A Cliffhanger

Acts 21

Acts 21 13

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.

-Moriah Railton

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Of More Noble Character

Acts 17 29

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

One Mind

acts 15 25

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

What Do the Stars Tell You?

Psalm 19

 

I have always been amazed at God’s creation here on earth.  The beauty.  The creativity.  The grandeur. In fact, I have always wondered a little bit about the the new heaven and new earth that Revelation 21 records will herald the new Kingdom of God.  Could God really create something more majestic than what we have already seen?  Is there a chance that the new heaven and earth will be a little bit of a let-down?  I am after all a tad attached to what we have here and now.

And then, I saw pictures of Jupiter!  They are breathtaking!  NASA’s space probe Juno has been on a carefully routed 5 year trip to reach Jupiter – and in August 2017 Juno sent back to Earth stunning pictures of the planet it is now orbiting.  Here are just two pictures … many more can be found at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/images/index.html

jupiter swirling south pole            jupiter south pole from Juno

 

 

 

 

 

And all of a sudden, I am again in awe of Him and His creations.  And I know I can trust Him.  I can trust Him to create a spectacular new heaven and earth and I can trust Him today with my life.   There is so much He knows that I do not.  There is so much power that He has that I do not.  He is a great Big God and sometimes I forget how much I need Him because I think for just a few minutes that I have this world figured out.  And then my mind is once again blown away by how many stars there are and the new-found beauty of a planet we are just beginning to really discover.

David says it well in Psalm 19.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4).  God’s masterpiece speaks for Him.  His works of art tell us about the artist.

In the New Testament Paul writes similar words to the believers in Rome.  This city was proud of what they considered their superior culture, amazing architecture and roadways (some of which can still be seen today), and numerous temples to foreign gods (amongst them, Jupiter and Juno).   In many ways it was not too unlike our society today.  Paul writes to the church in Rome: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20).  His artwork proves the power and majesty of the artist.

And yet, as we well know there are those who prefer to be blind and create their own explanations for the intricate and beautiful creation.  Interestingly, not one but two psalms begin with these words: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1).   You get to decide which camp you will set your tent in, but there will be a day when everyone will acknowledge God (Romans 14:10-12).

This brings us back to the rest of Psalm 19 which you can read or listen to here –  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+19&version=NIV).

The first six verses of Psalm 19 speaks of God’s magnificent creation and how it points to God.  The next 5 verses give us a little foretaste of Psalm 119 which we talked about yesterday: the superiority and importance of God’s Word and commands.  “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:11).  And the final three verses emphasize watching my own actions, attitudes, words, and thoughts to see that they are in line with God’s laws and desires for his children – and seeking forgiveness and change when they are not.  I love the final verse of the Psalm as much as the opening verse: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14).

We serve an awesome Creator God who has provided a detailed guidebook for our lives and a brilliant plan for the future  – which will include everyone acknowledging him.  May we always strive to be pleasing in his sight.

Marcia Railton

(Stars photographed by Chris Mattison – thanks for sharing!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More of the Good Book

2Tim3 1617 (1)

Today’s common New Year’s resolution is to read more of the Bible. One reason people quit this resolution is that they get lost quickly, or they do not have a plan on how much they are going to read, or they are inconsistent or they do not have accountability to keep them on track. Whatever the reason people tend to start off with good intentions, but they often fall short of their goal.

The verses today are 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalms 19:9-11, and Luke 12:27-28

So why do people want to read more of their Bible? Why is it important to read the Bible? How do we stay true to our goal of reading more? How do we get started? These are all questions you may have, and they are questions that I myself have had in my life.

There are so many reasons to add “read the Bible more” to your New Year’s resolutions. Check out 2 Timothy 3:14-17. These verses tell us that we need to know the teachings and laws of God from a young age and that every word in our Bible, every scripture is inspired by God and can be used in numerous different ways. They are good for teaching and correction, seeking righteousness. Through reading the Bible we strengthen our knowledge of God which can help us strengthen our relationship with him. When our relationship with God is strengthened we are complete, and we can be empowered to do good works in his name and for his will. Another great reason to read the Bible is because knowing more about the history of our faith, the history of God, and his son and the people of God, can give us a deeper understanding of how truly amazing our God is. He is the creator of the heavens and earth, he hand-crafted every thing of this earth, and yet he chose to create you too. He took the time to create you and build his own plan for your life, and all of this is found in scripture. Jeremiah 29:11 says,” For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says Yahweh, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.” The Bible is full of stories and histories that are good for us to know, and they are good for us to draw parallels in our own lives.

Psalms 19:9-11 “The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever, Yahweh’s ordinances are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the extract of honey-comb. Moreover by them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” These verses tell us that God’s word is more precious than gold, and it is sweeter than honey-comb. God’s word feeds our spirits, and having this fulfillment does not happen if we do not know the ordinances and the word of God. This is such an awesome gift that God has created for us. We can see his love and his caring for all of his creation through his word, and we can see his true value of us through the Bible as well.

Luke 12:27-28 “Consider the lilies, how they grow. They do not toil, nor do they spin. Yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God does so clothe the grass in the field, which today is and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more shall he clothe you, O you of little faith?” These verses tell us how much God cares for us, and will take care of our every need. We live and breathe, we take care of other people, we help our neighbors, we take care of our families and friends, we worship God and in all these things we sometimes worry if our every need will be taken care of. In these verses we find assurance that even flowers and fields which serve very minor purposes are clothed in beauty, and we are so much more and God will take care of us. This is another reason to read our Bibles. When we are worried, sad or confused we can find solace and strength in the words the Bible has for us.

Today I want you to take this with you. The Bible is a great book that is useful in many contexts. It us useful for teaching others and yourself more about your faith. It is important for learning more about God and building a stronger relationship with him. It is a great comfort when we are in need or we are stuck in worry. The Bible was given as a gift to us, and we should treat it as this precious gift. We need to spend time in our Bibles. Going forward from reading this today, I hope that you can find a way to read more. Start by reading this blog, continue by using an app that sends you a verse of the day. You may even want to find an accountability partner to read along with you, or remind you to read. Being a Christian should not be a lonely venture. There are people out there who will support in your journey to God. I hope you’ve enjoyed today.

-Jana Swanson

E.R.

Psalm 119

emoyer-ER

 

E.R. debuted in 1994.  Each week, episodes were filled with exciting, heart wrenching and dramatic events based in a Chicago hospital emergency room.  The show often portrayed incredible measures taken as residents applied their medical school backgrounds to treat and save patients.   
Well, there are times we all find other things that we might put first in our day to day lives.  We may need some “healing” or “revival” in our own relationship with God.  Eleven times in Psalm 119 it mentions some sort of revival.  Terms like preserve, restore, spare, give, are mentioned throughout this chapter.  In the darkest of hours you may not feel like His Word is enough.  You may not feel like it is relevant to what you are going through or that God is near. You may have filled your time, your actions and your mind with everything but time in His word.  If this feels somewhat familiar to you consider this:  “Feelings follow correct behaviors and not the other way around”.  God’s word is a foundation for us all.  We need to turn to him and be in His word.  Don’t expect a quick fix. Instead, prepare to be transformed by him being more present in our life. So when we stumble, we need to get back up again, be dedicated to reading his word and trust on his strength for a full recovery in our lives.

-Emily Moyer

Bold

If you want to leave a lasting impact on this world, you must first learn to be different than the rest of the world. Boldness rejects popularity for the truth, and comfort for the cross.

When Jesus died, the world saw him as a criminal. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles were tasked with changing the world’s hearts, from yelling “Crucify!” to calling Jesus Savior. This was no easy job, yet they went forward with boldness.  They rejected popularity for the truth, and comfort for the cross. They persevered through persecution and hardship.

As Peter and John, two of Jesus’ closest friends, were speaking to the people at the temple about Jesus and even healed a crippled man, they received great opposition. They were approached by the priests and Sadducees, who “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). Peter and John were thrown in jail and met before the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law that made up the Sanhedrin the next day. The Sanhedrin poses the question, “by what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4: 7). Peter responds with such a boldness we should imitate today,

“Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).

The rulers, elders, and teachers of the law were astonished by the courage of Peter and John, who were just ordinary men. Before Jesus called them, they were lowly fisherman, yet they approached the courts with such assurance and strength. After the hearing, Peter and John were commanded “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Despite the opposition, they answered with confidence in their Savior, “judge for yourself whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19 & 20).

You, too, have seen and heard all that Jesus has done. The Kingdom message, which is compared to a pearl of great value, has been revealed to you. Will you shamefully keep your pearl hidden, or will you unashamedly share that pearl with the world who so desperately needs it?

Just like in the times right after Jesus’ death, believing that Jesus is Lord and Savior is an unpopular opinion, yet the Great Commission still stands: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19 & 20). Spoiler alert, God’s side is going to win the war when He establishes His Kingdom on the earth. In the meantime, fight this battle to win over hearts for that Kingdom. You may receive opposition, but do not be afraid because you already know the outcome of the war. Go forward with the same confidence Peter and John had. Be bold.

~Mackenzie McClain