This week’s Devotionals come from the book of Acts, presenting a picture of early church life.
Monday, May 13 Acts 14: 8-15 English Standard Version ESV
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.: And he sprang up and began walking! And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
I envision that the healing of the lame man followed this sequence; the lame man listened to Paul and made the important transition from hearing about the work of Jesus to believing that it was for him. This acceptance and acknowledgment shone on his countenance to the extent that Paul could see that the lame man had the faith to be made well, and so with Paul’s command, he was. In Greek mythology it was not uncommon for the gods to come down to earth as humans. So, just witnessing this miracle of healing, the crowd’s declaration of Paul and Barnabas as gods was not too big a stretch. Yet, to the apostles this was a critical ‘teaching moment’. Jesus could not merely be added as one of their pagan gods. Paul pleaded with them (and through his writings to us) to “turn from these useless things” and turn to the one true Living God, “who made the heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
Tuesday, May 14 Acts 16: 1-10
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So, the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, [modern Turkey]. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Paul was impressed with this young man Timothy, enough to ask him to join his missionary team. Here we see an illustration of God’s provision, because Mark and Barnabas had just left Paul (in Acts 15: 36-41). When a Barnabas leaves, God has a Timothy to go on with Paul in his missionary campaign. As we see here, God brings people into our lives to work purposes according to His designs. Paul then had intentions to go into Asia and then Bithynia, but was not permitted by the Holy Spirit. There was nothing wrong with Paul’s desire to go and preach into these places, but it was not God’s timing. Paul wasn’t the right person in the right place at the right time to bring the gospel to these areas. A lesson for us is that the Holy Spirit can guide us as much by closing of doors as He does by opening doors. Paul sets an example for us as he is willing to relinquish his plans to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Paul was not discouraged, knowing in his soul that God knows what he is doing when He says, “no”.
Wednesday, May 15, Acts 16:11-15
So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
The apostles ‘modus operandi’ on their mission trips was to go to the local synagogue to address the Jewish men. In Philippi, we read they go to the riverside, which would indicate there was no synagogue there to go to. Undaunted, the apostles would go to the riverside to address the women there. There they met Lydia, identified as a worshiper of God. We read the Lord ‘opened her heart’ as she listened to Paul, which led to her baptism, which led to her conviction and compulsion to thank the apostles for her joy by welcoming them into her home. That Lydia dealt in purple goods, a dye for luxury items and that she owned a home, indicates that Lydia was of a comfortable status, yet genuinely ready to focus on the Lord and His blessings of true value. Lord, like Lydia, open our hearts, and the hearts of others, so that we may truly receive and know Your Word, that we might know the joy of your blessings, and that we might be a blessing to others.
Thursday, May 16 Acts 16: 16-24
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it come out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
The demon inside the slave girl was actually promoting Paul and Silas and their message. I imagine her in a sandwich board sign, following along and shouting out to the crowds who they were about their message of salvation. After many days of this, Paul became greatly annoyed and commanded the spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her. Paul trusted in God and understood that for the people to get the true message of Jesus and His gospel, it could not be associated with demons, which would position Jesus on the same level as the pagan gods. (See Monday’s devotion) In this, Paul followed Jesus’ example who would tell demons to be quiet even when they told the truth about Him. (Mark 3:11-12). Relatedly, Matthew and Luke record Jesus teaching, ‘For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree (here, the demon) bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush’.
Friday, May 17 Acts 16: 25-34
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Them he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
“And he (the jailer) rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” How did this hardened jailer get to this point of rejoicing? He encountered Paul and Silas, disciples of Jesus Christ. Let’s recap this encounter. The jailer may have heard talk about disciples of ‘the way’, followers of this Jesus the Christ. Paul and Silas come to town and are brought to the magistrates and ordered stripped and beaten. The jailer may have even been one of those who beat Paul and Silas. Ordered to keep them safely, the jailer takes them into the inner prison and secures their feet in stocks. Then it begins, these two prisoners, recently beaten and secured in stocks, being singing hymns to God and being joyous. Strange sounds to be heard in a prison, strange actions from prisoners. No wonder the other prisoners were listening to them. And then, an earthquake that shakes the foundation of the prison and miraculously loosens everyone’s bonds. Now the jailer feels suicidal fear, for under Roman custom, guards who allowed their prisoners to escape received the penalty of their escaped prisoners. But Paul, fortified by the Holy Spirit, cries out in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself for we are all here.’ Rather than escape, Paul puts the life of the jailer before his own. Rather than showing anger and being revengeful, Paul and Silas freely share the word of the Lord with the jailer and his household and baptize them that very night. Now, experiencing the joy of the Holy Spirit, the jailer rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. The jailer was so impressed by Paul and Silas, by the love they showed to him and from their ability to radiate joy even in misery, that he wanted the kind of life, the kind of joy that Paul and Silas talked about, sang about and possessed. This is how God wants our lives to be; natural magnets drawing people to Him. The witness of our lives, lived more abundantly, should make others want what we have with God.
Saturday, May 18 Acts 16: 35-40
But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore, come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So,they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
What was accomplished here was what Paul and Silas came to do. They came to preach the Good News, to encourage the Church at Philippi and to win converts to Jesus Christ. In living and preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas saw Lydia, a churchgoer, convicted by the Holy Spirit, her and her household. In a more dramatic fashion, an earthquake helped bring about the conversion of the jailor and his household. Stripped and beaten, locked in prison with feet in stocks, bullied by the magistrates, Paul and Silas considered these obstacles as opportunities to trust in God. Being bold in their faith and standing up for their rights, they encouraged the church in both word and in deed. ‘Lord, by your grace, help us to view obstacles as opportunities to trust in You. Holy Spirit, help us to be bold in our faith, that we might encourage others by our words and deeds. Amen.’
Scriptures and Reflections for the week of May 20-25
The passages are from the early part of Pal’s letter to the church at Rome. Even by the late 50’s, the church there was assuming a central place among the Christian Community. This is his broad introduction as to who he is and what constitutes his understanding of Jesus Christ on what might best be described as a cosmic scale. As you ponder each daily reflection, you might ask yourself a question as to how you would want to introduce your most cherished convections to a part of the world you have never visited.
Monday, May 20
Romans 1:1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, and set apart for the gospel of God – “
When you introduce yourself to a stranger, how do you begin? What do you usually want to learn about someone you meet for the first time? There are these “dating” events where individuals have 30 seconds or maybe a minute to meet a person, and then move to the next. What would happen at church if that were to become the practice as people gathered for worship and what would you want to say? What would you want to hear? We do not often think deeply about introductions, but they are critical. Paul puts it very simply. I am a servant of Christ Jesus! Maybe over the doors of all churches there should be a sign reading SERVANT’S ENTRANCE ONLY. And maybe when we return to our homes at the end of the day we should think of ourselves as only servants of those with whom we live.
Tuesday, May 21
Romans 1:7 “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father , and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We will unpack this declaration for a couple of days. Let’s begin with this. Our world is rather cantankerous right now. We are polarized. Can you picture any newscaster beginning his/her show with “grace and peace”? Even more unlikely can you imagine an entire news broadcast around those themes? Bu let’s localize this even a bit more. What about the family table, or gatherings with friends and neighbors? Or maybe even the risky sharing of opposing or differing political views with one another? Grace and peace? These are not idle words. It was the disposition of Paul. Paul would meet the end of his days, according to ancient church history, during the persecution of Nero by being beheaded. Offering grace and peace to the world is risky business. It is also our calling.
Wednesday, May 22
Romans 1:7a “called to be saints.”
When in high school, my parents expected me to be home by midnight. This was the era BEFORE cell phones. My friends and I talked till 5 in the morning. When I arrived home, my parents were waiting for me, and said not a word. As I was falling asleep I was awakened and told that it was time to get ready for church. I knew better than to protest. My parents expected certain behaviors from me. I was called to be respectful of time and schedule and their frayed nerves worrying about me. What does God expect of any of us? Paul’s answer – to be saints. One understanding of a said is that it was someone who was exceptional in one or more characteristics of Jesus Christ. In what way or ways are you ne of God’s exceptional saints? We are, after all, called to be something that reflects our Lord. We can’t be all of it, but we can be some part of that story.
Thursday, May 23
Romans 1:11-12 “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
One has to love this line. Paul is there to give the folk in Rome a spiritual gift, and then almost immediately apologizes and says “that you and I may be mutually encouraged . .” Paul reminds us that we can modify some of our words when we become too arrogant. That is a good lesson. But the deeper truth is that we are here mutually to encourage each other, to share enough of ourselves with one another that we may find the courage to live out the love of Jesus Christ in the world around us. Encourage those around you today to be better than they could have been without such support. You will find yourself being the better person too.
Friday, May 24
Romans 1:14 “I am obligated both to the Greeks and to the non-Greeks, both to the wise and to the foolish.”
To be obliged means in a literal sense to be bound by an oath. Paul knew that the price of his discipleship was that he was bound to reach out to those like him and those not like him, to those who were perceptive and those who just imply didn’t get it. Several social observers have noted something peculiar to most human beings. It is the “expectation of likeness” as David Brooks phrased it. We have this terrible tendency to think that everyone is like us, or should be like us, and that we do well enough when we like people who are like us. The Pharisees were stunned that Jesus ate with sinners and talked with women. Sometimes we wonder how someone can speak to another whom we deem below us or offensive or peculiar. Yet our faith binds us to those who are like us and those who are not. Be humble enough to find the person no one wants to be seen with and to care because that person too is worthy of the grace of God.
Saturday, May 25
Romans 1:1 – rewritten in preparation for Sunday worship “Your name, a servant of Christ Jesus.”
When entering a church, look for the Servant’s Entrance. All doors entering God’s sacred space are nothing less nor more than Servant’s Entrance. Grace and Peace.