Acts 16 – Spirit Direction

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Timothy joins Silas and Paul who are on Paul’s second missionary journey.  As they travel about, it is clear that they are seeking God’s guidance and direction as to where it is they should be preaching.  We can see this because there are times when the Spirit actually stops them from going to different places.  Have you ever experienced this?

Sometimes we get it in our heads that we need to go everywhere and preach the Gospel, and we do so with little consideration to where God is actually calling us to go.  Now this is not to say that the preaching of the Gospel will not be effective if we go it on our own; God works through us and often in spite of us as well.

But when we decide to take time to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (and follow them), great things will happen.  Imagine how different this would have looked if Paul, Silas, and Timothy had not listened to the Holy Spirit and had indeed gone to the places the Spirit stopped them from going to.  Would lives in those places have been impacted?  Sure.

However, what about those to whom God had called them?  Lydia would not have become a leading member of the Church, the slave girl would not have found freedom, and the Jailer and his family would not have found salvation either.

God is always at work, His plans and His ways are higher than our ways.  I’m sure that it didn’t make a lot of sense to Paul why he couldn’t go into the cities that were close by, but in the end, listening to the Spirit brought them to a place where God did great things through them and many came to know Christ.



Acts 15 – Council

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Throughout the history of the Church, many councils like the one described here have considered issues that arise in the faith.  Many great creeds and confessions have come out of such councils and the Christian faith has been strengthened through them.  It is important to consider, in this council, the intent of the Apostles and the Elders.

Facing the question of whether circumcision, a part of the Law of Moses, was necessary for salvation, there came a point where the Gospel and the Law clash.  Now the Law was written to identify sin and warn people away from it.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that sin is forgiven and there is now freedom from it in Christ.  Paul goes into great detail about this; we will undoubtedly talk about it again.

Freedom, however, can be scary for us, and receiving the free gift of grace has often led people to think about what they can do to earn it.  Here we see a group of people suggesting that circumcision must happen if we are to fully obtain salvation.  This is nothing more than returning to living under the Law; seeking to earn our own salvation, something that is contrary to Scripture.  God’s grace is free to those who believe.

Yet, out of this council there are some suggestions in how to live.  These aren’t necessarily rules, but rather guidelines on lifestyles that are good for believers.

For those who believe in Christ, are we free?  Yes, absolutely.  Does that mean that we should do whatever we want?  No.  There are still things that are bad for us, things that hurt our relationship with God.  We want to build into this relationship, and there are ways to live that help with that.  And when we fail, grace abounds.



Acts 14 – Credit Where Credit is Due

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When Paul and Barnabas get to Lystra they preach and perform a number of signs and wonders in the name of Jesus.  The healing of a crippled man gets the attention of the crowds, but their reaction is not what they wanted.  Rather than giving glory to God, they give glory to the Greek gods who they thought had manifested themselves as humans.  This wasn’t abnormal in this day but was nonetheless disheartening for Paul and Barnabas.

Having been present for the things that had happened when others took credit for God’s work (Herod a couple chapters ago), Paul and Barnabas knew what it meant for the people to give credit to the wrong places, and what it meant for them if they accepted it.  Instead they use this as a teachable moment… even if it didn’t entirely stop the people from doing what they were doing.

God knows the hearts of His people though and it is pretty clear where Paul and Barnabas landed when it came to the desire of their heart to see the Gospel spread.  Their experience in Lystra is contrasted at the end of this chapter with their return to Antioch where they testify to all that God did on their journey.

I wonder if we don’t give God enough credit in our lives.  When we think back over a vacation or even a difficult time in life, do we look to see where God has worked and testify to that before others?  Or do we look to see that everything “just worked out” and move on with our lives.  God is active in every step that we take, not a hair can fall from our head without His will.  Perhaps it is time that we start giving credit where credit is due.



Acts 13 – Missionary Journey

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Paul was not only a prolific writing and preacher throughout his life, he was also the first “missionary” and church planter.  In fact, these missionary journeys became the source of his writings as all of the books following Acts are known as “Epistles,” or letters to the churches that he planted.

While the Holy Spirit was with him on these journeys, they were anything but a cakewalk.  Paul and his companions faced considerable resistance and persecution in the places that he went and preached.  Where the Gospel is expanding, so to will the enemy be pushing back against the work of God.

Again, I find it interesting how much similarity there is between the records of the book of Acts and how churches often operate in today’s world.  Paul, when he arrives at Antioch in Pisidia (which is different than the Antioch in Syria), begins preaching in the synagogue and many of the Jews there are amazed.  The are so enthralled with Paul and the message that he is preaching that they ask him to come back.

Word of this gets out and the whole city comes to hear Paul speak.  What an awesome response to the Gospel?  Yet, seeing all these people coming out, the Jews get nervous and change their tune and start to criticize Paul.

Isn’t this so typical of us too though?  Yes, of course we want to preach the Gospel and we want the Holy Spirit to work, but isn’t our greatest fear sometimes that it actually will “work?”  All these new people means change… I might not be able to sit in “my seat” on Sunday.

The Gospel of Jesus brings life but it seldom brings comfort, at least physical comfort.  But that isn’t want Jesus’ message is all about… is it?



Acts 12 – Escape!

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In that day, when there was a movement that was springing up, rulers often became concerned that it would lead to rebellion against them and were quick to move against them.

So when Peter was arrested as part of Herod’s attempt at putting down the Christian “rebellion,” it meant certain death for Peter.  All the leaders of a movement like this would be hunted down.  Interestingly, this is exactly what the religious leaders were meaning to do all the way back in Acts 5.

Peter’s escape from prison will not be his last, and it is nothing short of a miracle.  Placed in the care of “4 squads” of soldiers, approximately 100 men, Herod was taking no chances that Peter would somehow get sprung from his custody.  Yet it only takes one angel to make this happen.

I find it humorous how this all took place.  Peter is asleep despite the angelic light pouring into his prison cell.  Imagine the angel sighing and whacking him on the side to wake him up.  Even though Peter has just recently experienced a vision from the Lord in Acts 10, he isn’t quite aware of what is going on now, nor does it seem that he believes it.

Eventually he comes to, and then has to deal with the same bewilderment of others whilst standing outside waiting for someone to open the door for him; it was quite a night.

Unlike many of the other movements of that day that were actually against the government, and failed when their leaders were killed, the movement of the Gospel would not be put down.  It could not and cannot be stopped by human effort, nor can its leader be killed.  They already tried that… and it was actually the catalyst that led to where we are now.



Acts 11 – To the Ends of the Earth

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In the opening of Acts, Jesus tells His followers they would be His witnesses.  He spoke of a series of expanding concentric circles which they would be ministering in.  It only takes us 10 chapters to move out from the center to “the ends of the earth.”  And it only takes us 11 chapters to see resistance from within when it comes to ministering to those on the “outside.”

Yet Peter has no hesitations about his explanation, speaking clearly about the vision God showed him.  Those who heard him were quick to believe too.  I often wonder if we would be so quick to believe Peter if this happened today.

To me, it is interesting how closely this mirrors some contemporary issues that my denomination has and is facing.  While Peter received this message from the Lord, and those who heard him believed this message, it was slow to be implemented throughout the Church at that time.  This has been the case for us as well.  As we have struggled with different issues (women severing in leadership, children at the Lord’s Table, etc.), leaders have seen a clear message from God in Scripture that reveals to us an inclusion and an openness that welcomes God’s people and their gifts.  However, the churches of the denomination have been slow to respond.  Acts 11 shows us that we aren’t the only ones to struggle with this though, to support something verbally while reject it in practice.

This chapter, however, also gives us hope that as the Holy Spirit continues to move through the Church, building her up and molding her into the true bride of Christ, we will see more of this lived out in our actions; a testimony of God’s love and the anointing of the Holy Spirit on all who believe.



Acts 10 – Clean and Unclean

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As the Gospel continues to spread in the first century, there were many barriers to overcome.  We’ve see persecution and even language barriers be overcome through the work of the Holy Spirit.  One thing that happens here, something that is abundantly important to the rest of the world, is the Gospel going out to the gentiles.

Until now, all that we have read has been primarily a movement within Judaism itself, a sort of Jewish reformation. When the believers were scattered, they would go to the synagogues of other towns and preach the name of Jesus in those places.  They would go to the people that were familiar, keeping to tradition of Israel that encouraged avoidance of outsiders (which is completely contrary to the Law, but that is another subject for another time).

Here Peter receives a revelation of the true nature of the Gospel and its impact: God, in Jesus Christ, has taken the unclean and made it clean.  Jesus’ death was a once for all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; the truest, deepest realization of His statements, “I AM the Light of the World,” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father  accept through me,” and all the other I AM statements too.  Through Him, this way has been open to all people who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

In many ways, this is the beginning of the reality of freedom that comes in Christ Jesus.  Through sin, the world was made unclean, but in Christ Jesus, all of that has been reversed and true restoration has happened and is happening.  This is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of the redemption of the whole universe through the work of Jesus Christ.



Acts 9 – Saul (aka: Paul)

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The conversion of Saul, more commonly known in the New Testament as Paul, is arguably the 5th most significant event of the New Testament.  Behind the Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, Paul’s coming to know Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior has profound repercussions throughout the whole of Christianity.  He is credited with authoring nearly half of the New Testament, all of the books following Acts from Romans through Philemon.  Much of what He wrote also has become the basis for our Theologies and Doctrines in the Church throughout history.

Yet Paul, despite all the depth of relationship that He has with God in Jesus Christ, and with all of the revelation, He receives through the Holy Spirit, remains profoundly humble, truly living into the example the Christ teaches: “He who would be great must be your servant.”  Never once do we see Him lording over others his encounter with Christ, his understanding of the Gospel, or his influence over the church.  Instead, he faithfully preaches the Gospel, plants churches throughout the Roman empire, and lovingly corresponds with them working to help them deepen their faith and understand their identity in Jesus Christ.

As we get to know Paul better over the course of the book of Acts, and later in his own writings, we get the sense that he has a deep understanding of Christ’s work and its meaning.  Maybe it is because of the revelation he receives from God and/or the application of Old Testament Scriptures that he knew well.  But one thing strikes me: never once does he claim to be “ahead” of anyone.  In fact, in the midst of his work, he consistently “counts it all for nothing” for the sake of the Gospel.  This is an example we should follow.



Acts 8 – Scattered

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Throughout history, the persecution of the church has almost always led to the expansion of the Gospel.  There are a lot of potential reasons why this is, one of which has to do with the physical scattering of believers to other areas.  Until this point, the Apostles and those who became believers were operating in Jerusalem and likely its surrounding towns.  But when persecution broke out, we read that people were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  This is the second move outward that Jesus spoke of before he ascended into heaven.

The reality of the identity of the people of God, though, is one of being a “sent people.”  Israel was always meant to be a light to the nations.  Jesus told His disciples that they are the salt of the earth.  Throughout His ministry even, Jesus would send out His followers ahead of Him, all the time declaring the “good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So it isn’t much of a surprise that, when the people of God move outward, whether by choice or by force, that the Gospel of God spreads and lives are changed.

Sometimes believers actually need that push to move outside the places of comfort in their lives.  One of the problems plaguing the Church in North America is the lack of outward movement.  Churches invest vast sums of money into buildings for “ministry” purposes that really are simply creature comforts.  When we do find ourselves pushed out of our norms, we will often be found complaining about the lack of comfort, not spreading the Gospel to everyone we see.

In reality, we face little, if any persecution in the United States, something we are thankful for and celebrate, but ironically enough may also be the reason we find ourselves so complacent.



Acts 7 – Stephen

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We first met Stephen in chapter 6 when he was chosen as one of the 7 original deacons.  Stephen is described as “full of the Holy Spirit” and able to do “great wonders and signs.”  His witness to Jesus Christ gets him hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, the whole counsel of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Think of it as a joint session of the U.S. congress.

While before them, he is questioned vigorously by the authorities and they even bring in false witnesses to testify against him.  They twist his words and think that they have him backed into a corner.  Some things, it seems, never change.

However, Stephen’s testimony is nothing less than spectacular.  Driven by the Holy Spirit, a promise Jesus gave His disciples back in Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Stephen recounts the history of the people of God, drawing it all forward to the one person that all of Scripture points: Jesus Christ.

From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Egypt with Moses, Stephen shows how God has been working and continues to work to bring salvation to His people.

All this time, the religious leaders are worried that they are going to get blamed for Jesus’ death.  When Stephen accuses them of also being related to those who “killed the prophets,” they loose it.

Ultimately Stephen looses his life for the testimony that he gave here.  He becomes the first recorded martyr for Christianity.  We see something here that far too often we forget: even here, God is with Stephen.

We worry so much about what other people are going to call us or think about us when we testify to our faith.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but by the word of our testimony will they know who we are and whose we are.



Psalm 115 – "For Thine is the Kingdom…"

The Lord’s prayer sets up a structure for our prayer life, one that always comes back to God and is never ending.  Like breathing, something we do constantly and that gives us life, our relationship and conversation with God should be ongoing and unceasing.



Psalm 115 "For Thine is the Kingdom…"

The Lord’s prayer sets up a structure for our prayer life, one that always comes back to God and is never ending.  Like breathing, something we do constantly and that gives us life, our relationship and conversation with God should be ongoing and unceasing.



Acts 6 – Deacons

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Many agree that this beginning narrative was the founding of the role of “deacon” within the Church.  Deacons are called to serve and oversee the physical needs of both the church and the community in which they serve.  For many churches, this has defaulted to overseeing the budget process and making sure that the churches finances are in order.  It has also meant the creation of funds that are specific for benevolence.  To be clear, none of this is inherently bad.

However, there has been a disturbing trend within the Church in North America that often creeps its way into how deacons operate within their churches.  We don’t always like to get our hands dirty in the work, believing that others are more suitable, more equipped, and have a “special calling” to go and ‘do ministry,’ whether local or abroad.  Instead, we are content to just throw money at these people or ministries.  It makes us feel like we are helping and participating without having to put any skin in the game.

This mindset has crept into our deacon boards who have often taken the position that, as long as the finances are in order, we are doing our job well and are ready to respond when a need arises.

While this is all well and good, and we should be ready for such needs, I wonder if we have maybe gotten a bit lazy in matters such as this.  I wonder if, instead of waiting for problems to come to us, we should be going out and meeting people where they are?  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “go into all the world,” not wait for the desperate and desolate to come to us.  Acting in this way could redefine and reinvigorate the Church’s witness.



Acts 5 – Giving Everything

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The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes on the heels of chapter 4’s conclusion that the believers had all things in common and because of this, no one among them was needy.  How this came to be, apparently, was through the selling of possessions and pooling their money.  It is a testimony to them living out Jesus’ teaching to love one another and to care for those that are marginalized.  In fact, most of the early church was made up of those on the fringes of society who have found both healing and redemption in Jesus’ name.

So when this couple comes to them, pretending to be a part of them, and yet still holding on to selfish motives, Peter calls them out.  It isn’t that what they did in principle was wrong.  In fact, Peter tells them that the money was theirs to do with as they pleased.  Indeed, it was the principle of the matter; true benevolence is a matter of the heart, not founded on empty actions or lies.  God doesn’t truly care about money, He wants your heart.

Remember the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21?  Her offering amounted to throwing a penny in the offering plate, but it was honored by Jesus because of her willingness to give everything she had.

Contrast the beginning and end of this chapter.  A couple lies about their giving and winds up dead.  Peter and John continue preaching the Gospel, fully determined to spread the news about Jesus.  They hold nothing back, wind up in prison and are flogged for teaching about Jesus in the synagogue.  Yet here they have found true life and even rejoice in the persecution “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  What a stark difference!



Acts 4 – Prayer Power

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After Peter and John are released from their interrogation by the religious leaders, yet another opportunity that they took to spread the Gospel Message, they returned to those who believed.  Likely the other disciples, who are now called Apostles, were there too.

Scripture says that, upon their return, the first thing they did after reporting what had taken place was to pray.  This wasn’t simply a passing “thank you God for protecting us” type of prayer, but rather a deep prayer of acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and power shown through Jesus Christ.  It is also a petition that God would continue to show that power in the midst of the threats and turmoil that they continued to face.

I wonder how often we turn to prayer like this in the face of turmoil in our lives… or in our culture?  Scripture says that when they prayed like this, both committing to continue in God’s name and asking for the Holy Spirit to empower them to advance God’s Kingdom, that the whole room shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was almost like a second Pentecost!

Sometimes it seems like, when confronted with things that challenge our faith, we more readily turn to social media to complain than to pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance.  More often than not, the resistance that is put up from the church comes in the form of memes, not prayer.

The simple fact is that our power does not come from our prowess on social media, just like the newest, latest, and greatest of anything doesn’t guarantee the advance of the Gospel.  It is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that yields the fruit that Jesus talked about throughout His ministry.  This is what we must pray for.