Saturday, May 18, 2013

Acts 28:1-31 Ashore on Malta, Arrival at Rome and Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard

Well friends, today is the end of the Challenge. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. I have learned alot by reading the Book of the Acts of the Apostles in this way. Thank you for joining us on the journey.

In today’s reading Luke tells us about their time on the island, which turns out to be Malta. The islanders were very kind to the castaways. Although they briefly think Paul is a murderer since he is bitten by a snake. They change their minds and think he is a god when he doesn't die. The chief official, Publius, invites everyone to his home and entertains them for three days. During that time Paul heals his father which leads all the sick to come and be healed. Luke says that they honored them in many ways and gave them the supplies they needed when they set sail on a ship from Alexandria.

From Malta, it seems the sailing was smooth with a few stops they finally arrive at Rome. When they arrived in Rome, the brothers travelled from afar to greet Paul. He was allowed to rent a house and live by himself with a guard.

Once Paul was settled in Rome he called the Jewish leaders together. They had not received any letters regarding Paul or heard anything bad about him. Nonetheless, they knew that Jewish people everywhere were speaking against the sect (Christianity) so they wanted to hear Paul’s views.

Paul arranged to meet with them and preached the hope of Israel, through Jesus to all who came. Some believed him others did not. Paul quoted Isaiah to prove his point and let them know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles as well. For two years Paul stayed in his rented house and boldly preached the good news of Jesus.

The story ends on a positive note, Paul has made it to Rome and continues to preach the Gospel. This means he has triumphed in his mission for God. Paul lives on to continue sharing the salvation of God in the most important city of his time. He has lived an incredible life telling his story, spreading the Gospel and baptizing both Jew and Greek, poor and wealthy, “average Joe” and king.

I think the two big lessons are: 1) a disciple is a person of action, always spreading the Gospel and; 2) treat everyone the same. As followers of Christ we are to go about God’s work here on earth. That may mean volunteering in a soup kitchen, going on a short or long-term mission trip, volunteering in a school, at a hospital, anywhere that love, understanding and patience is needed, giving money to support the ministry of a church, shelter, or organization offering training and/or relief to those in need, being kind to the person who was rude to you, smiling at a total stranger or anything that puts someone else’s needs above your own. Sometimes I think that is the easiest part, we understand that we need to “give charity” to those less fortunate. But, do we treat them with the same respect as we would the President of the United States? Do we recognize their value as human beings to God? Do we remember that Jesus died for them as much as he did for us?

The real challenge has just begun. Now that we have read the story of the apostles, we are challenged to continue their work of preaching, teaching and encouraging to everyone, rich or poor; educated or ignorant; powerful or weak. Will you accept the challenge? What will you do to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ?  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Acts 27:13-44 The Storm and The Shipwreck

Today the centurion and ship crew learn that they should have listened to Paul. They think that they got what they wanted so the ship sets sail along the shore of Crete. Unfortunately for them, Paul was right and a big storm, a “northeaster” sweeps down from the island. Things quickly get scary and the crew starts dumping cargo to lighten the ship. They take such a beating that on the third day they throw the ship’s tackle overboard. Eventually, everyone gives up hope of being saved after some time without seeing the sun or stars.

Luke tells us that they have gone a long time without food. This is when Paul decides to say “I told you so”, but he also gives them hope. He tells them that the ship will be destroyed but no one will be harmed. He knows this because an angel of God told him so.

On the fourteenth night, around midnight, the sailors sense that they are approaching land. They take measurements and find that the water is becoming shallower. They do what they can to reduce the damage and pray for daylight. Then they pretend to lower anchors while trying to escape. Paul tells the centurion that without the sailors he can’t be saved, so he orders his soldiers to cut the ropes and prevent the sailors’ escape.

One more time Paul addresses the crew, telling them to eat because they will need the food to survive. He tells them not a single hair will be lost on any of them. Then to show his faith in he just said, he breaks bread, gives thanks and eats. Everyone eats as much as they want and then throw the grain overboard.
Daylight comes and they don’t recognize the land, but decide to run the ship aground. The ship struck a sandbar so hard that the bow wouldn’t move and the stern was broken into pieces. The soldiers plan to kill the prisoners so that they can’t escape, but the centurion comes to their rescue to spare Paul’s life. He ordered those who could to swim ashore first and those who couldn’t to get there on planks or pieces of the ship. Everyone arrives safely.

If you are unfamiliar with sailing terms, like me, I looked up some definitions. Weighing anchor is raising the anchor from the sea floor and pulling it to the side of the ship. The ship’s tackle is equipment, like anchors, cables and baggage that are not essential for the ship’s survival. A sounding is when a measured, weighted line is put into water to check for depth. A rudder is used to steer the ship.

What struck me first as I read today’s passage was Luke’s choice of words as the beginning, “…they thought they had obtained what they wanted…” (Acts 27:13, NIV).  They thought they had gotten what they wanted, not that they got what they wanted, but they thought they got it.  Sometimes we think we get what we want when we get something new or something is decided in our favor, but soon realize that this isn’t what we wanted at all. How great the new house seems, bigger, fancier and better than the last one, until you meet the neighbors! You know the ones, the one who lets his dog use your lawn as a bathroom, or the really nosy neighbor or the one who insists your lawn needs to be cut the same day as theirs. Maybe the “better” house wasn’t really what we wanted or needed, as we miss the fantastic neighbors from the “old neighborhood.” And we reflect on a parent or friend telling us that the new house might not be the best choice. Hmm, maybe we should have listened!  

The other thing that struck me is that the sailors pray for daylight, but then try to escape. They seem to be moving in the right direction, displaying signs of faith. It almost looks like they have finally started to listen to Paul, but then they ruin it by trying to escape. They wanted to save themselves, because they didn’t think anyone else would, God included. Now I’m not saying that we pray for God to act and then sit around waiting, but we do need to trust Him to act. In this case I think the sailors should have continued to work to protect the ship, crew and passengers as best as possible, and trust that God would work with them to keep them safe. Paul said no one would be harmed, God had told him that, but the sailors still did not trust God. They feared for their lives, why else would they have tried to escape.

How often do we pray for something, but not trust that God will answer? We try to ensure the turnout that we want with our own manipulation of the circumstances or people. The problem is that sometimes that means we get what we think we want, not what God wants for us. We may miss out on something amazing, because we have not put our trust in God. Admittedly, we don’t always get what we ask for, but God always gives us what we need. God will always answer our prayers, we may not like the answer, but He ALWAYS answers.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Acts 27:1-12 Paul begins his journey toward Rome

Today, Paul has begun his journey toward Rome. Paul has boarded and is now sailing across the ocean toward. Paul has embarked on a journey that will take the Gospel to the center of the ancient world. He will speak the story of Jesus to powers and principalities, but along the way he will also tell the story to those on the edge,  to those on the fringe.  Paul was forever telling his story, he was forever sharing Jesus with whoever would listen  The Gospel is meant to be told, it's meant to be shared. Paul got that. We as Christian followers are to get that too. Where are we called to share the Gospel today, where are called to speak up and how our story intersects with Christ story?  Where will you witness to Christ love on this day?

May we remember on this day when we hear about Paul's journey, that we too are on a journey and all along that journey we are to share the gospel of Jesus' love.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Acts 26: Paul makes his argument before King Agrippa

As the story picks up, Paul is before King Agrippa.  Today, we hear again the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus and how he has come to know the risen Christ.  In the middle of his testimony, Paul is interrupted by Roman governor Festus who essentially says you must be out of your mind to think we are going to believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead.  Paul, in what I imagine was a calm moment, turns to Agrippa and asks him if he believes to what the prophets have testified. Agrippa rebuffs Paul as Paul assures him that he hopes that all who hear his testimony would  become what Paul has become minus the shackles. 

Like Festus, I know that there are times where I fail to fully believe that God may be at work in this situation or that.  How can I be more faithful when I encounter something that seems so impossible? How can I more fully trust my life to God?  How can my eyes be more open to the work of God in the world about me?


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Acts 25 Paul before Festus and King Agrippa

Well in just one day, in the matter of one verse we are told that Paul  spends two years in prison. (Acts 24:27)  Felix wanting to get in good with the Jews grants them a favor and allows Paul to languish in prison for two years.  At some point though power passes from Felix to Festus.  Shortly after Festus arrives in the Caeserea,  he allows Paul an audience.  Paul defends himself by saying that he has not done anything against the law of the Jews and that he wants an opportunity to present his case to the Emperor, which Festus grants.  The only problem is, is that Festus doesn't really have cause to send him to the Emperor. When King Agrippa arrives in town for a visit, Festus asks Agrippa's advice on what to do given that Paul simply has "points of disagreement" about their religion. King Agrippa agrees to hear from Paul.  Chapter 25 closes  with King Agrippa arriving to hear from Paul.

I am shocked somewhat by the similarities between Paul's ordeal and Christ trial. Festus, as Pilate did before  him is unable to find charges that warrant execution.  Both men similarly want to stay in good and seem to be allowing the religious authorities to pull the strings somewhat.  Though, in Paul's case, he seems to have a little more say in what is going on.  Remember he has requested an audience with the emperor.  How will Paul defend himself before Agrippa? Will he get an audience with emperor?  Tune in tomorrow.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Acts 24:1-27 The Trial Before Felix

Today Paul’s case is brought before Felix. The high priest, Ananias, some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus appear as Paul’s accusers. Tertullus speaks for the Jews; starting with flatter towards Felix he then makes a brief statement. His main argument is that Paul is a troublemaker who has been stirring up riots among Jews all over the world. The evidence is that he is a “ringleader of the Nazarene sect” and the he tried to desecrate the temple when he was seized.

Paul’s rebuttal is that the Jews have no proof. He states that he went to Jerusalem to worship and give gifts to the poor. In fact, he was not arguing with anyone or stirring up a crowd when they found him. Paul states that he was ceremonially clean, he was giving the gifts to the poor and presenting an offering when the Jews seized him.

Paul admits that some Jews in Asia may have reason to bring up charges, but they are not present. Paul also admits to worshipping the God of their fathers as a follower of the Way. Paul states his reason for being in front of Felix is that he shouted to the Sanhedrin that he believes in the resurrection. Luke tells us that Felix is well acquainted with the Way and adjourns the case until the commander, Lysias, arrives. Then he will decide the case. Felix allows Paul’s friends to take care of him while he is kept under guard.

Apparently, Lysias never arrives because Felix calls for Paul, listens to Paul’s preaching, gets scared and sends him back to his cell. Luke tells us the real motive for this is that Felix was hoping for a bribe from Paul. For two years this went on until Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. But because Felix wanted to grant the Jews a favor, he kept Paul in prison.

What intrigues me is Felix calling Paul to listen to him talk about righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come. This scares Felix, but he keeps talking to Paul. The motive is selfish, at least to start, but it scares Felix. I wonder if that fear comes from knowing he is hearing the truth, but he is unwilling to follow it. Maybe he is looking for Paul to change his message so that it would be easier to attain eternal life.

An essential piece of the salvation that Jesus promises is that we take up our cross and follow Him. It sounds easy at first, just believe He is the truth, the way, the life. But then the hard work starts, we must turn from our sins and turn towards God. We must obey Him so that His will be done on earth.

Paul states in his second letter to the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV) That is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. We humans don’t like change and to say that I will be a “new creation” if I choose to follow Jesus implies A LOT of change. It is exciting because the sins and mistakes of the past are left behind and I start with a clean slate, but I don’t know where I am going, what I will be doing or even who I will be.

I admit, I’m often scared to let go and follow Jesus completely. I’m thankful for the forgiveness, but I fear the unknown. The problem is that fear is the opposite of faith. Faith is trust in the future, a manifestation of the love I share with God. I am the only person keeping me from realizing my full potential. God has wonderful things planned for us all. What would happen if we all let go of our fear? What would St. Mark’s be to the community of Orchard Park? What would the world-wide Church be to the lonely, sick and dying? Who would you be? What would you create?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Acts 23:12-35 The Plot to Kill Paul and Paul Transferred to Caesarea

Well today’s reading takes an unexpected twist. I’m not surprised the Jews want Paul dead, but I’m surprised how they conspire to kill him. Forty men take an oath to not eat or drink until they have killed Paul. Then they go to the Sanhedrin and tell them of their plan and what their part will be in the murder of Paul.

Luckily for Paul, his nephew hears about this plan and informs Paul. Paul sends his nephew to the commander. The commander believes the story and decides to move Paul. So he send Paul, heavily guarded, in the dark of night to Caesarea. The commander also sends a letter to Governor Felix explaining the situation. Felix agrees to hear Paul’s case once his accusers arrive. Until the case can be brought before him, Felix orders Paul to be kept under guard at Herod’s palace.

I’m amazed that forty men, presumably faithful Jews, would plan premeditated murder. That is what it is, today I think they would be charged with conspiracy to commit murder and if they succeeded, first degree murder with the possibility of the death penalty. This was no small plan. They wanted to kill Paul, and even took an oath to not eat or drink until they had.

I wonder how they justified themselves. How did the members of the Sanhedrin justify joining in on the conspiracy? Their role was to make it possible for others to commit murder, under today’s law they would be charged as if they had committed the murder themselves. They would not have seen the blood, but they would had a crucial part in Paul’s death.

I have not knowingly led to the death of another person, but how have I been part of a conspiracy to kill God’s love and grace? I’d like to think that I have never been a part of the death of God’s love and grace, but I’m sure I have. Maybe I “killed” a piece of a person with unkind words or by ignoring him/her. Maybe I conspired to not let someone be a part of something, which killed God’s love in me.

Lord God of all hope and love, please forgive me! I have sinned against you and my neighbor by killing your love in me and others. Please help me to see Christ in everyone I meet and help me to bring Your love to all those I encounter. Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Acts 22:22-23:11 Paul the Roman Citizen and Before the Sanhedrin

I think today’s reading is a lesson in how to NOT make friends and influence people. Paul gets the crowd riled up by saying that Jesus sent him to the Gentiles. Paul’s arrest is probably as much for his own protection as for him committing a crime.

Ever the attorney, he finds a reason to not be flogged. This a very lawyer-like thing to do; ask a question that you know the answer to, but that makes others stop and think. As Paul knew it would, his Roman citizenship prevents him from being flogged. Notice how he pulled the citizen card when he was about to be flogged, not when he was first arrested.

The commander is scared because he put a Roman citizen in chains, but he is also curious about Paul. What is all the fuss about? Why do his own people want him dead? The only way to get answers to these questions is to put him in front of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders made up of Pharisees and Sadduccees.

Again, Paul doesn’t make any friends by calling the high priest a “whitewashed wall” and telling him that he is violating the law. When the people near Paul ask him who he thinks he is to accuse the high priest, Paul claims he didn’t realize he was the high priest.

Then Paul starts a riot, a violent riot! He states he is on trial because he is a Pharisee and believes in the resurrection. Again, Paul knew what he was doing; another lawyer moves to divert the argument away from himself. The riot becomes so violent that the commander fears Paul will be torn into pieces by the Sanhedrin. The commander orders his troops to go into the fray and pull Paul out of there and returned to the barracks. While there, Paul is visited by Jesus telling him to take courage, he will testify about Jesus in Rome.

First, a few fun facts...There are four possible explanations for Paul not realizing it was the high priest that ordered he be struck: 1) Paul had poor eyesight (see Galatians 4:15, 6:11), 2) Paul failed to discern that the one who presided was the high priest because on some occasions others had sat in his place; 3) He was using pure irony: A true high priest would never give such an order; 4) Paul refused to acknowledge that Ananias was the high priest under these circumstances. One of the main differences between the Sadducees and Pharisees was that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, angels or spirits. The Pharisees believed in all three.

I wonder if Paul was just trusting his training as a Pharisee, the legalistic party, when he spoke to the crowd, the Roman soldiers, and the Sanhedrin to save himself. Or did he design his statements to lead to the final outcome, going to Rome? I tend to think he used his training to head for Rome. He hadn’t completed his mission yet; there was still much for him to do in the name of Jesus.

This leads me to wonder what is my mission. Am I fulfilling my purpose right now, where I am? What do I still need to do in the name of Jesus? Will I recognize the next move that I am to make? Will I make that move, even if it means that I will upset others? I pray that I will have the courage. What is your mission?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Acts 21:1- 22:5

Well yesterday caught up to me.  Sorry for not posting. Although I didn't post, I was able to spend some time reading the selected passage for the day.

Over the past two days the story has continued with Paul and the others making their way back to Jerusalem.  They realize that Paul will be arrested and yet Paul is still determined to go.  When Paul and the others arrive in Jerusalem they immediately meet with James and their fellow followers. Part of the stir around Paul is a rumor  that Paul is teaching the Jews to forsake the laws of Moses.  At the urging of James and as a way to quell the rumor Paul undergoes the rites of purification. However, Jews from Asia show up and rile up the crowd.  Paul is arrested, but convinces the tribune to allow him to address the crowd.  The story ends with Paul giving his pedigree a "Jew born in Tarsus..." Tomorrow  Paul's speech will continue with the crowd hearing the story of his conversion.

As we were reading yesterday's story, my daughter asked, "Does God want Paul to die?"  The question took my breath away and didn't have a response for the moment. Once I collected myself I said this,  "God has given Paul a mission to fulfill and sometimes with that mission bad things might happen and in this case Paul might be killed. That doesn't mean that Paul is not called to follow the path that God has laid out before him."

Where has God called you to do something that has been less than popular, that may put you in danger?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Paul's Farewell to Ephesus Acts 20:17-38

Paul seems to have a sense that his ministry is winding down, that the end is near. He is heading to Jerusalem and although he isn't certain what's about to happen, the Spirit of God has told him that afflictions and prison await. In our reading today, Paul says goodbye to the church in Ephesus with a real sense that they will never see his face again.  We hear how Paul commends the church to God, encourage the church to beware that some may come after him to try to deceive the church  and, perhaps most importantly,  reminds them that they are shepherds of the church.  As the passage closes Paul falls on his knees and pray for the people.  Tears flow, the people and Paul embrace, and Paul is sent on his way.

I was quite struck in verse 28 by Paul's reminder to the church at Ephesus that Spirit has made them shepherds of the church of God.  Being a person who wears a white piece of plastic around my neck (a clergy collar) I feel very much a shepherd of the church. But I wonder how I might as a leader in the church better encourage lay folks in my midst to live more fully into being a shepherd.  For the lay folks out there, how do you see yourself as a shepherd of the church  of God and how might your clergy help you to be a better shepherd?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Acts 20:1-16 Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas

In today’s reading Paul is on the move again. After encouraging the disciples in Ephesus he leaves for Macedonia and Greece. Paul encourages believers as travels to Greece. Luke joins up with Paul at Troas again as he starts to speak in the first person once more.

While in Troas the believers come together to break bread and listen to Paul. It must have been one heck of a sermon; we don’t know when he started to speak but he kept talking until midnight. It seems no one really minded, but one person must have gotten tired. Eutychus, a young man, was sitting in a window and fell into a deep sleep. He was so sound asleep that he fell from the third story window to his death.

But this is not the end of the story! Paul runs down to the street, throws himself on Eutychus and put his arms around him. Then Paul announces that he is alive! Paul was not easily side-tracked by little things like death and resurrection so he goes back upstairs to break bread and eat. He continues talking until morning when he leaves for Assos. Oh yeah, by the way, the people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

Paul continues traveling towards Jerusalem. He wanted to get there before Pentecost, if possible. It seems that Paul was in a hurry now and wasn’t taking a lot of time for preaching or spreading the Gospel.

I’m amazed by Paul’s stamina. The man has been traveling, mostly by foot, nonstop. When he does stop he is teaching, preaching and encouraging. This is a man of action! Apparently he doesn’t need sleep either. He spends days going from one place to the next, stops at Troas to give the longest sermon ever and in the middle of it raises a young man from the dead. Once he is done preaching he is on the road again.

How does he do it? Even Jesus rested and prayed. I notice that Luke doesn’t talk about Paul going off to pray. There is no mention of rest thus far either. Is Paul the first “Energizer Bunny”? Can he really just keep going, and going, and going?

I think that we are to learn from Paul to be people of action. We are to keep moving toward Jesus, teaching, preaching and encouraging along the way. But I also think we must stop and rest too. We must separate ourselves and pray, because Jesus is the source of energy and love.

So, I plan on resting today. It is the Sabbath after all. I will worship at church and then I may take a walk, take a nap or play a game with the kids. Then tomorrow I can be a person of action, sharing the Good News with everyone I encounter. How will you rest today?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Acts 19:21-41 The Riot in Ephesus

Luke tells us of a different trouble today. While Paul is still in Ephesus a silversmith, Demetrius, who is getting rich off of the worship of Artemis gathers all of the artisans. He gets them all riled up by saying that they are in danger of losing business because of Paul. Paul is convincing many people to convert to the Way (Christianity) and telling them not to worship false idols; gods made by man.
The Riot in Ephesus 
The artisans begin shouting and this causes a riot. The unruly crowd descends on the theater with Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions, in tow. Paul wants to speak to the crowd, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Luke tells us that most people did not even know why they were there. Somehow Alexander gets pushed to the front and managers to get everyone’s attention. But they realize he is a Jew so the crowd shouts, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two hours.

Finally the city clerk is able to silence the crowd. He tells them that the whole world knows Ephesus is the guardian of Artemis’ temple and image. He tells the crowd there is no reason for bringing Gaius and Aristarchus to the theater because they have not stolen from the temples or blasphemed their goddess. He tells them if they have a grievance it should be brought before the courts. They have no business causing a riot since there is no reason for it. Then he dismisses the assembly.

I am amazed that one person can cause so much trouble. Presumably, things are going fine and everything is peaceful until one person gets scared of something new. He is afraid that this “new thing” in town will affect him in a negative way. Demetrius doesn’t want to lose customers which would lead to a loss of income. It’s money he is concerned about, not faith. Although he uses the Ephesians faith in Artemis to spread the fear.

How easily we follow others, go along with the crowd. How quick we are to believe and trust what someone is telling us. We let the fear seize us and act in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise. We shout hateful words and treat others with disrespect. We don’t even realize what is happening.

Then comes the voice of reason, one person to point out the ridiculousness of the situation. I doubt the city clerk thought of himself as a prophet, but that day he was. He calmed the crowd down and pointed out the absurdity of their shouts. He let them know what actions would be appropriate. How deflated the crowd must have felt after realizing how absurd their actions were. Did they leave saying to one another, “what just happened?” Or “I can’t believe I got sucked into that.”

Which person are you in times of change and uncertainty, do you get caught up with the crowd or are you the voice of reason?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Acts 19:1-20 Paul in Ephesus

In today’s reading, Paul goes to Ephesus by a northern route. Paul meets believers in Ephesus but they have not received the Holy Spirit. They were given John’s baptism. Paul explains that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Paul says that John told the people to believe in the one that came after him. Paul than explains that John was pointing to Jesus. He then baptizes them in the name of Jesus and as soon as Paul lays his hands on them they receive the Holy Spirit. The new believers begin to speak in tongues and prophesy. The number of new believers were about twelve.

Paul then speaks boldly in the synagogue for three months. Once again some Jews refused to believe so they opposed the Way. Paul left them and took the disciples to the hall of Tyrannus. Luke tells us that this went on for about two years so that everyone, Jew and Greek, in Asia heard the word of the Lord. Luke makes a point of telling us that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. The Spirit is so strong with Paul that even things he has touched heal people and drive out evil spirits.

As always there is a problem, this time it is a bit different though. Some Jews are going around driving out evil spirits. They try to invoke Jesus’ name but it back fires on them. They tell the evil spirit to come out in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches. The spirit says, “I know Jesus and I know about Paul, but who are you?”  They receive a terrible beating for their trouble. Because of this incident many people are seized in fear and the name of Jesus is held in high honor. There was a great number of confessions and even burning of scrolls used for sorcery. Luke tells us that the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

As I read this passage, Luke’s use of fear, confession and the word of the Lord growing in power. This is the first time Luke talks about people being seized with fear and honoring the name of Jesus together. Thus far we have heard about the Good News of Christ and all the miracles performed through the Holy Spirit. Now the power is connected to fear and confession.

I wonder, is this a reminder that I am a sinner. A reminder that I cannot receive the full power of the glory of Christ unless I confess my sins. What are the scrolls that I must burn so that I can receive all the gifts God has for me?  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Paul shaves his head? Acts 18

Did anyone else notice that buried in the midst of today's reading was this small detail about Paul making a trip to the barber's shop in Cenchrae?  I literally had to look twice at the text to see if I had read what I had just read.  And, yes indeed Paul cut his hair because Luke says he had a vow.  Now it seems that Paul might have been a Nazirite, a Jew who had dedicated himself to God in a unique way.  As a Nazirite, he may have taken vows to avoid alcoholic drinks and engage in certaining grooming habits, like cutting his hair every 30 days or  growing his hair out and shaving his head upon completion of his Nazirite vow. Biblical scholar are not in agreement about whether or not this shaving his head was a regular part of his vow or the completion of the vows he had made.  After learning that Paul may have taken vows as a way to dedicate his life to God, I began thinking about the vows we make as Christians.  Certainly those of us who have been baptized and confirmed have take vows about how  we will follow Christ. For those of us who are ordained we have taken ordination vows about how we will serve Christ and His church.  Like Paul, most of us have promised to follow God in certain ways. I wonder how are you fulfilling your baptismal promises and vows? Where do you struggle to keep the vows you've made?  

F.Y.I.: Just taking The Challenge fulfills at least one of our baptismal vows, "to continue in the Apostles teaching..." Keep up the good work.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Paul at Corinth

Today the story takes us to Corinth and describes Paul's time there. While in Corinth Paul spends time in the synagogue  on the sabbath preaching Jesus as the messiah. As you can imagine this gets Paul into some hot water with the Jews.  Luke tells us that when the Jews "oppose" Paul, he shake the dust off his clothes in protest and declares that from now on he will go to the Gentiles.  Some time later, God gives Paul a pep talk reminding him that whenever Paul speaks He with be with him.  Luke then points out that Paul stayed in Corinth a year and a half.  Are we to think that this pep talk persuades Paul to continue his mission in Corinth, had he been ready to throw in the towel before God shows up in a vision?  The story closes today with Gallio, a Roman official,washing his hands of Paul.  Gallio refers Paul him back to Jewish officials who were trying to get the Romans involved to punish Paul  for persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.

I noticed a number of similarities in today's story with stories from the Gospels.

1.  Disciples are instructed by Jesus to shake the dust off their feet when they are not accepted someplace.  Paul shakes the dust off his clothes when the Jews fail to accept.

2. Pilate on a number of occasions tries free himself of dealing with Jesus when the Jews bring Christ before Pilate. Gallio dismisses Paul back to the Jews claiming the charges have to do with Jewish laws and not Roman Law.  

Where have you seen similarities between the story in Acts and the story we hear about in the Gospels?  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Acts 17 Paul at the Aeropagus

The missionary journey continues for Paul, Timothy, and Silas.  While they make their way around the Mediterranean basin, they continue to both win converts,but also encounter resistance. The story climaxes today in Athens with Paul preaching at the Aeropagus. Although upset by the idol worship he encounters in Athens, Paul masterfully uses it to his advantage.  He recognizes how devoutly religious the people are and claims that  the "unknown God" inscribed on an altar  is the God that created the world and the God that Paul worships. The results of Paul's preaching are similar some at the Aeropagus convert while others scoff.

Where have you found God in the words of Holy Scripture? 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Paul and Silas Land in Prison

The story continues today as Paul and Silas free a slave girl of a demon who has given her the power of divination.  Unfortunately for Paul and Silas the slave girl's owners are upset that this causes them to lose  heir source of income.  They convince the authorities to punish Paul and Silas for disturbing the city. Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten with a rod, and thrown in prison.   Locked in chains Luke tells his audience that Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray to God.  Shortly after midnight a powerful earthquake rocks the prison.  It's so powerful that the cell doors are flung open and chains unfastened.  The jailer so distraught over his misfortune is about to kill himself when Paul calls out that they have not escaped.  This provides Paul and Silas an opportunity to witness to the jailer.  The jailer and his family are baptized and the list of followers grow.  The next morning Paul and Silas are released and they continue on with their journey

What struck me today was that even locked in chains, even after being beaten with a rod, even with not knowing what will become of them, Paul and Silas sing hymns.  They are so filled with the Holy Spirit that they can look beyond the difficulty of their circumstances to find hope and joy in Christ.  It's easy to praise God when everything is going well, but how are we to praise God when we are locked in the chains that bind us? How do we tap the power of God's spirit to find hope and joy beyond the circumstances of this world. Perhaps, it begins simply with prayer and asking Christ for a spirit of joy in the midst of difficulty.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Acts 16:1-15 Timothy Joins Paul and Silas, Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia and Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi

Acts 16:1-15 Timothy Joins Paul and Silas, Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia and Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi

Today’s reading starts Paul’s second missionary journey. In Lystra Paul meets Timothy the son of a Jewish woman and Greek man. Something about Timothy made Paul want to take him along on the trip so he circumcised Timothy and they were on their way. Now Paul, Silas and Timothy go from town to town telling the churches of the council’s decisions. Luke tells us that the churches were strengthened in their faith and their numbers increased daily.

Luke then tells us that the Holy Spirit kept them from preaching in Asia so they traveled throughout Phrygia and Galatia. The Holy Spirit would not allow them to enter Bithynia so they went to Troas. While in Troas Paul has a vision of a man standing and begging Paul to come to Macedonia and help them. So they immediately left for Macedonia.

Did you notice the change that occurred here? Luke starts to use the terms “we” and “us”. He doesn’t say how he met Paul or why he joined him but it is clear that Luke joined Paul and his companions in Troas. The story changes from a third-person account to first-person eyewitness testimony.

We don’t really know what happened in Troas because Luke just tells us that they sailed from Troas to Samothrace and then Neapolis. There is no commentary on the occurrences at any of these stops, just the towns are named.

Next they went to Philippi. Luke tells that they stayed there several days. On the Sabbath they went outside the city to the river, where they expected to find a place of prayer. Luke doesn’t mention any praying, but does tell us that they began to speak to the women who had gathered there.

One woman is singled out; Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira responds to Paul’s message. She, along with her entire household, is baptized and invites Paul and his companions to stay at her house.

I think it is significant that Paul, a former Pharisee, chose to speak to a group of women. A Jewish man who abided by the law would not speak to a woman, especially a Gentile woman. A good Pharisee was nothing if not an avid adherent to the law of Moses. It seems as if Paul was pushing the radical idea of the Gospel of Jesus being for everyone even more. Women were regarded as property by 1st century Jews, not as a person capable of making an independent decision to accept the good news of Jesus and be baptized.

This serves as a reminder for us that the Gospel of Jesus is for everyone. Even those who look and act differently than us. Are we sharing the good news of salvation with EVERYONE? Are we able to look past the differences and see the face in Christ in “the other”? I wonder what it would be like if we all embraced the idea that there is no “second-class” citizen and truly looked at everyone as an equal. I think that would by God’s kingdom come on earth!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Acts 15:22-41 The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers and Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas

The action continues today with the council writing the letter to the Gentile believers telling them they don’t need to be circumcised but need to follow certain requirements. They are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.  The council sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas.

The four men went to Antioch, shared the letter and the believers encouraged. Judas and Silas spent some time encouraging and strengthening the believers in Antioch. They then left Paul and Barnabas with the believers and returned to Jerusalem.

Later Paul and Barnabas plan to visit the believers in all the towns where they had preached. Barnabas wanted to take Mark (John Mark) with them, but Paul didn’t think that was a good idea because Mark had left them at Pamphylia. The disagreement was so great that Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus while Paul and Silas went to Syria and Cilicia. Luke seems to believe that Paul was right stating that Paul wan commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord and then he strengthened the churches.

Paul and Barnabas are the first example of a split in the church. The disagreement seems so trivial to me, but than again most of the splits in the church have been over trivial matters. Our history includes disagreements and parting of ways over what happens during the Eucharist, should the Eucharist be celebrated every week, should there be candles on the altar, and the list goes on and on.

I wonder what God thinks of the mess we are constantly making of His church. Does He really care about any of these things? Isn’t the most important thing to love God and love your neighbor? What would the world be like if we concentrated on love and not all the other stuff? 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Acts 15:1-21 The Council at Jerusalem

In today’s reading the apostles and elders meet in Jerusalem to decide if the Gentiles that have been baptized must need to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to share with the apostles and elders all that had happened on their mission trip. The believers that were members of the Pharisee party say that the Gentiles that have come to faith must be circumcised according to the law of Moses.
Peter speaks first, reminding everyone about his experience in Caesarea at Cornelius’ house. He plainly states that God knows the heart of people and He showed his acceptance of the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit. Peter says that God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile and asks why they are trying to test God.

Next, Barnabas and Paul tell those present about the miraculous sings and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished James quotes Isaiah and says that they shouldn’t make it difficult for the Gentiles. Instead they should write to the Gentile believers and tell them to follow the Mosaic food laws.

As I read this passage, Peter’s question “why do you try to test God” caught my attention. How often have I tested God? What does that say about my faith? I think I missed something, Peter says “try” not that we can test God but that we try. So as I try to test God perhaps I fail to let Him work fully in my life. Maybe I miss the miracle because I’m too busy questioning God’s ability.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Acts 14:1-7 Eyes to see

Well the reading for today is quite short. Luke recounts Paul and Barnabas' time in Iconium. Again the results of their preaching is great.  Luke tells his readers that a "great number of Jews and Greeks became believers."  Now while good things happen, there again is a group who are not happy with what's going on. Luke tells how these folks try to "mistreat" and stone Paul and Barnabas. Fortunately, though Paul and Barnabas escape and move on.  I seem to be noticing a pattern in the book of Acts.  There seem to be at every turn people who fail to see the work and activity of God in their midst.,Obviously, the folks intending to stone Paul and Barnabas fail miserably at seeing how God might be working in their midst.  I wonder how often I fail to see the  work of God all around me. Perhaps, each day before our feet hit the floor, we should simply ask for eyes to see what God sees, so that we might better  be able to see the work of Christ in the world about us.

It has come to our attention that folks continue to have  trouble posting comments. There are a couple of ways to do get your comment to post.  First, under the Post a comment box make a  selection from  the drop down box "Comment As" The easiest way to do this is to choose to do so "anonymously" or choose "name/url." If you choose the latter,  simply type your name into the box.  The URL box can be left blank.  After this, type your comment then hit publish.  Your comment should be published.  Sorry about the difficulty.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Acts 13:26-52

Today we hear the conclusion of Paul's sermon in Antioch of Pisidia.  The sermon is so well received by  hose in attendance that Paul and Barnabas are invited back to preach on the next Sabbath day. Apparently, though, word has gotten because the following week the entire city shows up to hear Paul preach.  Jealousy over crowd size ensues and some of the local Jews drive Paul and Barnabas from the city.   But this not before a number of Gentiles become believers. 
Throughout this passage, we hear of  a number of  instances where humans try to thwart the activity of God in their midst only only to hear how God's purposes will not be thwarted.  In Paul's sermon, he reminds his audience that even though the people had Jesus killed, God raised him up.   Although the chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas being driven from the city, God brings about the conversion of some of the Gentiles in attendance.   Where have you seen God's activity  continuing to shine through even after attempts were made to thwart it?  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Acts 13:1-25 Being Sent

The chapter opens as Saul (Paul) and Barnabas are commissioned by the disciples in Antioch and sent out into the world to proclaim the Gospel.  Their trip will take them to many place throughout the Mediterranean over the next few years. But,  today we hear stories of their time in Cyprus and in Antioch of Pisidia on the Turkish Peninsula   During their in Cyprus they are opposed by a magician.  However, Saul prevails and the magician is struck blind. Of course this wins them an important convert, a government official named Sergius Paulus.  Next they set sail and arrive in Antioch of Pisidia.  There Saul is invited to preach in synagogue on the Sabbath Day. Much of the reading today is Saul's sermon that day.

As I reflected on today's reading, I wondered about being someone who is sent.  Today, I will be sent to share the love of God to residents of a local nursing home.  Where is the Spirit sending you today? Where are you being called to share the love of God on this day?  It might simply be at your work place or in your family, but that does not make it any less important. God's love always needs to be shared  Where are you being sent?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Acts 12 Peter’s Miraculous Release From Prison and Herod’s Death

In today’s reading, King Herod continued to play the political game, arresting members of the church and killing some of them because it made the Jews happy. Herod had Peter arrested during the Passover and heavily guarded. Herod was planning on holding Peter in prison until the Passover was over and then have a public trial. Meanwhile, the church was praying earnestly for Peter.

Things didn’t go as Herod planned, though because God intervened. An angel came into Peter’s cell, woke him up, freed him from his chains and led him out of the prison. Peter thought it was a vision until they were out on the street and the angel left Peter. Realizing that this was God’s work Peter went to Mary’s house, John Mark’s mother.

When Peter knocked Rhoda, a servant girl, came to answer the door. She was so excited that she didn’t open the door, but ran back to the others exclaiming, “Peter is at the door!” It sounds like a scene from a comedy, Peter, who is now a fugitive, is left standing outside, knocking on the door as Rhoda goes screaming through the house that he’s there. At first no one believes her so it takes a few minutes for someone to let Peter in.  

Once the door is opened, there is a lot of commotion as they see Peter. He has to motion for them to be quiet. Can you hear the chaos? Everyone trying to talk over each other. “How did you get here?” “Praise God!” “What happened?” Peter got everyone to quiet down and explain what happened. He then instructed them to tell James and the brothers before leaving. Luke does not tell us where Peter went.

Meanwhile, back at the prison there was another commotion when Peter’s escape was discovered. Herod had a thorough search done, but Peter was not found. Herod’s ruthlessness is demonstrated one last time by ordering the execution of the guards.

Luke tells us that Herod died on his throne because he did not give praise to God. Despite Herod’s efforts, the word of God increased and spread. Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch after they finished their mission.

This is a different kind of miracle that God performs, freeing someone from prison. This is the action of a God who gets directly involved in our lives. This is a God who will free us from our own prison of despair so that we can spread the hope of Jesus. What has God released you from? How can you share your story with others to give them hope?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Acts 11:19-30 The Church in Antioch

We take another turn today and leave Peter; we return to all the disciples that had been scattered. What had they been up to all this time? Well, they were proclaiming the “good news about the Lord Jesus.” They started out only sharing this life-altering news with Jews, but then some went to Antioch and spoke to Greeks also.

I wonder did news of Peter’s experience in Caesarea spread. Did the scattered disciples hear this news and decide it was okay to share the story of Jesus with others? Or did they move in this direction on their own? Did they feel the sting of rejection from Jews and decide it was time to go in another direction?

One thing is certain, God approved of what was happening. Luke makes a point of telling us that “the Lord’s hand was with them.” Many people believed and turned to God. I love the image of turning to God; it means we turn from our own ugliness: hate, lust, greed, laziness, gluttony, jealousy, etc. We turn to the beauty of God: love, forgiveness, peace and grace. What an awesome view!

Once the news of what was happening in Antioch reached Jerusalem they sent Barnabas. Sending Barnabas was responsible “discipling” to make sure that these new converts were learning the truth, but it was also uplifting for these new followers of Christ since Barnabas was encouraging them to keep the faith and he was full of the Holy Spirit.
It can be hard to hold onto something you can’t see, hear, taste or touch when your family and friends think you’ve gone crazy. You’ve been baptized!? You’re following this fellow who was crucified like a common criminal!? Have you lost you’re mind? Now you have to share everything you have and give up the drinking, over-indulging, do what feels good lifestyle. Why would you do that? 

Barnabas then goes to Tarsus to get Saul and bring him back to Antioch. Was Barnabas getting tired, overwhelmed and drained trying to “do” the ministry by himself? Did he realize that more than one voice was needed to reach these people? How much easier life must have been once he could share the burden of teaching and encouraging all those people. How much easier it must have been to share the frustrations of dealing with so many personalities, having someone to lean.

Barnabas and Saul spent a year with the believers in Antioch making sure that the church was established and that there were leaders equipped to carry on the mission of the first Greek church. They were the first church planters; teaching, leading and equipping. Isn’t this the model we should all be following?

Antioch was the start of the spread of God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth, to all nations. This is also the first time followers of Christ were called Christians, which my NIV Study Bible defines as “belonging to Christ.” What does it mean to you to “belong to Christ?”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Acts 11:1-18 Peter Explains His Actions

Today Peter has to explain his actions. How dare he enter the house of a gentile! This is not the action of a faithful Jew. And make no mistake about it, Peter and the other disciples still thought of themselves as Jewish. I can almost hear the self-righteous, condescending tone of the apostles and brothers. I wonder if any of them thought, “Yep, I knew that Peter was trouble.” Did any of them think that this was their chance to step up to be the “cornerstone of the church?”

Just to make sure the apostles and brothers understood, Peter told the entire story in great detail. I wonder if he was thinking, “Now I understand how Jesus felt when we didn’t understand him.” Did he think, “How long must I put up with these self-righteous, un-comprehending, un-believing people?” Did he think, “Really, must I explain myself, don’t you trust me?”

Peter made a point of sharing his vision and that the Spirit told him to go with the men from Caesarea as well as Cornelius’ vision. This did not seem to convince the apostles and brothers that Peter’s actions were justified. So, Peter told them that these gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s right folks, the gift that Jesus gave to us (good Jews, all of us) to start this crazy ride!

Then, just to make sure that the apostles got the point, Peter points to Jesus’ own words. “Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He reasons that if God gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, even though they had not been baptized and they were Gentiles, God must approve. If God approves, then who is Peter to question, so he baptized them.

How often have we thought that the love and forgiveness of Christ wasn’t for them? “Them” could be anyone who is different than us; the drug addict, the criminal, the homeless, the disabled, the young or the old.  Have you ever thought God couldn’t possibly want that person to receive His blessing, forgiveness or grace? Did God provide the miracle anyway? What did you learn from that experience?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Acts 10: A New Direction

Well yesterday got out ahead of me and I apologize for not posting. But that is life.  The Challenge is really about keeping moving and not worrying about missing a day her or there.  Keep up the good work, I am certain  that God is moving whenever you pick up your bibles.

So we've come to chapter ten and the story seems to be shifting in a new direction.   No longer is God's spirit moving exclusively in the Jewish community, but is now beginning to work among the  non Jews, the Gentiles. In this chapter we find Peter challenged by a dream to accept the uncircumcised, the unclean Gentiles into the fold.  The chapter ends with the coming of God's spirit upon many Gentiles which ultimately leads to their conversions and baptisms.  The gospel and God's spirit has taken a turn and is now moving out toward the ends of the earth.

As I think about the Spirit's movement in  today's world,  where  is the spirit working outside of our churches? Who are the non church goers that God is drawing into relationship?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Healing and Resurrection Acts 9:32-43

The story picks up with two more miraculous events.  The first comes when Peter heals  a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed.  Peter then travels to Joppa after fellow disciple Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Peter in a moment eerily similar to Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus raises Tabitha from the dead.  Again in Acts Luke has carefully paired  stories of  miracles  with the conversion of people.  For Luke, miracles seem to be more than just about healing someone. Miracles seem to be signs that point to the reign of God breaking into this world in such a way that people are amazed and are converted. 

Where have you seen the reign of God breaking in today?  Where have you been amazed by the presence of God?  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Acts 9:1-31 The Conversion of Saul

If you were in a mainline church yesterday, one that uses the revised common lectionary  you probably heard most of this story .   This is the Damascus Road experience, Saul, later to become known as Paul, is struck blind  as he is on his way to Damascus to arrest some of the Christians there.   In this great moment Saul goes from  being a persecutor of the early church to its biggest champion.  After his Damascus Road experience Saul stumbles into to Damascus and convalesces for three days.  On the third day, a disciple named Ananias lays hands on Saul. Saul is immediately filled with the Holy Spirit and receives his sight back. Immediately, he begins preaching the risen Christ. This, of course, angers the Jews and throughout the rest of the reading we hear of Saul  trying to  avoid the Jews who want to kill him.  At one point Saul narrowly escapes as he is let over the city wall in a basket.  

As I reread this story, I was very much drawn to the disciple Ananias. Like Saul, Ananias has a vision of Christ, in which he is told to go an lay hands on Saul.  Ananias is reluctant though as he has heard of the terrible things this Saul guy has done.  Christ though presses Ananias to do something way outside of his comfort zone.  Are there not times that Christ invites us to do things outside of our comfort zones?  I have found that when I have followed Christ to places outside of my comfort zone, I have been able to experience Christ in new, fascinating, and often times energizing ways.  I have also found that often when outside of my comfort zones God is able to work through me in ways I might have never imagined.  For when we go to those place outside of our comfort zones, Christ goes there with us, enabling to do those things he is calling us to do.  When Ananias laid hands on Saul, Saul was filled by the Holy Spirit, and that is something only God can do.  Where might God be calling you to step outside of your comfort zone?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Acts 8:26-40 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Today Philip continues his evangelism ministry. This time an angel of the Lord tells Philip to go to the desert road where he meets an Ethiopian eunuch. This man was important at home; he was in charge of the queen of Ethiopia’s treasury. He was also a gentile who worshiped God. Philip finds him reading a passage from Isaiah, so Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch says he can’t unless someone explains it to him and he invites Philip to join him and explain who Isaiah is talking about. Philip shares the Good News of Christ and the eunuch is baptized. Now that Philip’s mission is done, he is spirited away and the eunuch goes on his way.

It seems that Philip didn’t question what he heard, but rushed to obey the angel. How did Philip know the voice he heard was an angel? What made him stop what he was doing and go unquestionably to the road and speak to the eunuch? What would have happened if Philip ignored the angel? Would the eunuch have been baptized by someone else?

An angel by definition is a messenger of God. But how do we recognize an angel when we hear or see one? Have you heard the voice of an angel and obeyed? What happened? Have you heard a voice, felt prompted to do something, but ignored it? Do you think God called someone else to do what you didn’t do? Or did whatever you were called to do go undone?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Acts 8:4-25 Philip in Samaria and Simon the Sorcerer

In today’s episode Philip, one of the seven selected to oversee the giving of charitable gifts, goes to a city in Samaria to preach the Good News. While there many believe and are baptized. Philip performed many miracles, healing the sick and banishing demons.

There was already a miracle-worker in the city, Simon. He was not of God, but the people believed he had divine power. That is until Philip shows up with the true power of God as well as the free gift of salvation. Simon believes too and he is baptized with the others. He is so enthralled with the miracles Philip performs that he follows him everywhere. I wonder if Philip was annoyed by Simon looking over his shoulder. Did Philip think that maybe Simon’s conversion wasn’t true?

Once Peter and John came to place their hands on the newly baptized they received the Holy Spirit. This fascinates Simon more than the miracles. Now he follows Peter and John and wants the power that they have. He is even willing to pay for it.

Peter immediately admonishes Simon and tells him that he has no part or share in their ministry because his “heart is not right before God.” Peter also tells Simon to repent and ask for forgiveness. He points out to Simon that he is full of bitterness and sin. Simon is still being selfish by asking Peter and John to pray for him so that he and his money don’t perish.

What are we to learn from Simon? Maybe we need to look at how we give, whether it is time, talent or treasure. Are we giving to look good to others or for God’s glory? When you do something for others is it for your glory or God’s glory?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Acts 7:54-8:3 The Stoning of Stephen and The Church Persecuted and Scattered

Well, we aren’t really surprised by today’s events are we? What else could possibly happen to Stephen after his accusations against the Sanhedrin? The only question was how he would die. Stoning had to be a terrifying way to die, slow and painful. I’m sure watching the anger in peoples eyes as they hurled stones and insults at him was excruciating.

Here is the amazing thing, Stephen was the one with God’s peace! The religious leaders are gnashing their teeth at him. Stephen sees heaven open up and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. He is given an amazing vision, the skies opened up for Stephen while those around him were suffering. Doesn’t Jesus say there will be much gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness? This is not a condition that the religious leaders expected to find themselves in.

Their response to Stephen sharing his amazing vision is to cover their ears and yell. Was it so amazing that they couldn’t stand it? Were they so terrified by their own sinfulness that they couldn’t look? Or were they so far from God that they couldn’t even see what Stephen was seeing?

So they dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him. Yet, amidst the violence Stephen prayed. He must have remembered Jesus’ prayer on the cross. He asked Jesus to receive his spirit before falling to his knees. Stephen’s last words were asking God’s forgiveness for those who killed, no murdered, him! How like Jesus Stephen was!

The death of Stephen is our introduction to Saul. Luke is careful to say that Saul watched the stoning and approved, but did not participate. Why is this important? Maybe so that we, the readers, know that he persecuted the church but did not kill anyone. Perhaps that makes it easier to accept the change that happens later.

But first, Saul toke matters into his own hands. Being a good pharisee, he set out to destroy the church. The followers of Jesus scattered, just like the Israelites in the past. I wonder if they felt fear similar to their ancestors as they mourned Stephen’s death, hid and ran.

Who do you relate to most? Is it Stephen with faith, peace and forgiveness? Or is it Saul, watching and approving, but not participating in destroying someone? Or do you feel like the early followers of Jesus, scattered, running and hiding in fear? 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Acts 7:1-53 - Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin

Today’s reading continues Stephen’s trail before the Sanhedrin. They have accused him of blasphemy against Moses and God. Stephen’s response is to remind the Sanhedrin of the Israelites' history. It is not a pretty picture, again and again the religious leaders rejected God by rejecting those He sent. What is worse is that Moses and each prophet were sent to help these people and they rejected them, even killed many of them. Stephen has a courage that few people possess, he actually tells these leaders that have enormous power they are murderers!

I can’t help but wonder what the people listening to Stephen were thinking. Did some nod their heads and say to themselves “yes, I have sinned, I rejected God?” Why did the members of the Sanhedrin allow him to give such a long speech? He must have been a captivating story-teller.

How closely he followed in Jesus’ footsteps! I do not sense that Stephen was afraid of those persecuting him or the consequences of what would surely happen for being so bold.  He had the courage to tell it like it was and remind those listening that history was repeating itself, AGAIN! These people, God’s Chosen People, were once again rejecting God’s help by rejecting the Anointed One, Jesus.

How do you relate to Stephen’s audience? Are you outraged by his boldness in reminding us of our sinful nature? Or are you nodding your head and saying “yes, I am a sinner, I have rejected God’s help in this instance or that situation?” Or are you more like Stephen, boldly proclaiming the Good News?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Acts 5:17-42 The Apostles Imprisoned

In this episode of the Acts of the Apostles: the apostles are arrested and put into prison.  In the darkness of night however, angels appear to let them go.  Not having learned their lesson, the apostles return to the temple to continue their preaching ministry.  However, once the authorities figure out what has occurred they are hauled in for an explanation.  Peter reminds the religious authorities that they answer to a higher calling.  "We must obey God, rather than any human authority."  This enrages the authorities and immediately they want to kill the apostles.  However, a wise Pharisee, Gamaliel, persuades his brothers leave the apostles alone. Essentially, his argument is- if this movement is of man, then it will fizzle and die on the vine. However, if this movement  is of God, there is no use fighting it. The apostles are flogged and released.

What has struck you today?  What does it mean, in verse 29, "to obey God rather than human authorities? How does that play out in our lives as Christians?  Does that mean we don't just give lip service to Jesus teachings, like love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? 

Happy Reading

Monday, April 8, 2013

Day 8: Acts 5:1-16 All In Christianity

Well the story today took a somewhat unexpected turn. Ananias and Sapphira have sold a piece of their property, but when they lay the proceeds at the feet of the apostles, rather than giving it all, they hold back a portion for themselves. This is in contrast to what Barnabas had just done in chapter four.  Pretty much immediately, they are struck dead.  Fear and trembling seize the church as they hear of these things.  But, even with this minor set back, the Spirit continues to infuse the church, people are healed, and its numbers increase daily.

As I reflected on Ananias and Sapphira I began to wonder what are the  areas of my life that I hold back from God.  Where do I hold back gifts?  I wonder in my relationship with God, where am I not all in? I think this story is a stark reminder  that this relationship we have with God is meant to be, excuse the Texas Hold-em poker analogy, All In. There is no part way in or just dipping our toe in the water relationship. God jealously wants all of us.  And,  I guess if we don't go all in, we might as well be good as dead.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The End of Week One Day 7: Acts 4:23-37

Well folks we are a week in. I hope you have found your time reading the bible fulfilling and enlightening.    So, I'm wondering, where have you seen the risen Christ in the words of Holy Scripture this past week?    But also, what have been the frustrations or difficulties you've encountered? There will be ups and downs throughout  these fifty days.  There will be days where God hits you square between the eyes in the something you read.  But, there will also be days where you need to wrestle with the text, struggle to find some meaning buried in a seemingly  incomprehensible passage.  It will be a roller-coaster, embrace it and realize that sometimes the bible feels very much like trying to understand a foreign language.  Enjoy the struggle for that is often where God is found.  

In the Acts passage today, Peter and John have returned from their grilling before the religious authorities.  Immediately Christ's followers come together to offer prayers. Their prayer recognizes that there are earthly powers that come against the purposes of God,  in this particular circumstance Herod and Pontius Pilate.   They conclude their prayer by asking for boldness in speech and for God to work miraculous signs wonders through them.  As the chapter closes, Luke explains how the early church shared the things they owned. Luke attests in verse 34 that because of this practice  "there were no needy persons among them."   Barnabas, a major player in the early church, appears for a first time as Luke tells us he sold a field and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. Tomorrow, we move on to the story of Ananias and Sapphira. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 6: Acts 4:1-22 Peter and John before the authorities

The story continues today as Peter and John are hauled in before the religious authorities to account for the healing of the man born lame at the gates of the temple.  Being amazed by their boldness  and unable to find charges against Peter and John, the authorities are forced to release them.  But not before Peter and John are able to testify and another 5,000 are added to the company of believers.  

What spoke to my heart on this day was verse 20.   When ordered by the authorities not to speak further about Jesus, Peter and John simply announce that they "cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard."   As I contemplated this verse, I wondered what is it about Jesus that I have seen and heard and experienced that has to be shouted from the mountaintops.  What have you seen and experienced that must be told?  What are the stories and experiences that the world needs to hear?  Is about the unconditional love of God?  Is it the story of a father who scans and searches the horizons for a lost child, like the story of the prodigal son?   

Friday, April 5, 2013

Day Five: A healing at the gates of the Temple

Peter is again front and center in today's story.  Peter and John arriving at the temple for prayer are confronted by a crippled man  who has been laid at the gate to beg  for alms.  Peter, when confronted by the man, in a moment of great clarity says.  "I have no silver or gold, but what I do have (the spirit of God) I give you; in the name of  Jesus Christ, stand up and walk."  Of course, we know the rest of the story the man is healed and is able to walk. Peter has brought not silver or gold, but the healing presence of God's spirit into this man's life. Peter uses this occasion to preach the story of Christ's resurrection and invites those around him to repent.

 I was struck this morning by what Peter says repentance bring.  In vs 19&20 Peter says "Repent... so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..."   Wow, to think of repentance bringing the refreshing Spirit of God into our lives.What a gift and who wouldn't want that?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Peter's Preaching draws 3,000 new followers

Well we have arrived at day four of the Challenge and want to encourage folks to keep at it. I have found that for the last two days I have yearned to find out what's next in my bible reading, what surprises does God  have in store for me.  Although we have been focusing our reflections on Acts, I know there are others  reading other parts of Holy Scripture.  We would love to hear from you. Tell us how it's going, we would love to hear what are you reading, or what are you curious about.

Now onto Act 2:37-47

Well the results are in, Peter may have preached the most successful sermon ever.  Three thousand people were cut to the heart and became followers that day.  I was struck throughout the passage by Luke assuring us that it was God who was giving the growth, God who was at work. In vs. 47, Luke writes,  "And day by day the Lord added their number those who were being saved."   But I also noticed that the growth and the gift of God's Holy Spirit only came to those in the crowd who repent and are baptized.  The growth could not happen unless people were willing to turn their lives over to God.   It was a two way street.  Both God and the people dancing together.  Where is God inviting us to dance?  Where might the Spirit be calling us to move, to work?  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Peter Preaches: Acts 2:14-36

The story continues today with what I believe to be Peter's first sermon.  He immediately responds to those in the crowd who claim that the disciples are drunk on wine with an acclamation that this not is a work of wine, but of God's Holy Spirit.  Peter masterfully uses the prophet Joel and King David to help interpret the events that are now occurring in their midst.  Joel speaks of the Spirit's movement during the last days and David about the coming messiah and that messiah's resurrection.    Peter concludes the sermon by exhorting the crowd to realize that this Jesus that was crucified is Lord and Messiah.  As I have reflected on this story, I can't help but wonder about this word messiah. One way to define messiah is as a liberator.  How do we see Christ as liberator?  What does Christ  liberate us from?  From sin? From death? From fear?  From walking through this life without God?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Trouble Posting Comments

It has come to our attention that some may be having trouble posting comments.  There are a couple of ways to do get your comment to post.  First, under the Post a comment box choose selection from  drop down box "Comment As " You can choose to do so anonymously or choose name/url. If you choose the latter, type your name into the box.  The URL box can be left blank.  After this, type your comment then hit publish.  Your comment should be published.  Sorry about the difficulty.

The Spirit Comes: Acts 2:1-13

The promised Holy Spirit has finally come and made itself known among the followers of Christ.  A violent wind rushes into the place where Christ's followers are staying.  Divided tongues of fire come upon the followers as each of them is filled by the Holy Spirit.  They are given the ability to speak in different  languages.  The raucous causes a stir as people from the city gather to find out just what is going on.  The stage has been set for Peter to give his first sermon.  

It must have been quite amazing to be there and experience all those people speaking in different languages. I am wondering today what languages the Spirit gives each of us to speak of the deeds of God's great power. We probably won't be given the ability to speak French at the drop of a hat, but how has the Spirit gifted us with languages of radical hospitality, compassion, or forgiveness? Maybe  we have been given more practical gifts, like driving a nail or knitting a prayer shawl?  What gifts have you been given? May we on this day celebrate the rainbow  of gifts among all our brothers and sisters. And, may we see the Spirit hand in it all.   

Monday, April 1, 2013

The First Day

Over the next fifty days we will use this blog to  post reflections, invite conversation, and answer questions as we engage in The Challenge. Today, we would like to spent to few moments reflecting on the the Acts of the Apostles, and in particular the first chapter.

The Acts of the Apostle were written by the Gospel writer Luke as a continuation of his gospel.   They contain the story of the early church immediately following Jesus' resurrection and ascension.  The first chapter tells the story of Jesus' small band of followers, only numbering 120,  receiving their commission from Christ himself, before He ascends into heaven.  The followers are called to be Christ witnesses "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends  of the earth." (vs. 8)   Although commissioned, they have been told to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them before they act to fulfill their call.  The chapter ends with  the casting of lots to determine who will take Judas Iscariot's place as the twelfth apostle.  The lot falls to Matthias.   

Where have you encountered the risen Christ today in the words of Holy Scripture?