Lasting Words of Encouragement

Click here to read Acts 20.

Paul had experienced incredible ministry while he stayed in Ephesus. He also experienced hardships and turmoil.

One of the things I love about the life of the Apostle Paul is how, according to the scriptures, kept his joy amidst everything he endured. Think about it. He was jailed, beaten, harassed, plotted against, and more. How would you feel like responding after this kind of treatment? Paul refused to let the joy of Jesus Christ out of his heart and life. Just read the letter to the Philippians as a great example of the joy of Jesus and how his life was completely changed. Our can be this way too.

Joy. That’s a word we don’t always seem to understand. Joy is more than simply being happy. Joy is from deep down in our soul. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians 5 (love, joy,…). This is able to see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven among everything that is going on around us. Can you grasp how awesome that is?

Not only does Paul keep experiencing this joy, that comes from God’s grace through the Holy Spirit; but he is continually working so others may know of true joy also. This can really only come into our lives after we experience the amazing grace of God through Jesus Christ.

As Paul proclaimed the gospel, he endured so much; but he keeps his focus on the one true Christ. This is what he hopes continues on, within the people, after he sails away on to his next mission.

Paul has to tell his beloved Ephesians he is going away and will not be back to see them. I’m am sure he is as heartbroken as they are. Even though he will not be with them, he encourages the people to basically stay true to the gospel message of Jesus the Christ.

Do you think you could say similar words to the people around you? Reread his speech here:

“You know how I lived among you the whole time I was with you, beginning with the first day I arrived in the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears in the midst of trials that came upon me because of the Jews’ schemes. You know I held back nothing that would be helpful so that I could proclaim to you and teach you both publicly and privately in your homes. You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me.But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace. I know that none of you will see me again—you among whom I traveled and proclaimed the kingdom. Therefore, today I testify to you that I’m not responsible for anyone’s fate. I haven’t avoided proclaiming the entire plan of God to you. Watch yourselves and the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors, to shepherd God’s church, which he obtained with the death of his own Son. I know that, after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you and won’t spare the flock. Some of your own people will distort the word in order to lure followers after them. Stay alert! Remember that for three years I constantly and tearfully warned each one of you. I never stopped warning you! Now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all whom God has made holy. I haven’t craved anyone’s silver, gold, or clothing. You yourselves know that I have provided for my own needs and for those of my companions with my own hands. In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

The challenge for today is to find a way to give encouragement to those around you, especially if they have wronged you in anyway.

May God’s Spirit of peace and joy be with you all today and each day after.

Just Watch

Click here to read Acts 19.

When you walk into a room, what happens? Are you one of those people that others are drawn too? (It is okay if you say yes 🙂 ) I am very confident you have been gifted and blessed with some gift that God has given you because the people around you need it. Maybe it’s the gift of grace, comfort, prayer, teaching, etc. People know when you use your gifts for God’s Kingdom and will be drawn to you.

This is how I picture the Apostle Paul: When he goes into towns, he quickly becomes known. As we have seen from previous chapters in Acts, this is both good and bad (which actually ends up glorifying God anyway, so it is still good in some way).

Paul knows what people are attracted to. They are attracted to the gifts and graces God has given him. They are attracted, drawn, to him because he is living out God’s plan for his life and using what God has given him. People are drawn to power. So, why not present and live in and with the greatest power in the universe?

In the passage today, we see Paul first starts by telling people about the Holy Spirit. The people are intrigued because they really haven’t heard of the Spirit’s presence in their lives. When they come to the realization they can live with the Holy Spirit of the Living God within them, they are excited and the Spirit begins to do incredible work in and through each of them. Everywhere Paul goes, he shows and proclaims to the people about the Living Jesus Christ. The people experience incredible life change.

Paul teaches and preaches in the synagogues and all around the towns about the Risen Christ and his gospel, life-giving message, for all people. The people are eager to listen and to learn of the One God who absolutely cares for them. This brings about change in the people’s hearts and lives. This is what we should proclaim and emulate every where we go.

But, there are always some who are threatened by the work of the Spirit because it challenges their way of life, their income, their livelihood. This is a big deal. Whenever we bring the message of Jesus Christ to the people around us, we also disrupt the work of those who are so entrapped by worldly wealth and power. When we mess with someone’s business (even if they know deep down it is not right), there are consequences. They will do what they can to get you to leave.

At this point, it seems like the same old story: Paul goes into a town, proclaims Jesus, people are changed, leaders are outraged, something happens to Paul, Paul moves on. What a life to live. But think about this: Paul was very content and joyful with his life and his work. He knew he was doing what God called him to do and that’s all that mattered (read the letter to the Philippians).

Our challenge for today is to be who God called you and I to be, to do what God called you to do and really just watch. When we are obedient to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it is incredible to see what change happens and see what God is doing. Yes, some people will get very upset God’s Kingdom is being proclaimed; but we get to bring light into dark places and bring people with us to see what real life is…Jesus Christ.

Just watch and see everything God is doing. It is amazing.

Connecting Points

Click here to read Acts 17.

“All you need to do is to teach that person how to…” This sounds simple enough; but is it really that easy to get people to learn new things? Just teach them? When we teach, we are actually connecting the person to what they have seen, what they have experienced and give it meaning.

The same thing is true for sharing our faith. If we listen to the stories of those around us, we can hear something that we can help connect them to Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus did. He would look around and see everyday objects and use them to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven. Think about your life for a moment, what part or aspect has someone used to help you know Jesus Christ or help you deepen your faith in God through Jesus Christ?

When the Apostle Paul was traveling, his goal was to preach Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.” He was showing that when we go to people, we find what speaks to them and go with it. He understood where he was, and knew the people’s culture, so he spoke to them in the way they were most comfortable with and he gave the people the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Many people turned away; but many accepted the message. I’m sure it bothered Paul when people criticized him for the message of Jesus Christ; but he stayed the course and kept preaching Christ and him crucified and raised. He may have used the language, symbols, culture of the people, but his message was always clear cut. When we speak with people, we should have this same kind of conviction.

Acts 17 gives us a time when Paul had a great opportunity to share his faith, and he gets ridiculed. He is placed in front of some of the smartest and brightest minds in Athens to be mocked. How would you feel if you were placed in that position? Paul never waivers; he searches around and sees all of the gods the people have made. It must have been hard to try to find something to relate to Jesus Christ; but there it was, a statue to the “Unknown god.”

That was his starting point. Paul used the people’s own poetry, about Zeus, and gave it new meaning to point the people to the real God. Again, some accepted, some left. But, he stood firm in the gospel message and people responded. Imagine what would have happened if Paul never spoke then? Imagine what happens when we don’t take time to really connect our lives with Christ to another person so they can experience Christ.

There are connecting points all around. Look at everything you can see and you might be amazed at how the Holy Spirit gives new meaning to worldly objects.

Trouble Again?

Click here to read Acts 16:16-40.

“Paul and Silas in prison.” This is the heading for this passage in my Bible. With a heading like that, someone is bound to ask, “Wait, wasn’t Paul thrown in jail a couple chapters ago?” The answer would be yes!

In the book of Acts, there is a pattern: Paul goes to a town, Paul proclaims Jesus Christ, people get upset, Paul goes to jail/is stoned/thrown out of town. How would you like this kind of life with a pattern like this? The Christian life is supposed to be easy, right? After all, Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” But we miss the point if we think our life is going to be easy.

When we accept Jesus Christ and follow Him, we immediately are different from the world’s viewpoint. This means we get to be the people who bring the light of Jesus Christ with us, wherever we go, to shine light in peoples’ dark lives and to show sin the Holy Spirit is convicting people of.

Paul is on his way for prayer. He is on his way to spend time with Christ and allowing him to fill Paul’s spirit, mind, and heart for the task ahead. But he was interrupted. A fortune teller was there trying to tell everyone who Paul is, causing a disturbance. This happened day after day, after day. This had to be stopped. Paul commanded the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” Her “owners” did not like what happened. They lost their income.

Instead of being able to continue on with their mission, Paul and Silas were grabbed and taken before the city officials. Paul and Silas were being blamed for the disturbance within the city. We all have been through some kind of situation like this in our lives. The truth is it is so much easier to blame lack of business, or even turmoil, on another person rather than looking at the true source. (Look at Romans 2:1-11)

Even though it may seem as though you are cut off from the world, because of a situation, the joy of Christ can be so firmly and deeply rooted in your life that it can never be taken.

May the joy of Christ continue to shine in and through your life and become so contagious that the people around you are drawn to the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you.

Philippians 4:4-7

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Along the Journey

Click here to read Acts 16:1-15.

Whenever we go on a journey, many of us have everything planned out and mapped out. This is so we can stay on schedule and know what it is we’re getting into and will do. It is more comforting to know what exactly it is we will be doing and where we will go. But, how do you think you would do if plans changed each and every day?

I am one of those people, most of the time, who likes to know what is going on; but I am also very flexible with my plans. After all, isn’t it more of an adventure if you just wait to see what happens or where you will go? Some people become anxious over not having concrete plans. Others don’t really care. People will respond how they respond.

The point of all of this is not to say we all need to be more spontaneous. The point is to open our lives up even more to the working of the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind Proverbs 19:21 and Hebrews 3:15:

“Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 CEB

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” ~ Hebrews 3:15

What I get from scripture, especially these verses, is we should not try to be so rigid in our lives. The reality is we can miss the calling and purpose of God for us if we try to schedule everything and be unwilling to change plans. There is great comfort knowing the presence of God is with you wherever you go.

Look at the life of Paul, especially here in Acts 16. His life was turned completely upside down after his conversion with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He now only has two agenda items: 1) to know Christ and him crucified and 2) to spread the gospel message wherever he is. This is a guy that does not know where he is going to sleep at night or where he will be traveling the next day.

If we are open to the leading of the Spirit, it will be interesting, each step, to see what God has in store. Maybe you’ll get a new friend (or traveling buddy). Maybe you’ll want to go to a certain place and you sense you need to be somewhere else. Maybe you’ll come across a person who leads you home and the entire household accepts the message of Christ.

Life, in many ways, is an adventure. How the Spirit speaks to you, you’ll have to pay attention to. (Through scripture, wise counsel, something you read, something you hear, a nudging of the heart, audible voice.) The point is to be open to the leading of the Spirit all along the journey of life.

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J

United in Grace

Click here to read Acts 15:1-35.

Unless you…

Believe, belong, accept, perform, think, dress like, etc.

We have all been part of this kind of thinking at some point in our lives. Maybe we have said this to another person to make sure they were the “right material” for the group, the club, the organization. Maybe we have heard these stipulations given to us. What is the first thing that comes to mind when stipulations are placed on others for the sake of making them conform?

Part of the reason we create these “rules” is because we are more comfortable being around people just like us. We would rather have everyone in the group agree with us. No one likes to be called out for being “wrong.” (I know I don’t.) But can we be missing something when we try to force people to conform to a certain way of thinking, to be a certain kind of person?

The early Church had this same kind of issue. There were people who were nervous, including some of the apostles, for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) to become followers of Jesus Christ. After all, the people of the Jewish faith had to go through rigorous training, knowledge, liturgies as part of their faith. Jesus was raised as a Jewish person. So why not make everyone follow the Jewish law and then give them the opportunity to follow and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Why not? Because grace has something more amazing in store for the world. I want to add, this does not mean, or say, that creating liturgies, ways of learning, or any training to deepen our faith is bad or wrong. It just means that we do not have to go through all of that BEFORE experiencing God’s grace. Throughout scripture, we see the image of God reaching out to the world. God reaching out to the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the dead, the rich, everyone. He makes no qualms about the way people grew up and lived their lives. He met them exactly where they were.

Here’s the kicker to all of this. Just because God meets people where they were/are in life, it doesn’t mean he desires them to keep living that way. It is through His grace, His unmerited favor, that He gives us a new life, a new purpose, a new heart, a new mind. He knows what He created us to be. As for the laws the Jewish people lived by, He did not abolish them; but God did work in the hearts of the Christian leaders, the apostles, to say no one should have any barriers to coming to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtains were torn in two, the direct path to God was now available to ALL people, not just the High Priests or the Temple Priests. This is great news! You and I get to enter into eternal life, living in the presence of God, here and now. The only barriers to not living into this grace are those we place on ourselves.

No, you and I are not good enough, nor can we do enough to earn God’s grace. That is why His grace is a FREE gift to ALL people. The apostles and early church leaders learned this, and they became united with God in the sharing of His grace in a new way. We are given opportunities to experience and share His love and grace each and everyday.

Encouraged & Strengthened

Click here to read Acts 14:21-28.

Paul and Barnabas are on a mission. They have travelled many miles. They have endured hardships and harassment like not many other Christians at the time. What is amazing is how the joy of Christ has kept them moving and doing what they were called to do!

Think back for a minute about when you had to keep doing your job or any task you just had no energy to do. How easy is it to keep going when you do not feel supported, you do not feel like anything is getting done? Or How easy is it to quit altogether? We all have been in situations like this.

I am in a season of my life where my wife and I have 2 children (7 & 9) and one on the way. Day after day it seems like we are having to clean things up, fix something that broke, etc. If you have children, you will definitely understand. But, no matter how drained we are, no matter how it seems like we are just doing the same thing day after day, there is a joy and strength that comes within us to help us keep moving.

Raising children is not the same as what Paul was enduring; but I think this can give us some kind of an idea of how it is when things do not seem to be progressing at times. Around the world, people are harassed for their faith in Christ and persecuted beyond anything we can imagine. How to persecuted Christians keep going? Because of Jesus Christ.

Instead of giving up, Paul does something incredible. He encourages the people to keep doing the work they were called to do within their community. Not once did Paul try to pretend the Christian life is easy, or comfortable. He bluntly told them about the harsh conditions and the reality of hostility toward Jesus Christ around the world. But Paul knew, as a great leader would, the people needed to be encouraged.

Paul’s encouragement did not come just from him and Barnabas. The encouragement came through times of prayer and laying on of hands. In order to truly encourage and strengthen people, remember to call upon Heaven to bring supernatural strength and power so those around us (including us) can “do all things by Christ who gives us strength.” It is through the power, grace, and presence of God through Jesus Christ that we can do the work He is calling us to. It is not that we can do anything we want; but rather, we are strengthened to do His work His way.

So, be encouraged that the presence of Christ is with you. Be strengthened from heaven to continue in your calling. Be filled with peace that, even though the rest of the world says you have to act and be one way, you will become who Christ created you to be.

How can I pray for you to be encouraged and strengthened by Jesus Christ?

Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

Confidence in the Calling

Click here to read Acts 14:1-7.

It’s the same things that have happened to Paul and Barnabas before. People are undermining the truths they are speaking and are doing everything they can to discredit and remove the “threat” other leaders consider Paul to be. Have you experienced this kind of situation in your life?

Being a leader is difficult. It is a calling. It is a lifestyle. It is who God created the leader to be. Leadership is difficult and not for the faint hearted. Please don’t let this discourage you. Being a leader is also very rewarding. People in leadership, who exercise their gifts effectively, motivate and encourage others to reach toward a higher standard of living. When a leader answers the call of God in their lives, guiding people to see the work of the Living God all around is an incredible experience.

The thing I see, in this passage today, is how Paul and Barnabas kept growing in their confidence of being God’s servants because they paid more attention to the results than to the hardships that were going on around them and to them. Did you notice that people kept responding to the grace of God? Even in the midst of hardship, the midst of tragedy, chaos, God’s shining light came through and people’s lives are changed because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Look around you, what do you see? Do you see more of the good or the bad around you? When you wake up each morning, what do you look forward to each day? I would encourage you to find ways to start each day with praising God for all the ways He is working in the world.

Now, this does not mean all we need to do is change our attitudes. This means we do change our minds, we change our hearts. Change happens with the work of the Holy Spirit is your life. It is not something we can do on our own. This change, this renewing of our hearts and minds happens when we are open to the Spirit working in us and allowing our eyes to see the incredible things that are really going on around us.

As you pay attention to the work of Jesus Christ, you have many chances to remember Who called you, and Who continues to work in and through you. I pray you grow in your confidence in Christ. Remember it is through Christ we get the power, direction, grace, and confidence to do the work He calls people to do.

Stay confident with Christ’s work in you and around you. As you stay confident in Christ’s work, I hope you can remain confident in the work Christ called you to do.