Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A bit of a Break...

I just wanted to wish everyone a (belated) Merry Christmas and announce I will be taking a bit of a break until after the New Year as I decide which direction to go next. I am leaning with stepping into the book of Isaiah, as it will take a few months to got hrough that, but if anyone has any suggestions let me know. In the mean time I wish you all a safe a propserous New year and pray the Lord's guidance upon you.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Acts, Chapter 28

Life's a journey, not a destination. I first heard those words in 1993 off of the Aerosmith album Get a Grip and the song Amazing. Since that time, I have tried to ponder those words and their meaning. In the ensuing 14 years they have meant a variety of things, but the underlying message is that you cannot be so caught up in getting somewhere that you forget to take advantage of opportunities along the way. That is what Paul has done during his entire journey to Rome. Instead of being so focused on the goal of getting to Rome and preparing himself for his ministry once he got there, he took advantage of the opportunities given along the way.

As we finish our walk through Acts today, I encourage you to look at it from a different perspective as I have tried to. Acts is more than a collection of stories about going to this place or that place and accomplishing this thing or that thing. It is an account of making the most of every opportunity along the way instead of focusing solely on the destination. Here in Chapter 28 we see both, as Paul ministers for the few months he was on Malta, before finally reaching his goal of Rome.

7There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. 8His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. – Acts 28:7-10

Paul could have sat back and waited for Rome here, but instead he chose to continue taking advantage of every opportunity to minister. As a result, the group received the supplies they needed and were furthered on in their journey to Rome. Paul must have been the most polite and respected prisoner in the history. He was never bitter and actually helped those who were holding him captive instead of feeling resentment towards them. Just look at the dividends this attitude paid for everyone by giving them the supplies they needed.

25They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
 26" 'Go to this people and say,
   "You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
      you will be ever seeing but never perceiving."
 27For this people's heart has become calloused;
      they hardly hear with their ears,
      and they have closed their eyes.
   Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
      hear with their ears,
      understand with their hearts
   and turn, and I would heal them.' 28"Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" 30For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. – Acts 28:25-30

This was more than a simple journey for one man to the center of the known world. This was the fulfillment of a promise made all the way back in the book of Isaiah, hundreds of years before! We are asked to test the Word of God to see its truth, well, I would say the fulfillment of a promise and a prophecy as mundane as this one is a good test. When Isaiah wrote these words originally he did not know Paul, nor did he know of his mission, but he did know that the message would be spoken by someone like him eventually.

Of course, this is also the destination for Paul, and considering the zeal at which he fulfilled the journey, what he does in Rome is escalated even further because of the importance of the destination. Here is where many of his letters were written and where he completed his most important work. Amazingly, that work continues to echo through the centuries because of what he wrote.


  1. What has stood out to you the most from Acts?
  2. How can you focus more on the journey instead of the destination?
  3. Is it possible for a calloused heart to become uncalloused?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Acts, Chapter 27

Sometimes the easiest time to have faith is when a situation looks hopeless. When you have reached the end of yourself and there is no way that you can change the situation it is sometimes easy to simply through your hands in the air and trust God. Literally, there are no other options but to have faith because in those cases we are powerless to fix things ourselves. That is the situation Paul and those on board his ship to Rome found themselves in such a situation facing a brutal storm. Paul, however never lost faith even though many on the ship with him had no faith that they would be saved. Chapter 27 is yet another example of God delivering on His promises.

21After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: "Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' 25So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. – Acts 27:21-25

If you have read this blog for long you know that I am a fan of drawing parallels from elsewhere in Scripture. This reminds me of Mark 4:35-41 and Matthew 8:23-27. Obviously here Paul does not have the power to calm the storm as Jesus, did, but he has the confidence and faith that they will be delivered. He is also perfectly calm in this situation as Jesus was because of his faith. It is another opportunity where Paul could have taken the glory to himself, but instead He deflects the glory to God, just as Jesus did.

So what can we take from this? Obviously it is a lesson in faith, but is there something else that can be taken from it? Well, Paul uses it as another lesson in the gospel, as he was able to preach the Word even to those who were holding him captive. It must have taken a ton of strength and motivation to preach the word at every single opportunity given. Here was a man that simply lived for the sole purpose of spreading the Word of Christ.

33Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven't eaten anything. 34Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." 35After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. – Acts 27:33-35

This is merely faith continued, as the first passage came early in the storm, but this passage comes after it had been raging for 14 days. Imagine yourself in this situation, as it had not abated in two weeks, yet Paul was still encouraging them to have faith. It was probably easy to believe him in the beginning, but after suffering through any ordeal for two weeks one has to wonder if it ever will end. Not only that, they had not eaten in two weeks. Personally, if I miss one regular meal I tend to get irritable, so I can only imagine how these men were feeling. Now Paul was not only encouraging them, but he was asking them to do the opposite of what they wanted to do by staying with the ship. Once again God delivers on his promises as the ship was wrecked on a sandbar, but everyone was able to make it ashore safely. God delivered them even in their lack of faith because of Paul's promise. We can learn from this because it shows that God delivers even in impossible situations.


  1. How was the centurion swayed by Paul's faith?
  2. Why was important for everyone on the ship to stand trial before Caesar?
  3. What other parallels can you draw from the passages in mark and Matthew?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Acts, Chapter 26

In chapter 26 Paul must face his greatest shame while also proclaiming his greatest victory. Often times these two are related in our lives as our greatest victory comes from overcoming that great shame. In order to document his defense Paul had to tell of his background as a Jew to illustrate that he was familiar with their customs. As a Pharisee he was more than familiar, as he was responsible for maintaining the law. This point is also important because it shows that he was not some random nutjob that just started speaking out against the Jews. He had authority in the Jewish community and he was a literal convert from their ways.

9"I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. – Acts 26:9-11

This is Paul's greatest shame, but he must revisit it in order to show that it is exactly what the Jews were trying to do to him after his conversion. Surely this was painful, as since his conversion Paul had come to love Jesus like none before him. Paul had been just as zealous as those who were persecuting him, and in fact he probably had many colleagues on the other side of the room in this trial. He surely knew their motives.

15"Then I asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' " 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 16'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' – Acts 26:15-18

We see following these verses that King Agrippa, who was presiding over the trial, was familiar with Jewish customs. This part of Paul's testimony is so dramatic that he is left with no choice but to follow Christ. He is painting the picture that if those accusing him had faced the same scenario, they too would have been changed by Christ. Personally, if God had pulled back the clouds and spoken to me this dramatically I would have had a difficult time ignoring him.

28Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" 29Paul replied, "Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." – Acts 26:28-29

This is my honest prayer for anyone who comes across this blog, as I am not the one that can change hearts or minds. Paul is so straightforward and without fear here that I cannot help but look to him as a role model to my own faith. Paul lived only to proclaim the gospel, and that is something we need to carry over to our own lives. At the same time he knew that he could accomplish nothing without Christ. Without Christ his ravings here would have come off as the nonsensical ravings of a madman. Indeed Festus thought he was insane, but Paul had to defend himself even from that charge. King Agrippa, being familiar with the Jewish customs, knew that his claims had weight because he had believed in the prophets. This knowledge helped Paul's case as it freed him from the Jews, but he still had to go to Rome and face Caesar.


  1. What was the Jews' case against Paul and why did they not get to speak at this time?
  2. Why wouldn't Jesus appear before the Pharisees and convert them to remove all opposition?
  3. What effect do you think Paul's words had on the crowd?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Acts, Chapter 25

When reading chapter 25 of Acts, I want to tell Paul that his game was very well played. As we know from the previous chapter, Paul was held for several years by Felix, mostly because he was expecting a bribe. Felix and Paul had discussed his case at length during this time, but Felix felt he was doing the Jews a favor by leaving Paul in prison when he was replaced by Festus. This played right into Paul's plan, as we see here in chapter 25 that he is once again on trial before a local ruler.

What Paul did during that trial had to be frustrating to the Jews. Their plan was to make it a case of their religion so the Roman authorities would hand Paul back over to them. They were counting on the matter being considered as a local issue. They felt the Romans would see it as a bunch of backwards locals arguing over religious details that were outside of their realm of familiarity. Paul had very few cards to play here, but the fact he was a Roman citizen allowed him to appeal to Caesar. This would take him far from the Jerusalem, and allow him to speak in Rome, which was his goal all along.

10Paul answered: "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!" 12After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: "You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!" – Acts 25:10-12

When in doubt, appeal to the higher court. Paul knew that eventually he would be martyred for his faith, but this bought him some time and another opportunity to preach the gospel where it could do the most good. Ultimately, this is a goal we need to have in our own lives. We must find ways to share the good news for as long as possible and in places where it has the most effectiveness. Paul had no idea what his final ruling before Caesar would be, but it was certainly better than being handed over to the Jews to be ambushed and killed.

18When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar." – Acts 25:18-21

I find this passage fascinating because it provides an interesting look into an outsider's perspective of the church. Festus was baffled as to what was going on, especially since he had no background story to go on. It's hard to think of this since most people know the basic story of Christ, but Festus did not have the advantage of looking at His story through history. He was expecting some serious crime, but instead he was presented with a confusing case over a religion he was unfamiliar with.

This leads to Paul going before King Agrippa, who was just as confused as Festus, as seen in the closing verses of the chapter. Who else but God could use confusion and the policy of passing the buck to accomplish His goals? These men had no idea they were doing God's will, but because they were involved in getting Paul to Rome, they had some of the greatest influence in the history of the early church. If Paul doesn't get to Rome, then the church doesn't have the far reaching impact that it did later on.


  1. Why would Felix, Festus, and Agrippa be content to keep passing the buck up the chain?
  2. What response do you think the Jews had to these decisions?
  3. How else do you see the hand of God working in these choices?

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Advent Conspiracy 2

It is 20 degrees in Indianapolis today. That is the temperature at 8:40am and it is not going to get much warmer. This past weekend a major winter storm dumped snow and ice on the city for about 36 consecutive hours. It was expected to bring up to a foot of snow, but fortunately it was only about half of that. Still, the city is in a deep freeze at the moment. Why am I giving this minute by minute update on the balmy December weather in the Midwest? It is because of these two guys:

Their names are Ryan Brinson and Daron Earlewine. They are the two pastors at the church we attend here in Indianapolis called the Crux. Starting at 5pm last night they began a 48 hour period of living on the streets of downtown Indianapolis to raise awareness for The Advent Conspiracy. They have set up shop during the day on Monument Circle in the heart of the city and will be there until 5pm tomorrow night. Last night they slept on the streets and they plan to do the same tonight. Since we live only a few blocks away I took these guys some warm beverages both last night and this morning. They were hanging in there, but this morning less than 16 hours in they were already struggling.

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 2:9

This is not a stunt that they are doing merely to gain attention for themselves and our church. It is an act of sacrifice to live a reality that some face every day to draw attention to an effort to end that reality. That is what the Advent Conspiracy is all about. It is about making a difference this season and to concentrate more on giving rather than consuming. That is why I am taking a break today from the recent discussions we have had on the book of Acts because I believe this is a cause that will make a difference.

I have talked about this cause before here, but I feel led this morning to bring it up again because of the way it is influencing people around the country. In a brief discussion with Daron last night he told me of how they had received e-mails and donations from all over the country. The beauty of it also comes from the fact that the people that are giving the most are those that have the least to give. We are merely a church full of 20-somethings from a church on the northwest-side of Indy. Shoot, at 28 I am practically ancient in that church, but we are making a difference.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. – Proverbs 14:31

While speaking with Daron and Ryan last night I stood outside with them for about 20 minutes. I was bundled in a heavy Columbia coat, gloves, and a hat. By the time our conversation was drawing to a close I was shivering and ready to head back to the warmth of my car. This is coming from a former Eagle Scout who has been camping several times as a boy in weather colder than this. I grew up in Indiana and have lived here all my life. Daron, however, lived in Arizona for most of his life, while Ryan is a recent transplant back here from San Diego. They also don't have the overnight experience that I have had outside, so you can just imagine they are feeling this morning before even reaching the halfway point of their ordeal.

I am not here calling for donations. If you follow the link to the Advent Conspiracy you can see what it is all about and who it will be helping. My job, as well as Daron and Ryan's is not to change minds, but to draw attention to this. From there I trust that God will work on hearts and change minds. Should you decide to give, from $1 to $1,000 it will be used entirely for the true purpose of Christmas. This year it is compassion, not consumption that drives us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Acts, Chapter 24

Can you imagine being placed in prison for several years simply because of what you believe in? This is nothing new, as it has happened for centuries for a variety of reasons. Let's add an interesting element to this situation though, as it is one that Paul faced. Imagine that being in prison is a good thing, because it is protecting you from the very people that you are trying to speak to. These people are trying to kill you for what you believe in, but instead you are protected by a group they view as an oppressive force. We see this in Paul's imprisonment here in Chapter 24, as it is a case of, "my enemy's enemy being my friend."

What we see in chapter 23 is also Paul's trial, as those that have a case against him are allowed to speak, but Paul is allowed to speak in his own defense as well. Much like a case that eventually works its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it took years for Paul to mount his defense as he stood for trial after trial in front local and regional judges before going to the "Supreme Court" in Rome. What stands out here in Chapter 24 is that he used this platform to still preach the good news of Christ. Most people would view this as insanity, as he was continuing to do the very thing he was being accused of. God gave him the strength to stand firm in the face of these trials though, and we can learn from this by standing firm in our own trials.

14However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. – Acts 24:14-16

This is almost like standing up at a trial and saying, "Yeah, I did it. So what?" The Jews thought he was desecrating the temple, but Paul states otherwise and does a masterful job of defending his position. By his account he was doing nothing wrong, and even called upon the Jews in Asia to come and speak their case rather than hide behind the Jews in Jerusalem. Keep in mind here that Felix was still a secular judge assigned to make a ruling on a local religious matter. He must have thought it was ludicrous he was being brought in to decide a case that was clearly a local matter. He did know of the Way though, and as such Paul even tried to reach him with the gospel.

24Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." 26At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. 27When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison. – Acts 24:24-27

What did Paul have to lose here? Obviously Felix was intrigued by the message of Christ if he continued to talk to Paul over two years. It was also a blessing in disguise as Paul's imprisonment kept him safe from the people who were trying to kill him. After what we read yesterday, I am sure they were very hungry by that point as well. From Paul's perspective he must have been fairly satisfied as well because he was still alive to preach the gospel, plus he knew of God's promise to send him to Rome. He stood strong in the face of these trials, just as we must stand strong when we face lesser trials in the course of our own lives.


  1. Why would the Jews say Paul was desecrating the temple?
  2. Why was important for Paul to keep his conscience clear before God and man?
  3. Do you feel Felix was changed by Paul preaching the gospel to him?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Acts, Chapter 22

How important was Rome? We see here in chapter 22 of Acts that amazing feats were accomplished to get Paul to Rome. Paul had already done a ton of good work to this point, and from his words it is obvious that he was prepared to be martyred when he went to Jerusalem. God had other plans, however. Since Rome was the center of the world at the time God felt that Paul's words would have their most impact from there. Think of it like Paul was a singer. No one truly makes it until they play Carnegie Hall, and Rome was Carnegie Hall.

But first he must get there, and to do that he had to get away from the Sanhedrin. To say these guys were not pleased is an understatement. As I have mentioned before here, they did not like the message Paul was preaching because it threatened their power. If indeed it was true that Jesus was the Savior of mankind, then they no longer held the power they had over the people. Their power was based in the law, and since Jesus came and made the law obsolete, and didn't act the way they wanted Him to act in the process because he didn't exult them, they were upset.

12The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14They went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here." – Acts 22-12-15

This is a testament to the power of sin, as Paul used to be a close friend of these people, but because he was converted by Christ Himself they were now prepared to kill him. Imagine how confidant Paul had to have been though because of the message he had received from Christ the night before. Perhaps I act differently on faith, but if Jesus Himself told me that I was going to testify in a certain place I would have all the confidence in the world that I would be delivered to that place. Certainly Paul knew that his earthly chances at getting out of his situation were slim, but he had Christ on his side, and with Him he could not fail.

31So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35he said, "I will hear your case when your accusers get here." Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod's palace. – Acts 22:31-35

As if the Jews did not have enough of a reason to hate Paul, his Roman citizenship here begins the process of saving him and taking him away from their plot. This citizenship offered Paul certain rights that he otherwise would not have had, and because of that he was subject to Roman authorities instead of Jewish authorities. The fact that many Jews viewed the Romans as oppressors made matters even worse. The very people they disliked were helping the person they really disliked.

But once again, the power of God cannot be stopped. This was merely a step in Paul's journey to Rome, and another reminder that God is faithful to His promises. Eventually Paul would be martyred in Rome, but by God he was going to get there for it because God had promised him the chance to testify in Rome. Each step along this journey is God delivering on a faith promise, and we can strength from that because God was with Paul all the way.


  1. Does Paul's impact in Rome signify a shift from a Jewish-based message to a Gentile-based message?
  2. Why would these Jews independent of the Sanhedrin swear an oath to kill Paul?
  3. In your view, were the Centurion guards for or against Paul?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Acts, Chapter 22

On the surface chapter 22 of acts looks like a rehash of previous events. We now have Paul before the authorities of the temple, being asked to defend himself against the charges he was faces. We again hear the story of his conversion, and then he is lead away to be flogged. This sets in motion his visit to Rome, which is where he longed to go all along. It is difficult to see what can be taken out of such a straightforward lesson like this, but there is an important underlying message in both events.

In the case of Paul's conversion there is the message that God can even use our mistakes to accomplish wonderful things. As one of the leading persecutors of the early church Paul gained quite a reputation among the Jews that were set against the church. His conversion was more than one person changing sides, it was a betrayal they held deeply and naturally became very angry about. They certainly did not want to let Paul go easily to the other side because they knew his zealous nature would reap huge dividends for the group they viewed as an enemy.

17"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 19" 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' 21"Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' " – Acts 22:17-21

Paul had dug himself quite a hole because of the work he did for these men. They now wanted him dead and Paul felt lost because he could not spread the good news to them in their own short-sightedness. What does God do? He sent Paul to the Gentiles. Not only does he do that, but he makes Paul, who was once the church's greatest enemy as we see in this chapter, the greatest envoy to the Gentiles in history. One could say that Paul is the main reason the church grew by leaps and bounds in the middle of the first century, and it is his work that is the foundation of our own faith today. Not only that, he did play a small part (in reality, more than half) in writing most of the New Testament.

23As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" 26When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "This man is a Roman citizen." – Acts 22:23-26

Here again God uses what the people of the day viewed as bad, for good. Rome was not held in high regard by the Jews of the day. They were viewed more as an oppressive regime than anything. Since Paul was a Roman citizen though, he was afforded certain benefits that, in this case, saved him from a flogging. Another side benefit came in that his citizenship set in motion his journey to Rome. Paul wanted to go to Rome anyway to preach the gospel because it was the center of civilization. He knew that his message would have its greatest effect not only then, but through history if he could speak in Rome. As a results-oriented person I sympathize with his view that even as a prisoner he was achieving his goal. This is further proof that God works to accomplish His goals even when it looks like they will fail by our terms.


  1. How can God use your previous negative attitudes towards Him for a positive effect?
  2. Why would the centurion believe Paul was a citizen and not just lying to get out of a beating?
  3. How has God used a bad situation and turned it into good in your life?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Acts, Chapter 21

I like to define the term courage as having the strength to do something that you otherwise would not be able to do. Various other definitions have been offered up throughout history, many of which can be found here. It is a virtue that often comes not as a result of our own strength, and can sometimes be seen as foolhardy. What would cause a person to willingly face something they could easily hide from, knowing that the consequences will not be positive? I find myself uttering a phrase of encouragement when I am in need of courage, because I know sometimes consequences must be faced before a reward is realized. That phrase is, "this is going to get worse before it gets better."

Here in Chapter 21, we see courage in action as Paul knows what he is going to face once he arrives in Jerusalem, but he still continues onward because that is what Christ asked of him. I have faced a similar situation many times in my life when I knew going into a situation things were not going to be pleasant. I felt that God was asking me to go, however, because I needed to pass through such trials in order to learn what He needed me to learn. To me that is the measure of courage, and it is not a coincidence that people often equate courage with strength from God.

10After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' " 12When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 14When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done." – Acts 21:10-14

This is such a dramatic example of Paul being warned about what exactly he will face, yet he still could not be dissuaded. This is because Paul was thinking from a Godly perspective and not a human perspective. In human terms we of course don't want to be beaten and face death. God had a different plan in mind for Paul, however. Paul knew that he had a mission: he had to go to Jerusalem and face the music. As a Jew, he also knew the Old Testament, and therefore he likely knew the story of Jonah. In that story, God makes it quite clear that is if He wants you to do something, He will find a way to make it happen. God wanted Jonah in Nineveh, but Jonah did not want to go. Guess what ended up happening in the end? Since Paul likely knew this story, he knew he must go and face what he had to face in Jerusalem. Paul also knew that there would be glory given to Christ in doing so, so he had no choice.

27When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28shouting, "Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place." 29(They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.) – Acts 21:27-29

Here is what Paul had to face. The funny thing is that much of what the keepers of the temple were stirred up about was an assumption. My father once told me that the root of the word "assume" is broken down into ass u me, as in an assumption only makes an ass out of you and me. Here Paul is doing what God Himself asked of him, but the keepers of the temple are trying to kill him based on an assumption rather than facts. This is a further lesson in courage, because it does take a ton of courage to face those who would persecute you based not on fact, but a mere assumption.


  1. Where do you see your own courage coming from?
  2. Why would other believers not have the faith that Paul did for his mission?
  3. Why were the keepers of the temple so protective against Paul?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Acts, Chapter 20

In our busy lives, it is hard for us to imagine how things can be even more hectic. In chapter 20 though we see how tireless Paul was and we can realize that things can indeed be even busier than previously thought. This chapter illustrates how tireless Paul was in preaching the gospel, a fact that many people don't truly realize. This was a man that gave every fiber of his being to spreading the word of Christ. Look at what he accomplished in doing so, because literally millions have believed because of his work. Through it all, he never took an ounce of praise for himself, as it was always directed at Christ.

Chapter 20 is also a good lesson in Paul's humility, as it is an opportunity for him to accept praise, but he once again defers to a higher authority. When he raised his friend from the dead, he could have taken praise, but instead he deferred to Christ. This incident once again stemmed from Paul tirelessly working for Christ, as he didn't even take time to sleep that night because he was so focused on preaching the message that was given to him.

18When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. – Acts 20:18-21

Let's look at that line, "with great humility and tears," a little bit closer. I have long had a passion for the game of basketball. Whenever I am blessed with the opportunity I lose myself in the game to the point where nothing else exists outside the court. It does not matter if it is a meaningless pick-up game, I always play the same way: 100% and full speed. When I was younger it used to be worse as thoughts of the game and what my high school team was doing would consume my every waking hour from November until March. While I do not fault myself for the joy this game has given me, I have often wondered what I could have accomplished if I had focused all of this energy on Christ as Paul did. It wasn't until recently, with this very blog, that I began to totally focus part of my daily energies on Christ, and I continue to be amazed at what He accomplishes through this daily.

22"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. – Acts 20:22-24

This is an attitude shift that few of us are able to successfully accomplish. I admit in my own weakness that I struggle daily with surrendering my own will in favor of the will of Christ as Paul was able to do. I am amazed by the total focus and drive that Paul had to accomplish the task set before him. He knew what he was facing. Apparently God even told him he would be facing prison and eventually death for his faith. Still, he soldiered on for the cause. To relate to my basketball analogy above, especially since sometimes my wife says she needs to speak in basketball terms to make herself understood, I continued to play through injuries and my own lack of natural ability simply for my love of the game. Paul's love of Christ was enough to overcome all of his shortcomings and through that he was able to accomplish wonderful things. We can learn from this example by giving all of ourselves to Christ in everything we do.


  1. How would you handle facing what Paul face in prison and death for his faith?
  2. Where do you focus your energies that could be focused elsewhere?
  3. Why is Paul's humility important?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Acts, Chapter 19

Momentum is defined as the product of the mass and velocity of an object. The heavier an object is the more momentum it will have. This comes into play with a collision, as the more mass and velocity you have the more dynamic of a collision you get at the end. As we have seen over the entire book of Acts in these past few weeks the early church gained quite a bit of momentum behind Paul and the rest of the apostles. Jesus got the ball rolling by granting them the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Paul continued the momentum through his ministry, and in chapter 19 we see it begin to take off beyond even his and the apostles' efforts.

13Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15(One day) the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. – Acts 19:13-16

This is one of our first instances where Paul was not directly involved with spreading the gospel. As we see in the preceding verses, God began to supernaturally propel this momentum by blessing even garments Paul had touched. What we see in these verses is an important step for these believing Jews, as they had made the leap of faith from discounting Christ and His ministry to believing they could do these things in His name. As we can see, they didn't exactly achieve their desired result, but the important thing is that they believed and had faith. The basis of Christ's message is one of faith, and that is something that is often hard for us to grasp in human terms. We must be willing to take that step and believe before the real work of Christ and the Holy Spirit can begin.

23About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty." – Acts 19:23-27

Saying Christ came to earth to shake up the status quo is a bit of an understatement. His coming changed the very foundation of the world, and here is just another example of His guidance shaking up even secular society. Obviously the silver shrines were a big part of the economy of Ephesus, so naturally if people start turning away from Artemis as a god that industry would be hurt. There are few, if any, followers of Artemis today, but back then it would have been a big deal to take this away from the people of Ephesus. This is even further proof of the momentum of Christ. His message began to break down even the economy of that society, forcing the residents to at least consider the claims of Paul and the message of Christ. These people had no choice but to at least pay attention and consider the message. From there, it was up to each individual person to make up their own mind. Ultimately that is what each person must do when they are confronted with the truth about Christ - they must make up his or her own mind.


  1. Why would Paul be able to drive out evil spirits, but not these men?
  2. How has the Holy Spirit gained momentum in your walk with Christ?
  3. How does Christ change the world in dramatic ways like He did in Ephesus.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Acts, Chapter 18

The recurring theme of Acts has been God accomplishing many things when human strength fails. Each chapter in this book supports this theme because of the adversity that those, especially Paul, faced wherever they went. Chapter 18 is another example of that. On the surface it looks like the same tale we have heard before, but there is a bit of a difference because for the first time, someone from a human perspective comes to Paul's aid. Once again the Jews were after Paul because he was spreading the gospel that they did not want to hear, but in Corinth he receives a manner of defense from the powers in Corinth since they actually saw the argument for what it was: a difference of opinion and not a matter of state.

5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized. – Acts 18:5-8

This is an important split because from here we see Paul concentrate almost exclusively on the Gentiles. Sure, he would not shun those that were Jews if they decided to believe in Christ, but this is where he reached his limit with exclusively going after them because of their attitudes toward him. Much like anyone dealing with a bully that constantly tormented them for almost no reason, Paul finally decided to wash his hands of the matter. We know that he was called to spread the message to the Gentiles anyway. While there are numerous Jews throughout the world, they are just a small part of the number of people on the planet. Therefore it is important that the message be spread to the Gentiles as well since they far outnumber the Jews, yet are still in need of salvation. Paul then made it his life's work to spread the word of Christ to them, and, because of his writings in the New Testament, his efforts echo through the centuries.

9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." –Acts 18:9-10

Is there anything better than encouragement directly from the Lord? Imagine how frustrated and angry Paul had to have been at this time. We don't know this, but what if he was ready to give up right then and there? Once again the strength of the Lord prevails when human weaknesses threaten to overcome. As we see over the next few verses, God delivered on his promise as Paul was not attacked over the next year and a half. When he was attacked, God provided protection in the form of Gallio.

14Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things." 16So he had them ejected from the court. – Acts 18:14-16

Gallio saw the matter for what it was, and that was a difference of opinion. It was an argument of words that the Jews were upset about because it did attack the very foundations of their faith, but that was the point of Christ's life. Of course He was going to shake things up because He was the Son of God. It is from this that Paul gathers more strength for his mission, and we can be thankful today that he gave every ounce of himself to fulfill that mission.


  1. What is the limit of your own strength and how does God extend it for you?
  2. What is the importance of a synagogue leader coming to Christ?
  3. How does God use secular leadership today to help His followers?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Acts, Chapter 17

I watched the The Matrix Reloaded last night, a fascinating movie that has many allusions to Christianity. During a key scene, there is a debate about the nature of cause and effect. In today's reading of Acts chapter 17 we see that cause and effect played out in three different ways as Paul takes the message to Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Paul's message of the gospel bore fruit as there were some that believed in each place, but the most prominent reactions that he received were vastly different.

5But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." 8When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. – Acts 17:5-8

This is obviously a bad reaction, as the entire city is thrown into chaos because of their teaching. I find it funny here also that the Jews of Thessalonica were more concerned with following Caesar, an earthly king, than they were with following the will of God. Throughout the entire Bible, there are countless examples of the Jews losing faith and following earthly signs rather than the will of the God that had chosen them as His people. For every act of faith it seems there is an act of unfaith, and this is yet another one.

13When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. – Acts 17:13

The verses before this indicate that more people believed the message at Berea, but I find it interesting that the Jews from Thessalonica were so hellbent on causing trouble that they followed Paul and his menagerie to Berea to cause more trouble. We see that the Bereans themselves were more relaxed and accepted of differing viewpoints, but the people from Thessalonica remind me of the people who give Christians a bad name by traveling all over the country to force their views and opinions on people. That's not what the message is about! I don't expect you to agree with everything I say, as my views are my views. I simply put the Word out there as I interpret it and allow the Holy Spirit to work from there.

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. – Acts 17:22-25

From the Athenians we see yet a third reaction, as there is little unrest, but at least thought is given to Paul's viewpoints. This is all that is all I ask when I present the case for Christ here, as thoughtful discussion is my minimum goal. I am sure that Paul found it a welcome relief that people were willing to let him speak and simply listen instead of stir trouble up against him. Instead of forcing their own views on Paul, they came to him with an open mind and were willing to listen. This is an attitude we can all learn from.


  1. Why did the Jews show such a lack of faith in their God?
  2. Why are some people more intent on forcing their views on people than just listening?
  3. How does the Holy Spirit work to change minds?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Acts, Chapter 16

On the surface chapter 16 of Acts appears to be very dry. It looks like yet another chapter where the author says, "They went here and did this. They went there and that." I admit that at times it is hard to separate myself from thinking it is merely a story and is instead an account of the works of God. In my studies of the last few chapters, however, I have discovered something vitally important. This is very subtle, but if you look back to the four gospels preceding Acts it becomes clearer.

If you look at the accounts of the apostles throughout Acts, especially Paul, and you look at the accounts of Jesus from the gospels you will see many parallels to the miracles they each performed. In today's chapter alone, Paul sees a vision in a dream, miraculously breaks out of prison miraculously (our third prison break in Acts), oversees the conversion of a Roman guard, casts out a demon, and receives a flogging. The difference comes in their reactions to such miracles. When Jesus performed a miracle, He always did so with a purpose in mind. There was a lesson inside the miracle other than the miracle itself, and obviously He could have performed more if he so chose. Paul and the other apostles are always quick to deflect the glory to Christ and the Holy Spirit for their works because they knew their power was not a result of their own works.

16Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." 18She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. – Acts 16:16-18

Notice how Paul invoked the power of Jesus rather than taking credit for himself here. He was very cognizant of not giving the impression that he was a divine figure. Let's be honest, if you saw this guy going around performing miracles like this you would think he was god-like in his power. Instead of taking personal credit though, Paul deflected the glory to God where it belonged. This is an attitude that we must effect in our daily lives. It is a posture of humility that we must take, realizing that our strength lies not in ourselves, but in Christ.

29The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." 32Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. – Acts 16:29-33

It's amazing how simple the entire message can be put. Here we see Paul sum up the entire point of human existence in one single question and answer exchange. What must we do to be saved? Well, there is only one thing we can do to be saved. We must believe in the Lord Jesus. That's it! There is nothing else that we can do on our own, just like there was nothing else Paul could do in his own power to perform these miracles. As always, Paul deflects to Jesus, in whom he found the source of his strength. What was the source of his miracles? Jesus. What was the only thing Paul could do to be saved? Believe in Jesus. What is the whole point of human existence? Jesus. We see throughout Acts that Paul just continuously pounds this message wherever he went. As a result, many people were saved and the church grew.


  1. Why was Paul given the power to perform miracles?
  2. How did Paul gain the strength to endure the beatings and persecution he faced?
  3. What was the importance of the jailer's family being baptized?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Acts, Chapter 15

By the time we get to chapter 15 of acts we have come a long way in one book alone. Remember how well everyone in the church got along in the first few chapters of Acts just after the Holy Spirit was given to them? Well, the church to this point had ballooned so much that disagreements about doctrine were beginning to come out of the woodwork. Chapter 15 is one full of discord and we see that many of the elders were starting to spend time putting out fires and settling egos, yet the gospel still moved forward.

The first major disagreement came over circumcision. If you study the Old Testament any circumcision was a big deal. It goes all the way back to the book of Genesis as a tradition for the Jewish people. In Genesis 17:11 God sets circumcision up as a sign of the covenant between Abraham and Himself. The covenant was that Abraham would be the father of many nations, and every male in his household was asked to be circumcised as a part of the covenant. Not only that, it was to be handed down through the generations as a sign of this agreement. If you weren't circumcised, you weren't part of this covenant.

As we know though, Jesus had a tendency to break old traditions down so He could set up new ones. Though the covenant of circumcision was about more than a flap of skin, Jesus established that He was the new covenant with the sons of Abraham. Just as he broke down the barriers of the old law to include the Gentiles, He breaks down the barriers here for the sake of spreading His gospel. Paul got this because he was already doing the work of Christ by spreading the Word to the Gentiles. Some Jewish believers did not agree, however.

1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." – Acts 15:1-5


Notice some of the errors here in the first part of this passage. It is clearly stated that it was men, not God, that said you could not be saved without being circumcised. Paul was naturally a little skeptical about this, as he knew that belief was a matter of the heart and not about a physical act. We see that he takes this question back to Jerusalem where a great debate raged. The debate is understandable, especially when Genesis 17 says that those who are not circumcised are cut off from the covenant of Abraham. This is where Peter becomes the voice of reason.


8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." – Acts 15:8-11


This shows the power of God and how the message and the heart is more important than even the most sacred of Jewish traditions handed down through the centuries. Peter is saying that it doesn't matter if you are circumcised or uncircumcised because of what is on your heart. No one was able to save themselves before Christ regardless of circumcision because salvation is found in Christ. We cannot bear that yoke on our own. The uncircumcised Gentiles believed this as well, and therefore they were saved. The message is that salvation is in Christ alone, not some physical work.




  1. Does the covenant of circumcision still have meaning today?
  2. How well did the church handle this first test of its doctrine?
  3. Why would something as mundane as this cause such a stir?