really cool.  When we are genuinely in the presence of the Lord we have no defense.  We think we’re so strong and so brave and so macho.  We think we’re so loveable and so perfect and so worth paying attention to.  But what happens to Saul in the presence of God?  He folds up and tries to become as small and helpless as possible.  Saul shows us that in the presence of God there is only one response: beg and plead for mercy and look pathetic.

How do you think you would respond if Jesus came into your presence right now?  How do you think you will respond when you stand before Him in heaven waiting for God to judge you?

Second Thought:
I also love the fact that Saul is spoken to out of the light.  This may seem strange, but I love that this is a part of our Bible.  There is no explanation of this event.  Either you believe something supernatural (or at least inexplicable) happened or you believe it is a crock.  This is one of those “you either believe or you don’t” stories.  I love that these are a part of the Bible because these stories really help draw the line of who the genuine believers actually happen to be.

Have you ever thought of this story as a “line-in-the-sand” kind of story?  Can you see why this story would make it hard for people to believe in God?  How might it actually make it easier for people to believe in God?

Third Thought:
I also love the fact that Jesus doesn’t mince words.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Saul, thanks for giving me a great effort even if you are going in the wrong direction.  You genuinely thought that you were following God, and I respect that.”  LOL.  No, “Jesus lays the smack down and confronts Saul.  Jesus tells Saul that he is in the wrong and he needs to think about what he’s done.  Jesus is like that parent that catches the child doing wrong and sends them to their room to think about what they’ve done knowing that they’ve been caught.  Jesus doesn’t mince words.  Life – and salvation – is far too important to mince words when genuine correction needs to be had.

Does this angle on Jesus surprise you at all?  Does Jesus seem too harsh in your eyes or are you appreciative of this confrontational Jesus?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:5-6

Friday, March 16, 2012

Acts 9:1-2

Summary retelling of Acts 9: 1-2:

Saul continues to persecute the church, even leaving Jerusalem in order to do so.  He asks for permission to go to Damascus and find people of the Way (the early name for the followers of Jesus) and drag them back to Jerusalem to be put on trial as blasphemers. 

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
 Saul is emboldened by what he saw when Stephen was executed.  Saul saw that Stephen died and God apparently did not intercede on his behalf.  This drove Saul to want to persecute the church even more.  In Saul’s eyes, the fact that Stephen died was proof that God was not with the followers of Jesus.

Have you ever assumed that because a certain act gave a particular result that God was in favor of it?  What is the danger in believing that God is in favor of everything that happens in this world?

Second Thought:
Of course, we know that God was actually not in favor of Stephen’s death.  Yet, God didn’t stop it because He was going to use Stephen’s death to get the followers of Jesus to leave Jerusalem, proclaim the Gospel all around the Roman Empire, and even call Saul to His own side.  Stephen’s death may have been horrible, but it was not outside of God’s ability to use for His glory.

How hard is it to think about God being able to use tragedies for His glory?  Why does this take not only a leap of faith but also an open mind to God?

Third Thought:
It may seem strange for Paul to be able to go to another city and arrest the followers of Jesus and drag them back to Jerusalem.  After all, what authority did the Jewish priests have in any Roman city besides Jerusalem, right?  However, remember that at this time the only people who were following Jesus were people who first converted to Judaism or who were born Jewish.  {Technically, there were some Samaritans that Philip helped to convert in the prior chapter, but they would be a small number compared to all the Jews who were following Jesus.}  Thus, Paul had the ability to arrest them because of their faith, not their citizenship.  Because they were Jewish, they would have to submit to the authority of the priests in Jerusalem.

How does this point to making sure that we give authority in our life only to those people who are able to wield it properly?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:3-4

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Acts 8:39-40

Summary retelling of Acts 8: 39-40:

Once the eunuch was baptized, Philip is called away by the Holy Spirit to his next mission.  The eunuch continues on his way, rejoicing about what God has just done in his life.  Philip continues to journey from town to town preaching the Word of God until he comes to Caesarea.  {Incidentally, Philip settles down in Caesarea and we’ll meet him and his daughters later in Acts 21.}

Thoughts for Today:
First Thought:
There is always another spiritual task.  There is always something to do.  No, I’m not saying the Christian needs to be a workaholic and send themselves to an early grave because they never let themselves take a day off.  But we need to remember the task of the Lord.  Go into the world and proclaim Him and His Gospel.  Teach, preach, evangelize, baptize, obey.  Every generation that is born is a whole new generation that must be taught.  The work is unending.  On the upside, serving in God’s Kingdom has incredible job security!

Do you see every day as an opportunity to accomplish the work of the Lord or do you tend to think of certain days as your “religious days?”

Second Thought:
Every time I read an English translation of Acts 8:39 – especially one done as the NRSV or the ESV – I have to laugh.  These translations come close to saying, “The eunuch didn’t see Philip anymore and he went on His way rejoicing.”  These translations almost make it seem as though the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing because he doesn’t see Philip anymore!  LOL.  Of course, that’s not really the case.  The eunuch goes on his way rejoicing because he has found Christ.  He goes on his way rejoicing because a new level of relationship has been opened between himself and God.  In fact, remember what we said several days ago about how his being a eunuch would have affected how close he could really get to God under the Jewish system.  This eunuch, who now has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, really does have something special to rejoice over!

How often do you think of your relationship with God as something over which you rejoice?  Or is it more of a chore most days?  How easy is it to study God’s Word regularly, worship at church weekly, and do all the other things that someone who genuine loves God should rejoice about doing?

Third Thought:
Philip goes on his own way.  He continues to preach.  He goes into places that he’s likely never been and he proclaims the message of Jesus Christ boldly.  It doesn’t matter if they know him or not.  It doesn’t matter if they listen to him or not.  He preaches.  And then God calls him to settle down in Caesarea.  But Philip continues to follow God’s leading.  All the while we’ve been studying Philip, that is something that we can consistently say is true.  Philip follows God’s leading rather than asserting his own agenda.

How cool is it to have such a great example of faithfulness to God’s agenda?  Is there anything difficult about having such a great example?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 9:1-2