Putting God's Word into Practice…

Acts 24 Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

Paul has been guarded in Herod’s praetorium for five days, and his accusers finally showed up to hold court with him before Governor Felix.  They brought along a spokesperson named Tertullus who opened the trial up with a flattery-dripping speech.  It’s funny to me how the enemy becomes the friend when we are serving our own purposes.  Historically, kindness and peace were not words frequently used in regard to Roman rulers.  Yet, Tertullus appealed to both when addressing Felix.

The Jews brought three charges against Paul.  The first being that he was stirring up riots.  They stirred up the riot!  Paul came to bring alms (or charity) for the Jewish people.  Second, they claimed he was the ringleader for the sect of the Nazarenes, and Paul did not deny this accusation.  Finally, they said he was profaning the Jewish temple.  Yet, when they found Paul he was quietly fulfilling his vow in the temple.

Felix, wisely knew the charges were bogus not punishable and sent the men away.  However, he kept Paul imprisoned and held many discussions with him over the next two years.  When Felix was dismissed from office, he left Paul in prison.  Paul used his conversations with Felix to boldly reason with him–the man who seemingly held his future in his hands.  He enlightened Felix and his wife with respect to faith in Jesus Christ, righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment.

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Acts 23:12-35 Misplaced, Right Place, Remembering Agabus

Misplaced Commitment.  Acts 23:12-15.  More than 40 Jews made a vow not to eat or drink until Paul was killed.  They came up with a conspiracy.  Their commitment seems noble–trying to protect the Law.  Their commitment is sacrificial–no food or drink.  Their commitment was united–strictly bound together.  These are all good qualities of a commitment, but they are placed in a man-made goal that is in opposition to God’s plan.  Even those most committed to a cause are sure to fail when they go up against the Sovereign, Almighty God.

Right Place at the Right Time. Acts 23:16-22.  Paul’s nephew–a young man– overheard the plot on Paul’s life.  God placed him in the right place at the right time and gave him boldness and favor with the tribune.  God can use anyone who is available to accomplish His plans–even young people!

Remembering Agabus. Acts 23:23-35.  In Acts 21:10-11 when Paul was departing for Jerusalem, a prophet named Agabus came on the scene.  He promised that Paul would be bound and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles.  The prayer that followed in verse 14 was, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”  Due to the conspiracy being exposed, Paul was swiftly and safely escorted out of Jerusalem and “delivered” to the Roman governor Felix to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.  Even being bound and confined, Paul was in the Lord’s will.  There is no better place to be than in the Lord’s will although it may not look the way we think it should.

The one thing that I am taking away from this chapter is that God-ordained predicaments will always have a God-ordained rescue!

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Acts 22:30-23:11 Hope

The tribune brought Paul in before the Jewish council consisting of the high priest and a mix of Pharisees and Sadducees.  Paul used wisdom, perception, sarcasm and truth to make his case.  He pointed out to the Pharisees that he was trained like them, but that he had found hope!  He pointed out to the Sadducees that he was in disagreement with them because of his hope in the resurrection.  This set the two religious groups at odds–leading to violence between them.  Paul was removed back to the barracks for safe keeping.

Paul’s testimony to the hope in Jesus was rewarded by a personal visit from the Lord, commanding him to “take courage” and reminding him of the promise that he will see and testify to the gospel in Rome.  I’m sure all the craziness around him and his chains and confinement could have made him question God’s call on his life.  I’m sure he may have been doubting that he really heard from the Spirit that he would go on to Rome after Jerusalem.  I’m sure all the warning prophecies from friends along the journey of the coming affliction in Jerusalem were ringing in his ears.  But Jesus is hope and He gives hope!  Suffering, trials, opposition, and obstacles are all part of the process.  When things seem dismal or grim, remember that the Lord is working to fulfill His purposes in our lives!  And sometimes He uses unlikely rescuers to accomplish His plan like we’ll see in the next section of verses.

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Acts 21:37-22:29 Paul’s Defense

We left off with Paul being taken to the Roman barracks for safe keeping because the Jews were rioting with the intentions of killing him.  In these verses Paul asked the tribune if he could address the crowd.  When he began to speak to them in Hebrew, they grew silent and listened intently to him.

Paul found common ground with his audience.  He defined himself as a Jew right away, and shared with them how he, too, was zealous for God.  He went on to tell them the personal encounter he had with Jesus Christ that left him forever changed.  No one can oppose an individual’s testimony!  It was when Paul informed them that God told him the Jewish people wouldn’t accept it, and he was going to go also to the Gentiles that they became aroused again, wishing for Paul’s death.

Paul knew what they could not understand.  Being Jewish wasn’t enough; being educated wasn’t enough, being good at following rules wasn’t enough; being zealous for God wasn’t enough.  Paul needed a Savior to call on who could take away his sins.  They needed a Savior too; but they did not want one, and they didn’t want anyone else to have one either!

One verse that impacted my heart was verse 15 in which Ananias was telling Paul, “For you will be a witness FOR HIM TO EVERYONE of what you have seen and heard.”  In ministry, God must come first.  Sometimes I find myself working for everyone to God.  Maybe there’s not much of a difference, but I think that unless everything we do is for Him first, we will never be able to accomplish anything for anyone.

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Commitment vs. Surrender

This blog post is not from my journey through the New Testament this year, but comes on the heels of a message I have been pondering since Saturday night.  

Committed-devoted, dedicated

Surrendered—submitted to authority, yielded, given entirely over to

(Excerpt from message given by Wes Humble) When Adrian Rogers asked Romanian church leader Joseph Tson about the difference between being a committed Christ follower or a surrendered one, Tson described the difference, “When you make a commitment, you are still in control, no matter how noble the thing you commit to. One can commit to pray, to study the Bible, to give his money, or to commit to automobile payments, or to lose weight. Whatever he chooses to do, he commits to. But surrender is different. If someone holds a gun and asks you to lift your hands in the air as a token of surrender, you don’t tell that person what you are committed to. You simply surrender and do as you are told. . . . Americans love commitment because they are still in control.”

Commitment comes easily for me—because I can do it in my own strength and I choose what I give up and take on.  But commitment also zaps the joy and fun of the Christian life.   Surrender, on the other hand, lets us live life fully relying on God for His supernatural strength and supernatural results.  It culminates in a joyful, purposeful and fulfilling life.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  I don’t think God gets as much joy out of watching us commit to and accomplish work “for Him” when they are not the works He laid out for us.  When we are surrendered to the Lord, He equips us and empowers us to do the work He planned specifically for us.  Unfortunately, we can never know what those works are unless we walk a surrendered life. 

I think commitment is good.  God is committed to us.  But it has to come under the umbrella of surrender…of trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and leaning not on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)  In Proverbs 3:6 there is a promise that if we acknowledge—surrender, submit, turn to—God, he will make straight our paths.  In surrender, we find out where we need to commit.

What rights do I need to surrender?  What activities do I need to surrender?  What sins do I need to surrender?  What plans and dreams do I need to surrender?

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Acts 21:1-36 Dangerous Duty

Paul said in Acts 19:21 that his goal was to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome.  This plan was laid on his heart by the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 20:22-23 we see also that the Holy Spirit assured Paul that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him.  So it should be no surprise in chapter 21 that the Holy Spirit sent warnings to Paul through prophets about what was sure to happen in Jerusalem.  The warnings did not change the mission, but set Paul’s heart to accomplish it through preparatory prayer and dependence on God’s will (21:5, 14).

While Paul was in the temple fulfilling a vow to the Lord, He was ambushed by Jewish men who brought ridiculous accusations against him.

  • Their judgment against Paul had nothing to do with God, but with people and the law. (28)
  • They were using absolutes, “This man is teaching EVERYONE EVERYWHERE…” (28)
  • They speculated that Paul brought Greeks into the temple. (29)

Paul was seized, dragged out of the temple, and beat with the intentions of killing him.  Thankfully a Roman watchman saw the riot and sent up to 1,000 troops to secure Paul, thinking him a violent criminal.   The uproar among the people was so great that the soldiers had to carry Paul above the crowd, while the people shouted, “Away with him!”  

So much of this riot is reflective of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem too.  In Acts 9:16 Jesus told Ananias to not be afraid to help Saul/Paul because Jesus Himself would show Paul how much he would suffer for the name of Jesus.  Paul expected the danger, but was compelled by the Holy Spirit to trust, surrender and endure.  This was all part of the plan to get Paul to Rome, and to further spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Acts 20 ~ Encouraging Church Leaders

Paul travelled with a culturally diverse group of friends, and they had a ministry not only of apologetics and evangelism, but also of encouragement.  Before departing for Jerusalem from Miletus, Paul called the Ephesian Elders to come to him for some final words about leading and ministering to people.

  1. He reminded them of his example of humbly serving with passion and through opposition, boldly teaching repentance and faith in Jesus in public and in homes.
  2. He restated his goal–that the one aim of life is to finish strong all that God called him to do for the gospel.
  3. He entreated them to closely watch their lives and lives of the people entrusted to them–those bought with Jesus Christ’s own blood.
  4. He warned them to be vigilant against falsehood, flock destroyers and distractors.
  5. He petitioned them to be alert–to remember to cry over the people, to admonish them day and night.
  6. He commended them to God’s grace and His fortifying Word.
  7. He prompted them to word hard and to give, give, give!
  8. He prayed with them.

Encouragement is a big deal–it is how the gospel moves forward and people are cared for.  

Lord, use me to encourage people in leadership in our church–my husband, the elders, and the women who lead women and children.  Let my life be lived as a strong, faithful example of humble service and sacrifice.  Let our church stand on God’s grace and His Word.  And help me to remember to look at everyone through the lens that they’ve been bought with Christ’s own blood.  Keep me faithful in prayer!  In Jesus name, Amen

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Acts 19:21-41 Ephesus Upset

In verse 21 Paul states his Spirit-inspired plan to go to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia and Achaia, then head for Rome.  This chapter reminds us that things don’t always go as we plan or picture.  When we are on a mission for God, the one thing we should plan on is opposition.  

The gospel of Jesus Christ was dramatically changing lives in Asia.  The renown of these changes was striking fear in the hearts of the idol-makers in Ephesus.  Spiritual change can scare others, and they may want to cling more tightly to their gods.  Prideful people may become enraged by potential material loss.   When people’s plans, passions and/or possessions are threatened by the powerful work of God, they may go on the defensive.  We see all those things happening here with the idol-makers.  They become enraged enough to upset the whole town.  Townspeople were dragged into a riot without even knowing why.  The gospel brings peace to those who accept it, and unrest to those who reject it.

Regardless of whether we worship small silver idols of Artemis or other things (a diamond ring, sports, shoes, vehicles, furniture, TV, the image in a mirror), they are not the True, Living God.  They are man-made imitations that are meant to distract us from the Creator of all things.  In Jeremiah 2:5, the Lord was angry that His people had turned their hearts to worship worthless idols, and He said in worshiping them, they had become worthless themselves.  OUCH!

Is there any created thing that I place more value on than the Creator of all things?  Is there anything/anyone I love more than Him?  Lord, please let me live a life that is worthwhile in Your eyes.  Let me not be polluted by this world or distracted by the “shiny” things it offers.  May it all “grow strangely dim in light of Your glory and grace.”  In the great name of Jesus I ask, Amen.

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Acts 19:1-20 Overcoming Opposition

Human Opposition.  Paul was teaching boldly about Jesus and the Kingdom of God, and people were being persuaded.  As usual, some refused to believe and tried to stir up trouble for Paul–maligning all followers of Jesus in the midst of the people.  Paul withdrew from them but continued daily teaching for two more years until all the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord.

Spiritual Opposition.  The Holy Spirit was working powerful signs and miracles through Paul’s surrendered life.  Seven magicians attempted to invoke the name of Jesus to throw out evil spirits.  One evil spirit said, “Jesus I know, Paul I recognize, but who are you?” The evil spirit proceeded to beat up and send the seven men fleeing naked and wounded.  (I wonder if Christ’s activity through my life is recognizable to the enemy or if I’m just a joke.)  The fear of the Lord overtook the people and they were changed.  The Word of the Lord increased and prevailed mightily.

So how do we, as followers of Jesus, overcome opposition?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the proclamation of the Word of the Lord, and faith in the name of Jesus Christ as Lord.

We see several visible results of the power of God’s Word and the name of Jesus

  1. The name of Jesus was praised/extolled.
  2. Sins were publicly confessed.
  3. Sinful practices were obliterated.
  4. Sin lost it’s value–going from treasure to trash.
  5. Word continued to go forth in power.

Whatever opposition we are facing, God is enough!  We will overcome through the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Like the author of this book, we need to be quick to attribute the victories to God and give Him the glory and to elevate the authority and potency of the Word.

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Acts 18 ~ Benefits of a Word-Saturated Ministry

The key word that stood out to me was “Word.”  Over and over it is mentioned either as Word or as Scripture.  We can see some benefits of having a ministry that is centered on the Word of God.

  1. It puts the responsibility on the hearer for a response and frees the speaker (6)
  2. People will believe it! (8)
  3. Receives God’s approval and protection (9-10)
  4. When taught it, people will gain knowledge and hunger for more (11)
  5. Although not mentioned in this verse, because of Paul’s consistent approach to ministry, I deduce that he used it to strengthen the disciples (23)
  6. Grants boldness to the teacher (24-26)
  7. Proves itself true through fulfilled promises and prophecies (28)

A Word-saturated ministry takes investment, sacrifice and time.  It requires us to know the Word of God–to be competent in the Scriptures (24).  It requires us to be occupied with the Word.  One of the meanings of occupy is “to take up residence” (a fitting description for a tent-maker, don’t you think?).  We are to be filled with the Word, letting it reside in us.  But another meaning of “occupy” is to be busy. We are to be about the work of the Word–getting it into other people to occupy their lives too.  We are called to teach the Word.

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