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

Acts 7-8

Things take a rough turn for the early church. Instead of fading out, as people expected, believers were rapidly increasing as the movement grew and people were not pleased.  Stephen is arrested and brought before the high council and instead of backing down in fear to protect himself, he uses the opportunity to proclaim God’s story.

We have a lot to learn from Steven. He’s brave, bold, attuned to the Holy Spirit and directly mimics Jesus’ character, right down to the moment he’s murdered.

I love this part:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”

Usually when the Bible talks about this imagery it says that Jesus is seated next to God. The commentary in my Bible notes that the position of standing indicated a judge declaring judgment on someone back then. But I’ve always read it like Jesus was standing up for Stephen, with Stephen, as he spoke out and became the first martyr in the church.

There’s a lot to take away from these chapters, but the theme that grabbed me today is how important it is to know God’s story. If you’re here reading this blog, I know you agree. I just love how God uses both Stephen and Philip to have amazing encounters with the Holy Spirit and advance the message of the gospel through his story.

 

I want to be like Philip, chasing down people in response to the Holy Spirit, able to recognize a prophecy of Jesus in the Old Testament. I want to be like Stephen, able to retell the history of God’s relationship with Israel in one, long speech (mid-year resolution: memorize chapter 7). But also, I want to be able to retell my history with God. I remember the first time someone asked me to share my story (popularly referred to as one’s ‘testimony’ in the Christian crowd) and I awkwardly rattled off different Christian camps and mission trips I had been on growing up.

“No”, they said, “when did God’s grace show up in your life and what happened because of that?”

Would you be able to tell God’s story if someone asked? Would you be able to tell your story? Take time today to run through them in your head.

Also, pause right now and pray for Christians all over the world who face deathly persecution every day to follow God, advance the gospel and get the story into people’s hands.

 

-Carly