Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 28:11-31
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

This is the last reading in the book of Acts. Did you notice the final sentence in The Message version of this book?

His door was always open.

Paul living out his final days, teaching, preaching and telling others of God’s Kingdom. Explaining to others the truth about Jesus. His door was always open.

Maybe as we draw Acts to a close we should do the same. Teach others right where we are. Share Jesus in our neighborhoods and work places and homes. Determine that our doors will always be open.

May our hearts be open to His Spirit.
May our hands be open to do His will.
May our lives be open to follow His leading.
Amen.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 27:39-28:10
(Click on the link to read the scriptures.)

We spent a wonderful three months on Malta. They treated us royally, took care of all our needs and outfitted us for the rest of the journey.

Each week at our Bible study we have had the challenge of practicing a spiritual discipline. Things like memorizing scripture, being aware of God’s presence, and lectio divina or holy reading are among those we are making a part of our spiritual lives. A couple of weeks ago I challenged the group to practice having a Sabbath. I decided Saturday would be my day. The family was off hunting and it would be a great time to set aside for rest. I awoke a little later than usual on that day, thinking an entire day with no work as a bit of luxury.

Yes, there was laundry to be done, devotionals to write, flower beds to clean and weed. The hen house needed cleaning and several cabinets needed organizing. My list of things to get done on Saturday could last a year of Saturdays. But this Saturday I set apart and I was determined to follow through. A spiritual discipline takes discipline. Several times during the day I walked into the laundry room out of habit and turned back around. A few times I even felt guilty. Somewhere along the way I decided that if it doesn’t take work then it has no value.

This is not what the scriptures teach. God set aside a day for rest and commanded us to do the same… remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. By this point Paul must have been worn and weary. Months in prison, a long journey at sea, shipwrecked with nothing and even snake bit, Paul needed a period of rest. He received that rest in Malta.

When is the last time you spent an entire day resting? I’m not talking about laying in the bed all day, but just deciding not to work in thought or activity. Now might just be the time for you to give it a try.

Lord, the call to rest and trust You to fill gaps, increase time,
and make sure everything gets done can be challenging.
Help me to let go of work one day this week and make it holy unto You;
spending time with You in prayer, in the Word, and resting in You for what’s needed.
Thank You for the call to rest.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 27:13-38
(Click on the link to read the scriptures.)

Friends, you really should have listened to me back in Crete. We could have avoided all this trouble and trial. But there’s no need to dwell on that now. From now on, things are looking up!

I love the good news in Paul’s statement. It is so easy to get caught up in the “would of, should of, could of” game. Play it long enough and it feels like you are a hamster running on a wheel, never going anywhere. Paul is blunt reminding them this could have been avoided, but what he says next I often need to say to myself.

“There’s no need to dwell on it now!” No need to think of what I would have done differently, or should have done, or could have done. No need to run on the hamster wheel. No need because things are looking up.

Paul encouraged them to eat breakfast, to break bread together, to give thanks for their rescue.  A rescue that had not even happened yet. Let’s take a lesson from Paul. Let’s give up on the dwelling and give praise for those things God is doing and will do.

Father God, I’ve learned there is no “what if” only “what is.”
In the “what is” is where You are and where You are working.
Help me to stay focused on the present and not the past;
to be thankful and put my hope in the future You have in store.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 27:1-12
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

This section of scripture leaves us wondering what’s going to happen. Paul gave a warning not to set sail but the centurion listened to other’s advice and ignored the warning. How often I’ve listened to other’s advice and ignored the little voice in my head. Most of us have had the experience of hearing a warning… a sort of “not a good idea” thought. The world calls it our conscience. I call it the Holy Spirit.

What warnings have you received lately? Did you heed the warning or take other advice? How did that work out?

Jesus, You alone made the way for the Father to send the Holy Spirit
to those who believe and trust in You. Teach me to hear His voice.
Help me to obey without hesitation. I want to be Spirit led.

“… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,
for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears
he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. …” —Jesus
John 16:13 ESV

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 26:12-32
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

 Agrippa told Festus, “He could be set free right now if he hadn’t requested the hearing before Caesar.”

Seems like Paul made a big mistake. Now, because of Paul’s request, he cannot be set free by these two. By law, he has to go to Rome. This is no mistake. Paul knew what he was asking. He knew once he made the request he would go no matter what. Paul understood some of God’s plan for him, if not all, and God was moving Paul to Rome. Paul’s obedience and faith in God’s plan meant no earthly freedom at this point.

Paul’s understanding of freedom has nothing to do with prison bars or anything on this earth for that matter. In God’s kingdom freedom has do with our heart. And true freedom only comes through obedience.

Are there areas in your life that seem bound up? Could it be an obedience issue?

Lord, show me where I’ve bound myself through disobedience.
Bless me with the faith and humility to repent.
I want to know true freedom.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 26:1-11
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

“Go ahead, tell us about yourself.” In all of these verses, Paul tells Agrippa about himself. What would you say if someone said…

Go ahead — tell us about yourself.

What first pops into your mind? Would you speak of your family… your kids? Would you tell of your accomplishments or career?

I attended a retreat this weekend where you are not allowed to talk about your profession. The first time I attended it was really hard to not talk about what I do day in and day out. I found myself wondering about the others I was with on the retreat. What does she do for a living? I even tried to guess each one’s career.

During this retreat, my seventh, it dawned on me I had not even wondered about it this time. Not once had it crossed my mind to talk about my work or their work. It is so easy to lean on what we do instead of who we are. Suppose I reworded this statement…

Go ahead — tell us about who you are.

Who are we when we move past our career and family position? Who are we when we can’t talk about hobbies or pets? This may be the most important question we ever answer.

Father God, who am I?
You alone search and know the hearts of all people.
Forgive me for letting people and activities
define my identity. My identity is found in You alone.
Show me who I am, in Jesus’s name.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 25:13-27
(No bible handy, just click on the link to read today’s verses.)

At this point all seems crazy! Not one official can find fault in Paul. No one can back up their accusations with any evidence. The government leaders continue to say this is a religious argument and has nothing to do with the law. And yet, they refuse to let Paul go. Why? What is up with all of this?

When you look at each of these circumstances on an individual basis, they seem ludicrous. What if we look at each circumstance as a piece of the whole? Nothing happens to us, or Paul, in a vacuum. God is the master at weaving every circumstance in our lives together for our good and for the good of others. His plan for Paul is to go to Rome. He has a plan for us too.

Trust in His plan for you… no matter the circumstances you find yourself in at this very moment. All the moments in all the days will add up in a way you cannot fathom. And it will be… Oh so good.

Lord, You alone can use the craziness of the world for good.
Help me to trust You in the circumstances You set me in.
Show me the opportunities You give me to share Your truth,
even if I don’t understand how I got where I am.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 24:22-25:12
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

Felix and his wife volunarily listened to Paul’s teaching for two years. Repeatedly calling him back into their presence. Yes, Felix had an ulterior motive. He wanted a bribe from Paul. Still, God can use any situation for His purpose. Paul would talk to Felix about a relationship with God, about living a life of moral discipline, and Felix would get uncomfortable. Instead of opening his heart and mind to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit, he would send Paul away.

I’ve squirmed in my pew at times just like Felix. Struggling between the prompting of the Spirit and my own selfishness. These are “fork in the road” times. We can take the direction of Felix and dismiss it altogether. Or, we can open our hearts to the truth of what God is speaking in that moment.

What has left you squirming recently? Which direction did you take?

Father God, You know what makes me squirm. 
You know the truth I want to close my ears to.
I no longer want to harden my heart to the Spirit’s voice.
Make me sensitive to His conviction.
Bless me with the faith and humility to receive truth
and allow it to change me.
I’ve lived far from You long enough.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 24:1-21
(Click on the link to read today’s verses.)

The drama for Paul continued as the chief priest and his followers along with a lawyer came to make accusations. They accused Paul of disturbing the peace for years… all over the world. How did they know? Paul had been out of the country for several years. They had no news reporters, no televisions. Really, how did they know what Paul was doing “all over the world”?

I recently sat on a jury. Here was a person accused of a crime, but that was about it. There just wasn’t a lot of evidence to back it up. I learned quickly that for some an accusation is truth. It reminded me how detrimental accusing someone of something can be. Accusation is one of the enemy’s main weapons.

Salvation and power are established!
    Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah!
The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out,
    who accused them day and night before God.
They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb
    and the bold word of their witness.–Revelation 12:10

This scripture names our enemy as the Accuser of our brothers and sisters. We’ve all been accused of something. The harder thing for me is recognizing my own hurling of accusations. I do not want to be an accuser. I want to be an encourager. For the rest of this week I am going to be mindful of the words I speak about others. I am going to choose encouragement instead of accusation. Won’t you join me for the challenge?

Lord, help me to remember accusation comes easy,
is often born of assumption and lacks any real evidence.
Do not allow me to fall into the enemy’s trap of lies
when it comes to accusing others. Bless me with the ability
to discern truth and encourage others to do the same.

Beyond the Gospels: Acts

Today’s Scripture: Acts 23:23-35
(Just click on the link if you don’t have a Bible handy.)

The governmental officials didn’t seem to think Paul had done anything wrong. The letter said he’d done nothing remotely criminal. The governor put Paul up in Herod’s quarters and decided to wait to see if the accusers even showed up. The only people really upset were the religious ones. It was the same with Jesus.

I would like to think we are different now. Somehow more sophisticated in our disagreements. The reality of another college shooting reveals something different. It also reminds me of people all over the world being persecuted because of their beliefs. Not one of the disciples lived a “happily ever after” life.

Cassie and I were talking about persecution Wednesday as she prepared to teach our youth. One question kept rolling around in her mind, “Would I claim Jesus in the face of death?” The question hung in the air between the two of us as reality sank in. On the surface the answer seems easy, but deep down there is another question lurking… What if I didn’t have enough faith to claim Jesus?

It leads me to an even deeper thought… Even without the threat of death, there are times I deny Him. Times I choose anger over love, and chaos over peace. Times when I choose my own way instead of The Way. May we never forget each and every moment is an opportunity to choose Him.

Father God, I pray for the faith to choose Jesus each and every day,
no matter the cost.