Tag Archives: Paul

God’s People, part 181: Rome

Read Acts 28:17-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

281: Rome. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there was a church already established in the city of Rome. We know that this church was not established by Paul himself; however, word of the church and their faith had reached Paul and he very much wanted to visit them. We know this from his own writings to the church in his epistle to the Romans. In that letter, he wrote:

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else…In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:20, 22-24, NLT)

Paul’s own words tell us that he had never been to Rome before and that someone else was responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to them, founding them as a church. By church, it is not meant that they had a physical location to worship at that we now commonly know as a “church”; rather, the church is the group of Christian believers that are gathered in a geographical location, who probably worshiped at multiple different houses throughout the city.

To the earliest Christians, the Church or ekklesia (Greek ἐκκλησία, pronounced eh-ck-lee-sia) means an assembly or gathering of people. It matters not where they gather, but what they are gathering for. In the Christian context, the church is a gathering of Christ followers. Thus, Paul was writing his letters to the body of Christians in the specific cities he addressed them to. In the case of Romans, Paul was addressing the body of Christ followers in the city of Rome, regardless of where they met and worshiped.

While we do not know who established the church in Rome, it is safe to believe that it was someone who may have known, or at least known of Paul. Paul writes his letter to a people he presumes will know who he is. Whether it was a close associate of Paul or some other Christian who spread the Good News there, it makes perfect sense that the Christian faith would spread quickly to the heart of the empire. After all, there was a large Jewish community within Rome and, no doubt, Christians would have traveled to, and been present in, the Jewish community in the imperial city.

Paul did eventually make his way to the believers. In our Scripture today, we see that Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial and, of course, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people while he waited. Paul was in the lion’s den, as it were, and yet he boldly proclaimed the Gospel despite his impending trial.

While Acts ends the story at Paul’s arrival, the truth is that the Gospel message would eventually cost Paul his life. More than likely, he was beheaded during Nero’s persecution of Christians. The reason was that Nero scapegoated Christians for a large fire that got out of control and burned half of Rome down. Historians contemporary to the time speculated that Nero started the fire himself; however, Christians received the blame and were put to death in the most horrific of ways, making Paul’s death look like a walk in the park.

Prior to his death, Paul was visited and cared for by friends and by other Christians in the Roman community. He was loved and cared for by his fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. This should challenge us to remember that the church is just that: a community of believers who are charged with visiting and caring for each other. The church is a community of believers called to live out their love for on another, despite differences that would otherwise separate and divide them. Let us, as Christians today, remember that the mission of the church is no different now than it was then. Let us visit each other, care for each other, and love each other just as the Christians in Rome did for Paul.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love wins. Let us be on the winning side.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be like Paul and the earliest Christians. By your grace, help me to love and to care for my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, living into Christ’s new commandment for those who follow him. Amen.

God’s People, part 280: Believers

Read Acts 28:11-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The Appian Way

Part 280: Believers. It is often hard for us, as modern Christians, to picture what early Christianity was like. Too often, we think of an old-time religion where everyone got along, agreed with each other, and were monolithic in their understanding of Christ and his mission. I pray, that as we have been journeying through the New Testament in the Bible, you are seeing first-hand that Christians did not have it as together as we might have imagined.

Even among the Twelve Apostles, there were differences in understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. Peter, at first, sided with James’ brother that Gentiles could not be included into the The Way unless they first converted to Judaism. Jesus was a devout Jewish rabbi and he came to the Jewish people; therefore, Gentiles needed to first accept the God of Israel and convert to the faith of Abraham and the Laws of Moses, before they could truly follow the Messiah.

It actually does make sense when you give it thought from the perspective of Jewish followers of Jesus. Yet, Paul vehemently disagreed with James and the Apostles that supported him. For Paul, a former Pharisee, the question did not start with Moses’ Laws. Yes, for Jews (including Paul), those laws were sacred and holy and vital to the Jewish faith. Also, it is true that God made a covenant with the Jewish people at the base of Mount Sinai, where he gave them the Torah (aka the Law). With that said, the covenant made to Abraham predated the Torah, and it was in that covenant that God promised to bless ALL THE NATIONS as a result of Abraham’s faith.

Thus, it is FAITH that mattered most. It was FAITH from which we were saved. It was FAITH to which the Law pointed. Those who live in FAITH in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Law, are SAVED by virtue of their faith in God’s only Son, just as Abraham was saved by virtue of his faith in the only true God, as opposed to the Law. This was what Paul taught to the Gentiles, that it was their faith that saved them. That they were included into the family of God through their faith in Jesus Christ.

Truthfully, in today’s Scripture, we see the fruit of Paul’s labor. In their travels beyond Malta, Paul and his fellow travelers came across more Gentile believers in Jesus Christ. When a south wind blew their ship to the coast of Puteoli, which is now modern day Pozzuoli (a city and commune of the Metropolitan city of Naples, Italy), Paul, fellow travelers, and crew were greeted by a group of believers who invited them to stay with their group for a week.

From there, they traveled to Rome and were met by Roman believers who traveled the Appian Way and met them in the Forum. The Appian Way was an extremely vital Roman road that was not only well traveled, but was the very road 6,000 slaves were crucified along following the defeat of Spartacus in 71 BC. Even more believers joined them at the Three Taverns.

These believers came because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for Paul who had corresponded with them. Paul had not ever been to Italy or Rome, yet, it was his advocacy for Gentile inclusion that had helped churches form in places that he had yet to travel. Their faith in Jesus Christ and their inclusion into the family of Christ is what empowered them to meet Paul and care for him. Luke tells us that Paul found encouragement in their presence and thanked God for them.

The fact of the matter is this, Christian fellowship is more than just a friendly gathering of like-minded people. I am sure that Paul could have found theological or intellectual differences between those believers and himself. What mattered most was their common FAITH in Jesus Christ as Lord. That is what bonded them together in Paul’s time of need.

We, as Christians, ought to be reminded that our common FAITH goes a lot further than our differences. We have been included into God’s family through Jesus Christ our Lord and, truthfully, it is through Christian fellowship where we become encouraged and invigorated to carry on in the mission and ministry of Christ, no matter what our circumstances are. This is why being a part of a Faith Community is SO IMPORTANT. We were not created to be islands, but to be in communion with fellow believers, who share and encourage our FAITH.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is so unique in giving His people ways to fellowship, witness, and remember what a mighty and merciful God He is.” – Monica Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself to Christian fellowship, that I might fully live into my Christian faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 278: Julius

Read Acts 27:1, 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 278: Julius. The previous few devotions have followed Paul from the Temple of Jerusalem through a couple of years of imprisonment and trial in Caesarea. We learned that Paul had not only used his Roman Citizenship to his advantage in terms of fair and just treatment under the law, he also used it to appeal his case to Caesar’s court in Rome.

This does not, by the way, mean that Nero Caesar (who was emperor at the time) would be the one hear his case; rather, appealing to Caesar meant simply that he wanted his trial to take place in Caesar’s court in Rome, where judges representing Caesar would hear Paul’s case. While it is possible that Caesar might have heard Paul’s case, it is very improbable that he had any personal invlovement.

Still, once the appeal had been made, Festus had only one thing to do and that was to send Paul to Rome. Of course, the quickest and least expensive way to transport a prisoner from Jerusalem to Rome was via the Mediterranean Sea. That is why Judaea was so important to Rome, because of its strategic location along the coast of the great sea.

Thus, Paul was put under the care of Captain Julius, who was to transport him on his ship from Judaea to Rome. I want to pause their for a split second. The number one responsibility of Julius was to ensure the safe arrival of Paul to Rome so that he may be tried in the Roman courts. Should Paul have pulled any shenanigans and escaped, Julius’ life would have been forfeit. It was NOT okay to fail Caesar.

So, it is curious to see how friendly Julius was with Paul. In fact, friendly does not do justice to the way that Julius treated this prisoner. He was not only kind to him, but showed him an exorbitant amount of respect and TRUST. For instance, while they were docked at Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to leave the boat and be visited and tended to by his friends.

If Paul had escaped, it would have been not been good for Julius; yet, the captain trusted Paul NOT to escape. This shows what a man of honor and integrity Paul must have been. Julius trusted him so much that he was willing to let Paul leave the ship to spend time with friends. Paul, as it were, would not forget that kind act of trust.

We do not know if Julius ever became a Christian or not. The chances are that he didn’t; however, Paul respected him and his entire crew. During a major storm, Paul not only comforted them, but assured them that God had shown him in a vision that NONE of the crew would be harmed. As it turned out, all of the crew indeed did survive the shipwreck. No one was harmed or died, just as Paul promised.

So, what do we make of this? Simple. Kindness goes along way. In regard to Paul, he was a person of honor and integrity and Julius could tell that about him, just as one knows that they are going to instantly click with someone they’ve just met. In regard to Julius, he was willing to give Paul his trust and, as a result, Paul was able to be cared for.

In Paul and Julius, we see models for how we ought to be. Paul shows us that we ought to be people of honor and integrity. Julius, though he may not have recognized it, placed his trust in God and did what he believed was right and just for Paul. His kindness not only blessed Paul but, in the end, it became a blessing to his entire crew. Let us, therefore be a blessing to others through our honor, integrity, and kindness through placing our trust in God and treating others as we would like to be treated.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” – Edwin Markham

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live by your golden rule, to be a person of integrity and honor, and one who shows kindness to others. Amen.

God’s People, part 276: Typical Politicians

Read Acts 24:1-27; 25:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 276: Typical Politicians. As was discussed in the last devotion, Paul was a Roman citizen and he used that fact to his advantage after being arrested in the Jerusalem Temple. Following his arrest, a Roman commander was going to have Paul whipped and beaten for being a “rabble rouser” but, prior to that happening, Paul questioned the legality of that being that he was a Roman Citizen by birth and had not received a fair trial.

The question was a successful move on Paul’s part and, as a result, was placed under protective custody while he awaited trial. In Acts 24, we see that Paul’s trial fell into the hands of Felix, who was the governor of Judaea at the time. Judaean Governors, lived in the city of Caesarea and rarely came to Jerusalem, except on high holy days and other events that could break into a successful rebellion due to the massive number of people gathering in the city. Thus, Paul was transported to a palace prison in Caesarea where he awaited trial.

Paul’s trial started twelve days after he was arrested, and he was accused of being a trouble maker and someone who desecrated the Temple, which he had not done but had been accused of. Thus, Felix turned to Paul to hear his side of things. Paul did so eloquently, and he explained why he was in Jerusalem, and that as a devout Jew he was at the Temple to observe the purification ritual. He did admit to being “a follower of The Way” (aka a follower of Jesus), which he also pointed out that the Jews accusing him saw “The Way” as a cult; however, he also pointed out his deep, devout Jewish convictions and his desire to follow the Law and the prophets.

When Felix heard that he was a follower of The Way, which he was familiar with, he decided to table the trial until the commander came. Paul was kept in prison, but was allowed to have some freedoms, such as regular visitors. The problem was that Felix’s wife was Jewish and he did not want to upset her or the Jewish people. Felix had to walk a fine line and he was hoping that Paul would get himself into trouble by trying to bribe him, or to find some other cause to nail Paul on.

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into two long years. Yet, the trial ceased to continue. After two years in prison, another governor succeeded Felix. His name was Porcius Festus and, once he took over, he resumed Paul’s trial after pressure from the Jewish authorities. The initial trial took place in Ceasarea; however, not wanting to further upset the Jewish leaders, he asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there. Paul objected and appealed to the emperor.

Little did Paul know that King Herod Agrippa was also coming to hear Paul’s case. According to Agrippa, he would have let Paul go if he had not appealed to Caesar; however, this should be taken with a grain of salt as Agrippa, just like Festus and Felix, was typical politician. With no pressure on him, he could easily make such a claim now that it was out of his hands; however, would he really have just let Paul go? Also, couldn’t Agrippa arranged to let Paul go and not send the appeal.

The point is that Paul knew that Christ was calling him to Rome. In his very letter to the Romans, he said that he wanted to go to Rome on his way to Spain. While I am sure that Paul knew that a trial in Caesar’s court might not go his way in the end, he was also sure that he could continue to witness to Christ in Rome as he knew he was called to do.

As for Felix, Festus and Agrippa, they were men of power. They didn’t care about Paul as much as they did their own prestige and station in life. All they cared about was looking good and keeping the peace. Paul was nothing to them, just a number. They were, sad to say, typical politicians. In appealing to Caesar, Paul was not actually looking for Caesar, another typical politician, to save him, but was fully thrusting himself into Christ’s plan. It was an act of faith and faithfulness. Let us, like Paul, not put our trust and hope in people, let alone politicians. They will fail us; however, Christ will not fail us and if we remain faithful to his mission, not even death will be able to stop us from our true inheritance.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is only one Savior, Jesus the Christ, and he is our only HOPE.

PRAYER
Lord, I look to you, and you alone, as my Lord and my Savior. In you alone I place my faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 275: Roman Citizen

Read Acts 22:22-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!””  (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 275: Roman Citizen. We’ve discussed Paul at length throughout Acts. Most of the Acts of the Apostles is focused, in fact, on Paul and his mission to the Gentiles.  We know that Paul was a devout Jew, a former member of the Pharisees, and a former persecutor of Jesus’ earliest followers. We know that when he “converted” to belief in Jesus Christ, he did not convert from one religion to another; rather, he saw Jesus as the the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ, for Paul, is how Abraham’s faith would become a blessing to all nations. It was through Jesus Christ as Messiah that all nations would confess and accept Lord and Savior.

For Paul the Christian faith was the Jewish faith. Christianity was not a separate religion, but the SAME religion. Of course, the Jews who disagreed with Paul saw it very differently; however, Paul was born, lived, taught, and died a devout Jewish theologian. In his very letters, he indicates just how Jewish he thought he was.

Yet, there is another aspect of Paul we have not discussed. Paul was not only a diaspora Jew from Tarsus, the capital city in the Roman Province Cilicia, but he was actually born a Roman Citizen. There are varying reasons suggested that could explain how Paul was born a Roman citizen. One such reason is that Tarsus was a freed city because it had aided Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus) and Antony in the civil wars and thus they were freed and considered to be a Roman city. Thus, most who were born within it were considered to be citizens of Rome.

There are other ways in which one could become a Roman citizen, such as performing a vital service for Rome or by purchasing citizenship at a hefty cost. In fact, the commander in our Scripture reading today said that he had purchased his citizenship; however, Paul, stated to the commander that he had, in fact, been born a Roman citizen. This proved, for Paul, to be quite a convenient fact that literally saved his hyde from abuse and torture.

The only reason Paul even mentioned his citizenship of Rome was because the commander had ordered him to be whipped. As a Roman citizen, Paul was afforded rights that non-citizens were not granted. He could not be punished prior to a fair trial and, as we will see later on in another devotion, as a Roman Citizen Paul had the right to appeal his case to the emperor.

Here’s the point that can be taken from the fact that Paul acknowledged his Roman citizenship. First, we do owe our allegiance to the government in which we live in. There is nothing wrong, for instance, for a Christian to also acknowledge and work within the confines of his or her earthly citizenship. In fact, under normal circumstances, that is how we ought to work. There is nothing wrong, even, with taking a healthy pride in where one is from.

With that said, Paul did not boast about his citizenship, nor did he use it to place himself above anyone else. First and foremost to Paul, he was a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He was of heaven even though he lived on earth. He saw his earthly dwelling as a diplomatic appointment, and he reminded all Christians that we were on Earth as God’s ambassadors.

Finally, given our divine appointment as ambassadors, we MUST remember that we ultimately represent Jesus Christ. What that means is that if our government calls us to do something that is against Jesus Christ, our allegiance is to Christ ALONE. Those who hold up Romans 13:1-7 as an absolute mandate to follow the government do so devoid of the context set in Romans 13:8-14. Therefore, Romans 13 is NOT a mandate to absolutely follow government; however, it is a mandate to follow government when doing so does not conflict with Jesus Christ.

Let us, therefore, remember that Christ is King and our mandate is to FOLLOW HIM. Being a law abiding citizen does, overall, honor Christ. With that said, we are called to follow Christ at all costs, even if it means disobeying our earthly rulers. Let us be a people who grow, like Paul, to understand when and when not to embrace our worldly citizenship so that we may further witness to the love of Christ and his supreme reign in the coming Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are appointed as ambassadors of heaven, which means we should be representing Christ to the world around us.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to grow in my ambassadorship so that I may fully represent you in all that I do. Amen.

God’s People, part 273: Challenging Church

Read Acts 20:17-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.” (2 Corinthians 8:4, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 273: Challenging Church. As a pastor, I don’t talk about this much because I feel it can be a sort of self-serving pity party and, truthfully, serving Christ through serving the church is exactly what I have been called to do. In fact, I love what I do. With that out there, let me say this: the Church is challenging to serve. Deeply, profoundly, challenging. Rewarding? Sure! Absolutely. Still, with all of the “they will know we are Christians by our love” hymns aside, the Church can be a raw, messy, painful, and even brutal gauntlet at times.

This is true for being a part of the Church and/or serving in leadership positions, let alone pastoring a church. This is made all the more clear by today’s Scripture reading. In it, Paul was about to leave the Church in Ephesus, with whom he had spent the past three years with. He felt the call to go to Jerusalem and to share with the Church there all the things God had been doing in terms of his mission to the Gentiles. Yet, he knew that this encounter with the Church in Jerusalem was going to be met with great resistance. He had been haunted with visions of being beaten, imprisoned and, more than likely, dying.

To the Ephesian Church, prior to his departure, he said this: “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead”  (Acts 20:22-23, NLT). He continued on to say, “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again”  (Acts 20:25, NLT).

We find a clue as to why in one of Pauls’ later, and most important letters, which he wrote to the Church in Rome while in Corinth. It may seem odd that he would journey further West to go back East; however, during his last missionary journey Paul was going church to church in order to collect the offerings that he promised the Jerusalem church. These offerings were, in part, a peace offering as the Jerusalem Church did not always see eye to eye with Paul. It was his way of saying, Llook, these Gentile churches, of which you’re suspicious, support you in the way Christ would have us support each other. Will you show your continued support for them?”

But Paul, a realist, knew that the support will not come cheaply. For the Jerusalem Church, they were afraid that Paul was compromising to many of the Jewish laws and traditions in order to build up a Gentile Church. They would want proof that he still followed the Jewish laws, as they were passed down from God to Moses to them. Paul even spoke of this reality at the end of his letter to the Romans, “Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem” (Romans 15:31, NLT).

How painful this must have been for him. Paul was a Jew to his core. He never rejected his Jewish faith. His only “conversion” had happened in his recognition of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; yet, this Jewish Messiah had appeared to him and changed him and appointed him the Apostle to the Gentiles. The truth is, that when Paul reached Jerusalem with his donation, they did not accept it.

Luke recorded that James, Jesus’ half-brother, responded to Paul in this manner, “Here’s what we want you to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow. Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumors are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws” (Acts 21:23-24, NLT).

In other words, the Jerusalem leaders did not accept Paul’s gift; rather, they asked him to use it by paying for the four men and himself to undergo the purification ritual in the Temple. Paul, of course, did so to show them his love and Christian brotherhood. The second he was seen in the Temple, he was arrested by the Jewish authorities, and spent years in prison before being sent to Rome after Paul appealed to the Emperor. Paul’s journey, and his life, ended in Rome.

How painful it can be to be a part of the church. How even more difficult it can be to lead it. Why? Because the Church is made up of people like you and me. We each have our subjective perspectives, opinions and beliefs. Sometimes those align, but other times the collide. And religious beliefs are some of the most personal and intimate beliefs we hold. They inform us our identity…who we are at our core.

Yet, Paul’s example should challenge us. We should not avoid being a part of the Church simply because it is challenging; rather, what separates Christians from other human groups and institutions, is our willingness to persist in trials together for the sake of unity, charity, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the glory of God, and the coming Kingdom! All groups and institutions of human beings have conflict, it’s how we LOVE one another in spite of that conflict that proves we are Christ’s. Let us be reminded of Paul when we are burned by the church and despairing. Perhaps God has you exactly where you need to be to be an agent of change and an ambassador of love!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“They will know we are Christians by our love.” – Fr. Peter Scholtes

PRAYER
Lord, help me to love, especially when it is most difficult to do so. Amen.

God’s People, part 272: Eutychus

Read Acts 20:7-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”  (1 Corinthians 2:13, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 272: Eutychus. As a pastor, today’s Scripture reading is not a surprising one. Yes, there was pretty fabulous miracle that took place and all of that jazz; however, it’s what led to the need for a miracle that I am referring to. Before I dive into that, let me just say that one does not think of comedy when one thinks of the Bible. Typically, comedy seems a bit irreverent and not “holy” enough for our Western sensibilities.

I may sound like I am being facetious; however, I am not. I once was a at Methodist Annual Conference where the presiding bishop admonished people for laughing during “holy conferencing”. Now, to be fair, it’s not that this bishop viewed laughter as unholy, but rather he wanted to the atmosphere of the conference to be serious and raucus. Still, when we think of the Bible, we have the same thoughts as this bishop did with conferencing: it should be read and taken reverently.

That is what is great about Acts 20:7-16. It is a mythbuster if I have ever seen one. What do I mean by that? I mean that it is one of the more comical verses in the entire Bible, let alone New Testament. That a man died and needed to be resurrected is certainly not funny. That’s tragic. How he died, on the other hand, that is comical. It is also very relatable to both preacher and congregant.

Let me explain. In Acts 20:7-16, we hear of a story where the Apostle Paul, not really known for his brevity (minus his epistle to Philemon), was delivering a sermon at a household worship service. Well, this sermon started following supper (including Holy Communion) and continued onward till midnight. Okay, maybe that is not so relatable. I would smite myself if I carried on that long.

Well, Luke tells us Paul carried on this long because he was leaving the next day and let’s just say he was “caught up in the Spirit”. Sadly, as much as he tried, Eutychus fell asleep. I mean how dare him, right?!?!?! I mean which one of us would dare fall asleep during a 4 or so hour sermon. I mean, geesh!

Truth be told, as a pastor, I have seen countless people fall asleep during my sermons which average at about 16 – 18 minutes, give or take. Having someone fall asleep during a sermon is certainly NOT news to any pastor. Conversely, falling asleep during a sermon is not new to anyone who has listened to a sermon, myself included.

So, here is where the story gets interesting. Eutychus happened to be sitting in the window in the upper room where they were, catching the breeze and, before he knew it, catching Zzzz’s as well. That is not the wisest place to doze of as turns out and Eutychus fell three stories from the window to his death. Again, the death part is not funny, but the circumstances around his death are hilarious! Paul literally killed someone with his long, drawn out, and clearly boring (at least for Eutychus) sermon!

Anyway, that event, you would think, was the cue for Paul to end his preaching for the night; yet, that was not the case. Instead, he went down to the Eutychus, bent over him, and picked him up in his arms saying, “No worries, he’s just asleep.” Then they all went upstairs and Paul proceeded to preach to them UNTIL DAWN! Can you imagine that? No one threw him out, told him to shut up, said, “Hey Pastor! You remember now that service is only supposed to be an hour. Cut your sermon down or I’m going too another church and bringing my money with me!”

Nope, no one evidently did that (or Luke that part out of the story). Instead, they listened to him and when the morning came, Eutychus was fine with no injuries at all! Praise God for that! Still, you may be wondering what is the point of sharing this obscure, crazy story about a long and deadly sermon. The point is this, there is NO time limit, no time constraint, no limitation at all when it comes to God’s word. When the Spirit is speaking to us, we’ll listen as long as it takes. The reason Paul was able to talk that long and the reason all but one of them were engaged so long, is because they were all in the Spirit together.

We have lost that in the modern church, by and large. Everything is run on time and expectations. Services better be only an hour, sermons no more than 10-20 minutes, not too many, but not too little hymns, and well-crafted but brief prayers. We go, we half-listen (if we listen at all) the Scripture and Sermon, we give, we sing, and then we split. This is nothing like the early church was.

I am not saying that Christians ought to listen to 10 hour sermons, or should expect to be in church all day. Nor am I saying they should expect 10-20 minute sermons and be expecting to be out in an hour to get on to “more important” things. Instead, I am saying that, like the earliest Christians, we should be expecting the HOLY SPIRIT, and nothing else. Whatever happens following the arrival of the HOLY SPIRIT, one thing is for sure, it will be MIRACULOUS.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christians not only follow Christ, but they dwell in His Spirit, and his Spirit in them.

PRAYER
Lord, open my heart to the expectation of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God’s People, part 268: Apollos

Read Acts 18:24-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”  (1 Corinthians 3:6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 268: Apollos. Apollos was a contemporary of Paul’s. According to our scripture reading today, he was an Alexandrian Jew who, believing in Jesus Christ, arrived in Ephesus and was educated about the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Priscilla and Aquila. From there, he went to Achaia as a missionary and proved to be quite a faithful and effective witness of Jesus Christ.

We also know that Apollos had a successful ministry in the church of Corinth. In his first (technically his 2nd) letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions the effectiveness of Apollos in baptizing people into the Christian faith. With that said, a bit of a controversy had risen up. Paul had planted that church and was its spiritual father and leader; however, some people felt they owed no allegiance to Paul because they were baptized by Apollos.

The Church of Corinth was a hot mess, honestly! While some of the leaders spent their blood, sweat and tears trying to keep the chuch in line, the majority of its members were caught up in bickering, gossiping, idolatry, and a torrid sexual scandal that most were turning a blind eye to. The scandal was that somone’s husband was in the midst of a sexual affair with his mother-in-law and was refusing to stop said affair. Some in the church felt this was perfectly okay, others felt it was not their business, and others still were so disturbed by this they kept trying to get Paul to put a stop to it.

This is where the Apollos controversy came in. Paul had, in no uncertain terms, told the leaders that they HAD to put an end to this affair. He told them that they were to expel the person sleeping with his mother-in-law out of the church over his unwillingness to stop. Some of these leaders really wanted nothing to do with it and the way they resisted Paul was by decrying him. “Who is this Paul, anyway? We weren’t baptized by him, but by Apollos!” Such was the argument who felt that they owed no allegiance to Paul, despite the fact that the church existed as a result of Paul.

Paul’s answer was just that:

“When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”  (1 Corinthians 3:4-6, NLT)

Paul’s point was that we are not followers of ordinary people, but of Christ. The church should not be a cult of personality and most certainly should not be ego driven; rather, the church is Christocentric, centered on Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We should be challenged by this as there are many egos and personalities vying for our loyalty. Our loyalty, as Christians, is owed to Christ alone. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Our loyalty lies with Christ alone!

PRAYER
Lord, my loyalty is yours alone. Amen.

God’s People, part 266: Crispus

Read Acts 18:4-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius…” (1 Corinthians 1:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 266: Crispus. It is at this point in Acts that we see Paul begin to change his focus from Jews and then Gentiles, to just Gentiles. Paul’s model, which he learned from Barnabas, was to go into the cities and immediately enter the synagogue. Why? Because he was trying to spread the Good News to his fellow Jews. Of course, there were Gentiles who met in the synagogue as well and many of them converted; however, this caused much resentment from the synagogue leaders for obvious reasons. It’s never kosher for a religious leader to go into another house of worship and poach members, so-to-speak.

Again, this approach was the approach of Barnabas mentored Paul to begin with; yet, it became clear that this approach was no longer working. All Paul was doing was causing more conflict than it was worth. His preaching about Jesus Christ at synagogue was enraging the synagogue leaders as much as it was bringing in Gentile converts. Thus Paul had an important decision to make: would he stay the course, or change his approach and focus in ministry.

As someone who saw himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul knew what the answer was. He needed to change his approach and focus on bringing the Good News the to the Gentiles, and that is exactly what he did. Luke wrote of his response polemically where, in vs. 6,  Paul said, “…Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6, NLT).

Perhaps, flabbergasted, Paul did put it this way; however, his choice was in direct obedience to the instructions Jesus gave his 72 disciples when he sent them to the towns around Galilee, “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near’” (Luke 10:10-11).

In essence, that is what Paul did and it had a pretty surprising result. Once he made this decision he went to stay with a Gentile named, Titius Justus who, consequently, lived right next door to the Synagogue. As a result of investing himself in Titius, God was able to reach the leader of the synagogue, named Crispus. Crispus ended up believing in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and his whole household was baptized into the faith. What’s more, Crispus ended up becoming the Bishop of Chalcedon before eventually being martyred.

This should give us pause as there is a lesson to learn here. Too often, we try to force our views on people who just are not ready, and maybe not willing, to listen. Yet, the Biblical approach is to show those people grace and move on to others who will. It is hard letting people go when you love and care for them; however, it is often the BEST EXPRESSION of love.

What’s more, when we give up control to God and move on to more receptive people, it is amazing how powerfully God can work in and through that. Paul could not convert Crispus, but God certainly could and did. So, let us remember that and always choose the path of grace. All we need do is plant seeds, God will take care of the rest.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
One must remember that the most common form of idolatry is self-idolatry. Humility has us know our place, step out of the way, and let God take control.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to show the kind of love that lets go so that you can work on the hearts of the unreceptive. Amen.

God’s People, part 261: Jailer

Read Acts 16:16-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  (Matthew 5:43-44, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

James Faulkner stars as Paul in a scene from in the film “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Sony Pictures) See MOVIE-REVIEW-PAUL-APOSTLE-OF-CHRIST March 22, 2018.

Part 261: Jailer. We live in such a polemical time where we often being strongly encouraged to take one side or the other. For instance, in America, one is either a Republican or a Democrat. One is either for Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. One is either antiracist or racist. The list goes on and on and on. It would be easy for me to say that we are about as divided as I have ever seen in my lifetime; however, these are not the only, nor the most, divisive times in world history.

Paul lived in a very divisive time himself. The Roman Empire eventually crumbled because of political divisiveness and, truth be told, the there was much divisiveness in the church as well. Read 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1, 2, & 3 John and other writings in the New Testament. In those epistles (aka letters) you will see that Paul, John and others were dealing with the polemics in the church as well.

Before I move forward with the jailer, I want to be clear that I am not making a moral judgment about any particular stance above. I am merely mentioning them because they have been the sharpest sides drawn as of the writing of this devotion. Nor am I saying that people should not stand up for what they truly believe in and are passionate about. The point of this piece is to show how the Gospel can and DOES change hearts and minds.

In our Scripture today, Paul and Silas find themselves in prison in Philippi, where they had spent time bringing the Good News to the gentiles in that city, nurturing and growing a nascent gentile church that they planted.  What happened was that Paul had cast out a demon out of a local slave girl who was being used by profiteers to make money. Due to her deliverance, she was not longer profitable for them and this caused them to grow enraged. They made legal complaints against both Paul and Silas, who were then locked up in prison.

While in prison, under the watch of a jailer, there was a great earthquake and the doors and bars were knocked a part and opened, leaving plenty of opportunitiy for Paul and Silas to escape. Instead, Paul and Silas urged all of the prisoners to stay put and not escape. This, action, may have you scratching your heads. Why not take the opportunity and get out of dodge? Well, it had the jailer scratching his head to and he was beyond thrilled that everyone was accounted for because, had they not been, he would have certainly been executed for a dereliction of duty.

We don’t know much about the jailer at all. He was most likely a local Philippian beholden to the local government there. More than likely he was a Greek gentile. No doubt, he could have cared less (initially) that Paul and Silas were in jail. They were rabble-rousing troublemakers and, besides, he had a single job to do: make sure they did not escape. Failure to do that job would have costed him his life.

By staying instead of fleeing, that caused Paul and Silas to penetrate the man’s heart. Who would do such a thing given such an opportunity. Who wouldn’t think of theselves first over a stranger, let alone an enemy. Clearly, these gentlemen thought of the jailer, valued the jailer’s life and were not the “lawless” men they had been accused of being.

Because of that, the jailer opened his heart up to the Good News of Jesus Christ that Paul and Silas shared with him. What GREAT news! They witnessed to this man and he and his whole family converted to being Christ-followers as a result! This man went from being a jailer to being a brother! This is the power of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Now, back to my preface above, this does not mean that people should not be standing up for what they believe in. I have marched and will continue to march for Black Lives, for equity, and for justice as long as I have legs and life to do so. I will stand up for the Good News of Jesus Christ, for the fact that we are all image bearers of God, and that for people to be treated equally with dignity, compassion, justice, mercy and respect. Paul and Silas were in jail for standing up for what they believe in despite the risks in doing so. That is what our Lord calls us to do as his followers.

With that said, we should also be careful that we are truly representing the Gospel when we do so. It is so easy to get sucked into the polemics, to get sucked into viewing the other as “evil” or “less than” and dehumanizing them. God is the judge of who is evil and who is not. We, on the other hand, are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hold each other accountable to it out of love.

While there are many people who are jailers out there who may be on the wrong side of things, God still loves them and calls us to invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not all will accept that and we must stand our ground for Jesus regardless; however, we also might find discover Jesus Christ ACTUALLY has the power to transform hearts and minds and our faithfulness to HIM leads others such a place of transformation. In other words, while we stand against the oppressers of the world, let us still find room in our hearts to LOVE them like Christ does.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Hating an evil person is still hate and will lead us to evil; however, LOVE would have us oppose the evil of people and protect people from evil.

PRAYER
Lord, help me a bold and loving warrior for justice without losing myself to blind hate. Increase your love in my heart. Amen.