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Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

“The church has left the building.” Yesterday we began a series of group discussions with that title. My preparation of the discussion guides is assisted by the work of John Grant. Here are a few reflections from yesterday’s conversation.

In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus leaves some parting words with his followers who are still expecting a restoration of their nation. In 1:8 we find these words: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV).

Instead of residing in a temple, God’s Spirit lives in God’s people and empowers them to be witnesses of Jesus (testifiers of his death and resurrection and life and teachings), not just in their current city but into the surrounding areas and even “to the ends of the earth.”

The kingdom of God into which followers of Jesus are called is more than a set of beliefs proclaimed from pulpits in church buildings. It is a way of life (both actions and words) that blesses the world far beyond the walls of worship places, beyond Sunday and into Monday through Saturday, beyond the sacred and into the secular.

How will you allow God’s Spirit to empower you to live out that kingdom way of life in your everyday contexts? Your home, your workplace, your neighborhood, your sports field, your grocery store can be holy grounds, contexts of the Holy Spirit’s moving through you into the world beyond church walls.

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The biblical book of Acts is a fascinating account of God’s Spirit working in the early church. In much of the book, Paul is a major character. The story tells of his trips and trials. Chapter 28 ends with him under house arrest in Rome. Guards watch him, but he’s allowed to live in a house.

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

Then what happens? Is he released? Does he suffer execution? The Bible doesn’t tell us, nor do other historical accounts give a clear answer. “However, evidence suggests that… Paul was likely beheaded by the Romans, under Emperor Nero, sometime around May or June of 68 A.D.”

Acts seems to end mid-story. The plot dangles unfinished. Did the author die before completing the story? Was the last part of it lost?

I like to see a meaning in the strange ending. The meaning is that the story isn’t over. It goes on past the 28th chapter. It continues into the ongoing life of the early church, and it proceeds even today and beyond. We’re part of the story. We’re living in Acts 29. The Holy Spirit still works.

(Day 326: Acts 27-28)

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My nation has long valued pragmatism as a primary virtue, and that cultural trend has left its mark on the church. When my dad was a recent college graduate and a relatively new school teacher, he made a comment in a church Bible class. Someone responded, “You have too much education.” We praise practicality and scoff at scholasticism.

Today’s story shows us this trend in words from Governor Festus. Paul is on trial because of his ministry involvement, and his defense details his conversion and overviews the story of Jesus. Festus interjects, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.”

Paul, likely the most educated leader of the early church, does not deny his learning; he refutes the accusation of insanity: “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable.” Yes, Paul is speaking reasonably, learnedly; but his learning doesn’t limit his testimony. It strengthens his ministry.

Long ago Tertullian asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” One was a center of education, the other a center of Christian faith. Paul’s life shows us an answer. Education empowers us to live and minister more faithfully and more effectively. Learning without practice leads to irrelevant esotericism, and practice without theory is irresponsible. The two complement each other, and we need them both.

(Day 325: Acts 24-26)

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Some people are mad at Paul and announce an accusation: “This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” Those are their reasons for demanding his demise.

Paul offers an explanation, and the people throw a hissy fit. They cry, “Rid the earth of him! He ‘s not fit to live!” They shout. They throw their cloaks. They fling dust. Then Paul avoids flogging by revealing his Roman citizenship.

As Paul stands on trial, he divides his opponents. Knowing that some of them believe in resurrection and that others don’t, he tells them all, “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Notice that’s not in the list above.

Paul is in a difficult situation and plays a trick on his accusers. Then the Lord encourages him and renews his mission.

Whenever you experience trials, even if your attempts to trick your accusers don’t work, I pray you’ll receive encouragement and renewal from God.

(Day 324: Acts 21-23)

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Reasoning is the evangelistic method of choice in Acts 18. Paul and Apollos reason in synagogues and public debates:

Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

That works in the early church in Corinth and Ephesus, but today people function differently. I’m not saying they aren’t capable of rational thought; I’m saying we Christians have to recognize that most of the people around us are not God-believing Jews or Jesus-followers with theological kinks. We live in a world without extensive knowledge of scripture, so faith conversations must start somewhere else.

Where? Relationship. People who don’t know much about the Bible are often seeking authentic relationships; they’re looking for communities in which they can belong and contribute. And they usually need those things before they even think about our rational claims.

(Day 323: Acts 18-20)

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What do you do at midnight? Sleep? Study? Watch TV? Hold a baby?

Peter and Silas pray and sing to God at midnight. They’re in prison, so we might expect them to do other things at midnight, things like feeling sorry for themselves or fighting each other or other actions that movies have crafted into our stereotypes. They pray and sing instead, and their inmates listen (since they can’t sleep anymore!).

My parents raised me to sleep at night and to be awake at other times. Then I went to college.

It’s a different world. It inverts body clocks. It minimizes the necessity of sleep and maximizes experience. Carpe diem! Or maybe carpe noctem. Movies, video games, Facebook, long conversations, trips to Waffle House — college midnights are made of these.

What if, when awake at midnight, we did other things?

When Peter and Silas prayed and sang, there was a “violent earthquake.” It shook the prison’s foundations. It burst open the prison doors and disconnected the inmates’ chains. Then the jailor and his whole household became Jesus-followers.

What would happen if we prayed and sang at midnight?

(Day 322: Acts 16-17)

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By today’s reading non-Jews are entering the church, and the Jewish Christians don’t know how to interact with them. The cultural differences seem insurmountable, so some church leaders meet to settle the issue. They decide that the non-Jewish Christians should adapt to four Jewish customs that enable the groups to live and eat together.

When we Jesus-followers today open our hearts and arms and minds and tables to people so different from us that we don’t know how to interact with them, let’s heed the words of James in this story: “we should not make it difficult for the [outsiders] who are turning to God.”

What does that statement demand of us? To move from not following Jesus to following him as a member of his church can be a difficult step. What can we do to help people with that transition? What practices or perspectives should we recognize are not as important as we might want them to be?

(Day 321: Acts 14-15)

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