Acts 27-28

Well here we are, at the end of another book together. I haven’t read through the entirety of Acts in a long time, and it really did my heart some good. This is our history, church. These are our people. Paul, our pioneer.

I love how Acts ends. It’s a great picture of what being part of the church or ministry can look like sometimes. You’re a part of a crew on a giant vessel riding the unpredictable waves of ministry. You tug on each other’s sleeves, warning of approaching storms and trying to steer them away from mistakes. Things begin to break apart. You start throwing things overboard. Things you’ve used in the past, things you might need later. Perspective gets lost, people start turning on each other.

But then someone speaks up. Someone who has been listening to God and hasn’t been engulfed by the current circumstances. Someone whose feet are also wet from rising water, but who isn’t afraid. They suggest that everyone stops to share a meal, break bread and pray together.

The last few verses of the book tell us that Paul lived in a guarded house in Rome for two years, on his own dime. The greatest spokesman and apostle, restricted from freely ministering as he desired. So what does he do? He does what he can. He writes letters to encourage the church (Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians). He writes personal letters to encourage friends (Philemon and 1 & 2 Timothy). He witnesses to the Roman guard watching over him (Philemon 1:13). Paul shows us there is never a time or place in which you can’t glorify or serve God.

When you read the letters he wrote under house arrest (my favorite is Philippians), there’s  not even a hint of bitterness. He’s encouraging and exhorting.

I have a lot to learn from Paul. When things get hard, my attitude is far from his, to say the least. How you respond to trials in ministry (aka in life) is a good gauge on where your heart is with the Lord. He is so faithful. Paul weathering a shipwreck with a calm heart and loyal stance isn’t a mark of what a great man he is, but what a powerful God we serve. 

This morning I’m stepping back and asking myself, what stops me from glorifying and serving God in any circumstance I’m in?

 

-Carly

Acts 25-26

Paul’s less-than-desirable prison situation becomes an opportunity to share the gospel with kings and queens. He was singularly focused. Every moment was a moment for the furthering of the gospel. There was no second agenda, no self preserving scramble.

I am a single gal in my early thirties. I keep my life as carefree as possible. There’s no husband or kids around to remind me of my selfishness. I don’t have to check in with very many people.

This week has been intense, and without diving into details, let me just say, I’ve been faced with a situation that calls for a real “death to self”. Will I lay down my rights, my freedom and comforts for someone else’s chance to experience the gospel? The answer is yes, but it’s going to take some real one-foot-after-the-other, daily surrender, because I’m discovering how much I love being foot loose and fancy free.

I’m also becoming desperately in love with the incomprehensible power of this gospel. You guys. Our rebellion against God is YUCK. His holiness is beautiful, pure, love, perfection and we, in our fallen state, cannot dare approach Him, for the absolution of total annihilation. But this would not do, so Jesus clothed Himself in humanity and jumped in to our sewage, took our death sentence, completed it and DEFEATED IT.

“WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR STING?”

Do you know this? Do you feel it? Are you crushed beneath the weight of it’s goodness?

What else has taken the place of the gospel priority? 

-Bethany

Acts 23-24

Paul is dragged in front of the high council, some who are probably his classmates or peers from when he was becoming a Pharisee. When the high priest, Ananias, commanded the guards to slap Paul in the face, he responds “God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite!”

Paul responded so curtly because Ananias’s command to have him slap was illegal (assuming Paul was guilty before his trial and ordering his punishment). When someone leans over and tells him he’s insulting the most important man in the room, he’s surprised.

He quickly falls in line. “Oh, I didn’t realize he was the high priest.” Why would he? The man who is suppose to represent the law to everyone was breaking it. But this was this man’s job, purpose and title. And Paul, more familiar with his position than anyone could be, didn’t recognize that about him.

It got me thinking: what do people know about me once I’m in the room? If I spend the evening with someone new, they’ll probably leave knowing what type of music I like, whether I’m gluten free or not, and what sports team I root for. And hopefully, they’ll know I’m a Christian. Preferably not because of what I say, but maybe because of what I don’t say. The Bible mentions several times that it’s possible, and even suggested, that people find out what God you serve simply by your actions. What you talk about. How you talk about it. Do you initiate edifying conversations or participate in slander? What are all your stories about? Do you serve people you’re spending time with?

There’s a time and a place to take a bold stand and share with people. But for the most part, I think I can lean into being the laid back, relatable Christian a little too much. It’s kind of my worst nightmare to hear someone say ”oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian”.  I mean, I don’t love labels, especially the ones that often get tied to Christianity. Ideally, I want people to slowly and organically find this out about me and then be able to tie all my philanthropic behavior to it and immediately tap me on the shoulder and ask me if they can learn more about the God of the Bible. Buuuuuut, realistically, I have road rage, lose my patience with my toddler in the store, get grumpy when I have to wait in line and give in to gossip around friends. And obviously, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about representing God. Sometimes that can mean being a total hot mess, yet being quick to share about the grace God has been extending to you lately. My husband became interested in Christianity because of the joy his English teacher had despite mourning the sudden death of her brother. Even in grief, she was representing something he wanted to be a part of. Something that was recognizable without being said.

Take a minute and ask yourself, what do people recognize about me?

 

-Carly

 

Acts 21-22

The friendships forged working alongside people in ministry are my favorite friendships. It’s how Carly and I started out! Watching Paul go on this sort of “farewell tour” stirs something in me. Saying goodbye to someone who has enriched your soul feels different. Deeply sad, mixed with deep gratitude for every moment previously granted, with hope for an eternal reunion after death is done.

Everyone was trying to talk Paul out of this trip to Jerusalem. And not just selfishly, but through the Spirit (21:4) and through prophesy (21:11). God was in the midst of them reminding Paul, “you don’t have to do this”.

In Paul’s letters, and in these speeches found in Acts, he repeatedly emphasized our salvation and adoption into God’s family not hinging on works. We aren’t to be motived by fear or duty, but by love and out of a changed heart.

Paul knew he didn’t have to go to Jerusalem. He could live a safe, long life if he played his cards right, but his life was the last thing he cared about.

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh, who are Israelites.” Romans 9:3

If he was going down, he was going down telling the Jews their Messiah had arrived and salvation was at hand.

Saul was truly free. He feared nothing. We serve the same God. We’re adopted into the same family. Do you live in this same freedom? What are you motived by? Fear and duty, or love and a changed heart?

-Bethany

Acts 19-20

Today we’re going to hear from our first male guest writer. My husband, Matt, is often the victim of my endless verbal processing about what I read in the Bible. I always love his perspective on Scripture and the knowledge he has to share, (the man retains everything he reads and hears, it’s amazing- and impossible to get away with anything).

Let’s call a spade a spade here. Paul is basically a superhero by the time we hit Chapter 19. His sweat is straight up healing people. But we see a shift in Chapter 20 as Paul starts the journey that will ultimately end his life. Don’t worry, Acts ends before that goes down. So, no spoilers. I think it’s interesting to look at his conversation with his friends from Ephesus and understand why he heads off despite inevitably knowing what was coming. (Note: In Acts, when Luke says “we” instead of “they”, that means he was there. So, Luke personally witnessed this moment.)

For all intents and purposes, Paul’s life was incredible. But, it’s only easy to say that now. He soon will walk into Rome, the city he has been trying to get to all along, in chains. And it will ultimately be in that city that he will be killed in a massive outbreak of persecution against followers of The Way. In fact, he will die during an incredibly bleak time in church history. When there was not a lot of hope to go around as the wolves were feeding.

But, Paul seemed to have a vision of God bigger than his life. And that vision sustained him until the very end (see 2 Timothy 4:6-8). I truly don’t think Paul would have considered his life meaningless if everyone he told about the goodness of God ultimately turned their back on that same God. He basically says that in Acts 20:25-27. He was just a part of the many witnesses God has sent to us hardhearted folk throughout the ages to tell us how good He is regardless of whether we will listen because He loves us anyways.

Paul didn’t get to see what sort of fruit all of his work and years of suffering produced. And he didn’t know that we would still be talking about his life 2,000 years later. But, he did the work anyways.

There no doubt has been, and will be fruit from our lives we will never see. Do you need to see results in order to sacrifice your time, your energy, or your space for other people?

Thanks for contributing!

 

-Carly

Acts 17-18

Paul was excellent at relating to people, finding their starting point and bringing them to understanding the gospel from there. He showed the Jews in the Old Testament how Jesus fulfilled Scripture. He gave a name to the Creator God Greeks knew about, but couldn’t place. He was persistent, but knew when to move on and share with a more receptive audience.

I love how Luke makes mention of many prominent women in Thessalonica and Berea coming to faith. These cultures were deeply feminist. Nowadays, people try to paint the God of Christianity as chauvinistic, but I dare say this mass conversion suggests what I believe, which is the God of Christianity and Judism has always ascribed major worth to us ladies. He says we are made in His image. He chose women to be the first eye witnesses of His resurrection. He calls us co-heirs with Christ. “There is now no distinction”!

Pauls speech in Athens found in Acts 17:22-31 is one of my favorites, especially  24-28. I could go on and on about these verses, but I won’t. I’ll just says, LOOK at how infinitely powerful our Creator God is! Then SEE how intimately involved. He planned for me to be born February 5, 1985 in Portland, Oregon. He planned for me to be alive all the years I’ve been alive thus far (and beyond?!) and KNEW the boundaries of my habitation. All the moving, all the travel. He knew every random place I would go to sleep and when. He determined my times and boundaries. I can sing with David in Psalm 16, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” And why? Because this was my best chance at finding Him. Here and Now. “To perhaps reach out and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.”

Think about your times and boundaries. Consider how you first related to the gospel and thank Jesus for putting you someplace you could find Him.

-Bethany

Acts 15-16

I want to clear something up (that was possibly clear to everyone all along except me):

“After some time Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Lets go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the believers are doing.’ Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.” 15:36-40

This piece of Scripture is not giving approval to conflict or stubborn behavior. It gets a little misused that way, and so I want to take a closer look:

John Mark bailed on Paul and Barnabas earlier when he was having second thoughts about sharing the gospel with Gentiles (non-Jewish people). I have a hard time breaking social norms in the name of the gospel too, so I’m willing to give the guy a break on this. Barnabas was too. Paul, praise God, is an extreme guy with a strong personality. God uses this about him for miraculous, large changes in the church and we are still benefitting from them today through the letters he wrote. But here, he gets a little dogmatic.

Barnabas extends grace to his friend, loyally defends him and off they go to do good work. (How awkward was this conversation for John Mark, by the way? Yikes.) The best part of this story is written later, at the end of 2 Timothy. Paul is at the end of his life, writing a letter to his protege, Timothy. He tells him that everyone has left and only Luke is with him, in his vulnerable state. “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” Scholars agree that “Mark” mentioned here is John Mark. So in the end, the guys made up and continued working together in ministry.

I’m thankful this narrative gets included into the book of Acts because it acknowledges relationship turmoil and more importantly, reminds us that God works within it. Paul and Barnabas part ways, but God uses them to cover more ground and encourage even more believers than if they had stuck together.

Conflict happens. When it does, I hope I’m like Barnabas: covering my friends well by quickly forgiving, extending grace and sticking by their side.

 

-Carly

 

Acts 13-14

How familiar are you with Greek Mythology? If you aren’t, I suggest you investigate the basics. 

I had never considered that my knowledge of Greek Mythology would help me study the Bible. I have been teaching on Ephesians for the Discipleship Training School I’m working with at YWAM Salem. Something we empathize is getting in to the cultural mindset of the original reader. How would I understand Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as a first century Ephesian?

This applies to much of the New Testament letters. Even Acts! Anything directed toward Gentiles should presuppose their theological frame of reference was Zeus, Mt. Olympus, etc. That’s what makes chapter 14 come to life. 

Zeus was the ultimate. Heaven was unattainable. The gods didn’t care about people. They were selfish, usually over-sexed and made a lot of drunken mistakes that mankind paid for. There is no hope for power among mortals and no real purpose to life except “eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

Now they hear something else: The true God is the God of the Jews and He just did something really self-less to grant us freedom from sin and adoption into His family. We now have all the spiritual blessings of heaven! And people can be healed! No wonder the Gentiles erupted in celebration when they heard eternal life was made available to them!

Take time today to ask yourself questions of your own cultural frame of reference. Where is hope? What’s your identity based on? Is there anything you’re holding on to that aligns with culture and not with the Word? Who does God say you are?

-Bethany

Acts 11-12

I want to talk about Barnabas. A large number of people turn to the Lord, and he gets sent out to encourage and minister to them.

“When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.”

What a good example of how to treat new believers and help them grow in their faith. God calls us to this several times in the Bible. Paul tells us in 1 Peter to care for the flock God has entrusted to you. There is tons of emphasis in the Bible on being a responsible leader, shepherding new believers and watching out for them.

I’m always a little suspicious of rapidly growing ministries that pump out new Christians without enough emphasis on discipleship afterwards. That’s why I love the example we see here: the church sends out someone who is gifted in encouragement to disciple new Christians.

Here are a few ways to encourage new believers:

Be a safe person for them share doubts. There are so many unknowns about Christianity, the Bible, God, humanity, etc etc. You don’t have to have all the answers, because, well, no one does. Being a safe, humble person that acts as a sounding board to someone full of questions is a ministry all in it’s own. I (try to) remember that it’s okay to not know the answer, or graciously share my thoughts and opinions while holding them loosely, and really, I always end up learning something from them.

Just encourage. It’s an uphill battle turning your life towards God. Whether you’ve been doing it for two weeks or two decades, it’s a daily sacrifice. I recently received a card from a friend, their beautiful swirling handwriting encouraging me and complimenting me, and dang, it did wonders for my heart and head space. Everyone wants to be thought of, prayed for, reached out to and simply loved. In this day and age, the technology and resources of 2016 makes it pretty easy.

Pray for them. But actually pray for them. And tell them! I try to avoid the generic “I’m praying for you” and prefer to stop and pray for someone so that I can respond with “I just took time to pray for you” instead. Or even better, call them and pray with them, your petition to God on their behalf washing over them. “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” Ephesians 6:18

Is there someone in your life you could take time to encourage today, in the church or out?

 

-Carly

 

Acts 9-10

These chapters are long so I will briefly comment on my favorite parts.

When Jesus confronts Saul He says, “why are you persecuting ME?” We are in Christ, He has bought us, He loves us, when people tangle with us, they tangle with HIM! As a protective person, I deeply enjoy this.

Ananias had plenty to be afraid of, concerning the call to go to Paul, but the Lord was clear and he obeyed. Not long ago we heard reports that a leader of ISIS had become a believer and had started to preach. It so reminded me of this story, thinking of the Christians who probably needed some divine nudging to welcome him in to the family. No one is too lost for God! Pray for your enemies!

The first Gentile to receive the Holy Spirit was Italian. If I could trace my lineage to this man, I would be beyond stoked. But that’s just it, the family of God is no longer bound by bloodlines! We are an every tribe, tongue and nation family! It’s glorious. 

What was your favorite part?

-Bethany