Saturday, September 30, 2006

Acts 20:1-16

In today’s reading, Paul preaches late into the night. His listeners are so captivated by his words that they continue listening, in spite of the lateness of the hour -- all but one. Eutychus, a young man, succumbs to sleep and falls three floors, to his death. “But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him,’” (v.10) Paul then continues where he left off, breaks bread with them, and preaches until morning.

For whatever reason, and we’re pretty good at validating them, we, too, sometimes fall asleep even as the Word of God echoes in our heads. Consciously or unconsciously, sometimes we stumble and sometimes we fall off the path created for us by the life and death and words of Jesus. Do you ignore the needs of the people around you, especially those most important to you -- your spouse, your children, your friends? Do you turn a blind eye to social injustices in the world? In your community? Do you dismiss the plight of the less fortunate (not just the poor, or hungry, or disabled, or imprisoned, but also those who are lonely, or angry, or confused), thinking there is nothing you can do? Have you stopped caring about, or even praying for, the needs or problems of others?

Of course, the good news is that God is there to put His arms around each one of us. He is always ready to breathe new life into you and into me.

Heavenly Father, may Your grace stir the life that is in us, enlighten our minds, and energize our spirits. May we awaken to the needs of others, in our own homes, in our community, in our world. And with eyes and hearts wide open and focused on You, may we live Your Word daily. Amen.

Martha Olson

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Acts 19:11-20

I can remember taking a look at this passage in seminary and one of my professors saying quite candidly, “This is the kind of verse (referring to verse 12) that you just wish had been left out.” What are we to make of a verse like this? It sounds an awful lot like pagan superstition, or perhaps even worse like the claims of a televangelist hawking his wares.

In a recent article in Time magazine entitled Does God Want You to Be Rich? we find the following quote. "Who would want to get in on something where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?" asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. "I believe God wants to give us nice things."

In Lauren Sandler’s book, Righteous, she quotes another popular preaching saying why would anyone want become a Christian if they see you driving a broken down old car? But if you are driving a Mercedes—well, now they would be interested in finding out more about your God.

It’s not too hard to see how a verse like this could be construed as playing into such thinking. Apparently, people believed that the sweat band and apron Paul wore while working (remember, Paul labored at a trade to support himself) carried Paul’s power to heal. Further, they believed that God didn’t want a person sick, diseased, or in bondage to any form of evil. Put the two together and you the makings of a “magic” business proposition that an unethical person could use to take advantage of people and make a fortune. Clearly, people have done just this.

But the rest of this passage shows why such an approach is antithetical to the Christian faith. What God was doing was not “magic”. When people simply tried to use Jesus’ name a magical incantation, it didn’t work.

The effect of all these things was to focus people back on God. Yes, God apparently did meet people where they were, in ways that may seem strangely superstitious and even inappropriate to us. But that was because God knew that Paul would not leave them thinking that Paul himself possessed some magic power. He knew that Paul would be exceedingly faithful in pointing people to the real source of his power: Jesus Christ.

And so when one reads these verses carefully, they find they point to the difference between miracle and magic. They show that the true work of God has a very different result: life change and even moral reform. Seeing the power of God at work (not self-centered magic!) led them to give up things that were of great value to them in order that they might be faithful to the word of the Lord.

That seems very different than the “prosperity gospel”. God doesn’t want us sick, diseased, or in bondage to any type of evil forces. But we trust Him to work in our lives according to His perfect will, not our own selfish and often corrupt desires.

So the real question comes to be—for us every bit as much as it was for the people of this passage: where do you and I place our trust? Money? Our abilities? People? Our job? Things?

Or Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Acts 19:1-10

Today's reading is an interesting one. But what is the message it is trying to convey? Is it trying to say that Christians need two baptisms? No, I do not think so. Let's have a look at the message I think is being given in this passage.

In verses 4 and 5 Paul is talking with some "disciples" who have not heard of the Holy Spirit and he states, "Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.' On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus."

To me this is saying that to become a full fledged Christian, a true Christian, one must do two things (no, not the need of two baptisms). One must repent of sin (be truly sorry for your sin and lead a changed life) and one must turn to Christ (have faith that He is the Savior, love Him with all our heart, and follow His teachings). It is not good enough to do one or the other, Christians must do both.

Today's reading goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit coming on to these people and they "spoke in tongues and prophesied". How do we know when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives? I mean does it have to be something as obvious as speaking in tongues or prophesying? I submit the answer is no. Just as Rob preached last weekend and just like the book of James tells us, I think you can tell when the Holy Spirit comes into someone's life by the deeds that person does. The Holy Spirit helps us lead changed lives (helps us with our repentance) and helps us put our faith into practice. What a glorious God to send each of us such help. God gives us the guide book in which to live our lives and sends us help to do it. I do not know about you, but I think that is very awesome.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Acts 18:12-28

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Sept. 25, 2006
Acts 18:1-18

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

We continue our journey with Paul as he seeks to spread the Good News to all who will listen. He understandably is making enemies in the process. My ageing Father (91 yrs) has a favorite saying that “he who changes his mind against his will, is of the same opinion still” – at least I think that’s how it goes. Paul is trying to change people’s minds. Why is he doing that? Why has he committed his whole life and being to that cause? I believe it is because he believes the Good News. He is so convinced in the reality of The Risen Jesus that he MUST bring this reality to others. Why? Because he loves them and cares enough to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to get the news to them, even when they reject and threaten him.

My Father also made me aware of the difference between knowing and believing something. I may know something intellectually but it is not until I believe it that I will act on it and it impacts my behavior. I can see Paul engaged in intellectual debates with learned Rabbis to try and change their minds. Paul must have realized that as an outsider he would have only limited success. They had to “believe” that Jesus is the Son of God and only he can offer them life eternal. Knowing it because he told them was not sufficient.

Pontius Pilate was not the only Proconsul to say to the Jewish leadership “--- this man is your problem, you deal with him”. Gallio did the same with Paul. We see again the pattern of Paul engaging the Jews and Gentiles and creating resistance by challenging their traditional beliefs. Then departing to repeat in another place. It was through other Jewish converts like Apol’los that went back after Paul’s departure and preached the Good News that many believed. They could then see past Paul’s ranting when the message was confirmed by one of their own and then they believed. Paul (and my father) teaches that we must know Jesus in our heads and we must believe him in our hearts. Thanks to both.


John Dickie, Sept.25, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Acts 18:1-11

Paul passionately believed in Jesus. He deeply and firmly believed that Jesus uniquely and definitively represented God in the world. This is vital for us to grasp. As a devout Jew, Paul had not at first viewed Jesus in this way. Rather, Paul had seen Jesus as a dangerous deceiver about God and himself. Then with overwhelming grace and love, Jesus knocked Paul down on his way to Damascus to intimidate followers of Jesus. This “wreck on the highway” metaphorically killed Paul but literally saved his life. After that, deep down and through and through, Paul knew Jesus to be the fulfillment of all God intended to do in Israel and the world.

Only this turn-around in the core of Paul’s being explains his corresponding passion to tell his fellow Jews and then Gentiles about Jesus. Whereas he had once believed Jesus to be bad news, now he knew Jesus to be good news. His resulting passion for Jesus we see throughout Acts. In today’s passage, for example, we find that Paul had been in Athens talking about Jesus to Jews in the synagogue, to people in the marketplace, and to participants in the philosophical forum. After a time, he relocated to Corinth. Paul continued in Corinth to devote himself to telling Jews and Gentiles about the greatness and goodness of Jesus, once crucified but now raised to new life to the glory of God and the benefit of all.

What do we pursue in life? Do we passionately pursue belief in Jesus, the kind of belief that leads to turned-around obedience to him, even if it risks our standing in the world’s view and perhaps even loss, suffering, and death? Paul practiced tent-making, yet in the core of his being he knew he lived and breathed as a Christ-one. Wherever he went – whatever city, whatever religious or social setting – he walked, talked, and acted as a follower of Jesus first and last. In our various settings – family, school, marketplace, community – do we walk, talk, and act purposefully as followers of Jesus first and last?

I am challenged by reading of Paul in Acts. I let so many things and pursuits distract and deter me from the pursuit of belief in Jesus, the kind that tells others by word and deed of the great good news of Jesus in my life and the world. Perhaps you have the same experience. Join with me, if you will, in praying for greater singleness and passion in identity and purpose as a Christ-one, first and last, to the glory of God and the benefit of others.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, September 24, 2006

James 1:19-27

My daughters had their first volleyball games of the season on Saturday. For the last 3 weeks, they have been practicing and working on their skills and this was the first chance they had to compete using what they have learned.

In a controlled practice situation, players usually do a pretty good job of executing the skills that are being taught, but in the pressure of a game it’s very common for players to revert to old habits or poor technique which leads to errors or poor play. That’s what made it so exciting to see during the game that the girls were executing some of the things that were talked about in practice. They were able to act on what they were hearing and being taught.

Sometimes we hear the word but it takes an “event” before we begin acting on it. One girl on the volleyball team heard the coach’s serving instruction during practice and the best techniques to use for a successful serve, but she wanted to serve her own way. During the first game she was unsuccessful in all her serves and it cost her team some points. After the team lost, she realized that she should act on the serving instruction she had received. Between the games she talked to the coach again and did some practicing using the serving instruction. In the next game, she scored 5 points off her serve and helped her team win the second game.

Acting on the truth of what we know is one of the lessons from today’s reading.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

Alan Davenport

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Acts 17:16-34

<--In the footsteps of Paul: stone stairway leads up to the Areopagus site in Athens

Concerning an Unknown God...

I have strong and fond memories of Athens. It was there that, as a young Navy lieutenant, I first picked up my six-week-old son, born during my deployment to the Mediterranean. Our new family of three spent several weeks in the Omonia Hotel while my ship was repaired at Skaramangas shipyard--but I digress. From the hills and cliffs that surround the Acropolis, I saw the glory that was Greece. I could easily understand the impact that that architecture would have had in its golden prime. On one of those Greek hills I walked in the literal footsteps of Paul.

On Mars Hill, in the shadow of the Acropolis, the apostle to the Gentiles confronted the builders of the temples of mythic gods. He had seen an altar dedicated to an Unknown God (the Athenians wanted to cover ALL their bases). Borrowing verses from some of their own poets, he challenged them to set aside the beautiful work of human hands, repent, and believe in the One God, and his appointed judge, now raised from the dead.

Some sneered with ridicule--this crazy man was suggesting something contrary to reason. But others wanted to hear more, and a few of them believed and followed.

We too are out here bringing our message into the court of public opinion. But are we connecting our encouraging, joyful, generous though ultimately challenging message to the embedded spiritual longings of the wider culture we are in?

O Lord in whom we live and move
and have our breath of being
Help us so to live and move through this 21st century world
that we may breathe the spirit of the everlasting.
<--Paul's speech rendered in Modern Greek

‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,“For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’was

Friday, September 22, 2006

Acts 17: 1-15

Paul was a dog with a bone. In reading through Acts, it is clear that Paul did not waiver from his mission for any reason. No matter the hardship, no matter the danger, Paul was going to spread his message of salvation through Jesus to as many people as he possibly could until the time would come, which he knew would eventually come, when he would be silenced.

My guess is that all of us are “dogs with bones” about something. We just won’t let it go. It may be a political issue, or an issue regarding your children, an annoying habit of your spouse’s, something at the workplace or maybe it’s turning the lights off when you leave a room. But there is one issue we should all be “dogs with bones” about, and that is the message of salvation through Jesus. Specifically, we should be “knowing and sharing God’s love” throughout our daily lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and some of you have heard me rattle on about this (talk about a dog with a bone, huh?), but I have been particularly thinking lately about the folks who have come to St. Matthews, and then slipped away. Their attendance may have become more sporadic so we see them every now and again, so when they stop coming all together it does not reach our radar that they are actually gone. I can’t even remember certain names, although I recognize their faces in the grocery store. But do I go up and talk to them, asking them how they are doing, tell them they are missed? Sometimes I do, but sometimes I don’t. I’m in a hurry, it’s raining outside, it’s a full moon, blah blah blah.

But how can we talk about reaching more people if we can’t keep the people we have? Imagine how loved a person would feel if, when they stop coming to church for no particular reason, they receive a call from someone saying “Where have you been? Are you okay?” That would be true faith in action. That is what Paul was all about. I truly believe that this is also what the community of St. Matthews is all about as well.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Acts 16:25-40

Well, I have the good fortune of getting the passage Richard was hoping for yesterday. And, as Richard hinted, a very good thing happens in it: God acts in an amazing way on behalf of Paul and Silas. This in turn leads to the salvation of the jailer and his household, and ultimately Paul and Silas being released (with an apology, even!)

There is so much rich content in this passage: Paul and Silas focus on God (singing hymns!) rather than their unfortunate circumstances (beaten and thrown in jail). The power of prayer and praise. The essence of salvation defined. A household baptized (and the implications for infant baptism when one understands Luke’s concern to show that God’s kingdom is for everyone). The encouragement telling their story brings to others. All great stuff!

But here is what really catches my eye. Paul and Silas are free. They can walk right out of the prison, but they don’t. They know if they do, the jailer looses his life. They refuse to exercise their freedom out of love and concern for another. They refuse to do what they could do because of what that would cost another.

Personally, I think that concept is at the very heart of Christianity. It is at the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a call to serve, humbly and potentially at great cost to oneself. It is a call to lay down our rights and privileges for Love’s sake, not to claim those same rights and privileges to enhance our position, possessions, or pleasure in life.

And I think an awful lot of the church—and not just the Episcopal Church, either—has that very, very wrong. But even as I write that—with numerous examples running through my head—I know my focus is misplaced. What I need to concentrate on is not how the church is getting it wrong, but how I am getting it wrong.

What I need to concentrate on is my own willingness (or lack thereof) to sacrifice my rights to my time, my rights to do certain things, my rights to have certain things, and so on, so that I can serve others like Christ has served me. Like Paul and Silas served the jailer.

That, I think, is one of the prime measures of my faithfulness to Jesus. And you know what? For me, at least, it is always an area that could stand improvement.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Acts 16:16-24

Boy, today's reading stops short of a very good lesson. Part of me wishes I could be writing about the next thing that happens to Paul and Silas. But, as luck would have it, I have this reading which ends with Paul and Silas thrown into jail.

The reading begins with Paul and Silas running into a slave girl who could predict the future. This girl was possessed with a demon that gave her this ability. For several days she followed Paul and Silas and shouted, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." Now at first glance one might think what is wrong with that. After all the girl is shouting the truth, correct? Since she is telling the truth it is good advertising, right?

Our reading today makes it clear that Paul gets annoyed with the shouting and takes care of it by conducting an exorcism. So why was Paul annoyed? Perhaps it was because the shouting of the possessed slave girl was attracting more attention than the gospel message Paul was preaching. Or perhaps it was because Paul realized the reason the girl knew what she knew was due to an evil demon. If Paul accepted the demon's declaration he would appear to be linking the gospel with demon related activities. Either way his message about Christ might get lost due to this distraction.

So Paul takes care of it by forcing the demon from the girl. Now the slave girl can no longer predict the future and the girl's owners are very upset as their revenue stream has just dried up. Thus Paul and Silas are brought before the magistrates and accused of being Jews and causing an uproar. For this Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into jail.

Yes today's reading stops short of Paul and Silas' time in jail, but it shows us clearly that the gospel message (Paul and Silas were telling everyone the way to be saved) and evil (the demon possessing the slave girl) do not mix.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

acts 16:6-15

Daily Devotional – Tuesday September 19
Acts 16:6-15

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

We continue to accompany Paul on his journey of joy. Following his Damascus Road conversion, Paul’s entire life was given to his mission to spread the name of Jesus as far as he could and to as many people as he could. This was no vacation trip. He did not have to worry about whether he had tooth paste in his carry-on or the price of gas. He walked and he walked. It must have been frustrating for him to spend so much time getting from one place to another. Time he must have considered wasted. I travel a great deal and I know how frustrating it can be to just sit. I imagine Paul would have made great use of a mobile phone or blackberry.

But maybe it was during these long walks that Paul received his motivation and his energy. Maybe this is when he talked to God and received his instructions. I have found great comfort and relief in those moments of prayer in an airplane or standing in a security line when I can say my silent prayers and focus on what is important.

Paul was not allowed to preach in Asia. I am sure there is a reason for this though I do not know that reason. He was so instructed by the Holy Spirit; maybe on one of his long walks. He did however receive very clear instructions via a vision to go to Macedonia to help the people there. He did not question, he just went – on another long walk.

There was no concern about their next meal or where they would sleep. We read of where Paul spoke to a group of women. One of whom helped Paul in spreading the good news. After the baptism of her and her family, she took Paul into her home. This story is told over and over. Though Paul must have experienced considerable physical pain and frustration on this journey, he was bringing joy and great comfort to the people he met. This was his mission; to feed the hungry with spiritual food. It truly was a journey of joy.


John Dickie, September 19 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

Acts 15:36-16:5

Close companions, brothers in Jesus, Paul and Barnabas traveled and worked together in the Mediterranean region for some time. Barnabas became an early follower of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 4). He was instrumental in convincing the disciples of the authenticity of Paul’s conversion to following Jesus (Acts 9). Together Paul and Barnabas, through their preaching and teaching, played vital, formative roles in the establishment and development of a number of churches in the region.

In this context of life and work deeply shared by these devoted followers of Jesus, the disagreement in today’s passage pains all the more as we read and imagine how strong it must have been. Paul and Barnabas determined to revisit churches where they had formerly preached and taught. They aimed to encourage and strengthen the believers. Barnabas desired John Mark to accompany them as he had done previously. Paul decidedly did not want John Mark with them, as he had deserted them at a point in their earlier mission. It’s difficult to discern God’s presence in this conflict!

Yet one of the great, profound truths we take from Acts, from all of the Bible, is that God writes our world and our lives as a narrative over time and space. Today’s text describes but a moment in God’s saving authorship in the lives of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark. In the longer storyline of God’s overarching narrative in their lives, Paul wrote of Barnabas in positive terms (1 Cor. 9 and Gal. 2). And when Paul faced his last imprisonment and death in Rome, he strongly desired John Mark to come and help him (2 Tim. 4). Despite what happened then and there in Antioch, God eventually worked transformation and reconciliation.

It is temptingly easy, in the compressing intensity of the here and now, to lose sight of God’s greatness and encompassing care for us and the world. Lord of time and space, God transcends yet moves in them to love us, transform us, and complete us in his most wondrous purposes. We live in time and space, but we must refuse to get stuck at any one point in them. We must not take the short, constricted view. We must trust God in the here and now for his providence over time and space. The witness of Acts and the whole Bible is that, because of who God is, we can. The moment may pain, yet God can redeem.

Gregory Strong

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Acts 15:22-35

Today, we read about a church preparing to send two representatives to church members of Gentile origin in Antioch. These believers had been given some confusing and disturbing information and needed help to understand the true teaching.

This church could have sent a letter to the believers in Antioch with no personal representatives. They could have judged these believers as inferior or not important. Instead, they sent two highly valued members of their own church family to help and encourage the newer church.

The Message interprets verse 32 in this way: Judas and Silas “strengthened their new friends with many words of courage and hope”. Judas and Silas not only delivered the letter and teaching but developed relationships and friendships. Through Judas, Silas and others, a bond was created between the two communities.

It sounds pretty simple until I try to imagine myself in that situation. Carrying out this mission would mean taking time out of my life, traveling to a new place (maybe I'll like it and maybe I won't), meeting new people (some easy to get along with and some not so easy to like), refuting some teachings they have heard and stressing others. Definitely not something in my comfort zone!

Jesus showed us the magnitude of God’s love and the importance of relationships with one another. The members of this church put Jesus’ teaching into practice. They sent Judas and Silas to Antioch and I’m sure their presence conveyed the caring, encouragement and hope much more powerfully and sincerely than the most eloquent letter.

Sue Reier

Friday, September 15, 2006

Acts 15:12-21

Sometimes I think about the birth of America, how men met together and forged our democracy and how their dream has enriched our lives. Having lived in a developing third world country I don’t take much for granted. For example where I lived, one wouldn’t dream that he or she could go to almost any store, buy a stamp for a few cents (instead of a day’s wages), put it on a letter and the letter would GET TO the person in few days.

This chapter in Acts describes men and women by the power of God, building something even more amazing; a community of God. This would be a community where all types of people would be included and everyone would be welcome to come to God. These were exciting times in the church, and it stunned many that this community would be open to Gentiles. I can imagine how hard this would be for many. I can picture the church leaders struggling, debating such a difficult concept and trying to be open to the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes it’s a struggle to share. There are many ways each day to share the love of God. That’s one way to look at spiritual gifts; each person has been gifted to share God’s love in a different way. As we exercise our gifts the sharing is not burdensome but a joy. Sometimes we are tired, but God gives us strength. A song I’ve been listening to lately says, “I’m falling on my face, holding out for grace…”

Mostly when I read this Scripture I’m just amazed at God’s power to move men and women to decide that everyone can have a place to come to (v 17, The Message). The book of Acts is full of earthquakes; literal ones but also the ones where peoples’ lives and beliefs are turned upside down. That’s how powerful the Spirit is.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Acts 15:1-11

We’ve all heard the line about the perfect church: If we find it, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect anymore.

And yet, I think, that doesn’t stop us from looking for one. Or being disappointed when our church isn’t.

On one level, that makes perfect sense. We come to church looking for God, for a place or group of people that make Him known, and that therefore is very different from the world around us. We’re looking for a shelter in the storm, for a grace that gives us a rest from life’s constant demands, for love that accepts us precisely as we are (even if, as another old saying goes, God loves us too much to let us stay that way.)

I don’t think those are unreasonable expectations. If God really is present in a church, then that ought to make some real, tangible difference. The church really should be different from the world, offering the hearts that God created what they most truly long for.

But it’s not that simple, is it? Because though God is present and very much at work, so are fallen human beings who, though they may have come a long, long way, are not perfect yet. At least I’m not. And there’s the rub.

So there is a tension here—a tension that comes from rightly pursuing ideals and yet not letting our pursuit of the ideal stand in the way of loving and finding our place in a flesh and blood church.

As in today’s reading, it didn’t take long for the early church to begin to experience painful conflicts and divisions. None of the people we read about, nor the communities of faith they belonged to, were perfect. But God was still present. God was still at work. God was still redeeming mankind, changing people’s lives from the inside out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Acts 14:19-28

When I read today's reading I receive three distinct messages. Let's have a look at these messages.

The first message was in verses 19 and 20. The crowd stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Paul, to may amazement, got up and went back to continue preaching the gospel. Now I do not know about you, but if a crowd tried to kill me I am not sure I would rush back in to continue my preaching. I would probably say to myself that these people are not worth saving and move on. However, Paul's action demonstrates to us that we should not live to please the crowd, but we should put our trust in God and do the task he has given us to do.

The second message regards new converts and the need to encourage them. Paul and Barnabas showed us in verses 21 and 22 that they had, and thus we have, a responsibility to encourage new believers. No matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable this task may seem, we are called to support new believers and provide encouragement. After all it was not convenient or comfortable for Jesus to go to the cross for us.

The third message has to do with supporting leaders. God calls leaders when he needs to move His flock in a given direction. Moses is a great example of someone who was called, or anointed, to be the leader to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Churches fulfill God's calling through the guidance of Spirit-led leaders - both ordained and lay. It is our obligation to support the leaders God has called forward and to pray for them. It is the leaders duty to humbly accept the responsibilities of this task they were called to do and to always seek and follow the will of God.

I hope you agree that these three messages stand out in today's reading. I pray that these messages, like all the messages in the Bible, take root in your live and mine.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Acts 14:1-18

Daily Devotional – Tuesday September 12
Acts 14:1-18

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Greetings dear Reader. I am back after 2 weeks in the far-far North without internet. God has provided us such a wonderful world to live in and I am blessed to be able to see much of it. I just wish airplanes had bigger windows so I could see even more. Oh well, this and heaven too.

I love many things including history and The Bible. The Acts of the Apostles provides both in abundance. Acts not only provides an account of how the early Church was established but provides teaching as well. Many of our Christian beliefs and values that we so often take for granted today were very difficult 2000 years ago. While we are familiar today with religious persecution, it is very different from what Paul and Barnabas experienced as described in today’s reading. Paul and Barnabas were preaching a new belief that challenged the common belief at the time. There was passionate resistance to the point of violence. Rather than giving up and giving in to the fear they must have felt, they left to continue their mission in another place. They were “driven” to preach the “new” word of God.

Paul sees the crippled man. Not only does he see him but he looks inside him. He sees his faith. Paul can see that the man believes that Paul has the power to make him walk. Paul did not give the man the ability to walk. This power was always there within the crippled man but needed to be released by God. Paul was the instrument of God’s love.

We often refer to the living God. Here Paul teaches how the one and only true God lives among us. The story tells of how the Greeks tried to put the new religion in “old cloths” by trying to worship Paul and Barnabas as Gods. Paul becomes again very passionate and describes the one great living God that gave his living human Son, the heaven, sea and this wonderful earth we are blessed to call home. In fact God has given all that is good and will continue to do so in the future; even after death. Praise and thanks to you Lord God.


John Dickie, September 12 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

Acts 13:44-52

Today’s reading from Acts depicts two different reactions to the good news of Jesus. On the one hand, many Jewish people in Pisidian Antioch (in Asia Minor; distinct from Antioch in Syria) reacted negatively and abusively to the teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus as proclaimed by Paul and Barnabas. On the other hand, many non-Jewish people (Gentiles) rejoiced at the good news and committed their hearts, minds, and lives to following Jesus. The two responses could not be more distinct and opposed.

It is perhaps characteristic of our culture that we tend to assume people, in general, will welcome and accept something which appears good, whether material or non-material in nature. This assumption seems to rest in beliefs that people are basically reasonable, they want what is good, and they will respond positively to what appears to be good if given opportunity. Thus, for example, in a world where darkness shrouds life, the offer of light would be welcomed and accepted. Likewise, in a world where ills and sufferings plague people, the offer of healing (salvation) would be welcomed and accepted.

Yet today’s passage presents a different picture of how people often respond to what is good, to what is good news. This should not really surprise us. The greatest good of all time – Jesus himself – was rejected, tortured, and crucified. The evil in all of us did this. Before we became followers, we were executioners. Before we experienced and embraced his light and salvation, we raged against the good he was and the good he offered. In fact, only through the full playing out of our rejection of God’s good did God bring about the wondrous transformation of light and salvation in our hearts, minds, and lives. This is the story of the cross and resurrection.

Perhaps especially on this day, when we remember so vividly the horrors of darkness and suffering that rage in the world, we should recall humbly and remorsefully the tendencies we have in our lives to resist that which is truly good in God’s sight and purposes. In the depths of our self-recognition and regret, may God lovingly grace and transform us to rejoice in and honor his good news in Jesus, who alone is our true light and salvation amid all darkness and ills. Then may we be truly good news to friend and stranger, even enemy, as God is to us in Jesus.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Revelation 14:1-7,13

It’s football season again and I joined a Fantasy Football league with four other guys from my work. We are all fans of football and this league gives us a forum and opportunity to demonstrate our fandom. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the talk you hear around the water-cooler at work: who’s going the win the next game; complaints about the referee’s call; can a player come back from his injury? It's folks wearing their favorite player or team jersey. It’s the exhilaration you feel when your team has done well and the dejection when they do poorly. Being a fan seems to bring some natural consequences and responsibilities – it’s what being a fan means.

Every job and position brings with it certain innate expectations and even responsibilities. I thought about this when I read the following excerpt from today’s passage:
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7)

In his vision, John saw an angel. It was this angel’s responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to the whole earth. For those of us that have heard and received that message, we bear the same responsibility.

Just as naturally as a football fan roots for his player and team, we can proclaim the Gospel. We can use our words, our actions, our demeanor, and even the clothes we wear to promote Christ. We can think of ourselves as “fans” of Christ. The good news is that we already know that we’re rooting for the winning team.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Acts 13:26-43

Today’s passage (explained in yesterday’s devotion) ends with this verse: “Paul and Barnabas ...urged them in long conversations to stick with what they’d started, this living in and by God’s grace.” (The Message, v.43)

Grace is as free and as unconditional as a parent’s love for a child, as God’s love for us. And Grace is available to each of us all the time, whether or not we think we need it. But if we accept it, do we do so wholeheartedly? How do we know?

I believe if we wholeheartedly say “Yes!” to God’s Grace, our lives will show it, even in subtle ways -- choosing prayer over a final ½ hour of TV at night, volunteering to help with Sunday School or other ministry area in need, filling a bag for LINK, taking the first step toward stopping an addictive behavior -- or, less subtly, in entirely changing the direction of our lives.

Yesterday, I watched a news anchor interview a son whose father, a FDNY fireman, died on 9/11. This son had an Ivy League Degree and an MBA, and he was steadily climbing the corporate ladder when 9/11 occurred. He said that the experience of that day and the death of his father changed everything in his life. Material things became irrelevant, and so he chose to leave his ambitions behind and instead to pursue the profession that had been his father’s passion – to help others. He became a fireman in the same FDNY Company as his father.

I believe that living in and by God’s Grace means saying “yes” to God’s passion – love (that we love God and love our neighbor) -- and leaving behind those things which are irrelevant to eternal life – material possessions, the pursuit of money, power, etc. How have the death and resurrection of Jesus changed your life?

Heavenly Father, may we wholeheartedly receive your gift of Grace, especially at times when temptation is strong, when inaction is easy or convenient, and when we believe we can handle things ourselves. May we stick with what [we’ve] started, this living in and by [Your] grace.” Amen.

Martha Olson

Friday, September 08, 2006

Acts 13:26-43

Today’s reading is the first time that a sermon by Saul, who after this Chapter of Acts is called Paul, is given so much press. Before this chapter, Saul’s activities and whereabouts are generally reported but this is Paul’s “coming out”. From this point forward, the Book of Acts features Paul prominently.

Paul and Barnabas were specifically selected by the Holy Spirit to take this trip, the beginning of Paul’s itinerant mission work which would take Paul to many places and eventually to Rome where he is killed. The text in this chapter states several times that Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. So it appears that the time, place and even words spoken by Paul come from and through the Holy Spirit.

The sermon is eloquent yet simple. Paul makes clear that his words and, indeed, all that is offered through Christ are for both Jews and Gentiles. He walks through how God has shown Israel His love. He explains how Jesus is the Messiah that God promised to Israel, and how, through Jesus’ death on the cross, God has fulfilled his promise of everlasting life made available to everyone.

Using Old Testament references, which were well known to the listeners in the synagogue, Paul warns his audience not to be part of the naysayers who will ultimately be punished but to accept Jesus and be forgiven of all sin.

Paul’s sermon is just as relevant and powerful today as it was that day in Antioch. I invite you to read Paul’s words when you have a few quiet minutes. Let these verses sink in and fill you with the same overpowering peace that those original converts must have felt. Imagine seeing Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, delivering what must have been the speech of his life, although it was the first of many. The message is simple, yet awesome – Jesus died for our sins to give us everlasting life. Believe in Him and be free.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Acts 13:1-12

At the church in Antioch, we read, there were a number of prophets and teachers. I don’t know if Saul (Paul) and Barnabas were the best of the group, but judging by their ministry elsewhere, they must’ve had a powerful impact on the church in Antioch. I write that because I’m thinking it can’t have been easy to have let them go.

In other words, if they were as good as they seem to be, you’d think the church in Antioch would want to keep them for themselves. They were no doubt helping the church to grow and effectively reach the city around them. How could that not continue to be God’s will?

But these verses also make it clear that however it may have seemed, that was not God’s will. God’s will was, in fact, that they take their gifts and talents and use them “out in the world”.

Perhaps it is worth thinking about our churches. Do we keep our good gifts and our best people to ourselves? Or do we send them out into the world to spread God’s word? In other words, how are we doing at empowering people to minister beyond the walls of our churches? How are we doing at ministering not just to ourselves, but to the people in our community?

Churches, and the people in them, are at their best, I think, when they are looking beyond themselves. Whether it is looking to God for direction through fasting and worship, or whether it is looking to the world around them that the world too might hear the good news of God’s love, there is an outward focus.

To know God’s love is to know that we also must share it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Acts 12:18-25

I struggled a bit with today's reading. I struggled to find something to write about. What is the message in today's reading? After meditating for a while, I think I found one.

I feel the message in today's reading (at least one message) concerns the sin of pride.

Herod gave a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon. After that speech, per verses 22 & 23, "They shouted, 'This is the voice of a god, not of a man.' Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down ..." In his writing, Luke certainly implies that Herod had the opportunity to deny what the people were shouting. Failing to do so Herod was struck down by God.

Pride is a sin that can cause a person to behave in their own best interest and not in the interest of God. Have you ever done something because you wanted the praise that would come from the act and not because you wanted to advance God's will? I know I have. Sure the act would advance God's will but the motive was wrong. With an incorrect attitude that act may not further God's will as much as it could have. If we divert our attention away from the act, even just a little bit, towards how this act can make me look good, then that loss of attention may result is a less than (perhaps slightly less than) optimum result.

From today's reading pride is obviously a very serious sin. It was so serious in Herod's case that God chose to punish it right then and there. Please, and this is much easier said than done, do not let your pride get in the way of furthering God's will. As the Bible says, if you get an earthly reward for your act, then that is your reward; however, it is much better to receive no earthly reward and thus a heavenly reward.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Acts 12:1-17

A casual read of today’s text may find it to be a story about an act of persecution against Peter and God’s miraculous response. Yet a closer read may note there are actually two distinct acts of persecution recounted. The one is described rather abruptly and matter of fact. It ends in death. The other is detailed dramatically at length. It ends in rescue.

The one concerns James, disciple and brother of John. James suffered at the instigation of King Herod, related to the Herod who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth and to the later Herod who ordered the execution of John the Baptist. The Herod in this story had James arrested for following Jesus. It takes all of two sentences to tell the story of the arrest and its outcome. The outcome is not a miraculous rescue but beheading.

In contrast, the other story takes the vast majority of the passage. It covers in detail Peter’s arrest, the conditions of his incarceration, the liberating intervention by an angel, Peter’s exit from the prison, and his reception at the house of Mary the mother of John Mark. In the course of this telling is the observation that the church earnestly prayed for the imprisoned Peter. The outcome is not beheading but miraculous rescue.

Did not the church pray earnestly for James upon his arrest as was done for Peter? Undoubtedly the church did. Did not God care for James as he cared for Peter? Undoubtedly God did. Why then did James die and Peter live? Why did the story of James’s arrest and death take two sentences, and the story of Peter’s arrest and release take more than two dozen sentences?

I don’t know. Nothing in the text clues us in to reasons why James’s death was recorded one way and Peter’s rescue another. Yet the long narrative which is the book of Acts makes clear that God loves us. God cares for us, dwells in us, shapes and energizes us for faithfulness to Jesus, and bears us through death to life.

God’s love for us is miracle enough. This is the great miracle that grounds all the “little” miracles and even the “mundane” acts of God – in short, all the ways wherein God embraces us in Jesus’ life. And Jesus’ life overcomes all adversity, all suffering and death, beyond all harm the world thinks it can do us.

Gregory Strong

Monday, September 04, 2006

Acts 11:19-30

I have a strong tendency often to travel the same paths in life, to perceive and plod the same patterns, day after day, year after year. Correspondingly, I think we often tend to squeeze God into our mold of sticking to the routine, to well-defined, comfortable paths and patterns. We look to God to act in expected ways – in ways that fit our expectations of him.

There is enough truth in this in that God is truly faithful in character and action. We can genuinely and fully trust and depend on God. For such we should deeply grateful.

At the same time, we cannot squeeze God into our limited and often limiting perspectives and expectations. Indeed, we must resist the temptation to attempt it. In at least two significant ways, today’s passage from Acts pries open our small views and comfortable dispositions about who God is and what God does in people’s lives and in the world.

First, we see the expansion of the good news of Jesus not only through the enthusiasm of those early followers of Jesus, we see it also through persecution. This is not to argue that God instigated persecution to spread the good news. It is to recognize that God uses all manner of conditions – even dreadfully adverse circumstances – to increase faith and extend the kingdom. We cannot assume and we cannot await only good conditions, or what seem to us favorable circumstances, to experience God’s presence, to discern his will and purposes, and to act faithfully in obedience. Sometimes the storms, in God’s cross-borne providence, scatter and seed the kingdom beyond our familiar fields.

Second, we see the expansion of the good news to all “sorts and conditions” of people. God’s good news in Jesus begins in Israel but never stays there. As they were scattered, some Jesus-followers spoke the good news to fellow Jews, and that was good. Others, however, rode the storm of persecution to an unexpected place – to those outside the community of Israel. They told Greeks about Jesus! On some profound level they understood God’s favor for those deemed unfavorable by “insider” perspectives, and they acted accordingly to proclaim and live that divine favor beyond their comfortably-held views and dispositions. Thus the good news began to spread to the whole world and all people, through the unexpected grace and goodness of God!

What a great thing to be known as Christ-ones! As people borne up by God through peace and adversity to new places of faithfulness, where we never thought we could go. May the stories of the early church encourage and strengthen us to live more truly and joyfully as Christ’s people wherever God takes us.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Revelation 5:1-14

The Christian faith is often accused of intolerance. People have said that the statements of Jesus and the articles of faith are very exclusive. In contrast to those ideas, today’s reading highlights the inclusive love of God.

“… and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9b-10)

These verses remind us that Jesus’ sacrifice was for everyone and of the equality of believers in the family of God.

I need to be reminded of these words. My experience in mostly suburban churches in middleclass America doesn’t exactly reflect this type of diversity – believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” I have to confess that sometimes I see God as a middle-aged white man – something that I am very familiar with.

As I thought about the picture of the Kingdom of God as portrayed in these verses, I considered what I could do to better experience the inclusiveness described. On a local front, I could participate with other people groups and cultures as they express their Christian faith through worship and service. On a broader level, I could take advantage of mission trips to connect with believers in other nations.

It’s wonderful to be able to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities, but even if I never leave the confines of my local church, my heart must still be open to the diversity of people that Christ has ordained to be His Church.

Lord, expand my vision, strengthen my arms, and soften my heart.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Acts 11:1-18

The vision came unsought, unleashed bizarre
Menageries upon a linen sheet
Suspended, then descending from the stars
Whence came a voice that bade me "kill and eat."
Defile myself? Oh may it never be
That I should dine on meat from unclean beasts!
Again the voice, again insistently:
What God has cleansed is worthy of the feast.
Three men were at the door with invitations
To go to Caesarea, take a meal
With people unlike me, beneath my station,
Unclean, uncouth, the promise unrevealed
To them; but then I knew--and still I hear it:
I must not hinder those who share that Spirit.

Is it possible even today that God could show us something that would shock us?
How would we react? What would we do?
May we pray, and listen too.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Acts 10:34-48

This is a passage full of miracles. It tells how in the early days of the church God intervened to urge Peter to bring the Gospel to Gentiles, and how Peter obeyed. Both parts of the story are amazing to read.

First, the Gentile Cornelius saw an angel who gave Cornelius directions to where Peter was staying in Joppa. (Acts 10:6; they were pretty specific directions, this was before Mapquest). Then Peter, while praying, saw a vision in which he was commanded to eat animals which he considered unclean. A voice told Peter that things which God has made clean are not impure. Then, the visitors from Cornelius’ house came and the Holy Spirit told Peter to go with the men.

Peter came to Cornelius’ house where Cornelius told Peter that God had commanded Peter to speak (v. 33). So, in verse 34, Peter began. The first thing he said was that he now realized that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear God.

By the power of God, Peter had learned in just a short time what his upbringing as a Jew had never told him, that God accepts Gentiles. He acknowledged that the prophets had asserted that all who come to Jesus, from any nation, will receive forgiveness (v. 43).

As Peter spoke the Holy Spirit came upon his audience. The friends who had come with Peter were astonished that the Holy Spirit would come even to Gentiles (v. 45), just like He came to the Jewish Christians on the day of Pentecost. That these faithful people were astonished helps us see what a major change this is.

God did an amazing work in Peter. I like reading about all the angels, and visions, and men who were faithful and how God rewarded them, and how the Gospel came to us, living today. May we be faithful and so be a channel for others to hear the Gospel.