Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Galatians 2:6-10

Summary retelling of Galatians 2:6-10

Paul confirms that in spite of the false-brothers, those who seemed influential in the early church showed Paul no reason to force a strict obedience of the law onto Gentile converts like Titus.  In fact, they acknowledged that he had been called to the Gentiles just as Peter had been called to the Jews.  James, Peter (Cephas), and John all extended a hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas for their work among the Gentiles.  It was agreed upon that Peter, James, and John would continue to work with the Jews while Paul worked among the Gentiles.  They would be united in their remembrance for the poor.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
One of the main things that Paul is trying to establish in this passage is that there is nothing wrong with the Law for Jews, but there is no reason to mandate obedience to the Law for Gentiles.  To put it in a more modern church context: there is nothing wrong with singing to an organ, but not everyone has to sing with an organ.  Or you might say that there is nothing wrong with the ESV translation of the Bible, but other people can use a different translation and be just fine.  Paul’s point is really simple: we need to be firm in what really matters (salvation by grace through Jesus Christ) and be willing to be flexible on points that are non-salvation dependant.

Do you think we live in a flexible world?  Do you think human beings are flexible in most things?  Why do people stop becoming flexible?  How can we learn where to be flexible and where to not be flexible?

Second Thought:
Peter, James, and John all give Peter the hand of fellowship.  They want to do ministry with Paul.  They want to look upon Paul as being a team player.  Notice that the hand of fellowship is easy to give when we remember to have our priorities correct.  When our focus is on Jesus who saves us, it should be easy to get along with other people whose focus is on Jesus who saves us.

With whom do you have fellowship?  What is the root of that fellowship?

Third Thought:
Paul, Peter, James, and John all agree to remember the poor.  Here we can see the importance of service.  Service is applied faith.  Service is faith in action.  Service is an anticipated and expected response to salvation.  It is right for all of them to agree that they will remember the poor and ask to hold one another accountable for it.

What service do you really enjoy in life?  What service do other people enjoy?  What really makes service enjoyable?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 2:11-14

Monday, July 30, 2012

Galatians 2:1-5

Summary retelling of Galatians 2:1-5

After fourteen years of ministry, Paul finally decided to go up to Jerusalem in order to explain the ministry that Jesus had called him to do.  Paul took Titus with him, because Titus was a Greek convert to Christianity.  Titus was not forced to obey the law by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem, even though he had not gone through circumcision as a child since he was Greek and not Jewish.  However, there were some false-brothers who secretly slipped into the conversation in order to make trouble.  They attempted to force Paul and Titus into a more “strict” following of the Law, but Paul and Titus did not yield to them for the sake of the Gospel.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul waits before going to Jerusalem until he has a good 14 years of ministry under his belt.  There is something to be said for practice.  There is also something to be said for letting experience teach us what is really important and what the things are that we really wish to hold importance in our life.  Paul doesn’t go up to Jerusalem while he is still young, impressionable, and new at the game.  Instead, Paul goes out and gets some real-world experience under the mentorship of some strong leaders.  When he’s ready, he goes and defends himself.

Why it is smart for Paul to get experience?  Does the world want to deal with us when we have experience?  Why or why not?

Second Thought:
Titus was not made to follow the Law.  Yes, he has to follow what Christ taught.  But he was not made to follow the Law.  Therefore, we can see that it should be possible for Jewish-Christians and convert-Christians to get along just fine.  This also means that it should be possible for any Christians who might have different backgrounds to get along.  We should be united in Christ, not divided by our history or traditions.

What are the main things that you see dividing people of the faith?  What are the main things that we should actually be focusing on that can help unite us?

Third Thought:
False brothers slip into the mix just to cause trouble.  Isn’t it sad how people are always interested in causing trouble!  People are more interested in having their own way than being open to God’s movement in a given context or culture.

Do you think we will always struggle accepting the new ways that God desires to work in the world?  Will we always struggle with people who cannot accept new ways of worship, new ways of being obedient to God, or change in general?  What can we do to make sure that while we embrace change in methodology we don’t change what it means to actually be obedient to God?  (IE, how can we change what we do but not change why we do it and our humbleness to God?)

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 2:6-10

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Galatians 1:18-24

Summary retelling of Galatians 1:18-24

After three years of discipleship and learning, Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and James.  Even then Paul did not seek approval from human sources, only discipleship.  Then Paul went to Syria and Cilicia (most likely Antioch [with Barnabas] and Tarsus [the place of his birth]).  At this point in time he was still a virtual unknown among Christian leadership.  He was still remembered as the guy who tried to kill and persecute Christians everywhere.  However, people were glorifying God because he had converted and was now working for Christ.   

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul is still talking about how he never sought out human accolades.  Sure, he might have occasionally wanted to talk theology and make his calling from God known to other people, but he never sought “permission” from anyone.  He had God’s calling, what else did he need?  Sure he would be willing to learn from anyone – but there is a difference between gleaning from other people and needing their permission.

Is there a danger in hierarchical churches with respect to having to seek out permission from human beings?  What can we learn from Paul about what we should be seeking from our spiritual mentors instead of permission?

Second Thought:
At this point, Paul confesses that he was still a virtual unknown.  Look at what Paul does while he is an unknown.  He learns from others.  He does ministry in fairly safe environments (under other Christians and in the region of his hometown).  Paul doesn’t tackle the world until he is spiritually ready.

Is it difficult to be patient and work according to God’s plan?  Do we occasionally overlook the importance of working with God’s plan instead of living by what we think should be happening?

Third Thought:
Paul tells us very clearly where we should desire for glory to go.  Paul is concerned that God received the glory for his conversion, not himself.  After all, what did Paul do in his conversion?  Nothing!  Paul was humbled by God, Paul received the message from God, and Paul was led by God.  God did all the hard work!  God should get all the credit.

Do you seek credit for yourself regarding your spiritual growth?  How hard is it to constantly remember that everything we have spiritually comes from God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 2:1-5

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Galatians 1:11-17

Summary retelling of Galatians 1:11-17

After chastising the Galatians, Paul makes it clear that the Gospel that he is proclaiming is not a Gospel that came from anyone but God Himself.  He confesses how he began as a Pharisee while persecuting the fledgling Christian church.  He also reminds the Galatians how he was advancing in reputation among the Jews much faster than his age and experience would predict.  Then Paul talks about how God really broke into his life.  God – who called to Paul out of grace – revealed His Son to Paul.  Paul knew that he had been called to preach Jesus to the Gentiles.  When Paul received the calling, he did not seek out the approval of anyone.  Instead, he went into the surrounding lands to learn what he could from the people who were following Jesus.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul’s teaching is based on God.  Paul’s teaching isn’t based on human tradition or the writings of other people.  Paul’s teaching is based on the Word of God.  Paul is unapologetic about this fact.  In fact, Paul gives us the impression that this is really the only way that it should be.  When we base our teaching on anything other than the Word of God, we are likely to begin preaching a false Gospel.

Who in your life is unapologetically preaching the Word of God and only the Word of God?  How can you learn from them how to stand strong solely upon the Word of God?

Second Thought:
God broke into Paul’s life.  Remember the Damascus story that we studied only a few months ago as related in Acts?  There was a moment in Paul’s life that shattered how he had been living prior to God’s breaking into his life.  Paul responded to that moment and it irrevocably changed him.  Like Paul, God is willing to break into any of our lives and change our foci.

Why do you think I have been intentional in using the term “break into” when talking about Paul’s life?  If God were to break into your life, would you respond and let God irrevocably alter your life?

Third Thought:
When Paul received his calling, he went about equipping himself to do the calling.  He didn’t seek the “political approval” or even the approval from Jesus’ own disciples.  He didn’t try to suck up to the powers that be.  Paul looked around and figured out where it was that he could best learn what he needed to learn before accomplishing what God had called him to do.  Once he figured out where he could learn, he formed relationships and learned as much as he could.  In other words, he set his eyes on the prize and then he pursued it.

What prize are you pursuing?  Is it the prize that God has called you to pursue?  Are you pursuing it in ways that God would approve?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 1:18-24

Friday, July 27, 2012

Galatians 1:6-10

Summary retelling of Galatians 1:6-10

Paul next begins into chastisement.  Paul expresses disbelief that the Christians in Galatia are turning to another “Gospel” – even though there is no other true gospel.  Paul warns them that there are people who desire to distort the Gospel.  Then Paul says that anyone – an angel or a person – who distorts the Gospel deserves to be accursed.  Paul adds that one of the easiest ways to determine if a person is preaching the right Gospel is to look from whom the person is seeking approval.  Those who preach to please the people around them are not serving Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul is not afraid to express displeasure.  This is something that is tough to do.  None of us really enjoys offending the people around us.  We naturally want to be liked.  So for Paul to start off by saying that he cannot believe that they are headed down such a bad path so quickly really means something.  But there is one thing that makes this possible.  Paul had a spiritual connection with these people.  Without that spiritual connection, Paul could never have had the confidence to try and correct them.

Why does having a spiritual connection with a person make it easier to receive correction?  Can you see how it also makes it easier to give correction?

Second Thought:
Paul talks about people who preach a false Gospel deserving to be accursed.  The word there is “anathema.”  An anathema is something that you want absolutely nothing to do with.  Thus, what Paul is saying here is that people who teach a false doctrine are people with whom neither we nor God should want any dealings.  In the early church, people who taught false things were met with serious resistance and there was a stern lookout for them.

Do you think people take their spiritual teaching that seriously today?  How readily prepared are you to root out false teaching when you hear it?

Third Thought:
Paul is blunt at the end of this passage.  People who preach in order to please the people around them are not following Christ.  Think about it; it just makes sense.  If we are sinful and we live in a sinful world, then when we speak truth we should convict the people around us.  Convicting people is hard and painful work, not pleasing work.  So if people around us are hearing things they like, then they likely aren’t being all that convicted.  If they aren’t being convicted, we probably aren’t speaking truth.  If we aren’t speaking truth, then we aren’t likely to be following God, are we?  Of course, we don’t need to yell and scream at people, either.  Our goal should be to get people to think about their relationship with God and strive to let God draw them closer to him.

Is there tension between speaking painful words of conviction and pleasing words?  Why do so many people have difficulty speaking the words of conviction that they need to speak?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 1:11-17

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Galatians 1:1-5

Summary retelling of Galatians 1:1-5

Paul begins this letter by declaring himself an apostle.  He is not an apostle of any man, but rather an apostle of Jesus Christ and God the Father – who raised Jesus from the dead.  Paul also reminds the people of Galatia that he is writing on behalf of all the brothers in the faith who are travelling with him.  He begins by offering a reminder of God’s grace and peace to the Galatians.  He also begins with a reminder that it is through Jesus Christ that we are delivered from the evil of this world.  Paul also asserts that our deliverance is according to the will of God the Father.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Apostle.  It’s a word we don’t use much anymore unless we are in church and we say, “Let us confess our faith using the words of the Apostle’s Creed.”  What does this word mean?  Why is this word used instead of a word that we are familiar with such as disciple?  Why would Paul call himself an apostle instead of a disciple?

The word apostle is a Greek word that means “one who is sent/commissioned by a person for a particular task.”  When Paul calls himself an apostle, he is calling attention to the fact that he is sent by God for a particular task: sharing God’s gift of salvation to anyone who would hear it.  By calling himself an apostle, Paul wants people to recognize a calling.  Likewise, when we say the Apostle’s Creed, we are saying the “Creed of those who are called.”

Has God called you?  To what?  To whom?  To where?  Is it important to wrestle with these questions?  Where can you find help wrestling with these questions?

Second Thought:
Paul is very clear about the fact that we are delivered from evil through Jesus Christ.  It is Christ’s death on the cross that is the reason that our sins are forgiven.  It is not through our own merit, our own grace, or our own intelligence.  It is not even through our own desire and love for God.  It is only through Christ’s death that we can be forgiven and saved.  This point is so important that because of it Martin Luther taught that “We are saved by grace through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”  That has become the mantra of Lutheranism – as well it should!

Why is this such an important thought?  How have you seen or heard people get this thought wrong?

Third Thought:
Paul is also clear that salvation happened according to the will of the Father (God).  Jesus died because it was God’s plan.  We are saved because it was God’s desire to save us.  Ever moment of faith happens because it is good and pleasing and in accordance with God’s will.

Is it neat to think that every single spiritual moment in your life is according to God’s desire?  How neat is it to ponder how much God loves you by being aware of every single spiritual moment – in addition to the big stuff like salvation?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 1:6-10

Note:  Here is a bit of history about the Galatian Church.  If you remember back when Paul started his mission journeys he went to Asia Minor.  Galatia is a region that is a part of Asia Minor.  So this is a letter written to some of the first churches that Paul planted (with Barnabas, remember).

As we will discover, these churches started receiving other teachers once Paul left.  We call them itinerant missionaries - people that would come for a while and then move on.  These itinerant missionaries were teaching the Galatians that they had to do other things to be saved.  The missionaries were telling them that they had to obey the kosher rules.  Or they had to follow all of the Law.  Or they had to be circumcised.  Therefore, a large part of this letter to the Galatians is Paul's reminding the Galatians that it is only through the death of Jesus Christ that we are saved.  All the other stuff is great as a response, but we are only saved through the cross.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Acts 28:23-31

Summary retelling of Acts 28:23-31

Paul set a day with the Jews in Rome for him to speak about Jesus.  They picked a day that many Jews would be able to come and hear him speak.  Paul talked about Jesus through history and through God’s Word.  Some of the Jews were convinced by what Paul said.  Other Jews did not believe.  To those who would not believe, Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10.  Paul tells them that they have ears and eyes, but they are incapable of truly hearing and seeing the truth.  Paul tells them that their heart has grown dull.  Paul speaks to them and tells them for certain that the message of salvation will go to the Gentiles.  After this meeting, Paul lived, taught, and made disciples in Rome for two whole years.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul met with the Jews again and talked about Jesus unapologetically.  Paul opened up God’s Word.  Paul talked about the Jesus who lived.  I’m sure he also talked about his own experiences with Jesus.  Paul didn’t hold back.  Paul didn’t care what they thought about him.  Paul just wanted them to hear the truth.

How cool is Paul’s focus in this section?  Is it inspiring to hear of a person so totally devoted to talking about Jesus again and again and again?

Second Thought:
Some believe; some don’t.  Hopefully this statement didn’t catch anyone by surprise.  It was that way with Jesus.  It has been that way for Paul all along.  As a pastor, I can honestly say that it has been my experience as well.  Some believe; many do not.

Why is it important to be realistic about this point?  What happens to us if we think all will believe? 

Third Thought:
Paul is blunt with the Jews who do not believe.  Look at the words he speaks.  They are neither friendly nor kind.  He doesn’t condemn them – that’s God’s job.  But he does tell them that they are in danger of missing God’s point in life.  He tells them that they are in danger of missing the boat.

What should be our approach to those who believe and those who do not believe?  Where should most of our effort go?  Why would you make this case?

Passage for Tomorrow: TBD, stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Acts 28:17-22

Summary retelling of Acts 28:17-22

In Rome, Paul calls together the leaders of the Jews.  Paul talks about how he had attempted to follow the law but some people in Jerusalem had him arrested.  He also talks about how when he was examined time and time again that they couldn’t find any fault with him.  Because of the sheer anger of the Jews in Jerusalem, Paul had to appeal to Caesar.  Thus, Paul says that he wanted to meet with the Jews in Rome.  The Jews tell Paul that they haven’t heard anything bad about him.  They also say that they want to hear more about this “sect” called Christianity because they haven’t heard anything good about it.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul wants to get this trial over.  He calls the Jews together.  But He also wants to take the opportunity to talk about Jesus, too!  This is the really neat part of the story of Paul.  How many times does Paul get frustrated with the Jews?  Yet, in place after place Paul moves on and starts again right back with the Jews.  Paul may not stay in one place forever, but his mission is consistent.  He wants to talk about Jesus to his kin while at the same time talking to the Gentiles about both Jesus and God the Father.

Is it tough to stay on focus, especially when time and time again your efforts are met with frustration?  What is necessary within a person to keep having that fierce pursuit of a difficult goal?

Second Thought:
Paul genuinely desires to reflect truth.  If you think about what Paul says about what happened in Jerusalem, he is being honest.  He didn’t think he had done anything wrong.  The Jews did.  They wanted him arrested and killed, but none of the Roman governors could find anything wrong with him.  It was out of fear of the anger of the Jews that made Paul come to Rome.

How important is it to be honest when speaking to people?  Does it make it more important to speak truth when speaking to them for the first time?

Third Thought:
 The Jews in Rome had heard nothing about Paul.  It could be that the Jews in Jerusalem quit caring after this time.  It could be that the messengers they sent with word encountered the same storms as Paul and didn’t make it through the storms.  It could be that the Jews in Jerusalem were just happy to have him gone.  Whatever the reason, the Jews in Rome have not heard anything bad about Paul.  Thus, they are open to hearing about God.

How big of a hand do you think God had in keeping the Jews in Rome from hearing about Paul?  What can we learn from this passage about how the testimonies we hear from other people about third parties can taint our perspective of the third party once we meet them?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 28:23-31

Monday, July 23, 2012

Acts 28:11-16

Summary retelling of Acts 28:11-16

After waiting out the stormy season for three months, Paul and his associates are able to leave the island on a boat headed for Rome.  Eventually they came to Puteoli, which is the seaport for the town of Naples.  In Puteoli they found a Christian community that urged Paul and his associates to stay with them.  Then they went on to Rome.  When the Christians of Rome heard that Paul was coming, they went out to meet him and welcome him.  Paul gave thanks and was encouraged.  In Rome, Paul was able to find a home for himself and live their under the watchfulness of a guard.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
We’re not sure if all 276 shipwrecked victims boarded the boat or if it was just Paul, his companions, Julius, and what soldiers Julius had with him.  Either way, they board a boat having had to wait three months for the storms to cease.  Paul warned them earlier that ignoring his spiritual advice would lead to failure; and now God follows through on that promise.  Julius and the captain of the ship wanted to push ahead; they ended up waiting anyways.

How does this part of the story speak to our ability to choose to work with God or against God?  Who ultimately wins when we choose our own ways instead of working with God?

Second Thought:
When Paul and his associates get to Puteoli, they are welcomed by believers and stay seven days.  But what is amazing about this story is the untold portion.  Remember that Paul is still technically a prisoner.  It is Julius who gets to say where Paul does and does not go.  Here we have a Roman centurion who is a day or so journey away from being freed of his responsibility for Paul; yet this Roman soldier willingly waits seven days so Paul can stay in Puteoli with Christians. Julius demonstrates incredible grace to Paul.

It is likely – although untold and thus speculation – that Julius has himself begun the process of becoming Christian.  Think of everything that he has seen.  Think of the many conversations that he and Paul must have had along the way.  Think of the trust that Julius has had to place in Paul from time to time.  It could be that Julius is converting to Christianity and this time in Puteoli is a time and a place to really learn what a congregation of believers is all about.  After all, once he delivers Paul to Rome he is no doubt expected to return to Jerusalem and pick up the leadership of his troops that were left behind in Jerusalem.  It is very likely that the unspoken part of this passage is that this week had as much to do with Julius as it had to do with Paul spending time among Christians.

What can you learn from this passage about the effect of a steady witness for God that Paul displayed in the life of Julius?  Is this an inspirational witness?

Third Thought:
Once in Rome, Paul is not kept in prison.  Paul is able to live “on probation” so to speak.  This would make sense.  Remember that Herod Agrippa and Festus both agreed that they had no legal charge to hold Paul – rather the charge was according to the customs of the Jews.  In today’s standard it would be like asking a police officer to arrest someone for wanting to worship on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning.  It is likely that the local police would simply not care because it is out of their jurisdiction.  All of this goes to illustrate one point: God is gracious.  God has cared for Paul.  From arrest in Jerusalem to trial in Rome, God was there to provide what Paul needed to get the job done.

Do you live like God can provide for you every day regardless of your circumstances?  What does that kind of life look like? 

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 28:17-22

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Acts 28:7-10

Summary retelling of Acts 28:7-10

In the area where the people were shipwrecked were the lands of the chief of the people of Malta.  The chief was named Publius.  Publius welcomed Paul, his companions, and probably the rest of the shipwrecked victims.  During the time of Publius’ hospitality, Paul heard that Publius’ father was sick with dysentery.  Paul prayed over Publius and while he laid his hands upon Publius’s father God healed him.  Word about this event spread and soon all of the sick and diseased on the island were brought before Paul.  The people of the island honored Paul and his companions.  When the time came for sailing to be safe again, the people gave whatever supplies were needed to Paul and his companions.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Publius welcomes the shipwrecked victims into his home.  Here we can see why it is that the native people of Malta were so generous to the victims.  They had a generous leader.  People often follow the example of their leaders.  Since Publius appeared to be generous, the native people under his leadership mirrored that quality.

How can we train ourselves to take leadership seriously?  Why is it so important for leaders to have a public testimony of the qualities they desire to inspire in others?

Second Thought:
Paul is always on the job.  Here is a man who is under guard.  He’s just survived a horrible shipwreck.  He has been bitten by some kind of poisonous snake.  He’s tried to be the messenger between God’s will and the rest of the people on the ship.  Just when you would think he would desire a break, he’s ready to get to work.  He is God’s conduit for the healing of Publius’ father.  Then he is the conduit for God’s healing of the whole island!

Have you ever heard the cliché: There is no rest for the weary?  What does it mean?  Do you think it is a Christian principle?  Does Jesus display any similar quality?  If so, where do you remember Jesus having this quality?

Third Thought:
Paul and his companions are honored by the inhabitants of the island.  Imagine Julius’ reaction to this.  Here is Paul, the person who is to go before Caesar in trial.  As a prisoner, he actively works to save lives.  He works to save the lives of all the soldiers and victims on the ship.  He has compassion on a whole island full of people that he has never met.  Then Julius notes that through Paul, his journey to Rome is going to be well supplied.

What would you be thinking if you were Julius?  How does this show us how we as Christians are to promote Christ?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 28:11-16

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Acts 28:1-6

Summary retelling of Acts 28:1-6

After the shipwreck experience was over, it was learned that the island upon which they were shipwrecked was called Malta.  The native people were hospitable, giving the ability to make and sustain fires to those who were shipwrecked.  As Paul was gathering sticks to sustain fire, he was bit on the hand by a viper.  At first, the native people of Malta took it as a sign of guilt because the “gods” had seen fit to kill him even after escaping a shipwreck in the midst of a bad storm.  However, Paul shook off the snake and suffered no ill effects from the bite of the snake.  When they saw that Paul hadn’t died from the bite – or even gotten sick – the native people of Malta changed their opinion of him and considered it a good omen.  They began to look upon Paul as if he were a god himself.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The native people are friendly to those who are shipwrecked.  This is more of a significant note than it seems.  Remember, there are 276 of these shipwrecked people.  It is not as though 3 or 4 people descended unexpectedly upon Malta.  Caring for 276 stranded victims would be no small measure of hospitality.  But the people of Malta were indeed generous.

What makes some people naturally hospitable?  What essential characteristic does a person need to have in order to live a life of hospitality?

Second Thought:
Paul is bitten by a viper – a venomous snake.  In the Bible, the word used to describe the snake is a word that is often used for asps, cobras, or vipers in general.  (Modern taxonomy suggests that it may be the Leopard Snake that bit Paul.)  Whatever snake it is, remember that the author of the book of Acts is Luke, and Luke clearly is one of the ones shipwrecked (note this passage begins with “we”).  Luke was a master researcher and physician.  We can trust this account as having actually happened.  How fortunate was Paul to be bitten by a poisonous snake and not suffer any ill effects!

Why do you think Paul didn’t suffer any effects?  Was the snake out of venom?  Did the snake choose to not envenomate?  Did the snake envenomate but God protected him anyways? 

Third Thought:
Isn’t it funny how people use the events around them however they see fit?  When Paul is bit, the native folks assume it’s a bad thing.  When he doesn’t die, that bad thing suddenly turns into proof that he’s a god.  When we don’t have a concrete faith structure (like that presented in the Bible) we can get tossed around from one thought to another.  We are always trying to interpret the things around us to get a perspective on “fate” or “luck” or “chance” or “signs.”  God wants us to be confident in our faith by focusing on Him and discerning His will through His Word and the fellowship of the saints rather than by looking at chance or fate.

Do you ever get sucked into believing that you’re unlucky or that you are carrying around bad karma?  What is the danger in putting too much stock into those ideas?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 28:7-10

Friday, July 20, 2012

Acts 27:39-44

Summary retelling of Acts 27:39-44

As the crew of the ship looked out for a place to make landfall, they saw an island that they did not recognize.  The saw that it did have a beach, so they tried to aim for the shore and run the ship aground in as favorable place as possible.  They undid all the lashings that they had done several days prior in order to keep the ship together.  This way, they could steer the ship accordingly.  The ship struck a reef and the water lodged the ship fast.  The waves began t tear the ship apart.  The Roman soldiers planned to kill the prisoners, but the centurion stopped them because of Paul and his words.  He ordered anyone who could swim to jump into the water and make for the beach.  Everyone else was to grab onto wood from the shipwreck and let it carry them into the beach.  Everyone on the ship made it safely to the shore as God promised.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Amazingly, the people on the ship seem to be able to act with clarity of thought and a purpose.  Don’t forget that yesterday the focus was on Paul’s witness to them through a communion-like meal.  Paul displays Jesus Christ to the people on the ship and they immediately begin to stop acting rashly and begin to act according to a greater plan.  We should never doubt God’s ability to come among us use the people around us for His glory.

Why is it easy to overlook the influence of God?  Have you ever been in a situation where people acted more rationally than they should have?

Second Thought:
The sailors intentionally drove the ship towards the beach, knowing that it would likely destroy the ship on a reef.  Sometimes in life the things that we think keep us safe must be destroyed so that we can truly go forward in God’s plan.  The sailors had to be willing to destroy the ship in order to get close to the promised safety of the beach.

Why is it hard to let go of things in our life that have served us well?  What do we call things in our life that served us well but because of our continued dependence upon them they eventually become an obstacle to what God is trying to do with us?

Third Thought:
Everyone is saved.  God’s promise is fulfilled.  God keeps His Word.  When God promises salvation, He does not disappoint.

How can this story speak to you and your need for salvation?  How does this story give you confidence that you will also be able to be saved by God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 28:1-6

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Acts 27:33-38

Summary retelling of Acts 27:33-38

As they drew near to the land and day came, Paul urged them to eat what little food remained on the boat.  Paul knows that in the course of a shipwreck people will need some energy – hence they will need food.  Paul reminds them that God has promised nobody will die.  Paul then takes food, gives thanks to God for it, and breaks the food open in order to begin eating it.  Paul encourages everyone present to eat.  There were 276 people present.  When everyone had eaten, they threw the rest of the food overboard in order to lighten the ship as much as possible.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul keeps his head.  He knows what happens when people are stressed.  He knows what it feels like to wonder when the moment of death is going to surround a person.  He knows that eating is not the first thing on a person’s mind during such times.  However, Paul also trusts in God’s power.  He calms down the people on the boat and reminds them that God is with them.  Paul is willing and able to be a testimony for God because he keeps his wits about him and he is willing to trust that God is in control.

Is it easy for you to trust God?  When is it easier than other times?  When is it harder than other times?

Second Thought:
Paul has a meal that reads very similar to communion.  Paul takes the food (we presume bread since they talk about “throwing wheat into the sea).  He offers thanks to God.  He breaks it.  Then they partake of it.  Sounds like communion to me!  Remember that we are told that Jesus will always be found in the genuine “breaking of the bread.”  Paul is showing the people on this ship that even though they are in the midst of a very dangerous event and a life-threatening situation, Jesus Christ is present and among them.

How do you react in reading that one of the last things that Paul does before the ship is wrecked is to have communion with the ship-mates?  Would communion be on your mind at that time?  What can this teach us about priorities in life?

Third Thought:
There were 276 people present – most of whom are likely not Christians.  Look at the witness that Paul is able to give to them.  He can give this witness because he is willing to be used and even sacrifice his own life if necessary.  How great is God in that He can even make converts in the midst of a shipwreck!

Is there any bad time to be a witness to Christ?  What are some times in your past where you could have been a great witness but you simply were focused elsewhere and missed that opportunity?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 27:39-44

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Acts 27:21-32

Summary retelling of Acts 27:21-32

Paul sees the consequences of them not heeding his spiritual advice.  He convicts the captain and the centurion, but he also gives them words of hope.  Paul says that they will not experience any loss of life as long as they listen to him now.  Paul relates how an angel had been talking with Paul and telling him that he will stand before Caesar and how God has promised that all who remain with Paul will be saved.  After fourteen nights of being in the storm, the sailors feared that they were running aground.  They took measurements and found that to be true.  Some of the sailors sought to escape the process of being run aground so they tried to escape on the ship’s harbor boat (see yesterday’s summary).  Paul warns the centurion that if they leave the ship, they will not be saved.  The soldiers cut away to ropes holding the small boat, forcing the sailors to stay with the ship.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
God is with Paul.  In the midst of this horrible storm, God sends an angel to Paul.  God does not abandon Paul.  The angel reassures Paul in the midst of his present turmoil.

Is this fact comforting?  Why?  How do you know that God is with you during the “storms” of your life?

Second Thought:
Some of the sailors react out of fear.  Even after all that has happened, they cannot bring themselves to still trust God through Paul’s words.  Some people always believe they can save themselves and cannot humble themselves trust in anyone or anything else.

Why do you think there are people who continue to not humble themselves before God?  Why do some people find it impossible to place trust in God?

Third Thought:
The centurion and his sailors cut away the small harbor boat.  They remove temptation from the sailors to leave.  This is a clear symbol that in life we must occasionally be willing to cut away the things that tempt us to trust in ourselves rather than trusting in God.

How easy do you think it was for the soldiers to cut away the little ship and know that in doing they were forcing everyone to deal with a shipwreck in the midst of a horrible storm?  What does this show us about the faith of the soldiers and their willingness to put their trust in Paul’s words (and God’s promise)?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 27:33-38

Acts 27:13-20

Summary retelling of Acts 27:13-20

The winds appeared to be favorable for sailing, so the captain of the ship ordered the ship to sail on.  It wasn’t long before the ship was caught up in a northeaster – a strong storm common in the Mediterranean Sea during this time of year.  The ship couldn’t stand up to the winds, so they had to let the winds drive the ship along.  The sailors were able to pull up the ship’s “boat” – a small craft used to sail in an out of harbors to determine if it was worth it for the big ship to try and sail into the harbor to sell its goods.  The sailors also ran ropes and chains around the ship’s hull to help try and keep it together.  To keep from hitting bottom in the rough seas, they began tossing all the heavy gear and cargo off of the boat.  The storm lasted for several days.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Immediately after disregarding Paul’s advice, the conditions look favorable.  However, things quickly turn bad.  This is often the pattern of sinful behavior.  We do the sin because it looks good.  It looks favorable.  But shortly after getting into sin it turns into something far less manageable and far less good for us.  Soon we find ourselves driven along by sin and no longer in the driver’s seat of our life.  Just as the ship found itself tossed about on the sea because they didn’t heed Paul’s spiritual advice, so we also find ourselves tossed about in sin when we don’t heed the spiritual advice of God’s Word.

Where can you find solid spiritual advice and support?  Are there people to whom you are confident in turning to help you walk according to God’s Word?

Second Thought:
The boat couldn’t stand up to the storm.  It was driven along.  There was nothing the sailors could do but endure the storm.  Sure, they can shore up the boat and hope the boat isn’t destroyed, but there was no way out of the storm until it passed.

How is this also an analogy to sin in our life?  Have you ever been in a position to not be able to escape the consequences of sin?  How does it feel to be in an inescapable set of consequences and know that you have to simply endure them?  What can we learn in those times?

Third Thought:
The sailors begin chucking tackle, gear and cargo overboard.  The sailors get unnecessary stuff out of their life.  They determine what they need to survive and see how the rest of it is ultimately expendable.

How does this relate to our storms of life?  What things do you have in your life that you think is necessary but in the midst of a storm could be deemed expendable?  Why do we tend to think of things that are expendable as though they are necessary until the storms of life come along?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 27:21-32

Monday, July 16, 2012

Acts 27:1-12

Summary retelling of Acts 27:1-12

When it is time for Paul to set sail for Rome, Paul (and a bunch of other prisoners) is given into the hands of a Roman centurion named Julius.  They board a ship that was due to set sail west along Asia Minor.  One of the disciples that Paul made in Thessalonica, Aristarchus, went with Paul and his companions.  As they traveled, Julius treated Paul very kindly.  Whenever they got to a port in which Paul had friends, Paul could go among them and receive care until the ship sailed again.  After a while, the centurion found a ship heading directly to Rome so they changed ships.  The ship had some trouble sailing against the prevailing winds and current, but eventually they came to a place called Fair Havens.  The voyage had already taken more time than expected, and Paul knew that the season for safely sailing upon the Mediterranean Sea had passed them by.  Paul cautions them that if they continue on that the voyage will be filled with injury and great loss.  However, the captain of the ship and the centurion do not listen to Paul.  They decide to sail on in hopes to find a better harbor in which to spend the poor sailing season.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
We can note that the centurion, Julius, was very kind to Paul.  The centurion certainly knows that Paul is a Roman citizen.  He also certainly knows that Paul was not convicted of anything by Festus or Herod Agrippa.  The only reason Paul is still in custody is because he asked for his case to be heard by Caesar.  Thus, the centurion really has no reason to not trust Paul.

What can this passage teach us about compassion?  What reasons might Julius have had to treat Paul poorly?  What can this passage tell us about judging other people based on the circumstances we find them in?

Second Thought:
We also hear that Paul is cared for as they sail along the coast.  People genuinely wish to ease Paul’s plight.  They knew the burden that Paul was under.  They knew he was headed to Rome (and likely to go face-to-face with Nero).  There was reason for the people to be compassionate to Paul and they achieved the need.

What else does this passage seem to teach us about compassion?  When is the right time for compassion? 

Third Thought:
Paul gives advice, but his advice is disregarded.  It is likely that they wouldn’t consider Paul’s advice because he is, after all, simply a wandering theologian.  Paul was not a sailor.  Nor was he all that skilled in sailing the Mediterranean Sea.  So they looked past his advice.

What can this passage tell us about listening to people?  What can this passage teach us about the judgments we place on people’s thoughts based on their qualifications?

Passage for Tomorrow: Acts 27:13-20