November 3, 2012

Today you should read: Acts 28

So here we are – the end of the book of Acts. It is so amazing to see how the church started and where it is today. At times the journey of the church has been smooth and the church has flourished and at other times the journey has been marked by suffering, persecution and struggle beyond imagining. One thing, however, has been constant throughout the whole journey and I hope it is what we can take away from the book of Acts:

God is always with us

Jesus told us that He would never leave us or forsake us and He hasn’t. Jesus has been building His church and He continues to do so today. The book of Acts ends with Paul’s journey to Rome where he is put under house arrest for 2 years while awaiting trial. We don’t know exactly what happened to Paul but many believe he was beheaded by the Roman emperor Nero. No matter how he died, he, along with the other apostles and faithful men and women we read about in Acts, succeeded in spreading the gospel to the ends of their world. So, as we close this time in the book of Acts I want to challenge us to ask ourselves a few questions:

1. How are we like the church in Acts?
2. What would the people who were in the church during this time think if they came to our church?
3. In what ways have we succeeded in the mission of the church? (See Matthew 28:19-20)
4. In what ways do we need to improve or change in order to accomplish our mission?
5. What can you do to be a part of what God is doing in His church?

Posted by: Robbie Byrd

November 2, 2012

Today you should read: Acts 27

The Journey of Faith…

God often moves in us.  He takes us from one place of being used by Him to the next place He plans to use us.  Usually in between those two points is a journey of faith.  A longer-than-anticipated season of trusting Him, having no control, and trusting only in His provision and sovereignty.  It’s scary.  It seems uncertain.  But He shows Himself sovereign and in control.  He takes you to where He’s planned to use you all along; and when you get there, He uses you boldly.

This is what is happening to Paul.  Paul was at Caesarea (Acts, Chapter 25).  After a series of circumstances, it is decided that Paul, a prisoner, should be sent to Rome.  In between these two points we see the journey.

The part of the story we are reading today is the journey.  Plain and simple.  It is the story of Paul being moved by God from one place of being used by Him to the next place God plans to use Him.  I think this is God’s intention of this passage, to show us the journey.  In observing this journey we learn a lot about God’s character and – we can learn a lot about – how God initiates the journey in our lives and how we can trust Him through it -.  Let’s just simply walk right through the text and consequently walk right through the journey.

Today’s “Walk-a-Way”

The Journey to the Destination:

Paul was on his way to where God wanted to take him

1.  Circumstances align (v. 1 – 2)

“And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius.  And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea.”

To say circumstances aligned is an understatement.  Let’s recount from chapter 21: Paul becomes a prisoner, Paul testifies before Felix, Paul was left in a prison for two years not knowing when he would get a chance to testify again, Paul testifies to Festus, and then is ordered to be taken to Rome to testify to Caesar:

“To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go” (25:12)

But then, before he is sent, Paul testifies before Agripa, the King!  And finally He is sent to Rome.  Wow.

To say that circumstances aligned is sort of mystical.  But that is not what’s going on here.  At this point maybe no one even knew what the purpose was of Paul being sent to Rome.  But God did and He aligned the circumstances whether Paul or anyone else saw it or not, because He had a plan to use Paul in Rome.  God’s sovereignty aligns the circumstances.

2.  Paul heard from God (v. 21-24)

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’”

Paul didn’t hear from God himself, he heard from the angel, but who do you think dictated to the angel?  God told him something powerful. He said “don’t be afraid.”  He said “this is what I have planned for you.”  He said “this is how I am planning to use you.”  Paul heard from God.

3.  Paul believed God (v. 25)

“So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Paul not only heard from God, he trusted Him.  He trusted God and believed that God would do exactly what He said.  He trusted in what God had spoken to Him about his future where he was to be used next.

4.  Paul told others about what God had said and encouraged them to believe God (v. 21 – 25)

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Along the way of God directing you, He uses you to speak about what you have heard from Him to impact others through what God has told you.  God plans to use you hearing His voice and you trusting Him through the journey to influence and impact others as well.  This reveals God’s character, it reveals His plans, it reveals how He works, and it influences others so that they can trust God the next time He brings them through a journey that requires great faith

5. When others were tempted to abandon God’s plans, Paul took the lead and took action (v. 30 – 31)

“And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow,  Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.”

Why do you think God told Paul originally that everyone else would be saved too?  I think it’s because he wanted everyone else to trust His plan as well, even though it was primarily concerned with Paul.  And when the others were tempted to abandon what God had said would happen due to fear, Paul stood up, took the lead and took action to make sure God’s plan was carried out.

6.  Paul just did the next logical thing (v. 33 – 34)

“As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength,”

Ok, so Paul believed God was in control and that He was in the process of taking Paul where He told Him He would.  So now, what was Paul to do next?  What was the most “spiritual” thing Paul could do on this “journey of God?”  Simple, take the next logical step…eat.  The people hadn’t eaten in fourteen days and they were low on strength, so Paul told them to eat to have enough strength for the journey.

Often when God calls us to something, we think it too “spiritual” to take logical steps.  But logical steps are also put there logically by God.  Take the next step.

7.  Paul trusted what He had heard from God (v.34)

“…for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”

Even along the journey when it had been some time since God revealed His plan, Paul was still assured and trusted in what he had heard from God.

8.  Others were encouraged by Paul’s trust in God’s promise (v. 36)

“Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.”

After Paul repeats God’s promise and expresses his unwavering faith and confidence in what God had said, even after all of this time, others were encouraged by Paul’s steadfast faith.

Along the journey, will you remember what God told you and remain steadfast in believing His words?  When you do, others see it, and they are impacted.

9.  God’s sovereignty ensured Paul’s safety even in the midst of predictable adversity (v. 42 – 44)

The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.”

When God takes us on a journey of faith to where He plans to use us, there is undoubtedly adversity.  But God, in His sovereignty, will see us through and bring us safely to where He plans on using us.

And here we don’t even see the ultimate end to the journey.  We will see that in the last few sentences of this book.  But I can assure you that it’s strong.  And God’s plans are brought about with ultimate clarity and boldness.

Trust God in the Journey.

Posted by: Sam Cirrincione

November 1, 2012

Today you should read: Acts 26

This is now the 3rd time in Acts we read of Paul’s personal conversion. (Acts 9:1-22 / 22:6-21 / 26:13-23)

King Agrippa wants to hear for himself (Acts 25:22) who Paul is, and why his life has caused such a ruckus among the Jews. Today, here in chapter 26, we have an up-close look at the personal testimony of one of the Apostles! The way Paul shares his testimony is highly instructive for us – let’s learn from his style so that we too can craft an orderly account of our own testimony to share with others:

Acts chapter 26 Paul’s Testimony Your Testimony
(v2-3) Asking permission to share personal story Words directed to King Agrippa in a polite way, with humility. Being polite and friendly is a wise way to talk with others.
(v4-8) Early manner of life… Pursuit of living life as a strict Pharisee… Pursuit of   ________________. (Describe your past aim in life.)
(v9-11) Results of living apart from knowing Christ. Locked up saints in prison, voted to put Christians to death, raging fury and violent persecution… Before knowing Christ, my pursuits in life compelled me to do this _______________.
(v12-15) First encounter with Christ, being confronted w/ sin. At midday, a bright light from heaven is shining – Jesus saying, “Why are you persecuting me?” Time and location (if you remember), and describe being first confronted with your sin.
(v16-18)  Details of conversion experience. Specific Truths… Paul responds to specific truths given by Jesus.  Given forgiveness of sins, sanctified by faith in Jesus. Explain what specific truths God was revealing to you and how you responded: by Faith.
(v19-20) Visible effects of  personal salvation. Paul tells the Gospel to other people, responds with repentance. Describe how your life looked different after receiving Christ.
(v21-23) Honesty of life’s circumstances and a clear grasp of Biblical Truth. An honest account of life’s hardships post-conversion, as well as firm declaration of Gospel truth is shared together. Be realistic of your struggles & challenges in the Christian life, but relate your hope back to the Gospel.
(v24-26) An unexpected interruption and a calm response. Governor Festus rudely interrupts Paul. However, Paul responds kindly and calmly. (Reminder: interruptions are inevitable. Do not be alarmed by distractions, respond calmly)
(v27-29) Transition from telling a personal testimony to asking an evangelistic question. With boldness, Paul asks Governor Festus a personal question concerning the Gospel. While sharing, may the Spirit boldly lead us to ask people to specifically respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
(v30-32) Those who hear have a decision to make. King Agrippa and Festus change their perception of Paul. (v31) After you share your story, others will have to make a decision about the truthfulness of your claims of Jesus Christ.

Dear Heavenly Father, Teach us to be a church family who reminds ourselves daily of the way your glorious gospel has transformed us. Bring our personal conversion stories to our minds today in a fresh way, in a way that humbles us. May we be ready to share our testimony anywhere we go. Thank you for the way you have been teaching us of the Gospel’s power in the book of Acts. Give us boldness to share with others about Jesus today.  We love you Lord, Amen.

Posted by: Taylor Wehrle, College Ministry Intern

October 31, 2012

Today you should read: Acts 25

The Life of a Disciple…

Chapter 25 is a page in the journal of a disciple – a man who was committed to following Jesus no matter what it cost him.  He has been faithful sharing the Gospel message of Jesus – how Jesus came and lived and died for our sins and how we can have a personal encounter with Him by receiving Him into our lives.

The Jewish leaders didn’t like this.  They accused Paul of crimes against the Temple and asked the Roman authorities to execute him (just like they did Jesus).  Paul was sent to Caesarea (Maritima) – a Roman city built to mirror Rome on the Mediterranean Sea.

There Paul was formally accused of the crimes against him, and stood before Festus to be tried.  Paul, being wrongfully accused, demanded a hearing before the highest Roman authority – Caesar.  This, of course, would be what took Paul to Rome where he would share the message of Jesus and then be executed.

This brings me to a very important question today… When should you stand your ground?  Often, the right thing to do is to humbly submit to others around you – to turn the other cheek – but when is it right to fight?  To stand up for your cause?

1)    When lead by God’s Spirit to do so

2)    When the reputation of God is at stake

3)    When doing so will further the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  Romans 1:16

4)    When you’re sure that it’s not about you or your fame

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21

What are your thoughts about this?  Tell us about a time you stood your ground for the right reasons.

Posted by: Tim Parsons