Thursday, May 31, 2012

Acts 18:12-17

Summary retelling of Acts 18:12-17

Even though Paul has the assurance and correction from Jesus Christ, he is eventually attacked by the Jews (again).  The Jews charge Paul with convincing people to believe in God in such a way as to violate the law.  However, Gallio (the proconsul) was wise enough to see that the Jews wanted Him to believe the problem was with Roman Law when really their problem was with Jewish Law.  Gallio refuses to even try Paul, telling them to handle it between themselves.  Gallio drives them out of the courtroom.  They seized Sosthenes – the leader of the synagogue – and beat him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Jesus’ words do come true.  Yes the Jews attack him, but they are not allowed to harm Paul.  That is what Jesus said would happen.  Furthermore, God is able to use Gallio – the Roman governor of the land – to protect Paul.  Paul probably had no idea that he could count on Roman leadership for protection, but in Corinth and under God he can rely upon the Roman government!  Everything that Jesus Christ promised was fulfilled.

How cool is it that God’s promises come true?  How important is it to realize that all of God’s words do come true – especially in ways that we cannot foresee?

Second Thought:
Notice that the Jewish leaders are guilty of misperception.  They try to deceive Gallio.  Paul wasn’t breaking any Roman law, but they tried to paint it as though Paul was guilty.  They knew that they were powerless to stop Paul from talking, but if they could sway the Roman governor then they could do something.  It is shameful to see the lengths of deception that the people of the world will go to in order to “win.”

Have you seen this principle in your life?  Have you seen people try to manipulate reality so as to bring about their own glory?  Have you ever used this method yourself?  When?  What was the result?

Third Thought:
Let’s talk a little about Sosthenes.  Read 1 Corinthians 1:1.  In that letter Paul is writing back to Corinth and he has someone named Sosthenes with him.  Now, no doubt there were many people named Sosthenes in the world.  However, how many of the Sosthenes’ in the world would be known to the small group of Christians in Corinth?  We cannot know for sure, but it is very probable that the Sosthenes spoken of in 1 Corinthians 1:1 is the same Jewish synagogue leader who is said to have been beaten in our passage today from Acts.  If this is true (and remember, we cannot know for certain) then this is actually a second leader of the synagogue in Corinth that comes to believe in Jesus Christ!  Look at what happens when we take God’s correction to heart and humble ourselves to following His way!

How well do you receive correction?  How easy is it to admit we’re wrong and do things God’s way?  Have you ever done that and then seen all the blessings that come from repentance and forgiveness and true discipleship?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 18:18-23

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Acts 18:9-11

Summary retelling of Acts 18:9-11

Jesus speaks to Paul.  The first thing He says is to not be afraid.  Paul is supposed to continue to speak and not be silent.  Jesus then promises that He will be with Paul.  Jesus then tells Paul that he will be safe and that there are many followers of His in the city.  After Jesus speaks to him, Paul stays in Corinth for a year and a half.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Jesus lays the smack down on Paul.  Let’s not mince words here.  Jesus comes to Paul immediately after Paul screws up and after he gets frustrated.  Jesus basically says, “Suck it up and get back on track.  This is my calling, not yours.  I know more than you do about Corinth and what I want you to do here.”  When we step up to be spiritual, we will occasionally make mistakes.  But when we make mistakes, we must expect Jesus and God to call us to task – especially those who are in leadership roles.  The more we lead, the more we should expect to be reprimanded so that we can get back on track more quickly.

How does it make you feel to see Jesus bring Paul to task?  Does it scare you at all?

Second Thought:
Jesus tells Paul to continue to speak and to not be silent.  Jesus tells Paul that there are more followers in Corinth than he can even imagine.  The reality is that we don’t ever see the whole picture.  We do not ever make the agenda; we follow it.  We do not ever determine the course of action; we listen to God hand out the orders.

Why is it important to remember that God is the director and we are the followers?

Third Thought:
In the end, Paul stays in Corinth for 18 months – perhaps the longest he ever stayed in any one particular place for setting up a church.  Paul recovers from his mistake well.  Once he is corrected, he gets back on task.

Have you ever been in a place where you have made a mistake and not done what God desired?  How did you get back on track?  What role did having someone correct you play?  How were you able to regain focus?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 18:12-17

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Acts 18:5-8

Summary retelling of Acts 18:5-8

Silas and Timothy catch up with Paul in Corinth, finding him – surprise, surprise – preaching to the Jews about Jesus Christ.  Once more we hear about the Jews opposing Paul and reviling him.  Paul has now had enough.  He shakes out his garments and tells them that their blood is now on their own heads.  Paul vows to go to the Gentiles from here on out.  He goes to live with a man named Titius Justus.  It just happened that Titius Justus lived right next to the synagogue.  Crispus, one of the synagogue leaders, believed in Christ.  The same was true for his whole house.  Many Corinthians believed what Paul had to say.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul continues to preach to the Jews.  Remember that yesterday I said this was a point that I wanted to emphasize.  Today we see him continuing in his traditional patterns, and the Jews continue to oppose him.  There isn’t anything in this passage that hasn’t happened practically everywhere else that Paul goes.  Yet, he continues to follow Christ in spite of persecution after persecution.  You have to respect Paul for doing what he does when he knows the persecution is going to come.  It isn’t a matter of if; it is a matter of when.

Can you think of things that you have continued to do in spite of persecution?  What gives you the strength to go on?

Second Thought:
Now that I’ve acknowledged respect for Paul, we also have to acknowledge that as a part of this story he gets fed up with the persecution.  He gets fed up with the fact that people refuse to listen.  He announces that he is done with the Jews.  Paul – the great evangelist of the New Testament himself – gets fed up with his calling and stops following God’s leading for a moment.  Granted, Paul doesn’t turn his back on God – he is still going to go to the Gentiles with the Gospel.  But he has a moment of weakness and stops being open to talking to Jews about Christ.

Is it comforting to know that even Paul himself had his moments of failure?  What do you think Paul forgot, causing him to get frustrated?

Third Thought:
Cripsus – one of the leaders of the synagogue – is said to have believed in Christ.  You know, one does not sway a Jewish leader into Christianity by being ineffective.  Certainly Paul was effective, even in Corinth.  Don’t forget he made disciples in Athens, Berea, Thessalonica, Philippi, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Psidian Antioch, Paphos, Cyprus, and Antioch!  He has been pretty successful in spite of the persecution.  He’s convinced Timothy of the faith so much so that Timothy has left family to follow Paul.  He’s empowered woman after woman in faith.  He’s converted a jailor and saved him from suicide.  Paul has had many successes in ministry so long as he was willing to do it God’s way.

Do you think Paul should have spent a little more time thinking about his past successes in Christ before becoming frustrated?  Why do human beings allow the frustration of the moment to overtake the evidence of God’s work in the past?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 18:9-11

Monday, May 28, 2012

Acts 18:1-4

Summary retelling of Acts 18:1-4

Paul leaves Athens and heads to Corinth.  He meets Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Sometimes she is called Prisca, which is like calling someone named Elizabeth “Liz” or “Lizzy.”).  They were natives to Rome, but Emperor Claudius had made an edict telling every Jew to get out of Rome.  They must have been tentmakers, because Paul was a tentmaker and they were the same trade as him.  In Corinth, Paul continued to go into the synagogues and talk about Jesus Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul meets Aquilla and Priscilla.  This is an important couple in the faith and we will see them here, in Ephesus, and Paul even refers to them as being a part of the church in Rome once again as attested by Paul’s letter to the Roman Church.  (See Romans16:3)  Yet, this meeting in Corinth happens only because Claudius gave an edict kicking out all of the Jews from within Rome.  Paul finds a very important married couple with whom to partner up in the faith because of what seemed at the time to be a blatant act of persecution against the Jews.  God is great enough so as to be able to use persecution to advance His own agenda.  (Remember the stoning of Stephen and how God used that?)

Why is it important for us to remember that God uses the negative moments in our life as well as the positive moments?

Second Thought:
We don’t hear too much about Aquila and Priscilla in the Bible, but we do know that they are a married couple dedicated to the faith.  They are both concerned about promoting God in their community.  It is so important for both adult members of a family to promote an active faith life.  Living according to God’s Word in this world is tough enough.  It is far harder to live when one person is trying to be spiritual and there isn’t spiritual support coming from the spouse.

Do you think most Christians underestimate the importance of faith when looking for a spouse?  Why might this be true?

Third Thought:
Paul continues to go into the synagogue.  This isn’t so much a spiritual comment as it is a set-up for what we will read tomorrow.  But we can say that Paul continues to use his tried and true methods.  He has always sought out Jews when entering a town.  He continues the pattern here.  Until God makes it clear that he is to do something else, Paul is faithful to the call.

Do you find faithfulness hard or easy?  What areas in your life are easy to have faithfulness?  What areas do you struggle in having faithfulness?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 18:5-8

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Acts 17:32-34

Summary retelling of Acts 17:32-34

When some of the Athenians heard Paul talking about the resurrection of the dead, some mocked Paul.  Other people told Paul they were interested in hearing more.  Paul left that area of Athens – the Areopagus – having spoken rationally with them as they requested.  As Paul continued to live in Athens while preaching and teaching, some joined him and became disciples.  We are told about Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris among others.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Some mocked.  As good of an evangelist as Paul was, he still had people mock him.  It is a reality.  There will always be people who are closed to the Gospel and there is nothing that we can do about it.  We should try as best as we can to not take it personally while focusing on the rest of the people who are interested in what we have to say.  The number of people that reject the message is of far less consequence than the number of people who are open to accepting it.

Do we tend to get more hung up on the rejection that comes from the world than focusing on the people who genuinely accept?  Why might this be true?  Does our genuine desire to make disciples have any impact on our taking rejection personally?

Second Thought:
There are some that followed Paul.  There are people who accepted Christ!  This is incredible news!  There are people who came to Paul and said, “We want to hear more about this!”  This is the lifeblood of the church.  This is the reason the Jesus Christ made the church.  Whether evangelism (telling people about God when they don’t know Him) or discipleship (taking people who do know God and helping them know Him better) this is what we should focus on and for which we should give glory to God.

Why do we often forget to give praise when we do see people’s lives changed?  Why is it so much easier to focus on the part of this reading where Paul is mocked while glossing over the fact that some came to hear more?

Third Thought:
We are given two specific examples of Athenians who came to Christ.  Dionysius was an Areopagite.  Remember that the Areopagus was the Athenian court that Paul had gone to speak.  Thus, we are told of Dionysius to tell us for sure that Paul’s speech in the Areopagus did concretely lead to at least one conversion.  We are also told of Damaris, primarily because she was a woman.  Again, we see Paul reaching out to the fringes.  Paul is quick to welcome women into the fold.  Paul is quick to welcome Gentiles who belonged to the city court.  One does not have to attain a certain pedigree to be accepted by Paul (or God, of course).

How cool is it that we seem to be developing this theme that Paul literally accepts anyone who will listen?  Is this a different perspective on Paul than you may have been taught in the past?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 18:1-4

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Acts 17:29-31

Summary retelling of Acts 17:29-31

Paul goes on to challenge the Athenians a little more.  He says that God is not like anything we can make – whether out of precious metals, stone, or wood.  Nothing our hands can make can come close to being like God.  Then Paul begins to talk about repentance and judgment.  Paul is absolutely clear that there will be a day when God will judge the world through Jesus Christ.  We have proof of this because He raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Nothing our hands can make can represent God.  Yet we wear crosses, crucifixes, and Christian T-shirts all the time.  We hang religious art on our walls.  It raises the question about those things being idols – which is really what that line of his speech is about.  The 10 Commandments tell us not to have idols.  An idol is something worshipped.  To worship something means to devote your life (or a portion therein) to its pursuit.  So the question becomes …

How do I know I’ve begun to worship something?  How do I know when I’ve crossed the line between wearing a cross because it reminds me to be faithful to God and worshipping the cross because it makes me feel holy?  Is there anything wrong with having things that remind us to worship the true God?  If so, how do we keep ourselves from eventually worshipping the item?

Second Thought:
God was willing to overlook people’s rejection of Him before Christ came because they had no true example of God.  {By overlook, don’t read “to not hold accountable.”  Overlook there simply means to be willing to forgive – the accountability for trespassing still remains.}  But now that Christ has come and given a real life example of God, God is far less willing.  We know about Jesus Christ.  We know about godly living.  We know what true love looks like.  If we know where to see true love and choose not to look there and let it consume us (See Galatians 2:19-20), we have no excuse and God has every right to judge us and hold us accountable.  Kudos to Paul for telling it like it is and not worrying about what people will think of him for talking about judgment.

Do you look to Christ and really let Him be in charge of your life?  Do you talk to others about the need for them to do the same?   Do you talk at all about the consequences of not telling people what will happen if they don’t follow Christ?

Third Thought:
Jesus Christ was raised from the dead into an eternal body.  Nobody else in the scope of humanity has had that done to them.  Sure, there are even examples in our Bible about people being raised from the dead, but they are raised simply into a temporal body.  Only Jesus Christ has been raise incorruptible.  It is only Him to whom we should look for salvation.  It is to Him that we should look for righteousness.  He is the only one who has been raised incorruptible.  This is why we believe and confess “Sola Christus” (Christ alone).

What does it mean to you to know that Jesus was the only one raised from the dead into an eternal body?  Is that a concept worth giving up the rest of your life in order for you to pursue what Christ offers?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:32-35

Friday, May 25, 2012

Acts 17:22-28

Summary retelling of Acts 17:22-28

Paul begins to address the people who had gathered in the square to listen to him.  He begins with a two-sided compliment and calls them religious.  Then he begins to teach.  While going through Athens, he saw a statue that he now uses in his instruction.  The statue was to an “unknown” god.  Paul tells them about the God of the Hebrew people – although remember there were Jews among them – and tells them that the one true God does not live in temples made by men.  Then Paul says that God made mankind so that they should seek Him out.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Yes, the people of Athens were religious – they accepted almost any god into their community.  However, as I mentioned yesterday they were not particularly devout to any of them.  They could think in religious terms, but they seldom thought it necessary to devote their life incredibly deeply to any of them.  In many ways this is not far from how we use the word religious in today’s culture.  I can be very religious (attend worship every Sunday, confess there is a God, pray before every meal, go through all the rites and traditions, etc) without actually being spiritual (letting God change and direct my life so that I conform to Him).

Is there anything inherently wrong with being religious in the way we think of the word religious today?  Can being religious get in the way of being spiritual?  How can we structure our minds, our thoughts, and our behaviors so that we can be religious and spiritual at the same time?

Second Thought:
The Athenians have a statue to an “unknown” god.  In some respects, this is very multi-cultural and open-minded of them.  In other respects, this is very politically correct.  But it also shows their cultural understanding of not having to be devoted to any particular god all that deeply.  After all, when a person is totally devoted to one god and they have given their life to that god, what need do they have of any “unknown” gods?  The only people who care about “unknown” gods are the people that are not genuinely devoted to any particular god.

How can we see this dynamic in our modern world and our lives?  Is it easier to be devoted to many things when we aren’t particularly devoted to any one thing?  What does this have to say for people who genuinely want to be devoted to God?

Third Thought:
Part of Paul’s education of the Athenian Jews is telling them that they should be seeking out the true God.  This is a really important teaching for a people who desire a broad understanding of a bunch of shallow topics.  What Paul is saying to them is that it is better to seek out genuine depth and take one topic as far as it can go than it is to understand a little bit of everything.  Rather than trying to know every god, they should be trying to know the one true God.

How concerned about knowing God deeply are you?  Why do you think some people don’t actually want to know God on a very deep level?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:29-31

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Acts 17:16-21

Summary retelling of Acts 17:16-21

When Paul was in Athens, he saw a bunch of idols just about everywhere that he went.  So he began to talk to the Jews in the synagogue and anyone who would listen to him within the marketplace.  Many of the non-Jews who heard him either dismissed him as some strange babbling man or they thought he was teaching about some god unknown to them.  They took him to the place where civil discussions and decisions were made in Athens.  They asked Paul to explain his teaching a little more deeply so that they could decide whether or not it was worth listening to him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Athens was a town that was known for embracing almost anything that had merit.  However, because of their blatant open-mindedness they also seldom bought into anything too deeply.  They believed many things shallowly, not being devout too much.  This is why Paul spies many idols as he goes about the town.  They embraced whatever they could.

What are some of the advantages of having an open-mind?  What are the disadvantages of being too open-minded?

Second Thought:
Notice that Paul does go into the synagogue in Athens.  However, notice that here in Athens we don’t see the Jews getting up in arms at all.  In all the other places we’ve seen Paul visit there was conflict between himself and the really devout Jews.  Here, there is little conflict whatsoever.  This probably means that the Jews in Athens were like the rest of the citizens.  They believed many things, but weren’t very devout to any of them.  Since they had little devotion, there was not much to upset them about.

Why do conflicts usually happen among the genuinely devout?  We know that it is good to be devout, so how can we learn to be genuinely devout but still avoid the nature of finding oneself in conflict rather easily on account of one’s devotion?

Third Thought:
The people of Athens ask Paul if they can hear more about his teaching.  Keep in mind that they don’t likely want to hear so that they can be devout to what he is teaching.  That just wasn’t part of the Athenian culture.  They want to hear what Paul says so that they can add Christianity to the growing list of “accepted practices” in Athens.  Most of the Athenians aren’t looking for something to believe in, they are looking for something else that they can tout around as growing their culture.

How can this be seen as a form of persecution in its own right?  What can we learn from the Athenians about genuinely listening to other people and giving them an ability to explain themselves?  What can we learn from the Athenians about the danger of pursuing knowledge for the sake of the pursuit without actually buying into any particular cause?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:22-28

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Acts 17:13-15

Summary retelling of Acts 17:13-15

The Jews in Thessalonica hear about what Paul is doing in Berea and they come to trouble him and his friends.  The people in Berea send Paul on to his next destination, but Silas and Timothy were able to remain behind.  Paul came to Athens and sent his traveling companions from Berea back to their home with a message for Silas and Timothy to come as soon as they are able.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Trouble finds good.  This is why Paul says in the end of his letter to Galatians, “Do not grow weary in doing what is right.”  When people are angry enough at us to disrupt our life, they will often seek out opportunities to do so.  Even though Paul had moved on and was no longer a part of Thessalonica, he still finds himself under persecution.

Why do people feel it necessary to get involved in the affairs of others just to cause problems?

Second Thought:
Keep in mind that from the Thessalonian Jews’ perspective, they probably were doing what they were doing under the guise of preventing bad theology from being taught.  They probably were coming to Berea to keep Paul from leading their “brothers and sisters astray.”  If God had directed them to do so, this would be noble.  Here, however, it just gets in the way.

What steps can we take to avoid doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons?  How easy is it to think we have the right course of action but find out after the fact that we were only pursuing our own agenda and not God’s agenda?

Third Thought:
Silas and Timothy are able to stay behind.  Only Paul is the one that has to leave Berea.  This likely tells us that the Thessalonian attack was personal, not just “keeping keeping Christianity from being taught.”  If the Jews had actually come to refute Christianity, Silas and Timothy would have needed to leave as well.  The fact that only Paul has to go really tells us that the Thessalonian Jews just wanted to make Paul’s life difficult.  As spiritual leaders, we will take the brunt of the attacks when they come our way.

What can we do as we become more spiritual to prepare ourselves for when we are attacked?  What can we do to help prepare the people under us for when we are attacked?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:16-21

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Acts 17:10-12

Summary retelling of Acts 17:10-12

The folks in Thessalonica send Paul and his friends to Berea in order to escape the persecution.  The Jews in Berea received Paul well.  They examined the scriptures daily together to find truth for their life.  Many people believed – people of high station in the community as well as regular folks.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The people in Thessalonica get Paul and his friends out of town.  They are concerned about Paul’s safety.  If the people in Thessalonica have proven that they would riot once (and incite rabble) it is likely that they will do it again.  Sometimes when the people prove that they are unwilling to listen, it is best to “get out of Dodge.”

How easy is it to see Paul and his friends as abandoning the hard work in Thessalonica?  Is this the right perspective?  How do we know when to run and when to stay put and endure the persecution?

Second Thought:
Berea is the other church that God uses Paul to found that is considered an incredible success (Philippi being the other).  Look at what we are told makes Berea great.  The people in Berea came together to examine scripture daily.  They came with open minds rather than an agenda to prove.  Want to be close with other Christians?  Study God’s word with them on a regular basis – daily if possible!

Think about a time in your life when you weren’t studying God regularly with at least someone else – how spiritual were you?  Now think about how life is like now that you study God’s Word daily with someone else – how spiritual are you?  Why is it inherently easier to be spiritual when we are in God’s Word daily?

Third Thought:
Many believed.  As Luke writes Acts, he seems to focus a fair amount on the wealthy and the leading people of the towns.  This might seem like Luke is elitist.  However, remember that when Luke is writing this, Christianity is just a fledgling movement.  Most people had never heard about it.  Luke needs to write that there are people of all walks of life coming to Christianity to help validate that anyone feeling called to God can come regardless of their walk of life.  This would be especially important among the wealthy, because so much of being wealthy is about “keeping up with appearances.”  Luke needs to be able to convince people that becoming Christian can be “normal.”

What might these comments by Luke be telling us about Theophilus (Luke’s financier)?  How might these comments that Luke makes about “leading people in a community” help inform us about the group of people that Theophilus hangs out with?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:13-15

Monday, May 21, 2012

Acts 17:5-9

Summary retelling of Acts 17:5-9

The Jews become jealous.  They form a mob – starting with common rabble in the streets – and attack the house of Jason while seeking Paul and his friends.  When they couldn’t find Paul, they decided to grab Jason instead.  They accuse Jason of “turning the world upside down” – in other words, teaching a way contradictory to the Roman way of living.  They specifically accuse Jason and some of the believers of declaring that there is another king instead of the emperor.  The city leaders were upset by the commotion, so they made Jason pay a security deposit that there wouldn’t be any more trouble.  They let him and the other brothers go.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
When in doubt, form a mob.  There are always people that can be incited about something.  In fact, don’t we as human beings love controversy?  We’re always looking for the latest great controversy so that we can take sides and tell other people about some great injustice being done.  It is sad, really.  Human beings form mobs so quickly and so readily just because we like the controversy and the chaos.  What’s worse is that the Jews specifically turned to disreputable people – rabble – in order to start the riot.  When we need something done that isn’t quite right, it seems like there is always someone around who is willing to do it.

Why do human beings have a natural tendency towards chaos and controversy?  Why is it so hard for human beings to treat one another with respect and rationality?

Second Thought:
When the rabble couldn’t find Paul, they settle on Jason.  Here’s another lesson in humanity.  Anger always finds a target.  If a person is angry and they cannot direct the anger where it belongs, it will get directed elsewhere.  It will get directed at people or things that do not deserve it.

Why is anger so powerful enough that we struggle to control its output?  What can we do to prevent the anger inside of us from being directed where it doesn’t belong?

Third Thought:
In the end, it all comes down to money.  Jason didn’t do anything wrong other than welcome a teacher into his home.  Yet, he has to pay a fine.  Jason isn’t even the one who started the commotion – the Jews of the city did!  But it is Jason who has to pay the fine and provide security that “it won’t happen again.”  Isn’t it sad to see the sway that money has over humanity as well?  We so often think that money can solve our problems, when it can really only cover up the problem for a time.

Why does so much of our life revolve around money?  Do you think the Bible is right to call the love of money the root of all evil?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:10-12

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Acts 17:1-4

Summary retelling of Acts 17:1-4

When Paul and his friends leave Philippi, they head toward Thessalonica.  There was a synagogue in Thessalonica, so they went in there.  On the Sabbath, Paul spoke about the scriptures and how they pointed towards Jesus Christ.  He talked about how the scriptures told that the Messiah must suffer and die.  There were many who were persuaded to believe as Paul taught – specifically many Greeks and several leading women of the community.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Once more we see Paul head to the synagogue.  He chooses again to start with the people who have a little familiarity with Judaism rather than people who have no familiarity with it.  It does pay off as we see that some of the people follow his teaching.  However, not everyone does.  Some listen and follow; others listen and do not follow.

Why is it important to see that Paul has manageable success?  Why do you think Paul doesn’t have total success?  What might the reasons be that they everyone doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation?

Second Thought:
Paul is bold about talking with respect to the scriptures.  Keep in mind that he is talking about a topic that the Jews would have known very well.  He is talking about something that would have taken a great deal of conversation and convincing words.

Is Paul bold for going into the synagogue or is he taking the easy way?  What arguments could you make for either case?

Third Thought:
As this section ends, notice the specific emphasis on the Greek nature and the inclusion of women.  So far with Paul, we have seen a great thrust of importance placed on “non-traditional Christians.”  We have seen Gentiles being added without having to become Jews first.  We’ve seen women being added and able to take leading roles in the community.  Again we get a sense that Paul is serious about his “inclusion of all” teaching that mandates that what is important is the presence of the Holy Spirit within a person – not anything else.

How does this story (immediately following the story of Lydia in Philippi) continue to even challenge modern Christianity?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:5-9

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Acts 16:35-40

Summary retelling of Acts 16:35-40

The next day, the magistrates come to the jailer and tell the jailer to let Paul and his associates go.  The jailer relays the message to Paul.  Paul objects, making sure that the jailer (and therefore the magistrates) know that Paul and his associates were mistreated for no reason.  Furthermore, Paul mentions that they are (or at least he is) a Roman citizen, because to beat a Roman citizen without cause was a treasonous offense in the Roman Empire.  When the magistrates heard about their citizenship, they came personally and offered apologies, escorting them away from the jail.  However, they did ask Paul and his friends to leave Philippi quietly.  Paul and his friends returned to Lydia and the church in her house.  They encouraged their Christian brothers and sisters and did leave Philippi.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
It might originally seem like Paul is being a self-monger in this passage.  After all, the text reads as though Paul is demanding that the magistrates come and apologize or else he won’t let the matter drop and he won’t forgive them.  On the surface, that is what is happening.  However, under the surface this move is about protecting Lydia and the new church.  If Paul and his friends leave quietly, then the rest of the town may not understand that Paul and his friends were exonerated.  It would be easy for the magistrates to then persecute the fledgling church meeting in Lydia’s house.  But this way, with the magistrates having to come and make the exoneration public, the whole town can see for themselves that there is nothing wrong with Christianity and there is no reason to continue to persecute the Christians.  Paul’s actions here are all about protecting the new Christians.

Why is it important for those strong in the faith to protect those weaker in the faith or newer in the faith?  Why is it so important that our leaders develop the ability to see the world with wisdom?

Second Thought:
Paul and his friends return to Lydia before leaving.  No doubt they give some final instructions about who is to lead the church.  No doubt they also tell her about what happened the night before and likely introduce the jailer into the fellowship of believers.  It seems like such a sad moment – especially on the heels of such a spiritual victory the night before.  But it was a necessary move.  Paul and his friends needed to leave to keep the peace, and there are other places in the world that need to hear the Gospel.

Why does life seem to be filled with bittersweet moments like the parting of good spiritual friends?  What do you think the people of Philippi had to focus on to keep themselves from feeling hopeless as their new spiritual mentors are forced out of town?

Third Thought:
Remember that Philippi is often considered the greatest missionary church that God used Paul to found.  Yet, there were many obstacles to faith.  It didn’t seem like Paul was there all that long.  He also got himself into pretty hot water while in Philippi.  They didn’t have an official building to meet in, so they had to meet in a house.  There are so many things that should have gone wrong, but didn’t.  The story of the Philippian Christian Church is an inspiration.

Why do you think the Philippian Church was able to survive amidst all the stumbling blocks that were set before it?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 17:1-4

Friday, May 18, 2012

Acts 16:29-34

Summary retelling of Acts 16:29-34

The jailor called for the lights to be brought in so he could see the prisoners for himself.  In seeing that they were present, he fell down before them and asked what he must do to be saved.  Paul tells him to simply believe in Jesus Christ.  Paul and Silas get an opportunity to speak to the man and his whole household about Jesus Christ.  The jailor immediately takes care of the wounds of the prisoners (remember that they had been beaten).  After that, Paul baptizes the jailor with his whole family.  The jailor brought them into his house and fed them, rejoicing that he had believed in God.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The jailer simply cannot believe what he is seeing and hearing.  The jail had been flung open.  There was no reason for the prisoners to stay put.  They were acting out of the normal manner that we might assume for human beings.  The jailor knew at this point that Paul and his associates lived according to a different agenda.  The goals and desires of Paul and his friends were simply not what the jailer was accustomed to in human beings.  They valued truth and honesty and salvation more than they valued safety, security, and freedom.

Why might it be important for us to find as many ways as possible to live according to a different agenda and then demonstrate our different agenda to the world? 

Second Thought:
When the jailer comes in contact with this different agenda – and agenda that showed Paul caring more for the safety of the jailer than for his own safety – the jailer was convicted.  The jailer knew he had to change.  The jailer knew that there was some better way of living than he had previously thought.

How have you encountered people living according to a different agenda than the way of the world?  How have those encounters been important to your own spiritual walk?  How does seeing a godly life in others help convict us about how we should be living?

Third Thought:
Because of the different way of prioritizing life, Paul and Silas (and any others) get an opportunity to not only talk to the jailor but his whole family.  In those days, it was common in small towns that the jail was a part of a person’s home.  So this is what happens.  Paul and his friends are arrested and brought into the jailer’s house as prisoners.  They get an opportunity to show love to the jailer.  They get an opportunity to teach the jailer about Jesus Christ.  They get an opportunity to go out and baptize the jailer and his household.  When they come back to the jailer’s house, this time they are brought in as friends rather than prisoners.  Their wounds are cared for.  Their stomachs are fed.  Hospitality takes over.

Furthermore, imagine Lydia’s reaction the next day (or whenever) when Paul gets to introduce Lydia to the jailer and talk about his conversion!  No doubt Lydia and her household (the early Philippian church) were praying for Paul and his friends in jail. No doubt they will see this as an incredible miracle.

How neat is it that God can take horrible situations and turn them into moments for proclamation?  How neat is it that when we think life is at our bleakest moment God can shatter the darkness and burst in with His presence?  How neat is it that God can take those that we perceive as enemies and make them spiritual brothers and sisters?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 16:35-40

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Acts 16:25-28

Summary retelling of Acts 16:25-28

Paul and Silas continued to praise God even while in prison.  But they did more than talk about God, they sang about Him!  Suddenly an earthquake occurred and all the doors of the prison were opened and the chains on everyone fell off.  When the jailor woke up and saw that the doors were all open, he planned to kill himself.  Paul interceded, claiming that although they were free to escape they had not left.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul and Silas (and any other prisoners with them) refused to give up on God.  They refused to see the events of their life as anything other than God’s plan unfolding.  Even though they seemed to be in their bleakest point – how much more bleak can life get than being bound and thrown in prison – they were faithful to God.  Even though from a worldly perspective they had every reason to doubt and complain about their life circumstances, they opted to praise God instead.

Are you inspired by their ability to remain faithful after being thrown in prison?  Why do you think that they can remain faithful even though they have been thrown in prison – even after doing the work of God and casting out a spirit that was thwarting God’s work?

Second Thought:
God takes care of his own.  God honors the faithful.  This is true on an eternal perspective as well.  Even when we die, we know and believe that God will honor the faithful and raise us up into eternal life with Him.  God does not abandon us.  He does not lead us into trouble and then forget about us.

Does it help any knowing that time and time again we see God pulling His people out of situations that should have ended poorly for them?  Why is that important to see?

Third Thought:
Paul and Silas care about the jailor.  They know that the doors to freedom have been opened.  However, they also know that God has presented them with an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love to the jailor.  Had they fled, the jailor would have killed himself rather than face the punishment that he deserved.  {Remember that in Roman places captors received the punishment that the prisoners should have received if the prisoners escape.}  By staying in the prison, they are able to demonstrate faithfulness and love to the jailor – when no faithfulness and love was expected.

How good are you at not taking advantage of opportunities in order to show love and faithfulness to someone else?  How does what Paul and Silas do here in the prison speak to the fight against the self-monger with each of us?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 16:29-34

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Acts 16:19-24

Summary retelling of Acts 16:19-24

The owners of the slave girl recognize that Paul’s action has taken away their ability to make money.  They drag Paul and his friends before the magistrates.  The owners of the slave girl call Paul and his friends Jews who practice things that are not traditionally Roman (identifying them as “outsiders” – another sign that there wasn’t a synagogue in Philippi).  They accuse Paul and his friends of disturbing the city – or at least the economic progress of the city.  The crowds join the attack and the magistrates are swayed by the crowd and order Paul and his friends to be beaten.  When they were sufficiently beaten, Paul and his friends are thrown into prison.  The jailor took the imprisonment seriously and not only locked them into the innermost prison but also put their feet into stocks.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Again we see that it is all about money.  The owners of the slave don’t care that her possession and torment is over.  They simply see that their economic avenue is taken away.  In spite of the fact that Paul and his friends are about freeing people from bondage, the world doesn’t see it that way.  They are tried and imprisoned for thinking about people above economics.

How does it make you feel to realize that money – or access to money – put Paul and his friends in prison?  In what ways do you see people around you caring about money above God and God’s ways?

Second Thought:
Paul and his friends are outsiders.  They are outsiders in many ways.  They are outsiders in that they worship God instead of the Roman pantheon.  They are outsiders in that they aren’t from Philippi.  They are outsiders in that they are pursuing a spiritual agenda instead of a physical/worldly one.  Paul and his friends know that in following God they must welcome the label “outsider.”  {For a neat perspective on this word, listen to the Needtobreathe song called Outsiders.}

Do you consider yourself an outsider?  Should you?  What does it say about a Christian who doesn’t consider themselves an outsider?  What does it say about a Christian who pursues the agenda of the world and therefore isn’t really an outsider?

Third Thought:
The jailor takes his responsibilities quite seriously.  He understands that the prisoners are under his care.  He also knows that under the Roman system, if a captor lets his prisoners go, he is responsible for taking the punishment that the prisoners would have gotten.  He doesn’t want to put himself into that position because Paul and his friends have some serious claims against them.

Although it isn’t a particularly spiritual point, it does give us a good example of how to respond to trust that is placed in us.  If people are counting on us, we need to do everything in our power to respond faithfully.

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 16:25-28

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Acts 16:16-18

Summary retelling of Acts 16:16-18

As Paul and his followers are headed to their place of worship, they came across a woman who was possessed by a spirit.  This woman was able to see into the future (called divination here, not “prophecy”).  The people that owned her as a slave made much money off of her.  Once she met Paul, she kept following around Paul and his friends telling everyone that she met that they are “servants of the Most High God” and are “capable of telling them the way to salvation.”  She did this for many days, and finally Paul got so annoyed that he commanded the spirit to come out of her.  The spirit did come out.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Isn’t it sad to see how human beings will use each other to make money?  Here is a woman who is clearly being oppressed by some kind of spirit and rather than seeking to help the slave girl her masters see it as an opportunity to make money.  It just goes to show how much human beings are self-mongers.  We care about ourselves and our livelihood far more than we care about the livelihood, health, and safety of the people who are around us – even those under our care.

Why do you think people have such a hard time valuing the health and safety of another person?  What modern examples can you think of that show how we don’t really care about the health and safety of one another?

Second Thought:
This girl keeps walking around behind Paul and his friends and speaking the truth.  It might seem odd that Paul got irritated, because she didn’t say anything that was a lie.  However, even so it is highly likely that this woman was interfering with the ministry that Paul was trying to accomplish.  It is one thing to try and build relationships through the natural course of action.  It is another thing to have to build up relationships when other people keep interfering and not allowing the natural course of action to take place.  If nothing else, the woman was not “doing it God’s way.”

Does it surprise you to think that even the truth can be used as an obstacle to ministry?

Third Thought:
Paul commands the spirit to leave the girl alone.  The spirit obeys.  We’ll get to the consequences over the next few days, but for now we should focus on the fact that they spirit obeys.  When we are walking with God, even the spirits obey the authority that God places within us!

What authority can you bring to life that is greater than the authority that God can grant to you?  Why do we spend so much time chasing our own authority rather than pursuing God’s authority?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 16:19-24