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.
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?
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.
Isn’t that what this is all about? The best gift – freedom and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. People had been waiting for him for years and now they were finally preaching about it, sharing the good news. Could you imagine being alive back then and reading the stories from the prophets and then finally hearing about Jesus? People had been talking, speculating, doubting, waiting, and anticipating him for YEARS. It is such a confirmation to our faith, it would be impossible not to talk about it!
In Acts 13, Saul, who is now called Paul, is on a mission to proclaim the gospel and he is not looking back. It’s crazy to think about the person he was just a few chapters ago. He is a great example of how we should approach our own missions. We die to ourselves, find our identity in Christ, and don’t look back. We have a lot to proclaim and not a lot of time, so worrying about who we once were will only hinder us!
“But the word of God increased and multiplied.” Acts 12:24
In this chapter we see a showdown between Herod and God. Not Herod the Great who was in power when Jesus was born, but Herod’s grandson who is also named Herod. I know, confusing.
Here is a summary of the showdown and the ways God showed His power time and time again:
- Herod kills James (v. 2) -> angel of the Lord kills Herod by having him eaten by worms. (v. 23)
- Herod throws Peter in jail (v. 4). -> angel of the Lord frees Peter (v. 7)
- Herod seeks Peter and orders him to be put to death (v. 19) -> God protects Peter (v. 16)
- Herod doesn’t give glory to God (v. 23) -> The word of God increases and multiplies (v.24)
So what’s the point? I think it’s pretty simple – if you oppose God, you lose. Even if you are part of the most powerful empire on earth, have all the resources and money in the world, nothing can come close to the power of God.