Of More Noble Character

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Acts 17

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!

 

-Marcia Railton

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Change of Plans

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ACTS 16

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.

 

-Marcia Railton

One Mind

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Acts 15  –  Conflict is Inevitable

Life would be SO much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.

BUT – I am not always right.

AND – conflict is inevitable.

 

Acts 15 is about a whole lot of conflict.

First, the Jewish Christians thought the new Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians needed to follow the whole law of Moses – and prove it with circumcision. However, the Gentile Christians felt their faith in Christ – proven by baptism, not circumcision – provided salvation rather than the old law.  And, the church in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching and preaching was being torn apart by the division.  Sometimes conflict does that.

 

But, here we get to see some great steps for conflict resolution.

 

  • Go to find wise counsel. Look for spiritually mature and trustworthy individuals.  In this case Paul and Barnabas were sent with a delegation to the Jerusalem church elders 300 miles away (a trip that may have taken them approximately 15 days if they were able to cover 20 miles per day – sometimes conflict resolution takes some time – but it is worth it).
  • Everybody gets to share their side of the argument. And even through “much debate” (vs. 7), we see order and respect – standing to speak and not speaking out of turn.   And, during the debate – lots of listening (rather than merely preparing your rebuttal).
  • After everyone has had their say – listen to the leadership (in this case, James the brother of Jesus – vs 13) and be prepared to peacefully abide by their decisions.
  • And don’t forget to go to God’s Word! James shares words of the Prophet which clearly say that it is God’s desire that all mankind will seek Him and that there will be Gentiles called by His name.  Using this and the evidence that had been shared of how God had been working amongst the uncircumcised but believing Gentiles, James gives his judgment – no circumcision is needed, but Gentiles must follow some basic rules to be set apart to God and holy.
  • Share the findings with those impacted by the decision – aiming for peacefully being of one mind. A letter is written and members of the Jewish church are sent back with the Antioch delegation to share the letter with the body of believers caught in this conflict.

 

The Antioch church received the letter and delegation and “rejoiced” and were “strengthened” and were at peace.  Conflict resolution at its best!  Unfortunately, we know this issue will come up again throughout the New Testament as other churches grapple with the change.  Old traditions die hard for the Jewish believers.  So too, we must be careful to be tuned into God’s will rather than traditions or merely what “I want” or “I think” or has always been done this way.  Search out what God thinks on the subject.  Aim for becoming of one mind – centered on God’s mind – not yours.

 

Just as peace is reigning once again in Antioch, a new conflict transpires!  But, this time it’s a very personal one – and between our two heroes – Paul and Barnabas!  Even great heroes of the faith don’t always see eye to eye.  Barnabas – always the encourager – wants to take Mark on the next missionary journey.  Paul – perhaps more “task oriented” – remembers that Mark left them in the middle of the last journey and doesn’t want to give him a second chance.  “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (Acts 15:39).  It could have easily become an opportunity to grow sour and bitter toward one another, or even God’s work – allowing bad feelings to fester.  However, sometimes a decision to peacefully disagree and get on with God’s work – even if it results in parting ways at least temporarily – can actually deepen relationships and be a useful thing.  In this case, the missionary efforts were doubled since Barnabas went in one direction with Mark to teach and preach and Paul chose Silas and went in another direction to preach and teach.  Differences remained – but both were still actively spreading God’s Word.  And, what fun to later read (Colossians 4:10) that Paul would find Mark to also be very useful in ministry.

 

Life would be so much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.

BUT – I am not always right,

AND – easy isn’t always better.

When we use Biblical models and Godly wisdom to face the conflict, we can grow through the conflict and come out stronger, wiser, and more in line with what God has designed us to be – either as a church, a marriage, a friendship or an individual.  Face your conflict – with much prayer, Bible searching and wisdom and Godly counsel.

 

-Marcia Railton

Perseverance in Opposition

Speak BOLDLY for the Lord

Acts 14

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Acts 14:3

Paul and Barnabas are at the end of their missionary journey. Barnabas has believed in Paul this entire time, even when no one else did, and Paul is proving himself time and time again.

In the beginning of chapter 14 this dynamic duo is in Iconium, although they have success here, there are many people that resist their message. Instead of going somewhere they feel more appreciated, “they remained there for a long time” (Acts 14:3). They don’t give up!

It continues in verse 19, Paul and Barnabas are now in Lystra and Paul heals a crippled man who has never been able to walk. People are amazed and think that the men are gods. When Paul corrects them, they get so upset that they stone him and drag him out of the city. Can you even imagine that? Just when it seems like it’s completely over, the disciples go to help Paul and he gets up, and the next day walks back into the city!

That’s what this whole chapter is about: perseverance in opposition. Like Paul and Barnabas, we too can follow God and persevere even when we don’t think we have the strength to. Even after all this they encouraged fellow believers “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). I pray that we can all have the courage to push through even our hardest tribulations.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

 

-Grace Rodgers

Don’t Look Back

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Acts 13 

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!

-Grace Rodgers

Don’t Oppose God

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Acts 12

“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:

  1. Herod kills James (v. 2) -> angel of the Lord kills Herod by having him eaten by worms. (v. 23)

  1. Herod throws Peter in jail (v. 4). -> angel of the Lord frees Peter (v. 7)

  1. Herod seeks Peter and orders him to be put to death (v. 19) -> God protects Peter (v. 16)

  1. 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.

-Grace Rodgers

The Movement Spreads

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Acts 11

“When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Acts 11:23

In chapter 8, Stephen was stoned and the Christians were persecuted and dispersed all over the land. In chapter 10, Peter preached and through his message broke down the walls between the Jews and Gentiles. Chapter 11 gives us the next story in this Christian movement.

As we talked about earlier, after the Christians had been scattered, they never stop talking about their God and the good news. Some of the Greek-speaking believers travel to Antioch to tell them about Jesus. It says the “Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

News of this great movement spread and they decide to send Barnabas to Antioch to check it out. When he gets there he “saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them to all remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23).

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all say this? If we could all see the grace of God and be glad? That would be incredible, so how did it happen for them in Antioch? Well, I think it was their persecution turned into praise. Turmoil turned into transformation. Sorrow turned into salvation.

Even with God’s grace, people still suffer, but that doesn’t mean that God is pushing you away, it could just mean he’s trying to get you to a place to serve Him better. 

-Grace Rodgers