Devotional Reading for July 3, 2022

Acts 16:1-15

Is Paul a hypocrite? After the church decides that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised, why does he circumcise Timothy? By Jewish law, Timothy was a Jew because he was the son of a Jewish mother. However, because he was uncircumcised, he would be considered an apostate Jew. Since Paul went to the synagogue first when he entered a new city, he didn’t want his message automatically ignored because he endorsed apostasy! So it was much easier to have Timothy circumcised for the sake of the ministry, rather than try to explain everywhere and perhaps be discounted out of hand. He is simply being practical.

How do you think that the Spirit prevented Paul from going to Galatia and Bithynia? It was a vision that brought him to Macedonia, so my guess is that it wasn’t something supernatural that prevented him, or he would have mentioned it. Was it a storm? Was it an illness? Was it a concern? Paul realizes that God is behind even the coincidences in life. Perhaps he didn’t even understand it at the time, until the vision came, and that’s when he went: “Aha! Now I know why that happened!”

Have you even looked back on events in your own life to see how God nudged you in a particular direction? Sometimes it’s much easier to notice after the fact!

Devotional Reading for July 2, 2022

Acts 15:22-41

Judas, Silas, Paul and Barnabas bring the letter from the Jerusalem church back to Antioch and the surrounding region. Rather than tell them to keep the Jewish law, they encourage them to act morally, and they affirm the Gentile believers faith in Christ. Jesus is truly the Savior of the world!

And then reality sets in. A ministry disagreement that separates believers. Barnabas does what he continually does, living up to his name: “son of encouragement.” Who is right here? We can make suppositions, but maybe neither has to be wrong. Perhaps God allowed it to send them in different directions so that ministry could actually increase! We can’t know for sure, but can only hope and pray that such is the case when we see it happen today. And we should pray for one more thing – restoration in the future. We are blessed to see that restoration happen between Paul and John Mark.

2 Timothy 4:11 “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry.”

Devotional Reading for July 1, 2022

Acts 15:1-21

Halfway there!

This entire passage is a reminder that salvation is by grace, not works!

Ephesian 2:8-10 “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his creative work, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”

And if it’s belief and faith instead of works that makes you a Christian, then even the Gentiles can be saved! In fact, that’s what was foretold in Amos 9:11-12 as quoted in Acts 15:16-17: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,’ says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.

We also are reminded here of the structure that God brings to the church as it is being established. In 14:20 we were reminded that they “appointed elders in the various churches.” Here they go up to Jerusalem to meet the “apostles and elders.” While some today try to deny the existence of structure in the local church, the New Testament demands it!

James (the half-brother of the Lord who seems to be the leader of the Jerusalem church at the moment), suggests that a letter should be sent to Antioch. In it he says that the Gentiles should abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. Many suggest that this addresses moral and cultural issues that will arise from having both Jews and Gentiles in the same church. This makes some sense, but the issue of things strangled weakens the argument. There is another possibility here. The Greek word for strangled can also mean “drown,” “suffocate,” or “choke.” The early church was very against the murder of infants that were unwanted, which was done by exposing them in rural settings, or by drowning or suffocating them in more urban areas. If this understanding is correct, then two of four prohibitions deal with the sanctity of life! And the letter has less to do with converted Gentiles and converted Jews getting along in the church, and more to do with helping Gentiles who don’t know God engage in behavior that is pleasing to Him. Don’t engage in idolatry. Don’t engage in sexual immorality. Don’t kill your infant children. Don’t murder anyone! Rules to live by!

Devotional Reading for June 30, 2022

Acts 14

Here is the end of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journey. Conflict continues, to the point of Paul being beaten and left for dead. That prompts them to proclaim, “we must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions” (14:22). Is that only true for them? Or does it apply to us too? Perhaps we should remember the words of Jesus:

John 15:18-20 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too.

We have been very fortunate in the USA, but we also see the increase in hostility toward Christians as our culture adopts values that are contrary to the Bible. Even so, perhaps our greatest offense is actually believing that there is only one way to heaven, and that way is Jesus! Believers in other parts of the world have been facing ridicule, rejection, arrest, torture, and death for centuries. Are we willing to continue to obey the truth and share our faith in the face of animosity?

Paul and Barnabas, in direct contrast to Herod in Acts 12:20-24, refuse to accept praise that isn’t rightfully theirs (14:8-18). Of course, this praise is associated with idolatry, and we will probably never experience that! But the reminder for us is that whenever we are praised, we should give glory to the One who gave us our talents and abilities, rather than receive the glory for ourselves.

One final note: Paul appeals to natural revelation in 14:17 and uses it to show the good that God has done for all mankind. We probably don’t remind people of that enough!

For worship:

Devotional Reading for June 29, 2022

Acts 13:26-52

Here we have the rest of Paul’s sermon at Pisidian Antioch.

Paul spent as much time talking about 1500 years of Jewish history as he did detailing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means! Do you think that he’s trying to make a point as to the importance of Jesus? He quotes from Psalm 2, 16, and Isaiah 55 to support his testimony, and encourages them to believe so that their sins will be forgiven. He then quotes from Habakkuk 1:5 to warn them not to be scoffers!

More people arrive to listen the next day, but the Jews begin to argue and revile against Paul and Barnabas when they see the crowds. This is where we find support for the idea that Paul’s primary mission is to the Gentiles. He quotes from Isaiah 49:6 to show that God’s Messiah is for more than just the Jewish people. Jesus is the savior of the Gentiles too! The Gentiles rejoice, and “all who had been appointed (designated) for eternal life believed.” That was enough to have the Jews use their influence to get them thrown out of the region. Even with that, the disciples recognize that God is working, and rejoice!

Let’s make sure that we look for where God is working in our lives and in the world around us. He is always working, so there is always a reason to rejoice!

Devotional Reading for June 28, 2022

Acts 13:1-25

Some 12 years after Paul is converted, we see him fully taking on the mission that God prepared him for: “this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel” (9:15). From this point forward Saul (Hebrew name) is now Paul (Greek name), since his ministry is primarily to the Gentiles. We also see that “Barnabas and Saul” becomes “Paul and Barnabas,” seemingly indicating a transfer of authority.

This chapter records the beginning of Paul’s 1st missionary journey. He and Barnabas are chosen by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the church in Antioch. How did the Spirit speak to them? Literally, or by impressing upon them all the same idea/feeling? The second is most like what we would experience today, but we can’t discount the possibility of the other! Don’t be confused by the reference to Pisidian Antioch in verse 14. It’s actually about 300 miles northwest of what is called Syrian Antioch, which is where we started the chapter.

While they are on Cyprus they encounter a Jewish false prophet and magician. How freaked out do you think he was to actually encounter the supernatural, rather than his pretending?!?! And how neat is it that Paul compresses 1500 years of Bible history into 10 verses? Don’t you wish your pastor could be that concise?!?!?

Paul’s life up to this point should remind us of the importance of patience and faithfulness. We do have some hints about what was going on in the 12 years or so since he was converted, but his formal ministry and mission seems to start now. Do you think that he was impatient? Was he ready to get moving long before his official assignment? There is no way for us to know. But the time wasn’t wasted. God was preparing him through ongoing ministry and study for an even greater impact later. Paul dutifully did what he needed to do while he waited. We need to have that same faithfulness and patience in our own lives!

Matthew 25:14-30 “For it (the kingdom of heaven) is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Devotional Reading for June 27, 2022

Acts 12

Persecution of the church continues. James is killed and Peter is imprisoned. The church is praying for him, but apparently not for his release, because they are so freaked out when it happened! Even Peter thought he was dreaming: “When Peter came to himself…”

Seriously though, there are plenty of times when we pray that we probably are just going through the motions, and we don’t really expect an answer. James 1:5-8 warns us about that kind of prayer:

“But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.”

The episode with Herod reminds us of the need for humility. How often to we act like our gifts, talents, and abilities are ours, and not from the God who made us?

It is probably worth noting that not everyone is released (James wasn’t), and not everyone is struck dead (even though there are a lot of arrogant God deniers out there). God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He knows and does what is best, and we need to trust Him, even when we don’t understand.

Sermon outline for 6/26/22 (Radio broadcast 7/2/22) — Esther 2:1-18

How do we Handle the Horrible?
(A PG-13 rated sermon)
Esther 2:1-18

I) We are reminded of the problem of ___________________

     A)  Our introduction to the _______________ of the king

     B)  The ongoing ______________ of dealing with the king

     C)  The exploitation of young ___________

     D)  The exploitation of young __________

     E)  Exploitation _____________

          1) _____________

          2) _______ trafficking

II) We see the lengths people are driven to when _______________ themselves

     A) Hiding ____________ because of racism

     B) Adapting to ____________ circumstances to survive

III) How can we _______________ to the issues in our society?

     A) Don’t engage in activities that ____________ it

          1) _______________

          2) ___________ immorality

     B) __________ for the victims of it

     C) Be sensitive to God’s guiding for _______________

     D) Truly believe that God can bring good out of ___________

Devotional Reading for June 26, 2022

Acts 11

1-18: The Jewish believers in Jerusalem wanted to know why Peter was willing to eat with the uncircumcised, contrary to Jewish custom. Peter relays to them how God showed him not to show favoritism. They got the message immediately and recognized that, “God has granted the repentance that leads to live even to the Gentiles.

19-26: Next, the Jerusalem church hears how persecution has caused the gospel to spread to Antioch. They send Barnabas to check it out. Barnabas recognizes the work that God is doing in them, encourages them, and goes to find a “pastor” who would be uniquely qualified to minister to them. Barnabas and Saul minister there for a year, and this is the first time that believers are called Christians.

27-30: Finally, we see the care that the church continues to exhibit toward one another. The church in Jerusalem helps the church in Antioch spiritually, and the church in Antioch helps the church in Jerusalem financially. One part of the body provides what the other part needs. That’s the way it’s supposed to work!

Devotional Reading for June 25, 2022

Acts 10:34-48

Here is the culmination of Peter’s lesson: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him.” And how does that welcome become an ongoing relationship? “Everyone who believes in Him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” This lesson is cemented by the manifestation of the Spirit. Gentiles can know God too. Jesus is for everyone!

Do you live like this in your own life? Do you understand that we are all made in God’s image, and worthy of respect and dignity? Or do you ignore and look down on certain people because you think they are unworthy of having a relationship with God? The challenge in our own lives is to not allow this world or our own pride to harden us towards others. We need to be open and willing to engage with others when we see God working in their lives, just as Peter was here. Prejudice, heartlessness, and thoughtlessness are all sins to be avoided.