Persecution Grows

Today’s reading is Acts 14.

In Pisidian Antioch, persecution started. Paul and Barnabas were driven out of town. They moved on. In Iconium, an attempt was made by the city residents and the city rulers to mistreat Paul and Barnabas and to even stone them. The men fled to Lystra and Derbe. In Lystra, the stoning actually happened. What do we see? The persecution Paul and Barnabas are facing is growing. It is getting a little worse each stop of the way. However, after this stoning, Paul gets up and goes back into town. Then, the next day, he decides to keep preaching at the next town. Wow! That is conviction. That is perseverance. Additionally, when they finish preaching in Derbe, they could just travel in a circle, keep heading east across land, and get back to Syrian Antioch that way. Instead, they travel back through each of the towns that had persecuted them. Talk about gluttons for punishment. On the way, they encouraged the congregations and even appointed elders in each one. That’s amazing all on its own. While checking back in with each new group of disciples, Paul preached on all the persecution they had endured. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” They were learning the hard lessons early. Kingdom life isn’t all rainbows and moonbeams. There will be tribulation, hardship, and persecution. But don’t let it get you down. That is the path to the Kingdom. Hang on. The Kingdom is worth it.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 14.

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“So They Remained for a Long Time”

Today’s reading is Acts 14.

“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (Acts 14:2). What do you expect to come next? Maybe something like “So Paul and Barnabas decided to move on to the next town”? But that isn’t what happened. Instead it says, “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” The text doesn’t say they just kind of happened to stay a while coincidentally. Rather, because there was opposition they stayed and continued teaching. Granted, the goal is not to raise up opposition. The goal is not to frustrate people or just push back against them. However, there are times when the reason to stay and the reason to keep up the work is exactly because there is opposition. Whatever the case, may we always boldly proclaim the word of the Lord. May God always bless our proclamation.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 14.

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Even Priests Became Obedient

Today’s reading is Acts 6.

Wow! Even priests were becoming obedient to the faith. There are multiple things I can’t help but notice in this simple statement. First, notice a reversal in the chapter. In earlier chapters it was priests (Acts 4:1) who were disagreeing with the Christians and arresting the apostles. However, they wouldn’t do great harm to the apostles because they feared the people (Acts 4:21). However, in this chapter, there are priests being converted and the people from among the synagogues turning on the apostles and Christians. Second, just be amazed that the gospel was powerful enough to impact priests. As we have noted before, the priests were often connected with and among the Sadducees who didn’t believe in resurrection. But now many of them are becoming obedient to the faith. Think back to the priests who were arresting the apostles. In that moment, the apostles might think they didn’t have a chance of converting priests. But give it more time and the gospel impacted many of the priests as well. Finally, I simply want to notice that issue of obeying the faith. That isn’t a very common way to refer to the faith these days. In modern times, it is almost like we think faith and obedience are opposites. They don’t go together and in fact contradict each other. But here they are. The faith is something to be obeyed. The priests became obedient to it. May we always obey the faith. And may we always pass the faith along because we never know who it will impact or how long it will take to do so. Praise the Lord!

Next week’s reading is Acts 7.

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Rejoicing to Suffer

Today’s reading is Acts 5.

Certainly, we know we are supposed to count it all joy when we face various trials. But, the apostles didn’t just face various trials. They faced persecution. They weren’t just facing the general ups and downs of life. They weren’t just doing the best they could but got sick, got fired, got hurt. They were serving the Lord faithfully and were targeted for that exact faithful service. A more natural, flesh-based response might be something like: “Lord, what’s up? I thought you were King of the world. I thought you had conquered these jokers. I thought you had seated us above all the principalities and powers on earth and in the heavenly places. Why are you letting this happen?” But that isn’t the apostles’ response. They are excited to suffer for Jesus. They are excited to sacrifice for Jesus. They rejoice to be prisoners for and of Jesus. This is so topsy-turvy. Most people rejoice when their King promotes them, gives them land, servants, money. Jesus’s ambassadors rejoice because they get to suffer for Him. In a day when Christianity is touted as the way to have your best life now, this look back at what serving Christ looked like in the beginning makes me stop and do some real self-examination. I have a lot of growing to do.

Next week’s reading is Acts 6.

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Don’t Atrophy

Today’s reading is Acts 3.

The lame man was healed. He reacted to Peter’s statement with a faith-filled response accessing the healing grace of God. He went walking and leaping and praising God. He spent the day making sure everyone knew. Then he went home, went to bed, probably didn’t sleep well for joy. Finally, the sun is rising, the city is coming to life. The man starts to get out of bed, and then it hits him. “Oh, wait. I have to get a job!” He has spent his entire life, laying here and there, begging for money. But today, he needs to go to the marketplace and try to get someone to hire him to go into the field and pluck grain or go into the vineyard and pick grapes. Wouldn’t it be silly for him to say, “I don’t like that! I think I’ll just go lay back down at the Beautiful Gate and keep begging”? In fact, what would happen if he decided that he didn’t like the responsibilities that came with walking? What would happen if he decided to lay back down, act like he couldn’t walk, get his friends to start carrying him around and laying him places again? What would happen to his healed legs? They would atrophy. They would lose the healing strength they had been given. In fact, there would come a day that if he did try to get up and walk, he wouldn’t be able to…again. Yes, despite what so many say today, that is exactly like our spiritual healing. That is exactly like our salvation. If we decide we don’t like the responsibilities of walking with the Lord, if we decide to lay back down and beg, if we decide to go back to living like we did before we were healed, we’ll atrophy. We will lose the healing, the salvation we were given. God healed us to walk. Don’t atrophy. Walk like a healed Christian.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 3.

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Replace the Spirits

Today’s reading is Luke 11.

While we are certainly supposed to put our sins to death, being a disciple is not about stopping behaviors. It is actually about replacing behaviors. If all we do is cast out the evil spirit, we can do our dead level best to sweep up the house and keep it in order, but that spirit will simply bring seven more. Nature abhors a vacuum. So does our very being. If all we strive to do is get rid of bad stuff in our lives, we will only ever find the bad stuff taking over. It’s like trying to make yourself not think about pink hippopotamuses. Jesus doesn’t verbalize the actual instruction when He offers the warning. But can there be any doubt what the instruction is? When the evil spirit is cast out, it needs to be replaced by the Holy Spirit. I can try with all my might to keep out the evil spirit, but if I don’t invite God in, allowing Him to take up residence, rearranging the furniture as He sees fit, controlling the remote, calling the shots, and filling the space with His presence, then all my attempts at control are nothing more than vacuuming the carpet as the tornado targets my house. Don’t evict the spirits, replace them. That is discipleship.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 11.

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A More Opportune Time

Today’s reading is Luke 4.

When I was younger, I pictured that Jesus had it easy. Satan tempted Him three times and then left. However, as Luke records it Jesus was being tempted throughout the 40 days. Then, when this particular round of attacks does come to a conclusion, Satan retreats, looking for a more opportune time. In other words, Satan wasn’t done. This is an important lesson when it comes to temptation. The time I am most likely to fall is right after I’ve had a huge victory. I let my guard down. I think I’m unbeatable. I feel like I’ve made it and nothing can stop me. That is when Satan comes from out of nowhere and kicks my legs out from under me…every single time. Certainly, we can rejoice in our victories. However, we must not be so blinded by them that we get caught up in the aftershock of temptation and then swept away by the undertow. Thank God for victory, but keep holding on to His hand because Satan will be back.

Next week’s reading is Luke 5.

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