Monday, April 30, 2012

Acts 13:48-52

Summary retelling of Acts 13:48-52

When the Gentiles heard about grace and that Paul and Barnabas were focusing on them, they were rejoicing.  The word of God was spreading throughout the whole region.  However, the Jews incited some powerful people to trouble Paul and Barnabas and they drove them out of the area.  Paul and Barnabas moved on to Iconium and the true disciples continued to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The Gentiles hear about Paul’s and Barnabas’ promise to teach them and they are excited.  Remember, up until this point the Jews thought that the Gentiles weren’t even worth their time unless the Gentiles wanted to convert to Judasim.  Now the Gentiles have someone willing to teach them.  So they have every reason to be excited and they begin to talk about it throughout the whole region.  The word spreads – and there is no way that it spreads only because of Paul and Barnabas.  The people – the Gentiles! – who are growing are excited about their growth and talking about it to anyone who will listen!

Why is it important to get excited about faith?  Why is it important to share our excitement with others?

Second Thought:
The Jews sense the excitement and they incite people so that it stops.  Yesterday we heard that they were jealous.  Isn’t it a shame to see how destructive jealousy can be in this life?  People are hearing about God, but because a few are jealous of the attention Paul and Barnabas are forced out of the area.

Why is jealousy so destructive?  Why is jealousy so easy to have within us?

Third Thought:
The true disciples continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Here we learn that it isn’t the presence of Paul or Barnabas that is important – it is the presence of God that is really important.  Some people make it impossible for Paul and Barnabas to work, but the Holy Spirit cannot be so easily chased off.

Why do we need to be reminded that it is not the human leaders that are important but rather the Holy Spirit?  How neat is it to realize that He cannot be chased off?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 14:1-7

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Acts 13:44-47

Summary retelling of Acts 13:44-47

A week later, almost the whole city is gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas speak.  But when the Jewish leaders see the crowd that Paul and Barnabas gathered, they were filled with jealousy.  They begin to teach against Paul and Barnabas.  Paul and Barnabas tell the leaders that it was necessary to tell them about Jesus, but if the leaders decide to cast it aside then they will preach it to those who will listen – even the Gentiles.  Paul then talks about how God’s people are to be a light for the Gentiles.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The whole city gathers to hear Paul and Barnabas.  Here is a city seeking truth!  If nothing else, here is a city that values learning!  People gather in order to expose themselves to new ideas and force themselves to think about life.  This is indeed a field ripe for the harvest!

Why is it important to seek out learning opportunities?  What things in life usually get in the way of our learning?

Second Thought:
Furthermore, think about how the whole city knew to gather in the first place.  Someone must have told them.  In fact, a bunch of people must have been excited!  Remember, they don’t have TV, radio, or even printing presses with which to advertise!  If the whole town showed up, it is because people were talking about what they were learning and excited about it.

How does this speak to us being excited about what we are learning in our faith and inviting people in?  How good are you at being excited about what you are learning and then trying to teach it to others?

Third Thought:
The Jewish leaders begin to refute Paul and Barnabas.  Jealousy rears its ugly head.  Competition ensues.  The spirit of excitement begins to be quenched.

Why do people feel the need to compete?  Why do people get jealous?  How can these things ruin God’s attempt to work within and through us?

Fourth Thought:
Paul and Barnabas have already warned the Jewish leaders in this town (remember yesterday’s reading?).  So Paul makes good on his promise and turns away from those who scoff at him.  Paul begins to teach those who are willing and is vocal about not teaching those who are unwilling to listen.

Is this a perspective you see much of in today’s church?  Do we tend to “focus on the spiritually seeking” or do we tend to focus on “making sure everyone is included?”

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:48-52

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Acts 13:40-43

Summary retelling of Acts 13:40-43

Having spoken about Jesus Christ, Paul then goes into a warning.  He warns the people listening that if they scoff at the message they might just find themselves sitting outside of God’s will.  As the time for Bible study ended, people wanted Paul and Barnabas to come back and teach the following week.  Many who had heard Paul and Barnabas speak began to listen and to follow this teaching about Jesus and life.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul knows that he is talking to Jews in Psidian Antioch.  He knows that the really traditional Jews are quite likely going to refute what he and Barnabas have come to say.  So he gives a warning.  In doing so, he quotes Habakkuk 1:5.  This is a warning primarily to the “leaders” and the “people who have all the answers.”  When we have all the answers and we think we have God’s plan figured out, we are likely to miss the “new thing” that God is always attempting to do in our midst.  While it is important to learn and grow in our relationship with God, we must not become rigid an inflexible in our application.

Why do you think that the natural tendency is to become rigid as understanding increases?

Second Thought:
Paul’s warning is pretty serious.  He is telling people that they might find themselves outside God’s will and looking in.  But this message is not really just from Paul, it is a message from all the prophets.  Habakkuk is the quote that Paul uses, but this kind of warning is prominent in Isaiah and Jeremiah as well.  It is prominent in many of the other Minor Prophets.  The reality is that this is a serious problem among religious people – among God’s people.  Whenever we think we know what God is up to and we put Him in our box we are quite likely to find ourselves on the outside looking in.

Does it scare you to think that a day might come where you are like the learned Jews and find yourself outside God’s will and looking in – even though you may have tried to be faithful your whole life?  How can we approach faith in such a way as to make sure that we are never in this position?

Third Thought:
Many people follow Paul and Barnabas.  Many people want to hear about grace, mercy, and God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.  These people invited Paul and Barnabas to say more.  The true disciple willingly places themselves in positions where they can learn more.

How good are you at inviting the people of faith into your life?  How good are you at listening and absorbing what they have to say – and occasionally asking questions to help you apply what you are learning to your life?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:44-47

Friday, April 27, 2012

Acts 13:32-39

Summary retelling of Acts 13:32-39

Paul emphasizes that he and Barnabas have come to bring them the good news about Jesus Christ and how Jesus Christ has fulfilled the words of the scriptures in coming into life as well as in going through death.  Paul then points out that the big difference between Jesus and anyone else is that while Jesus died, he did not stay dead and he continues to live with God today.  Because of this fact, we can have confidence that forgiveness of sin has come to us and we are free to act out in the faithfulness of Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Notice that Paul makes it clear what their mission is.  They are not here to make friends, to swindle others out of money, or to make a great name for themselves.  They have come to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ and to declare forgiveness of sins to those who believe.  There is nothing wrong with making friends and having a good time, but the message of Christ must always come first.

Why is it important to be focused – especially focused upon the right things?

Second Thought:
Paul makes a big deal about Jesus not finding corruption but being brought out of corruption.  In other letters that we have from Paul, Paul talks about Jesus as being the first fruits.  In other words, if God can do it with Christ, we can have confidence that God can do it with us, too!  We can have confidence in the forgiveness of sins!  We can have confidence in eternal life!  Not only can we, but we should!

Why is it important to remember to be confident about what God promises to us?   

Third Thought:
Paul teaches the people that we are free in Christ to act out Christ’s faithfulness.  This is an important concept.  We are not free to do whatever we want.  Just because God is really good at forgiving us doesn’t mean that we should take advantage of that and sin just so God gets more practice at being good at forgiving!  No, we are free to act out God’s will.  We are free to express our faith and invite others into such faith.  We are free to declare grace and forgiveness to the world.

Do you think people take their “freedom” too far?  How can we tell when someone is taking advantage of their “freedom?”

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:40-43

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Acts 13:26-31

Summary retelling of Acts 13:26-31

Having gone through the history of the Hebrew people, Paul now focuses on Jesus.  Paul talks about how the leaders in Jerusalem did not recognize nor understand Jesus because they did not understand the words of the prophets.  Paul tells the people how they killed Jesus in spite of not being able to find him guilty of anything.  We then hear about Jesus being laid in a tomb as well as His resurrection.  Finally we hear about Jesus’ appearance to many after being raised.  Paul tells the people of Psidian Antioch that these people are now the ones who are testifying to the truth about Jesus.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
It might be really easy for us to think that Paul is picking on the Jewish leaders in this passage.  However, remember that for most of his younger years Paul was a Pharisee.  He was one of those people who persecuted Christians.  He was one of the guys who didn’t understand!  Paul knows what it is like to be completely in the wrong and to have to change his mind about everything.  Paul has every right to talk about the Jewish leaders because he was one of them for a time in his life!

How do our past mistakes often help bring an air of realism to our proclamation – especially our proclamation about repentance and needing forgiveness?

Second Thought:
Imagine yourself going to church one day when a person stands up and tries to talk about how much Lutheranism has gotten wrong.  Or for anyone who is reading and not Lutheran, insert your own denomination (or non-denomination).  Imagine how you would initially react to someone coming in with that message.  Now multiply that reaction throughout the whole congregation that has gathered.  Now imagine how much potential irritation and anger would be initially focused upon the speaker by the congregation.  Now think about the speaker and the courage that would be needed to bring such a message in the first place.

My point in the entire paragraph above assumes that the speaker’s message is actually true, by the way.  If the speaker isn’t speaking truth, then it isn’t courage but evil that would inspire the speaker bringing the message.  But let’s be honest, no denomination has absolutely gotten the perfect interpretation of Christ’s church.  We all have room to grow.  So this scenario is possible.  It is worth considering how much courage it would take for a person to come into our midst and proclaim our need to change.

Do you have the same amount of courage that Paul needed to be able to speak truth in this story?  What might keep you from having that courage?   

Third Thought:
We hear Paul talk about the people who saw Jesus after he died.  They are the ones out testifying to His life.  All of these people who saw Jesus after He had died felt the need to go out and tell other people about what had happened – regardless of how impossible it seemed.

Why is personal testimony so important to the understanding and faith of other people?  Why is it important that you be able to talk to other people about what Jesus is doing in your life?  Think about a few people who have the ability to share their relationship with God with you.  Why is that so important to you?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:32-39

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Acts 13:13-25

Summary retelling of Acts 13:13-25

After going to Cyprus, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark travel to Psidian Antioch (on the southern coast of modern Turkey).  John Mark leaves them in Perga in order to come home to Jerusalem.  As they did in Cyprus, they begin by going to the synagogue.  The leaders of the synagogue read from the Law and invite anyone who has a message to stand up and deliver it.  Paul takes the invitation and begins to speak.  Paul talks about the exodus and Moses in Egypt and the giving of the Law.  He talks about David and the promise God made to David.  Paul then speaks about Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise.  He also talks about John the Baptist and how John prophesied that the Messiah would come after him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
John Mark leaves Barnabas and Saul.  We don’t really know the reason why, but most people think that it wasn’t for a very good reason.  (See Acts 15:36-41 as to Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement about John Mark)  Because of the argument, we usually think that John Mark likely got homesick or they found out that he wasn’t mature enough to handle the travel.  Some people think that John Mark got sick – although if that is the case you wouldn’t think that Paul would object later.  Whatever the reason, it demonstrates the importance of counting the cost and making sure we are up to the task before agreeing to do something.

What does it say about us when we quit something we have promised to do?

Second Thought:
When they get to Psidian Antioch, Paul takes full advantage of the first opportunity that he gets.  He is such a great evangelist because he takes advantage of every opportunity.  Part of being a good agent for God’s ways is not being shy, timid, or afraid – as well as being prepared.  If we believe God is with us, there is no reason to be afraid or unprepared.

Why are people so often afraid to speak when it comes to faith?  How can we gain confidence like Paul?

Third Thought:
Paul takes the Jews the whole way through their own history in order to bring Jesus into the conversation.  He does a good job talking about the history of the Law and how that pointed to Christ.  Then he talks about David – the favorite king of the Jewish people – and how he points to Jesus Christ.  Paul has a plan for being able to talk meaningfully about Jesus.

Why do you think Paul uses the people’s own history to talk to them about Jesus?  How do you think Paul developed this plan?  Do you think that he prepared for this opportunity?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:26-31

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Acts 13:9-12

Summary retelling of Acts 13:9-12

As Elymas opposed Paul and Barnabas, Paul opposes him.  Paul calls Elymas the son of the Devil.  He then calls him the enemy of righteousness.  Then Paul asks Elymas how much longer he intends to make crooked the ways of the Lord – which are already straight.  Paul then tells Elymas that he will be blind and be unable to see for a time.  Elymas is immediately blinded and the proconsul believes in the power of God and the teaching of the Lord.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul doesn’t back down from the fight.  He steps up to Elymas and informs Elymas that he is in the wrong.  He does not allow himself to be pushed around, even though he’s actually in Elymas’ home court!  This is a very risky move, because Elymas was quite friendly with the proconsul and if Paul upset the proconsul he could have found himself in prison.

Do you think Paul is smart in his aggressiveness?  What is Paul risking by being aggressive?  How can you tell when to be aggressive and when to play it safe?  Why might Paul be able to be so strong?

Second Thought:
Paul tells Elymas to quit making the straight ways of the Lord crooked.  This is really a brilliant critique if we think about it.  If we truly believe that God’s ways are the best and always have the best outcomes, then those are the ways that are “straight.”  But if we sin, lead people into self-centered lives, and convince others to not follow the ways that are really best for them then we can be said to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord.  That is precisely what Elymas is doing by arguing with Paul and Barnabas.

How does it make you feel to think that every time you sin – or get in the way of God’s work – you are guilty of making crooked the straight ways of the Lord?

Third Thought:
Elymas is blinded for at least a little while.  The blinding of Elymas serves three purposes.  First, it demonstrates that Paul is the one who knows what he is talking about.  Second, it serves to be the impetus for the belief of the proconsul.  Third, it serves as the perfect judgment for Elymas.  Elymas was too blind to see the straight ways of the Lord for what they are, therefore Elymas’ sight is taken from him.  Whether Elymas uses the time or not, it should have given him ample opportunity to consider how well he sees compared to how well he thinks that he sees.

How does it make you feel to know that God occasionally does use things like blindness as judgment?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:13-25

Monday, April 23, 2012

Acts 13:4-8

Summary retelling of Acts 13:4-8

(I will be using the name Paul from here on out instead of Saul)

Paul and Barnabas set out from Antioch and came to the island of Cyprus.  They (and John Mark) immediately went into the synagogues and started to preach about Jesus Christ.  They went throughout the whole island, teaching anyone that could listen.  Eventually they came to the proconsul – a Roman position very much like a governor of a region – and his magician.  The magician, Elymas, opposes the teaching of Barnabas and Paul.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark immediately go to the synagogues to start their missionary work.  On one hand, the choice to go to the synagogues might seem like taking the easy way out.  After all, if anyone is going to understand the Messiah, it is going to be someone coming from a Jewish mindset.  On the other hand, it is also true that sometimes the people who are the most difficult to change are the people who are the most similar.  Think about whether it is easier to talk about Christianity to a Jew or to a Buddhist.  To the Jew, there is potential for argument because of the many things that are so similar.  With the Buddhist, there is not “alternate interpretation” to argue over.  To the Buddhist, it is all brand new.  So while going to the Jews might seem like taking the easy road, it is also perhaps the most difficult road as well.

Do you think it is easier to get people to understand what you are saying about your faith if they are already religious or not religious at all?

Second Thought:
The trio of men go throughout the whole island.  They could have stopped at one place and made it their home, but they don’t.  They go everywhere.  They are very thorough.  They are driven by something bigger than themselves.

Why do you think these three were able to give up everything and devote themselves to the Gospel?

Third Thought:
Elymas is called a magician.  We need to stop and think about what the ancient mind typically thinks of when they talk of magic.  We’re not talking about the magic like Harry Potter.  That kind of magic was born out of the Dark ages, which were over 1,000 years after the Greeks and Persians developed their idea of magic.  To an ancient person, a magician was a person who could get someone to do something else.  Someone with a silver-tongue was a magician.  Someone who could speak and the whole crowd would genuinely listen was also a magician.  To the ancient mindset, a magician was more about control over the people around them rather than control over some elemental power.

How does this definition seem to fit better with the story of Elymas and his service to the proconsul Sergius Paulus?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:9-12

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Acts 13:1-3

Summary retelling of Acts 13:1-3

As the church in Antioch grew, there were prophets and teachers who rose to the top.  As they were all worshipping and fasting together, the Holy Spirit told these leaders and teachers to set apart Saul and Barnabas for a special task that God had for them to accomplish.  So the people in Antioch prayed about it and fasted, laid their hands upon Saul and Barnabas, and sent them out into the world.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Our first thought is a simple one, but it is very true.  There will always be spiritual leaders who rise to the top in a spiritual community.  Wherever God’s Spirit resides, it will not be without leadership.  Thus, spiritual leadership can become a witness for the presence of the Holy Spirit and a community that is growing spiritually.  Where leaders are not being produced, it is a sign of the opposite.  Where no leaders are being produced there is not likely to be much fruit of the Holy Spirit, either.

Why does it make sense that seeing leadership develop is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work?

Second Thought:
We hear about fasting in this passage quite a bit.  Fasting usually means depriving oneself of food (and sometimes water, but not usually) for a certain time.  It is not a practice that was designed to “make us suffer so that we remember how much Christ suffered.”  Fasting was a process of reminding ourselves that we are in control of our own bodies and our bodies are not in control of us.  Fasting was a way of asserting dominance over the flesh.  Fasting was a way of making a claim that the spiritual is more important than the flesh.  Fasting was a way of declaring that just as our flesh is made to submit to our spirit, so our spirit is to submit to God’s will.

Is this a different perspective than you’ve heard on fasting before?  How might this perspective on fasting help bring about increased spirituality?

Third Thought:
Saul and Barnabas are just sent off.  There is no “but I’ll have to be away from my family.”  There is no “but I don’t know anyone in those places.”  There is work to be done, and Saul and Barnabas are appointed to do it.  Sacrifice is gladly made.

It’s been asked a bunch of times, but it is important: how much are willing to give up in order to follow God?  What wouldn’t you be willing to give up?  What might we call those things we wouldn’t be willing to give up?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:4-8

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Acts 12:20-25

Summary retelling of Acts 12:20-25

Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon (Region northwest of Jerusalem, along the Mediterranean coast).  Herod started pulling some strings and started to find ways to reroute trade so that Tyre and Sidon would feel Herod’s power.  They sued for peace, because in the end they needed to rely upon trade for food.  Herod came before the people and began to give a pompous speech before them.  They people begin declaring that they are hearing the voice of a god, and Herod died immediately because he didn’t give God the glory and took the praise for himself.  In spite of Herod, the Word of God spread.  Barnabas and Saul journey from Jerusalem having brought the offering for the people suffering under the famine.  When they leave, they take John Mark with them. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
In this passage we see a huge difference between the people of God and the world.  When the people in Antioch hear about the widows and the poor in Jerusalem who are going to starve, they send Barnabas and Saul with help.  When Herod hears of the need for food in Tyre and Sidon, he uses it as a tool to drive the people under his thumb.  The world uses our weakness to gain leverage over us.  The people of God help others out of their weakness.

In what ways have you acted more like the world that a person of God lately?  In what ways have you been successful in acting like a person of God should?

Second Thought:
Herod dies for a simple reason: he is more interested in his own glory than glorifying God.  That’s really self-centered.  In fact, one could say that this is the reason that all of us will die. Is this not a great definition of sin?  Sin is caring more about what I want than what is righteous and true.  The Bible tells us that we will all die because of our sinfulness.  Sure, we may not die as dramatically as Herod did.  But rest assured, our sinfulness will be the end of us all in this life.

Does this perspective make those “little white sins” any more menacing?  If even the little white sin is an act of self-mongerism, then is any sin little or white?

Third Thought:
Barnabas and Saul take John Mark.  They pick up a … wait for it … a disciple!  They bring along John Mark to teach him the ways of faith.  This is the discipleship process at work.  Yes, at times people may have turned to the church in droves.  But discipleship is done one person at a time.  Discipleship is simply inviting people to walk through life with you for a while.

Does this perspective on discipleship help you think about what discipleship is?  How does this image help differentiate between discipleship and evangelism?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 13:1-3

Friday, April 20, 2012

Acts 12:18-19

Summary retelling of Acts 12:18-19

Day comes, and the soldiers are confused as to what happened to Peter.  Herod does a thorough search for Peter and cannot find him.  Herod interrogates the guards and orders that they should be put to death.  He leaves Jerusalem and goes to Caesarea.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The soldiers are confused because Peter is gone.  Peter slipped by the guards who were chained to him and Peter slipped by the guards who were supposed to be at the door.  This helps us understand that the event was truly supernatural.  We could imagine peter slipping by 1 guard.  But 4?  We could even imagine one guard falling asleep at their post, but all 4?  No, this is a supernatural event where God took Peter’s escape into His hands.

How ready are you willing to let God take control of your life?

Second Thought:
There was a rule in the Roman military that if you guarded a prisoner and that prisoner escaped, you took the same punishment as the prisoner.  Thus, Herod was “justified” (by human law, of course) in killing the soldiers.  It also explains why there was some panic among the guards when they couldn’t find Peter.  But unfortunately for us it opens up a completely secondary question: does this mean that God cared more about the life of Peter than those 4 Gentile guards?  The answer is that we cannot think about it on a human perspective like this.  All have sinned, and all will eventually stand before God in judgment.  Every single one of us will die – the timing of our death is actually insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  What is more important is that we all have the ability to come humbly before God – some choose to do so and some choose not.  We may not be responsible for when we die, but we are always responsible for our relationship with God when we die.

Here’s a blunt question: are you ready to stand before God right now?  If not, what do you need to do to get ready?

Third Thought:
Herod leaves Jerusalem.  He likely leaves out of disgust.  He had been planning on Peter’s death raising his popularity, and instead he has to death with the shame of disappointing the crowds who had no doubt heard Herod’s promise of Peter’s death.  Perhaps even worse, he leaves Jerusalem to deal with the disappointment on their own.  Things go south, so he runs away.

How does this perspective illustrate humanity’s ability to “do the hard stuff?”  How many strong people do you really know in life – people who have the guts to make the hard choice and stick with it in spite of the consequences being difficult?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 12:20-25

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Acts 12:12-17

Summary retelling of Acts 12:12-17

When Peter realized that what was happening was actually real – and after having given praise to God – Peter journeys to Mary’s house.  {Incidentally, Mary is the mother of John Mark, whom most people believe is the author of the Gospel of Mark.}  There were many people gathered and praying in the middle of the night!  Peter knocks on the door and Rhoda comes and hears Peter’s voice.  She was so overjoyed that she ran to tell the others without letting Peter in.  They didn’t believe.  At first they thought it was a prank.  Then they assumed it was his ghost.  Peter continued to knock and they let him in.  Peter tells them all what happened and instructs that James be told. {James the brother of Jesus, not James the brother of John – who we heard was dead at the beginning of this chapter.}  After telling his story, Peter heads out of Jerusalem and goes elsewhere to do some ministry.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Now that we’ve come to the end of Peter’s rescues, it is fair to wrestle with a lingering issue.  Why did God want to free Peter but God let James die by Herod’s hand?  Did God love Peter more?  Did the people pray for Peter more earnestly?

It is hard to answer these questions, but in the end the best answer is that all things work out to the glory of God.  God wanted Peter to do more work, James’ work was done.  That doesn’t mean that God loved James any less.  It just means that God is in control and we need to learn to humble ourselves to whatever calling He has for us – whether it be a long calling or a short calling in life.

How does it make you feel knowing that God did provide a means for Peter to escape and that He let James die?  Are you comfortable accepting God’s sovereignty or do you still wrestle with the fairness of it all?

Second Thought:
There are a bunch of people gathered in prayer for Peter at Mary’s house.  Remember, this was in the middle of the night, because Peter was sound asleep and the angel had to wake him.  Here are some dedicated Christians who actually believe in spirituality!

At the same time, it is interesting that when the very thing that they are praying for happens – they struggle to believe it.  Sometimes we can be faithful in our actions but not really believing in the spiritual power behind what our actions represent.

Are you dedicated to being a disciple of Jesus Christ regardless of the cost?  Do you believe that God can do anything that you ask of Him should He desire it?

Third Thought:
Peter tells his story and goes on his way.  Clearly Jerusalem is not safe for him in the short term.  He teaches, and then moves on.  This is the model he learned from Christ, after all.

Do you think you would have wanted to leave Jerusalem if it had been your home for at least the last decade or more?  How difficult of a decision do you think this was for Peter?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 12:18-19

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Acts 12:10-11

Summary retelling of Acts 12:10-11

Peter and the angel are allowed to escape the first and the second guard.  The gates for the prison open on their own to let Peter and the angel go freely out of the prison.  The angel leaves, allowing Peter to go wherever he should choose.  Peter finally realizes that this isn’t a vision but is in fact actually happening.  He gives the credit to God.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
It may seem like a really small point, but it is significant that the gates open up all on their own.  This was clearly an act of God.  Had Peter had to push open the gates, this could just have been a really great escape plan.  But the fact that the iron gates open up on their own shows that a power that is able to control space and time is at work in this story.

How neat is it to be reminded that God is not bound by space and time – things which by their very nature foil us badly?

Second Thought:
Once Peter is out of the prison, the angel leaves Peter.  I’ve always thought this was a bit weird.  Why would the angel not stick beside Peter until he is safe, not just safely out of prison?  The answer lies in the fact that Peter is safe because Peter rests in God’s hands.  The angel was there to demonstrate God’s power, not to keep Peter safe.  Peter always was safe and sound regardless of where he was.

Do you need to be reminded that you are always safe in God’s hands – even when life around you seems to be anything but safe?

Third Thought:
Peter gives glory to God.  It is his first instinct.  Rather than fleeing from the prison as fast as he can, Peter’s first thought is to give glory to God.  As much as Peter may have made his share of mistakes in the Gospels, he has become quite a significant leader in the Church.

Why do you think that Peter is able to do so many of the “right things” after Jesus ascended into heaven when Peter did so many things wrong before?  On a completely different note, how important is it to remember that we are to always give praise to God – even when our life is still under potential threat?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 12:12-17

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Acts 12:6-9

Summary retelling of Acts 12:6-9

The night before Peter was to be executed, Peter was sleeping between two guards.  Each guard had a chain attached to Peter, and there were guards stationed outside the door.  An angel of the Lord came to Peter and light spilled into the whole prison cell.  The angel wakes Peter and tells him to get up quickly.  The chains fall away from Peter.  The angel tells Peter to dress himself and put on his sandals.  At first, Peter didn’t think that this was real; Peter thought it was a vision.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Peter is chained to two guards and they have another two guards stationed outside of the room.  Clearly Herod does not want anything to happen to Peter.  Yet, the night before he is to be executed, Peter is set free.  God could have set Peter free anytime up to now, but God chooses to wait for the very last moment to free Peter.

Why do you think God waited to the very last moment to set Peter free?

Second Thought:
Peter is sleeping rather soundly when the angel comes before him.  I don’t know about you, but I doubt I would sleep very soundly the night before I was to be executed.  Yet, Peter does sleep soundly because his hope is in God.  Peter knows that should he be killed, it will not be the end of his life but a passage into the next life.  Peter’s focus is on God, the resurrection, and eternal life.  Given that focus, Peter can remain calm even the night before he is to be executed.

Are you inspired by Peter’s faith?  Do you think you could have had that kind of faith?

Third Thought:
Peter is told to put on his sandals.  It is neat to think that Peter’s journey begins with Peter humbly on his knees.  While this is a symbolic gesture, it does show that God desires us to be humble in life.  God wants us to bow before Him before we endeavor on any work that He has called us to do.

Why is humbleness so important for God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 12:10-11

Monday, April 16, 2012

Acts 12:1-5

Summary retelling of Acts 12:1-5

King Herod decided to arrest James in a blatant attempt to persecute the church.  James – the brother of John – was killed by the sword, which is likely a way of saying that he was beheaded.  He is the first of Jesus’ disciples to die (except for Judas, who killed himself).  Herod’s reputation increased with James’ beheading, so Herod arrests Peter and plans to kill him, too.  Herod handed him over to four squads of soldiers (that’s plenty, in case you were wondering).  Herod planned to kill him after the Holy Festival passed.  In spite of his arrest, the church prayed for Peter.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
This section of text is absolutely going to challenge you if you are willing to be challenged by it for the next few days.  First, let’s make sure we understand what is going on here.  Herod’s popularity was waning, and he needed a way to boost it.  Herod knew that the Christians were not popular among the Jews by this point, so he has James arrested and killed.  James didn’t do anything wrong.  He was just arrested and killed for no reason other than a popularity boost.  This isn’t too much unlike why Jesus died, really.  In the end, there is no point to James’ death.  He hadn’t done anything wrong.  He was the victim of human self-centeredness.

Do you find yourself getting upset by the pointlessness of James’ death?  Do you think James minded giving up his life knowing that he was being killed for the faith?  Does this challenge you at all?

Second Thought:
The Jews applaud Herod’s action.  This shows us that they really were beginning to hate the Christian movement within Jerusalem.  Whether it was because the people were tired of the debating or because they were afraid that the Christians were “stealing from their members” or simply convinced that followers of Jesus were wrong – we don’t know why the Jews began hating the Christians enough to want to see their leaders dead.  But the reality is that when James was executed, Herod’s popularity increased.  So, Herod grabs Peter and plans on doing it again.  Herod is willing to sacrifice life for temporal popularity.

What does this story demonstrate to you about humanity’s ability to think only of themselves – or think of themselves first?  Does this passage say anything about how human leadership truly views their subjects?

Third Thought:
The believer’s response is significant.  They pray.  It is really a simple response.  They don’t attempt to break Peter out.  The humble themselves to God’s will and let God be in control.  These verses are a great testimony to how the believer is truly changed.  When things were going south for Herod, he took matters into his own hands and started using people to his own advantage.  When a believer experiences things going south, they humble themselves in prayer and let God be in control.

Do you think we as modern Christians are very good at letting God be in control?  How can we get better at it?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 12:6-9

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Acts 11:27-30

Summary retelling of Acts 11:27-30

There were a few prophets who come to Antioch having come from Jerusalem.  One of these prophets was a man named Agabus, who comes into the fellowship of the Christians and proclaims that there will be a famine in Jerusalem (which does happen while Claudius is emperor of Rome).  The Christians in Antioch decide that they need to prepare to do something about this.  So they began to prepare a “love offering” and send it with Barnabas and Saul.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Prophets.  Prophets are not people who can tell the future, prophets are people of God who speak the word of God to their contemporaries.  The prophets can read the signs.  Historically speaking, Jerusalem is getting far more rebellious at this time.  It makes sense that if Jerusalem grows in rebellion that they will receive less supplies and aid from the government.  The prophets can read the warning signs and begin to speak out about the “danger that lay upon the path that the people are treading.”  It is not so much that the prophets are speaking the future as much as they are warning the people of the potential consequences that the future may hold.  These prophets are not future-tellers and much as they are consequence-tellers.

How does this understanding help us to learn to value the true “prophets” that are in our midst?

Second Thought:
The Christians in Antioch listen.  Then they plan.  Then they put the plan into action.  It’s plain and simple, really.  Discern, think, plan, act.  Follow God’s leading.  Respond to the situations that God places in your path.  It’s not really that complex.

Why do we tend to make following God more complex than it should be?

Third Thought:
The Christians in Antioch give of themselves.  They sacrifice of themselves for the benefit of people that they have never met.  It really is a beautiful thing to read about – even though it seems to get such little attention.

What makes sacrificial giving beautiful?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 12:1-5

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Acts 11:23-26

Summary retelling of Acts 11:23-26

Barnabas comes and sees the grace of God in the midst of the people in Antioch.  Barnabas gives praise to God and exhorts them to keep up the faith!  We know that he was able to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit because he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit himself.  When Barnabas came, even more people were added to the number of the Lord.  Barnabas recognizes the wonderful place of faith that Antioch is becoming, so Barnabas goes to Saul and brings him to Antioch.  Barnabas mentors Saul for a whole year while the two of them teach.  We are also told that it is in Antioch that we are first told that these people are called Christians.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Barnabas is able to see the Holy Spirit at work in the people of Antioch because he has the Holy Spirit at work in him.  It is really a neat concept – and it is true!  The more you are present with the Holy Spirit, the more you can sense the Holy Spirit in others around you.  The less the Holy Spirit is present, the more difficult it will be for you to feel the Holy Spirit.  If you don’t have the Holy Spirit within you at all, you will think those who do have the Holy Spirit to be absolutely crazy. 

Is it then all that surprising how many people sneer at the true thrust of genuine Christianity?  Given this perspective, do you really want the Holy Spirit within you?

Second Thought:
Two really cool things happen when Barnabas comes to Antioch besides his own recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The church grows!  People hear his wisdom and they change their lives!  The other thing that happens is that Barnabas needs help.  And to whom does Barnabas turn?  Barnabas goes and gets Saul.  How cool is it to think that even Saul – the great apostle who comes to be known as Paul – was himself a mentee!  Every great person in God has to learn from somewhere.  And Saul was humble enough to follow.

Have you ever thought of Saul (the apostle Paul) as being a mentee?  How does this concept change how you think about Saul?  How does this apply to your own life?

Third Thought:
In the beginning, the name Christian was derogatorily used.  The suffix –ian literally meant “belonging to the (political/social) party of _____.”  Thus, by being called Christians they were not being called Romans, or Caesarians, or anything else that someone who was looking to fit in would want to be called.  It was a nickname that pointed out how much these followers of Christ didn’t fit in.  The Christians in Antioch learned to value this “degrading nickname” and embraced it.  To the people of Antioch, to be a Christian now meant “one who turned away from the sin of this world and followed the example of Jesus Christ.”

What do you think the word Christian really means today?  Do we think Christian means what the people of Antioch thought that it meant?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 11:27-30