Oh Paul! You are a Jew! And you know the Jews so well. In the past you worked hard to be not simply a Jew, but a Jew worthy of being called a Jew. You know how the Jews can be. You know that going to Jerusalem is a terrible idea. You know that taking Greeks into the temple will not be accepted by the Jews. You know this isn’t going to end well. And yet you went…
Chapter 22 shows us the best of Paul. We have seen the worst and in this speech he admits his worst. I love the emotional appeal that Paul puts into his speech. “Listen to me, brothers. I understand you. I was just like you and I was shown a better way. Please, let me show you a better way.” It’s an effective strategy especially because it bears truth. Unfortunately, the Jews were not ready for truth. Look what they did to Jesus. It really wasn’t that long ago that Jesus, too, went to Jerusalem and the Jews didn’t accept him either.
Ultimately Paul’s message was the same as Jesus’. The Jews could NOT consider a message that tore up their religious traditions. How heartbreaking for Paul. We must ask ourselves if we stand behind our traditions for tradition’s sake or if we are continually seeking God.
Acts 21 focuses on Paul’s travel to Jerusalem and then getting arrested. I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter, as I don’t have personal experiences, or extra knowledge on Paul’s experiences in this chapter. I’ll share a couple points I found interesting though.
We see multiple examples that show us how some people wanted to learn from Paul and his companions. We read that they were received warmly (v. 17). Also, verse 1 says that they had to tear themselves away from the people to continue traveling. I pray that God will work through me when I teach about Him and that people will see Him in me and want to learn more.
Some people were not as fond of Paul and even tried to kill him. The mad mob dragged Paul out of the temple and cause such an uproar the authorities are called in and Paul is arrested by the commander of the Roman troops. At the end of the chapter, as Paul is being carried away he asks to speak to the crowd. Paul is granted permission and the last sentence of the chapter is, “When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:”. I know that the chapter numbers and breaks were added later, but what a cliffhanger! Thankfully, we’re able to read on and see what he says. We don’t even have to wait a week, like we do for a TV show or longer for a movie sequel!
(Speaking of movies – there have been several movies made of Paul’s life. I encourage you to try one out. See how closely it follows with Scripture – the real story. )
We, like Paul, do not get to choose people’s reaction to hearing the good news. Some will gladly and thankfully accept the message and appreciate the messenger. Others, sadly will not. But, we, like Paul, have very good news to share. And even when it is not accepted as good news….and even when people mock us or persecute us….we have God’s Word to share.
Every chapter in life has its own busy, stressful times. I’m currently a freshman in college. This week we are preparing to register for next semester’s classes. With this comes looking at every course I need to take for the next three years and what my life could look like after I graduate. I like to plan things. I like to have big goals and dreams and then work toward accomplishing them. Some of my dreams (short term and long term) include building new and strengthening old friendships, graduating and then going on to be a teacher in an elementary school classroom, finding the man I want to marry, and raising lots of children – all while serving and praising God with all my heart.
Just the other day, I was driving and listening to a Christian radio station when a song started that I’ve never heard before. I was listening when two words stuck out to me – “Dream small”. I was confused. It didn’t make sense to me. I tried to think of times it would be better to dream small. I wasn’t getting very far. I looked up the lyrics later (Dream Small by Josh Wilson) and I understand a little more where the artist was going. The beginning of the chorus says,
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time”
The song explains how you should be living your life for God and those little things you do can make a difference. You don’t need to wait for your dreams to become a reality. Living your life for God will make the best dreams fall into place, and the other ones will be replaced with even better ones we could never have imagined. Be used where you are now. I don’t need to dream big because God has got my life planned out. He knows how he’s going to use me, and that’s something I find special.
This finally brings me to the chapter for today, Acts 20. Please read verses 22 through 24 below, because it’s written better than I could ever summarize.
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
How wonderful is that! Paul knew of the dangers and hardships and he still said his life was worth nothing to him. Sounds to me like Paul wasn’t trying to follow his own big dreams and was instead following the path that was planned for him, doing things every day for God and Jesus. I want to be able to say that my only goal is to finish the race and task that the Lord has given me. That’s so much better than my plans and big dreams.
What stands in the way of you living completely for Jesus? Not enough time, a secret sin, a preoccupation with _______, a friend taking you in the wrong direction? Many in the early church in Acts were living out a completely committed relationship with God and His Son, Jesus. And the results are exciting to watch as we read through the book. Their faith was living and active and daily – and tested regularly.
I wonder if today too many people who carry the label ‘Christian’ use their faith as a once-a-week booster shot, if they can make it to church that week. But then are quite content to spend the week surrounded by (and sometimes covered in) the germs and sicknesses of worldly living and priorities.
Go ahead and read Acts 19 today and search for all the sold-out characteristics and examples; and while you’re at it – spot the imitations as well (those exist today, too). I particularly like the passage in verses 18-20 where the believers were confessing their practices and bringing their (expensive) magic books to be burned. They had heard about Jesus and they believed and they were excited and ready to change! It’s not that they had heard about Jesus and kind of believed and were sort of interested and wanted to add in some Jesus/church/faith to their full lives. See the huge difference? They were radically changing their lives because they wanted to follow Jesus well.
Do you have anything in your life to add to the bonfire? Anything that is keeping you from being totally committed to God and His Coming Kingdom? Anything that doesn’t mix well with Jesus’ message that you need to give up?
The believers had burned 50,000 drachmas worth of obstacles to living sold-out lives (a drachma was a silver coin worth about one day’s wages) – that’s a lot of obstacles they eliminated! The very next thing Paul wrote was: “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” (Acts 19:20). Sacrifice and true change brought growth. Are you ready to grow?
Shoes and socks, salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly. Some things just go together, complement one another and make the perfect team.
Priscilla and Aquila are just such a pair. They are spoken of at least three times in this chapter by Luke, and then Paul will speak highly of them in three of his letters – and each time they will be mentioned together – a team. They were a team in marriage and a team in ministry.
They endured storms together – banished from their home in Italy when Emperor Claudius removed all Jews from Rome. Together they opened their home to others. Paul would stay in their home, and later they would host a house church. Together they risked their lives for the sake of Paul (Romans 16:3-4). They learned together and taught together. They traveled together. They mentored together. Together – they served God.
If you are married already – consider how you can work on your teamwork skills today (and all your tomorrows, too). Neither you nor your spouse is perfect – that is true, of everybody else’s spouse too – but together you CAN be a perfect team – complimenting each other’s skills and working together for God’s glory. What acts of service to God and others can you work on together?
If you are not married now – but might be in the market to be married at some point…consider wisely. Rather than seeking out the hottest athlete or the cutest nerd (or whatever characteristics are already on your to-find list), be intent upon finding one who will be a great mate to serve the Lord with you.
I want to be of more noble character. I want my family to be of more noble character. I want my church to be of more noble character. We read in Acts how to do it. Paul called the Bereans of more noble character because they, “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Getting excited about God’s Word – opening it daily to find the truth for yourself – that’s what I want for myself, for my family and for my church. What about you? If you too want to be of more noble character – keep digging into God’s Word!
What makes your blood start to boil a bit? What causes you to feel distressed or grieved? What do you find really provokes your spirit? For Paul this happened when he saw the city of Athens full of idols (17:16). Too often today I fear we have become desensitized to the city of idols and immorality we live in. We’ve become so used to hearing and seeing and running into idols and evil that it doesn’t faze us anymore. Do we really see and understand the lost state of the world around us? Do we see danger for what it is? And, are there any areas where we have allowed it to seep into our own lives as well? When we don’t see it for what it is, it becomes impossible to guard against it. Pray for God to help you see clearly the world around you. Pray that you would be grieved by what grieves God and see danger for what it is.
In a world that is so full of idols, people are creating ‘gods’ out of anything and everything: sports, entertainment, high scores on …(fill in the blank), social media, A’s, fitness, selfishness, and the list goes on! They think “God” can be whoever and whatever they want God to be. If they want a teddy bear god (soft and comfy and great for giving hugs) – he is theirs. If they want a god in nature (but never in church) – he is theirs. If they want a three-headed god with purple polka-dots – he is theirs. But gods that we fashion with our own human minds and desires are NOT gods – they are idols. There is ONE true God and He cannot be, “formed by the art and thought of man.” (Acts 17:29). He is a jealous God and demands that we worship Him and Him only – and rightly so. Creating your own “Build-a-‘god’” won’t cut it when your salvation and eternal life is on the line.
Thankfully, in a world of imitation gods – there is a way to find the REAL TRUE GOD! He reveals himself when we dig into His Word – that’s why He wrote it for us. Open God’s Word – get excited about it – and find the ONE TRUE GOD! And while you seek Him in His Word, don’t be surprised to find yourself becoming of more noble character, too!
I love the book of Acts as we get a glimpse into Paul’s missionary journeys! In this exciting chapter (go ahead and read it all) Paul begins his second missionary journey with Silas.
Right off the bat we get to meet Timothy and Lydia – two faithful believers at their start. One thing I love about FUEL is looking out over the crowd and seeing the youthful energy and passion – and knowing that they won’t stay youth too long. It is fun to wonder who might one day be my pastor, or my pastor’s wife? Who might go on a missions trip with one of my children? Who might teach a class at FUEL to my grandkids (years and years from now)? The Christian life is a process of growth and ups and downs and new experiences and deeper maturity. It’s fun to see the first steps of this developing growth in our church youth – and in those touched by Paul’s ministry.
One of the signs of growing in your faith – which can even be difficult for those who have been Christians a long time – involves putting your own plans aside when God would have you go in a different direction. Here, Paul and companions (which now includes young Timothy) “were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” (vs. 7). I wonder how the Spirit of Jesus worked this time: torrential rain flooded out the road, lost passport, contagious disease in town… Can you think of a time when you were upset by something that suddenly changed your plans? Looking back now, is there a chance that instead of circumstance or bad luck it was actually God leading you where He had a job for you to do?
Even when it looked like “bad luck” landed Paul and Silas into jail….God was at work. And, with continued faith in God and His plans, Paul and Silas were singing and praising God in their chains. At the time, they didn’t know that later that night an earthquake would open the jail doors and unfasten their chains. But they sang praises to God. They didn’t know that the jailer and his family would be baptized that very night, because of the life examples and testimonies of the faithful witnesses. But they were praying to God – and the rest of the prisoners were listening.
Beware of crumbling under your “bad luck”. Instead, keep growing your faith in God. Continue praying and singing praises to God. You never know who is listening and how it might also change their life and the lives of their family.