January 14, 2019

Today you should read: Acts 8:1-25

We saw previously that Stephen was stoned and killed after giving an epic proclamation of the gospel. His execution was approved by a man named Saul who will be more notably referred to as Paul (more on him on a later day). Our text says that great persecution began after Stephen’s death, forcing the new Christians to scatter throughout the region. Verse 3 shows the severity of the persecution: “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.” While this was surely a terrifying time to be a Christian, it also became a strategic move that God used to advance the gospel.

Verse 4 says, “But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” The new believers were being persecuted and scattered, yes, but their scattering meant that different places and more people were hearing the gospel for the first time. God  was redeeming suffering for the sake of the gospel. Even in the middle of persecution, the church was a light in a dark world. From this scattering, we see two accounts of life change: the fruit of the ministry of Philip, and Simon the sorcerer.

Our passage today is a great example of how God can redeem a situation for his glory and the advance of the gospel. What in your life could God be using to advance the gospel that at first didn’t make sense? What opportunities is he giving you to glorify Him in tough situations?

By: Graham Withers — Pastoral Ministry Apprentice

January 12, 2019

Today you should read: Acts 6:8-7:60

In today’s passage, we read the story of Stephen, the first martyr. Our passage describes Stephen as “a man full of God’s grace and power” and that he “performed amazing miracles and signs among the people” (v.1). Stephen had wisdom from God and was full of the Holy Spirit.

This made the Jews angry, so they brought false accusations against Stephen which led to his arrest. Stephen was accused of blasphemy, and had a chance to defend himself. So what did he do? He was prepared to “to make a defense to anyone who asks…for a reason for the hope that [was] in” him (1 Peter 3:15).

Stephen used this opportunity to boldly stand for the truth of the Gospel. Stephen recounts the story of Abraham, Moses, the Tabernacle, and the Temple. When he gets to the story of David, he states the “Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands” (v.48).

Stephen accuses the Jews of murdering Jesus and sees the “Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (v.57). This was considered blasphemy to the Jewish people, so they stoned Stephen with Saul, standing in approval nearby.

A few takeaways from our story today:

First, Stephen used the opportunity that was open to him to share the message of Jesus Christ with those around him. How can you use the opportunities given to you in your life to share the Gospel with those around you? Is there an opportunity to share your faith at your workplace, school, gym, or some other place you go frequently?

Second, persecution is real. While there are certainly changes happening in our culture regarding the public sphere and the Christian faith, we are not exactly persecuted. We still have the ability to meet freely in our church. Christians in America are marginalized, yes, but not persecuted. There are Christians in other parts of the world who have to hide their faith from their government because of the risk of sever punishment like jail time, torture, or execution. Take some time today to check out organizations like the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors to see how we can pray for and support persecuted believers around the world.

Lastly, we can be encouraged by this story. We can trust that God is at work and His Word will not return void. Stephen had a vision of the Risen Jesus, and it led to his death with Saul approving it. However, Saul would have a vision of the Risen Jesus, and it led to him and many others believing the Gospel. God is at work even in persecution for people to come to know Him and to be glorified!

By: Lucas Taylor — West Campus Pastoral Ministry Apprentice

January 11, 2019

Today you should read: Acts 6:1-7

In the history of the church, it is often opposition from within the church that causes the most damage. In the case of Acts 6:1–7, the issue at hand is one of unity, one of the primary struggles for the Church since the beginning. Thankfully, in this instance, the 12 Apostles handled this issue with such wisdom that they teach us a lot, especially about service.

The issue at hand in chapter 6 is that the Greek Jews were being overlooked by Hebrews in the daily distribution of food. It’s important to know that the first people to come into a relationship with God through Jesus, and join the church, were Jews. However, among this group was also the Jewish converts. It was this group whose needs were unmet.

The Apostles dealt with this situation by raising up a group of men from within the Greek-Jewish community so that no one would be overlooked. This solution has several implications. First, although it isn’t “beneath” the Apostles to pick up the slack, they had bigger fish to fry. This is a fantastic leadership principle—prioritization and delegation. What is the work that only you can do? What work needs to get done that you can hand off to somebody else? The Apostles needed to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Any other work would detract from the task that they needed to do of first importance.

Second, we see that the Church needs different people to fulfill different roles. The Apostles selected seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Even to “serve tables,” service is leadership and leadership requires standards. Many a church has suffered the consequences of elevating the wrong leaders. These men had “good reputations.” To have a reputation you must, first, be known. As basic as that statement may seem, this speaks to the value of your involvement in biblical community (Connect Group sign ups begin soon, wink wink). These men also had to be “full of the Spirit.” God does not give believers the Spirit to sit in the bleachers; get on the field. The Spirit equips people differently, not everybody has the same spiritual gifts. That is a great thing because none of us can do it on our own. Just like we have to depend on the Spirit for the gifts he’s given us, we have to depend on others who the Spirit have gifted differently. As we tell our daughter frequently when she says, “I do it!”, independence is not the goal. The Christian life is one of interdependence. We need the Lord and we need each other.

These leaders were Greek, they were not Jews. Because of their ethnicity and background, they were uniquely suited to fulfill a need in the church. The Church needs different people to fulfill different roles. The standard of ministry is not the staff team. You don’t have to be like Tim Parsons to be effective. Tim is great, but so are you. We have a Tim, if you’re not serving, we don’t have a you. If you look at yourself and can’t figure out how God can use you, guess what, that’s how a lot of us feel. Let us help you and what you’ll find is every significant thing you are a part of for God’s kingdom isn’t really your work anyway. As the great evangelist Dwight Moody said, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.”

By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate

January 10, 2019

Today you should read: Acts 5:12-42

Today, I want to begin and end with something for us to think deeply about:

When your mettle is tested — when you are tried by fire — how will you respond?

What we encounter in our passage today is real persecution. Just before this, the disciples continued to see miraculous works being done in their midst; news of their incredible, anointed ministry was quickly spreading. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and high priest were angry about the following that this movement had garnered, and the disciples were arrested and put on a brief trial.

Let’s be honest — this passage might mess with our theology a little bit. You may think (or were taught) that if you do the right thing and serve God in the right way, life will be safe and easy. You may have even thought that if you do the right things for Jesus, you might receive praise from people, have the perfect family, or even gain material blessings. This passage is clear revelation that the prosperity gospel fed to us by improper teaching is a lie.

People wanted to kill the disciples. In fact, all of them were eventually killed because of their faith in Jesus. They suffered torture time and time again. Life wasn’t easy for them — it was the opposite of easy. Maybe this is why Jesus told them, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

The life of a disciple isn’t supposed to be easy. So how should we respond when it’s not? Follow the example of the disciples in Acts 5:

1) Listen to the voice of the Lord (19-21)
2) Keep your priorities straight (29)
3) Cling to the truth of the gospel (30-32)
4) Endure the real, painful persecution for the sake of the gospel (40)
5) Never, ever, ever stop preaching that Jesus is the Messiah (42)

I know that many of you have endured various kinds of persecution and trials. Let me remind you today that it is for a reason. Paul helps us make sense of it in Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

While we may face tough tribulations, our hope is in Jesus. He is with us through them all. He uses them to refine and mature us. He comforts us through the pain. He also promises us that one day, all of this earthly pain will end:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV)

So, when your mettle is tested — when you are tried by fire — how will you respond?

By: Todd Thomas — Worship & College Pastor