Saturday, June 30, 2012

Acts 22:30 - 23:5

Summary retelling of Acts 22:30-23:5
The military leader wants to know the real reason that Paul was being beaten in the temple, so he orders the Sanhedrin to gather and he brings Paul there.  Paul begins by addressing the Sanhedrin and saying that he has lived in good conscience according to God’s ways.  The chief priest orders Paul to be struck, and Paul insults the chief priest right back.  Paul then accuses the chief priest of not obeying the Law.  Those near Paul ask Paul if he really wants to revile the high priest, and Paul immediately backtracks.  The Bible says that we should not speak about our leaders in an evil manner.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
I’ve got to give some credit to the military leader.  He’s finally beginning to realize that there is something really deep at stake.  He rescued someone in the temple that he thought was a criminal only to find out that he is a Roman citizen.  Things aren’t what they originally appear and he needs to do some investigation before he goes any further in determining a punishment for Paul.  So he orders the Jewish leaders to assemble.

Why is it almost always a good idea to get more information before taking a course of action?  {Unless, of course, you have all the information.  Then a person just needs to act.}

Second Thought:
Paul begins his defense by claiming to have kept God’s Law, which he had.  The chief priest orders him to be struck, demonstrating that the chief priest didn’t believe Paul’s claim.  The chief priest acted upon a subjective understanding of information rather than genuinely listening to Paul and the Holy Spirit.

Why are human beings quick to jump to conclusions?  Why do we often act before we think?  We do people – especially leaders – have a tendency to think they know what is right far more quickly than they should?  What does this say about the need to take time to discern as well as the need to respect those who do?

Third Thought:
Paul calls the chief priest a “whitewashed tomb.”  This expression comes from the fact that people would often paint tombs white in order to warn the living that they were approaching a place of the dead.  Since the living were supposed to avoid contact with the dead in Jewish society, the whitewashing of the tomb would enable people from approaching something that they shouldn’t.  Thus, Paul is looking to the chief priest and calling him a person who should be avoided because his theology and spiritual leadership is dead.  It’s a pretty harsh critique.

Do you think Paul is right in saying this?  What has led to the chief priest being closed minded and ignoring what God is doing in the world?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 23:6-10

Friday, June 29, 2012

Acts 22:22-29

Summary retelling of Acts 22:22-29
Once Paul starts talking about the Gentiles, the crowd would not listen to Paul any further.  The military leader ordered Paul to be brought back into the barracks and away from the crowd.  The military leader planned to examine Paul by flogging him. However, as Paul was about to be flogged he mentioned that he was a Roman citizen.  The soldier who was about to flog Paul went back to the military leader and told him that Paul was a Roman.  The military leader goes to talk to Paul and discloses that he had to pay for his citizenship.  Paul tells the military leader that he was born a Roman citizen.  Immediately Paul is treated with a bit more respect and is no longer in any danger of being flogged.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The Jews in Jerusalem still want nothing to do with Gentiles.  So long as Paul was talking about Judaism, they were willing to listen to Paul.  But once Paul began to hint that God could possibly work among the Gentiles the crowd interpreted it as proof that Paul was wrong.  Because they were so opinionated and convinced that they absolutely knew the mind of God, the crowd completely misses out on what God is doing in the world.

When it is good for us to step out and act boldly on what we believe God to be calling us to do?  When is it dangerous to be bold?  What are the dangers of assuming we know God’s plans?

Second Thought:
Paul is spared a flogging because he is a Roman citizen.  In those days, it was illegal to beat a Roman citizen without extremely good proof – although they could certainly be imprisoned.  It is interesting to note that among the Jews, it is actually his citizenship to Rome that spares him from abuse.  God can indeed use anything to further His plan!

Are you surprised that God would use Paul’s Roman citizenship to spare him at this point in the story?  Does this story help broaden your perspective on what God can use?

Third Thought:
Paul’s citizenship is natural.  The military leader’s citizenship is bought.  The military leader needs to back off and respect Paul’s position.  As a person who bought (or more likely bribed) his way into citizenry, Paul was ahead of him in the pecking order.  Paul may have been the captive, but if they mistreat Paul unjustifiably, Paul could be the undoing of the military leader and any of the soldiers who lay a hand on him.  In one simple sentence, Paul had earned a necessary respect from the Roman soldiers.

What are some things that you respect in other people?  Why do you respect these things?  Are there things in your life that you should respect but don’t?  How can you learn to respect other things?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 22:30-23:5

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Acts 22:17-21

Summary retelling of Acts 22:17-21
Paul then tells about how he came to Jerusalem after being in Damascus.  While in Jerusalem, Paul is told by a vision of Jesus Christ that he needs to hurry and get out of Jerusalem because the Jews there aren’t going to believe him.  Paul tells Jesus that he is concerned because everybody knew how much Paul had persecuted the Christians before believing.  He even brings up the part about approving of the death of Stephen when Stephen was being stoned.  God tells Paul to go, because he is planning to send Paul to the Gentiles.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul speaks about having a literal conversation with the Lord.  I am willing to bet that when we think about Paul talking to Jesus that each of us is filled with a mixture of jealousy and curiosity.  We often think, “Wouldn’t it be neat to actually hear the sound of Jesus’ voice!”  However, don’t forget what the people who hear Jesus’ voice do.  They become radical Christians.  They become people who give up their life and are totally obedient to Him.  While we think that it would be neat to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, the truth is that many of us may not be ready to radically act upon what we hear Jesus telling us to do.

Are you ready to give up whatever Jesus would ask of you and follow Him wherever He would lead?  {Keep in mind that all of Jesus’ disciples were asked to leave their families behind as they toured the world talking about Jesus.}

Second Thought:
Jesus tells Paul that the Jews in Jerusalem aren’t going to listen to him.  In Acts 9, where we hear this story as it unfolds, we hear that Paul debated with the Jews so fiercely that they were seeking a way to kill him.  Now that we’ve heard all about Paul’s missionary journeys, it doesn’t surprise us that the Jews in Jerusalem didn’t listen to him at the beginning – for the most part they wouldn’t listen to him anywhere!  When Paul was in Jerusalem before he went out among the Gentiles, God was preparing him for what he was about to experience in city after city.

Isn’t it neat how God knows what we are going to face later in life so he prepares us little by little in advance?  Why do you think that we can’t often tell we are being prepared in the beginning but we can see God’s work in our life clearly when we look backward through into our past?

Third Thought:
God was planning to send Paul to the Gentiles.  Of course, we know that now because we’ve read the whole way through Acts.  But think about this.  The Paul in Jerusalem who is told by God to flee is at that moment concerned about where he will go because all the Christians know how much he persecuted them.  He doesn’t realize that God is going to call him to make new Christians out of Gentiles.  After all, why would the Gentiles care how much Paul persecuted other Jews – even if the Jews had turned to Christians?  Paul was going to be sent out into a world to help Gentile people leave their past behind them and start a new life with Christ.  The fact that he had his own past that he needed to leave behind him only made him better for the job.

Do you think Paul was comfortable with the idea that God was sending him among a people that up until now he was told to avoid?  Are comfortable dealing with people that aren’t like you?  Might God be using some part of your past to prepare you to do just that?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 22:22-29

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Acts 22:12-16

Summary retelling of Acts 22:12-16
Paul then talks about Ananias.  He mentions that he is a devout Jew who followed the Law.  Ananias came to Paul and told him to receive his sight.  Paul then mentions how Ananias told him that God appointed Paul to hear from Jesus on the road in order that he could be a witness to everyone that Paul meets.  Paul then tells how Ananias invited Paul to get up and be baptized and call upon the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul takes an opportunity to talk about Ananias.  I really like this dynamic with Paul.  Here is his situation.  He’s been arrested and is looking at being on trial.   In the middle of this, he takes an opportunity to talk about the “little people” of whom this crowd has likely never heard.  He talks about Ananias’ devotion to God and God’s ways.  Paul tells us what is really important in life.  Ananias was devoted to God and was following God’s calling.

When you evaluate people, what criteria do you usually use to evaluate them?  What criteria should you be using?

Second Thought:
Paul also does a good job of focusing on using his time with a captive audience to accomplish ministry.  Paul could have been involved in doing some name-dropping.  Paul could have talked about all his former associates on the Sanhedrin and scared the crowd into fearing him.  Instead, Paul takes the time to talk about the importance of following the Law and setting the crowd up to hear about Jesus’ call for him in his life.  Instead of thinking about himself and saving his own skin, Paul talks about God.

How difficult do you think it was for Paul to focus on God rather than focus on his imprisonment?

Third Thought:
Paul takes the time to mention that Ananias invited him to be baptized and to call upon the Lord to forgive him.  This may seem like standard operating procedure, but it really is a key moment in the life of a Christian.  We all need to be called into accountability for our sins and for our rebellion against God.  Also notice that it was Ananias who was called to do this with Paul.  Ananias wasn’t one of Jesus’ original disciples.  He isn’t even mentioned in the Bible apart from Paul’s conversion story.  So here we have a virtual nobody answering God’s call to invite the person who is probably the greatest evangelist to ever live (besides Jesus, of course) to repent of his sins.  You don’t have to be a big name to play an important role in God’s kingdom.  You just have to have priorities in the right order.  You just have to remember that life is about inviting people into a relationship with God.

Is inviting people into a relationship with God important in your life?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 22:17-21

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Acts 22:6-11

Summary retelling of Acts 22:6-11

Paul continues his story.  He says that as he drew near to Damascus he was surrounded by a bright light.  As he fell to the ground he heard a great voice asking him why he was persecuting the owner of the voice.  Paul asked who was speaking to him, and the voice replied that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was speaking to him.  Paul also says that his companions saw the light but did not understand the voice.  Paul asks what he can do.  The voice tells him to go to Damascus and await being told what to do.  Since had been blinded by the light, his companions had to lead him by his hand into Damascus.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Although we read this story a dozen chapters ago, I am still struck by how strange it sounds.  Paul is struck by a bright light that leaves him blinded.  Paul hears a disembodied voice.  The people with him see the light but are unaffected by it; they hear the sound of the voice but it is unintelligible to them.  The whole story sounds strange and supernatural.  But Paul is not afraid of the story.  Paul is devoted to the truth.  It does not matter how strange the truth is to this world, the world needs to hear the truth.

Do you ever let the strangeness of the power of God in our lives ever keep you from talking about God’s work in your life?  Why do human beings care whether or not something sounds strange or not?

Second Thought:
Jesus pulls absolutely no punches with Paul.  Jesus asks Paul about the persecution.  He doesn’t cut Paul any slack at all.  When Paul retells the story, he doesn’t cut himself any slack, either.  He doesn’t try to make himself out to be the victim.  He doesn’t try to justify his actions.  He was wrong, Jesus called him on it, and that needed to come out as well.  Only through Paul seeing just how wrong he was could he experience repentance.

Have you ever had someone force you to confess – or at least force you to talk honestly about what you have done or said in the past?  How did that feel?  Why is honesty and a proper perspective such an important part of repentance and forgiveness?

Third Thought:
Paul talks about being blinded and needing to be led by the hand.  Here is the great up-and-coming member of the Sanhedrin reduced to almost nothing.  He was once self-reliant and now he is totally dependent.  Once again, Paul doesn’t paint himself in any light but the truth.  He doesn’t cut himself any slack here, either.

Do you respect Paul any more for being able to talk honestly about his prior mistakes?  Why do we tend to respect people who can speak honestly more than those who always trying to talk about themselves as if they never have any fault?  How can you learn to speak more truthfully and own your prior mistakes?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 22:12-16

Monday, June 25, 2012

Acts 22:1-5

Summary retelling of Acts 22:1-5

Paul addresses the crowd in a familial manner.  He prepares to defend himself in Hebrew, and the crowd grew even quieter once they knew that he spoke the language of the Jews.  Paul talks about how he was born a Jew and was educated under a famous Pharisee named Gamaliel.  Paul says that he was taught to strictly obey God’s Law.  He tells the crowd that he persecuted the followers of Jesus Christ harshly – delivering both men and women over to the Sanhedrin.  He also speaks about how he received letters from the High Priest to carry out his persecution away from Jerusalem.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul speaks to the crowd by calling them brothers and fathers.  Remember what has just happened.  These are the people that wanted him arrested – and perhaps would’ve killed him if given the opportunity.  The typical human reaction would not be to think of them as family.  However, this goes to show what we began to study yesterday.  Paul isn’t speaking to save his own skin.  Paul is speaking out of a genuine love for the people to whom he is speaking and out of a genuine love for God’s calling.  Paul’s ability to look at His accusers and love them is solely rooted in God’s love.

Is it easy to love our enemies?  What does the Bible say with respect to how we should think about our enemies?  How does this concept tie in with why we need to follow God and be in a relationship with Him?

Second Thought:
Paul begins to speak about his past.  Before we actually talk about his past, though, let’s focus on the fact that Paul doesn’t hide his past.  He’s made mistakes.  People can learn from them.  When we bury our past, we end up burying one of the greatest tools that God can use to help others see Him through us!  Paul doesn’t bury his past, he uses it!  Paul opens up his past to the crowd knowing that it can be used against him.  But he does it so that there might be some who hear his past and it might make sense to them.  They might come and find the path to Christ by hearing about Paul’s journey through disobedience and his repentance into obedience.

Why do human beings want to bury their past so readily?  Does it make sense to think of our past mistakes and failings as a great tool for God to use?  Why is this true?

Third Thought:
Paul did persecute the church.  Paul was very intense about his persecution.  However, Paul was also intense about his promotion of Christ once he was converted.  We can see that Paul gives his all with respect to God.  He doesn’t hold back at all.  As fervently as he persecuted Christ’s followers, he is a fervent warrior for the cross of Christ once his conversion happens.

What can we learn from Paul’s example here?  Does God call us to be urgent and passionate about taking His salvation to the world?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 22:6-11

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Acts 21:37-40

Summary retelling of Acts 21:37-40

As Paul was being dragged into custody, Paul speaks to the military leader.  The leader responds by asking Paul to speak in Greek – no doubt surprised to hear the accent of an academically trained man.  Then the military leader asks Paul if he is a troublemaker from Egypt who has been leading a revolt of assassins in the desert.  Paul informs the leader that he is actually a Jew from Tarsus.  Paul then asks to speak to the people.  The leader concedes and Paul is led up to speak to the crowd.  Miraculously, the crowd is silent in order to listen to him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul is not afraid of the truth.  He knows that he has done nothing wrong.  He is certainly not guilty of polluting the temple as the people declared.  So Paul speaks.  He has nothing to be afraid of so long as he is standing in God’s truth.

Are you ever afraid to speak when you know the truth of God?  What makes you afraid?  What is the effect of your fear?

Second Thought:
Paul likely knows that his speech will do no good.  He knows from the Holy Spirit within him as well as from the prophecies about him that he is to be dragged before the Gentiles – even the Roman Court.  Certainly Paul realizes that his words here will not prevent his imprisonment.  Thus, there can only be one reason that Paul speaks.  He is not trying to save his own skin.  Rather, he is speaking so that someone – anyone – might hear the truth and contemplate it.  Paul doesn’t speak for himself here; Paul speaks for the benefit of those who have not yet believed in Christ.

Does this give you any greater respect for Paul?  What does it take to be able to love other people in spite of their desire to do harm?

Third Thought:
The crowd is silent.  God is at work.  The crowd could have rioted and screamed and not listened.  But they are silenced.  God is at work.  Imagine the reaction of the military leader and his soldiers.  No doubt they were expecting the worst from the crowd, but when Paul goes to speak a near miracle happens.  That’s absolutely incredible.

Did you see the silence of the crowd as the work of the hand of God?  How quick are we as human beings to overlook the work of God in our midst?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 22:1-4

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Acts 21:31-36

Summary retelling of Acts 21:31-36

As the turmoil around Paul grows, the leader of the soldiers assigned to the temple took some men and went down to get Paul.  When the people see the soldiers arriving, they stop rioting.  The military leader orders Paul to be arrested and bound.  The leader asks the crowd who Paul is and what he has done.  The crowd couldn’t agree on the story behind Paul, so the military leader ordered Paul to be brought into the barracks.  Paul actually had to be carried among the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
When the Romans occupied a city, they demanded civil order.  They didn’t care about what gods a city worshipped or what living conditions the city chose to keep.  They demanded taxes (or tribute) be paid on time and they demanded civil order.  Remember that it was the fear of riot and how the Romans would respond that was the reason the Jewish leaders convinced each other that Jesus had to die (John18:14).  Also remember when the crowd rioted in Ephesus because of Paul that the town manager calmed the crowd with fear of Roman intervention (Acts 19:21-41).  Unfortunately, Jerusalem was known in the Roman Empire as one of those cities where the people didn’t care about the consequences.  The people rioted often, so the soldiers were quite familiar with having to put down riots – especially in the temple.

What is it about humanity’s relationship with religion that makes people so willing to act uncivilized?  What is it about humanity in general that leads us to forget how to act in society from time to time?

Second Thought:
When the military leader cannot get an answer out of the crowd, he orders Paul to be arrested.  While certainly this is not a favorable move, in many respects this can be seen as the military leader protecting Paul.  The only way to get Paul out of the crowd safely is to arrest him and take custody of him.  Even though it seems like a bad thing, at this time the arrest is largely to Paul’s benefit.

Furthermore, Paul’s arrest fulfills the words of the prophet Agabus.  Agabus had told Paul and his companions that Paul would be bound and led away should he go to Jerusalem.  It was God’s plan for Paul to be arrested for the faith.

How does this story really cause us to ponder the idea that God works in mysterious ways?

Third Thought:
Once again we get to see the same kind of anger with which Jesus had to deal.  The crowd – inspired by the hatred of the Jewish leaders – wanted Jesus dead.  Herod killed James the disciple in order to appease the anger and blood thirst of the Jewish leaders as well as to gain favor with them.  How many times thus far has Paul been thrown in prison over the course of his ministry?  Now we see Paul feeling the wrath of the world once more.  This is a hard reality that we just don’t see in the western church. When we are honestly believing and putting forth our beliefs the world will hate us.  Jesus says as much in John 15:18-19 as well as John 17:14.  To believe that the world will not hate us contradicts the very words of Jesus.

Is it easy to be hated?  Do you know many Christians who are genuinely hated by the world?  If not, what does that say about our faith and our desire to preach compared to Paul, Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus Himself?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:37-40

Friday, June 22, 2012

Acts 21:27-30

Summary retelling of Acts 21:27-30

When Paul went into the temple, there were some Jews from Asia Minor who recognized him.  They cry out against Paul and tell the people in the temple that Paul is teaching everyone everywhere to reject the Law.  They also accused Paul of bringing Greeks (Gentiles) into the temple, which was forbidden, because they had seen Paul hanging around with some of his disciples outside the temple.  The Jews got the crowd into such an uproar that the stormed together and seized Paul.  The gates to the temple were shut. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
First of all, notice what happens to Paul.  He is arrested on completely false charges.  First, they accuse Paul of teaching people to reject the Law – which he clearly is not doing because he is following the Law himself.  Second, he is accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple – which he has not done.  This turmoil begins completely over false charges.  So it is with many people in the world.  People – sadly, even spiritual people – get an idea in their head so deeply that whether or not it is true doesn’t even matter.

Why do you think all human beings seem to occasionally be so convinced that they know what is really happening that they don’t take time to see the situation from an unbiased perspective?  Why can we all be blind from time to time?  What is it that these Jews from Asia Minor have allowed to blind them?

Second Thought:
Again we see that a crowd is used against Paul.  It seems like the only way to thwart God’s plan is to reduce human beings to the point that they no longer think.  This can be done through mob mentality, through brainwashing, or through abuse of power.  This is why as Christians it is so important to sway people through logic and reason and spirituality rather than through raw emotion.  When we use raw emotion, we are treating people no differently than those who used raw emotion against Paul in this passage (or against Jesus at the time of His crucifixion).

Why do people seem to enjoy tapping into the raw emotive states of other people?  What usually happens to those who have been stirred up when the emotional response wears off?

Third Thought:
After Paul is dragged out of the temple area and into the courtyard, the gates are dragged shut.  This is a symbolic act designed to make the claim that “the temple will remain clean.”  Unfortunately, this only shows that the Jews of the temple have not learned the ultimate truth.  All of us have sin within us.  We cannot keep sin out of any place where any human being is allowed to go – no matter how much we try and purify ourselves.  It is not that which is external that defiles us, but rather it is the sin within us that defiles us.

Have you ever met someone who lived as though they could build enough barriers and keep sin from influencing them?  What do you think about their tactics?  What might they compromise by building barriers to keep the world out?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:31-36

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Acts 21:20-26

Summary retelling of Acts 21:20-26

The Christian leaders in Jerusalem gave glory to God when they hear about what Paul is doing.  However, their first reaction is to counter Paul.  They bring up their own work among the Jewish converts who are strongly in favor of the Law.  They mention how they have been told that Paul is teaching the Jews among the Gentiles to forsake the Law.  They are concerned that an argument will develop between Paul and these Jewish converts.  Thus, they tell Paul to make himself ritually pure with four other men who are beginning to undertake a Nazarite vow.  The leaders of the church believe that this will be a sign that Paul is pure in the matters of the faith.  They also have directions regarding how the Gentiles who have come to believe should be living.  Paul obeyed their instruction, paying the temple for the men to be able to undergo to process for taking the Nazarite vow.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
At first this passage seems like a really great passage of compromise in the church.  Paul has been out and about talking about how the Law is no longer necessary (but still good, mind you).  He has been allowing Gentiles to become Christians without making them become Jews first.  On the other hand, the Jews in Jerusalem have been making Christians out of Jews who still believe the Law to be significant to salvation.  This passage appears to indicate that both Paul (and his Gentile converts) can live in communion with the strict Law abiding Jews of Jerusalem.

Are there times and places for compromise?  What things are we free to compromise upon?  What are some things that we have to be very careful about compromise?

Second Thought:
When we dig deeper, we notice that there is a bit of untruth in the words of the Jewish leaders.  Paul has never been leading Jews away from the Law.  Rather, what Paul has been doing is saying that the Gentiles didn’t need to follow the Law.  He has always been open to the Jews obeying the Law – he even continues to obey it as a Jew would!  Thus, what we can see in this story is that the compromise isn’t really so much about coexistence as much as it is taking the easy way out.  Rather than sticking up for Paul and asserting that he has done nothing wrong in his teaching to the Gentiles, they instead suggest that his “duty to the temple” and the “paying for some men to enter into a vow” will show that Paul has done nothing wrong.  Rather than be vocal about the truth of what Paul is actually doing they suggest a demonstration of Paul’s faithfulness.

What do we always give up when we are not vocal about the truth?  While actions can certainly demonstrate the truth, is there ever an adequate substitute for proclaiming the truth?

Third Thought:
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem place restrictions upon the Gentiles.  In many respects, this reads a bit like, “We believe that the Law isn’t necessary for the Gentiles, but here’s how they can follow some of it anyway.”  Now, don’t get me wrong.  God’s Law as written in the Old Testament is a great thing.  It is a wonderful pattern for life.  It is a great idea to follow the Law as a response to our salvation.  But we need to be sure of something: our salvation comes only from Jesus and not from anything we do.  We are never saved because we “obey God.”  We are saved because of Jesus Christ and we obey God because we are saved.

Do you see evidence of the theology of the Jewish leaders in the world today?  Do you hear people saying that “you can’t be saved unless you do ________?” 

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:27-30

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Acts 21:15-19

NOTE: These words may seem familiar to those who read the blog on the day I post.  I originally errantly posted these words under the reflection for Acts 21:7-14.  So if you missed that reflection before I corrected them and put the reflections where they belong, read that one instead because you’ve already read this one.

Summary retelling of Acts 21:15-19

After coming home, Paul prepares himself to go up to Jerusalem.  Some of the disciples of Caesarea decide to go with Paul.  In Jerusalem, the brothers receive Paul gladly.  After meeting with the brothers, Paul is taken to meet with James and the elders.  When Paul met with James and the elders he began to tell them all of the great things that God was doing among the Gentiles.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Let’s make sure that we understand the context of Jerusalem by the time Paul gets there.  First, the Jews are drawing ever more closely to sheer rebellion under the Romans.  This Jerusalem meeting happens most likely in the late 50s A.D.  Thus, this is probably happening close to 30 years after Jesus was crucified and between 12-15 years before Roman soldiers sack Jerusalem because of the Jewish rebellion against Rome.  Thus, the Jews are beginning to tire of Gentile leadership.  Second, many of Jesus’ disciples are largely gone from Jerusalem – or they are doing itinerant ministry as Paul is doing while returning to Jerusalem periodically.  The leadership has been handed over to religious administrators like James (Jesus’ half-brother who wrote the book of James that we have in our Bible, not the disciple and brother of John).  These two facts show us that Jerusalem is really a city on the edge of social and religious turmoil.

What can this teach us about the difficulty that our context can add to doing ministry?

Second Thought:
The Christians in Caesarea have a sense of what Paul is walking into as he plans to head for Jerusalem, so some of them go with him.  They do not abandon him to the tough situations, they journey the road with him.  They cannot walk the road for him and there will come a time when it is no longer possible for them to walk with him.  But they do walk with him while they can.

Why is it important to remember to walk with those spiritual persons among us who have a difficult road to travel?  Should it matter to us whether the difficult road is of their own making (IE, dealing with repentance and the consequences of their sin) or the path God has chosen for them to walk as a part of their ministry?

Third Thought:
Paul is eventually taken to James and the elders.  We’ll get to the meeting over the next few days, so I’ll save that discussion for later.  However, it is good enough for today to understand that the meeting begins cordially.  James and the elders receive Paul and his entourage of Christians.  Keep in mind that some of those who travelled with Paul were Jews who had converted to Christianity and some were Gentiles who converted to Christianity without converting to Judaism first.

Why is it nice to be cordial and social to people when you first meet them?  Do we have an easier time overlooking the individual characteristics of people when we first meet them and have a harder time overlooking these characteristics the longer we know them?  If so, why is that true?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:20-26

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Acts 21:7-14

NOTE: This blog post originally had the reflection for Acts 21:15-19 instead of the one that should have been here.  It is fixed, and the proper reflection now appears where it should.

Summary retelling of Acts 21:7-14

Paul and his disciples land in Tyre and they stay with a Christian named Ptolemais.  Then they go to Caesarea and meet Philip (this is the one who went to the Samaritans earlier in the story of Acts).  Philip has 4 daughters, and they are said to prophesy.  While they were in Caesarea a prophet from Judea (region around Jerusalem) named Agabus came and bound Paul’s hands with a belt.  Agabus declared that Paul will be bound in a like manner upon reaching Jerusalem.  When this prophecy was made, all the Christians in Caesarea and Paul’s own disciples begged him to not go to Jerusalem.  Paul replied to them that he is ready to be beaten and killed in Jerusalem if that is where the Holy Spirit is leading him. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
First, let’s look at Philip’s daughters.  They are said to prophesy in Caesarea.  Remember that from the Biblical understanding a prophecy is not a prediction of the future but rather a declaration of God to the people around the prophet.  Sometimes the prophecy can be a warning about the future (as we see with Agabus a bit later on in the passage) but it doesn’t have to be.  What makes a prophecy is not the time about which the prophecy speaks but rather the source of the prophecy.  A prophet speaks God’s Word to the people.  By saying that Philip’s daughters prophesied, Acts is declaring that it is acceptable for women to get up and spiritually lead other people by proclaiming God’s Word to them.  This passage has much to say about the ordination of women and a woman’s ability to speak God’s Word in a community of believers.

With what seems to be a pretty clear passage about the potential ability for women to be spiritual leaders in a community, why do you think so many people have such difficulty accepting this passage (and the other passages like it in the Bible)?

Second Thought:
We now turn to Agabus and his prophecy.  Imagine being in a room when a well-known prophet comes in and makes a hard prophecy about a spiritual leader that you love and cherish.  Imagine how hard it would be to hear that prophecy and still remember that it is more important to love God and God’s ways than to love the health and safety of our friends, family, and spiritual leaders.  Now imagine being Agabus and being called to go into a room and speak a hard message that most of the people in the room aren’t going to like.  Being a prophet – and having a true prophet in your midst – is never easy.

Why is it so hard to always put God’s ways before our own?  Why it is hard to hear God’s will when it involves people that we know and love?

Third Thought:
Finally, we turn to Paul.  Agabus tells him that if he goes to Jerusalem that he is going to be bound and dragged before the Gentiles.  Paul doesn’t bat an eyelash.  He embraces God’s will.  He is not swayed by the pleading of his disciples or the people of Caesarea.  We should all have incredible respect for Paul at this point.  Paul hears that God’s will is not going to be pleasant and he embraces it full body.  There is nothing in this world – not even death itself – that is going to keep Paul from following God.

Is it amazing to hear Paul’s reaction to Agabus’ prophecy?  Why is it amazing?  Could you have been Paul at this point in the story?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:15-19

Monday, June 18, 2012

Acts 21:1-6

Summary retelling of Acts 21:1-6

Paul and his disciples set sail from Miletus and sail along the coast of Asia Minor as they generally head back in the direction of Antioch.  When they arrived in Tyre, they genuinely sought out some disciples and they stayed among them for a week.  The Spirit told them that Paul would face suffering in Jerusalem and they urged him not to go there.  At the end of the week it was time for Paul and his disciples to leave.  The families of the disciples in Tyre gathered together and walked Paul and his disciples to the edge of their city before saying goodbye.  Before parting company, they knelt and prayed together.    

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The first thing that Paul and his disciples do when arriving in a new city is to seek out some disciples.  They look for other Christians.  I don’t take too many vacations, but when I do take them I have to confess something.  When I go to another city to stay for a while, looking for other Christians is not the first item on my list.  But perhaps it should be.  How much better would things go for me and my wife if upon arriving in a new city we went into a community of faith and asked them about the best places to eat and the most meaningful ways to spend my time there?  Perhaps even more importantly, wouldn’t my time go better on vacation if my first thought was to go among Christians and worship God and remember that it is God who has made this trip possible?  Paul and his disciples know that they aren’t staying in Tyre for long – 7 days.  But they still seek out like minded Christians because they crave the company of believers.

Has looking at Paul’s example convicted you at all?  If so, do you think you will act upon that conviction?  Has this passage been able to affirm choices you’ve made in the past?  What things about your past can this passage affirm?

Second Thought:
Clearly one of the most important parts of Paul’s time with the disciples was spiritual time.  The disciples in Tyre were spiritually aware enough to know that Paul was headed into danger.  It was the Holy Spirit that was speaking among these believers who had just met one another.  This shows us that spiritual people do not need to know each other well to feel a connection.  We simply need to know well the Spirit that is common to each of us in order to feel a connection.

How neat is it to think that if we focus on spiritual things then we should feel an automatic connection to anyone else who is genuinely interested in spirituality?  How does this point us to thinking about the unity of the believers?

Third Thought:
Before Paul and his disciples leave, they share a prayer.  Again we see how Christian life together naturally leads us into prayer.  When starting a spiritual time together, we should come in prayer.  Before ending a spiritual time together, we should pray.  Prayer is our genuine relational connection to God.  It may not feel like it at times, but prayer is also the lifeblood of our spiritual connection with each other.

I know this is a lesson I could stand to learn more often.  How often do you think of prayer as the root of your spiritual bond with the other Christians in your life?  When you gather with other Christians, is one of the most important thoughts on your mind: “I can’t wait until we spend time in prayer together?”  If it isn’t – and I’ll confess that there are times in my life that it isn’t – what does that say about how we can grow as Christians?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:7-14

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Acts 20:36-38

Summary retelling of Acts 20:36-38

After Paul had given this fairly hard message, he prayed with them all.  There was a sorrowful parting filled with many tears.  The sorrow was because of the way caution that they might not see him again.  They walked with him to the ship and sent him on his way. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul’s words led to prayer.  Prayer is an often forgotten tool, but it just might be the most powerful tool we have in our arsenal.  In prayer we find connection to God and connection to others.  In prayer we find the strength to accept the difficult.  In prayer we find an ability to turn to God and incline our ear to His will and desire.  Prayer is a powerful tool for changing who we are and aligning ourselves with God.

How do you use prayer?  Is prayer a time for you to let God know what you would like for Him to do?  Or is prayer a time where you listen to God and prepare yourself to do what He would like for you to do?

Second Thought:
Paul’s departure brings about some tears.  It should.  Paul has just told them that they will not likely ever see him again.  However, notice that they do not try and stop Paul from leaving.  Paul needs to go; the people know that they need to let him follow God’s leading.  But that doesn’t make it very easy.

Why is it tough to lose someone in your life to whom you are connected?  Can anything make it easier to let Paul go?

Third Thought:
The Ephesian elders walk Paul to the boat and say goodbye.  They journey with him, but they don’t stand in his way.  They walk what road they can walk with him and then they part company.  They know that God has called Paul on to Jerusalem (and likely onto Rome).  They also know that God has called them to do ministry in Ephesus.  God has two callings – two mission fields – and both are mutually exclusive to one another.  So the Ephesian elders stay with Paul as long as they can and then turn about to do the work that God has given for them to do once Paul leaves.  Life is about turning to God and doing His will.

In what way can we see a great spiritual example in the Ephesian elders?  How can their story help you understand the Christian life a little better?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 21:1-6

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Acts 20:31-35

Summary retelling of Acts 20:31-35

Paul encourages the leaders in Ephesus to keep alert, remembering how when Paul was among them he kept pushing them to remain loyal in the faith.  Paul specifically tells the Ephesian elders to be mindful of the fact that salvation is from God’s grace.  It is grace that is the inheritance of all who are sanctified with the Holy Spirit.  Paul reminds them that he did not covet anyone’s material wealth but rather he provided for his own needs as well as the needs of others.  It was Paul’s desire to work in order that he might be a role model to people so that they can understand how to support one another and understand the joy of giving. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul continues to talk to the leaders in Ephesus about the importance of accountability among one another.  We need to be accountable to prevent us from backsliding.  However, we also need to be accountable to keep pushing one another in growth, too.  Accountability is one of the key assets that Christian fellowship genuinely brings.

To whom are you genuinely spiritually accountable?  Who do you hold accountable?

Second Thought:
Paul takes some time to make sure that the people of Ephesus remember that salvation is by grace.  This doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want.  However, it does mean that we should never think that we do anything to deserve our salvation.  We don’t earn it.  We aren’t saved because we go to church or participate in some specific religious rituals.  We are saved because of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.  Therefore, we do participate in specific religious rituals not so that we can be saved but rather out of gratitude that we are saved.

What experiences do you have in which you may have been trying to prove to God why He should save you?  Why is it important to always remember that we are saved through Jesus Christ and we act as a response to salvation?   

Third Thought:
Paul also talks about being a good role model.  Paul worked hard at trying to show people what Christian faith looks like.  He wasn’t doing it so that people would give him praise but rather so that people would see a genuine example and be inspired to live a life of faith as well.  Specifically, Paul wanted people to genuinely know the love that comes from giving to others out of what God has first given us.

Do you think of yourself as a role model in the faith?  To whom could you be modeling Christian behavior?  Is there any time in your life when you are not a role model?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 20:36-38

Friday, June 15, 2012

Acts 20:25-30

Summary retelling of Acts 20:25-30

Paul gives the ultimate blow: he doesn’t expect to see any of the leaders in Ephesus again.  Paul confesses his innocence for the charge of which he expects to be accused.  Paul declares that he has worked to teach everything he could about God.  Paul asks the leaders to pay careful attention over the flock.  Paul predicts that after he comes in that there will be false teachers come into the church and lead people astray.  He also predicts that there will be people from within the congregation in Ephesus who will try to lead others astray.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul really does lower quite a boom.  Imagine being told that your spiritual mentor is headed off to be imprisoned and you’d never see them again.  This is an incredible blow.  However, it is also an incredible moment of faith.  It takes serious courage to do what Paul was setting out to do.  It also takes an equal amount of faith to let go of the people you love in order to enable them to fulfill God’s calling for them in life.  The path of following God is filled with many difficult moments of faith and trust that God can make all things turn out for His glory.

Why is it necessary to let people go from time to time?  Why do we get into spiritual trouble when we try to hold on to someone that we really need to let go?

Second Thought:
Paul lets his fate rest in God’s hands.  Notice the criteria that Paul uses to examine his life.  He doesn’t talk about the places he’s visited or the wealth that he’s accumulated.  He doesn’t talk about the accolades he’s received or even the experiences that he has had.  For Paul, there is only one criterion.  He taught people about God as well as he could.

When you are thinking about your life, what criteria do you set?  Do your criteria reflect your faith and obedience to God? 

Third Thought:
Paul warns about threats to the faith.  Threats will come from the outside.  Other threats will come from the inside.  As soon as we let our guard down, threats are there to take advantage of the lowering of our guard.

What kind of threats do you think Paul is imagining will come?  Have you experienced any threats to your faith?  How do you defeat them?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 20:31-35