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?