Today’s Scripture – July 17, 2019

Acts 16:16-24 (NIV)
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Notice the word “we” in verse 16. This indicates that Luke himself was an eyewitness to these events. Actually, the first of the “we” statements that indicated that Luke was one of the party traveling and ministering with Paul occurs a few verses earlier, in Acts 16:10.

The girl that followed Paul and company around was demon possessed. In the pagan cultures of those days, demon possessed people were often believed to have supernatural powers, and it was believed that their ravings while under the influence of the demon were oracles of the future. So, her owners exploited this and made a lot of money from those who wanted to hear from this “oracle”.

The demon was real. The fact that this was not merely a case of mental illness, as some argue, is demonstrated by the woman’s ability to identify Paul and company as agents of the Most High God who were bringing a message of salvation, and by the demon’s immediate and permanent departure at Paul’s command.

Paul’s rebuke came as he grew more and more frustrated with the woman following them and loudly identifying them to everyone day after day. He finally hit the breaking point and lashed out, not at the woman, but at the demon who had victimized her for so long, and who was interfering with his own ministry. And, of course, at the name of Jesus, the demon fled.

This set off a series of events. The girl’s owners suddenly realized that without the demon the girl’s value to them had dropped hugely, and a large source of their revenue was instantly gone. In their anger, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them to the magistrate in the marketplace, accusing them of undermining Roman customs and authority by the gospel they were preaching.

The crowd in the marketplace was stirred up by these accusations, and a full-blown riot was in danger of beginning. So, the magistrate took strong and immediate action. He ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and flogged right there in the marketplace, and that they be put into the most secure part of the local jail, an inner cell with no windows. To make sure that there was no chance of escape, even from there, the jailer locked their feet into wooden stocks.

This seems to many people to fit under the rubric of “no good deed goes unpunished”. Paul had released this girl from the mastery of a demon, and he and Silas were repaid by being beaten and imprisoned. But God was at work even in these events to expand His kingdom and to bring glory to His name and honor to this pair who had suffer so much for the sake of the gospel.

Father, I have heard some criticize Paul for acting rashly and without divine guidance in this episode. But we must always remember that Paul had no inherent power and that the name of Jesus was no magic spell. Unless You had enabled the deliverance, it wouldn’t have happened no matter how frustrated Paul was. Even in this, You were still in command. And even though it cost suffering on the part of Paul and Silas, You ended up being glorified in the event, and Your kingdom grew. Help me always to be willing to suffer for Your name if that’s what it takes to move Your kingdom agenda forward. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 16, 2019

Acts 16:11-15 (NIV)
From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Paul and company wasted no time in getting to Macedonia, and went as directly as possible to Philippi, one of the largest cities in the district. While they waited for the Sabbath, they checked out the city and found that there was no synagogue there, which indicated that the Jewish population, if there was any at all, was very small.

Where there was no synagogue, it was the custom for any Jews in an area to gather for prayer and worship somewhere within a Sabbath-day’s journey, often along the banks of the river through town, which was centrally located and easily accessible. So, on the Sabbath, that’s where Paul and his team went.

They found a group of women there and began to talk with them. One of them, Lydia, was a gentile God-fearer. She was a dealer in purple cloth, an expensive commodity, and was originally from Thyatira, about 100 miles southeast of Troas in the province of Asia. She was worshiping by the river with members of her household, both family members and servants.

As they listened to Paul’s testimony about Jesus and his own story of salvation and transformation, Lydia and her household members believed, and Paul baptized them on the spot – the first converts in Macedonia, and a very propitious beginning.

Lydia was naturally a generous person who was devoted to God, and she had now become a member of the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus. Her heart was open to these missionaries, and she offered her home as a base of operation for them while they were in the city. They recognized this as a blessing from God and accepted the offer.

In just a few days’ time, God had confirmed to Paul and the rest that Macedonia was indeed His calling for them at that time. He had led them to open prospects and had moved them to conversion, and had even provided pleasant accommodations for them. So, they settled in and got to work.

Father, this again points out very clearly that You are at the center of all successful evangelistic efforts, and that, if we follow Your lead in everything, You will do all the heavy lifting, and will receive all the glory for the successes that come as a result. Thank You for helping me to see this truth. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 15, 2019

Acts 16:6-10 (NIV)
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul and the rest continued westward, preaching in the cities that they passed through. At one point, they decided to head due west, to go deeper into the province of Asia. But the Holy Spirit intervened and made them understand that going that way was not God’s plan for them at that time. So, they continued on the road to the northwest.

A while later, they reached a point where the road turned westward again, and there was a fork in the road that headed north into Bithynia on the south edge of the Black Sea. They thought seriously about taking the gospel to the people in the north, but again, they were warned off that route by the Spirit of Jesus. So, they continued to the west.

Finally, they arrived at Troas on the shore of the Aegean Sea. Now the were stuck. They had been pushed by the Holy Spirit further and further to the west, but all that was to their west now was water.

As they went to bed that night, they were all praying for guidance. They didn’t feel led to go back the way that they had come, but they hadn’t received instructions for the path forward either.

In the middle of the night, Paul saw the vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him to come and help them. This was the guidance they had been waiting for! Macedonia was northwest of them across the Aegean, just to the north of Greece. And by the vision, Paul knew that somewhere in Macedonia was where they were headed.

Even though it was the middle of the night, Paul woke everyone and shared the vision with them. And they all got up and started packing, intending to find a way to get to Macedonia as soon as it was light.

Paul serves to illustrate the way to follow God’s guidance. At each juncture, he didn’t reason out the best course of action. Instead, like Jesus Himself, he sought wisdom and guidance from God. Then, no matter what guidance he received, even if it seemed counterintuitive, he followed it to the letter, confident that God’s plan would be successful.

Father, this really is good instruction for us. All too often we make plans for advancing Your kingdom based on our own intellect or ideas, and then execute them on our own. We only seek You if our plans don’t seem to be working, or if we end up in trouble. Of course, after we have built our plans based on what we believe should be done or on what we want, we often ask You to bless them and to help us succeed. But You already have a plan You are pursuing. You already have a way for us to work in accomplishing that plan. Forgive me, Lord, for all the times I have pursued my own goals and plans and have put Your goals on the back burner, if I consider them at all. Forgive me for all the times I have proceeded on the basis of my own wisdom and understanding instead of waiting patiently for the guidance of Your Spirit. And help me to do better from this moment forward. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 14, 2019

Acts 16:1-5 (NIV)
He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

As Paul and Silas went through Galatia, they came back to Lystra, where Paul and Barnabas had been mistaken for Greek gods, and where Paul had been stoned outside the city (Acts 14:8-20). This time the missionaries dealt primarily with the circle of believers which Paul and Barnabas had planted, but which had grown markedly during Paul’s absence.

Among these was a Jewish believer named Eunice and her mother, Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). Eunice was married to a Greek man, a gentile, and had a son, Timothy, who had also become a devout believer. Even though Timothy’s mother was Jewish, which meant that Timothy was Jewish according to the law, He had never been circumcised. His father wouldn’t allow it. In Greek culture, the human body was lifted up and celebrated. To cut part of it off in circumcision was seen as a defilement, a marring of what was already bodily perfection.

The believers spoke well of Timothy, and Paul felt moved to take him on as a protégé, and to take him along as he and Silas continue their journey westward. Timothy was of age and made the determination to go.

Some find it odd that so soon after the Jerusalem Council, and in light of all he wrote against circumcision, Paul insisted that Timothy be circumcised before he went along. But Luke clearly tells us that it was because of the Jews who lived in the area.

In reality, Paul only spoke against circumcision for gentiles. He saw it as a reliance on works of the law for salvation. But he didn’t criticize circumcision for the Jews, because God had told His people that it was to be a sign in their flesh for all generations, basically forever (Genesis 17:12-14). If Paul had taken Timothy along uncircumcised, the Jews in the area would have been able to accuse him of being a lawbreaker, and could turn Jews across the empire against him, closing many doors for future growth of the kingdom.

At the same time, Paul delivered the Jerusalem Council’s decision to the disciples in Derbe, Lystra, and all across Galatia, much to the relief and encouragement of the gentile believers. And with this new encouragement, the Churches continue to grow strongly.

Father, Jesus warned us that we were to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV) as we take the gospel to the people around us. And this is a good example of Paul’s doing just that. There was no contradiction in his mind or heart in having Timothy circumcised. There was only a desire to obey You wholeheartedly, and to prevent problems from cropping up further down the road, which definitely would have been possible, if not likely, if he had not been diligent here. Keep my eyes and ears open, Lord, so that I can follow You in every way, even when Your way makes scant sense to those outside. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 12, 2019

Acts 15:36-41 (NIV)
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Disagreements can happen, even among Christians, although it is not good when they continue and end up breaking relationships. This event, presented openly and honestly, is not presented as an example to be followed, but merely as a reality to be noted and learned from.

The disagreement originated in John Mark’s leaving the mission team during the first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). Paul felt that Mark had already proven himself unreliable and didn’t want him to go along only to desert them again when the going got hard, as he was sure it would.

Barnabas, on the other hand, wanted to give Mark another chance. Mark was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10), and Barnabas felt a familial obligation to include the young man.

In the end, neither Paul nor Barnabas would give in. So, Barnabas took John Mark and left to encourage the Churches on the island of Cyprus that he and Paul had started on their earlier journey. Paul called on the prophet and teacher Silas (Acts 15:27, 32) to accompany him as he went north through Syria and Cilicia, the province where his hometown of Tarsus was located, on his way to the province of Galatia.

It is important to know that this rift between Paul and John Mark was not permanent. As Paul waited in chains for his first trial in Rome, a trial from which he was ultimately released, Mark was working at his side (Colossians 4:10). As he waited in prison for his second trial, after which he was executed, Paul asked Timothy to bring Mark with him when he came, “because he is useful to me in my ministry.“ (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV) Brothers and sisters in Christ may disagree, but love must ultimately rule the day, repairing broken relationships, restoring unity, and covering over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Father, thank You for this illustration and this reminder. Any time we work closely with others, the opportunity exists for conflict, unintentional hurts (love would never hurt with malice), and slights. But if we let Your love rule in our hearts, all of those can be resolved and everything restored, so that Your plan and purpose can move forward. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 10, 2019

Acts 15:30-35 (NIV)
The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

The letter from the Jerusalem leadership was one of the key moments in the expansion of the Church. If the council had sided with the Judaizers, Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism, and its outreach efforts would have been directed at Jews alone, stunting its growth, if not stopping it altogether.

But God guided the thoughts of the leadership, providing them with abundant examples and Scriptures to show clearly that the gospel was meant for a much wider group – literally the whole world. And those Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers listened and followed.

Now the people in the Antioch Church, many of whom were gentiles, got to hear that the Church leadership accepted their salvation as real, and confirmed their status as brothers and sisters in Christ. Silas, one of the two preachers/prophets who encouraged the Church, will reenter the story soon as Paul’s companion on his second missionary journey to both Jews and gentiles in the Roman Empire.

For Paul and Barnabas, as well as for the other teachers and prophets in Antioch, this whole event became an impetus to redouble their efforts in expanding the reach of the gospel in and around Antioch, and in helping those in the faith to grow in their understanding of the kingdom of God.

Father, it is fascinating to see how You kept the plan moving forward, at each step clarifying the steps necessary to grow the kingdom and knocking the roadblocks down. And I am thankful to all those leaders, including Paul and Barnabas, who listened and heard, then followed and obeyed. Lord, help me to be of like mind with them, so that Your plan can continue to move forward where I am, and so that more and more people can be brought into Your kingdom. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – July 9, 2019

Acts 15:22-29 (NIV)
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
Greetings.
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul–men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Farewell.

It was not enough for the council to simply make the decision about the ability of gentiles to be saved without circumcision and conversion to Judaism; that decision was now doctrine, certified as good to the Holy Spirit as well as to the Church leaders, and it had to be announced to the Church all over the land. Its announcement to the gentile believers would reassure them that their salvation was real. Its announcement to the Jewish believers would tell them to quit pushing the gentiles to be circumcised, and to accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The announcement was made in two ways. First, it was taken by men sent with the full authority of the Church leadership. They would deliver the decision in person to the Christians in Antioch and the surrounding area. Their word would be backed up by a letter detailing the decision of the council, including the four key things that were to be avoided: food sacrificed to idols, blood, the meat of strangled animals, and any kind of sexual immorality.

The letter also included strong support of Paul and Barnabas, and thus of their work among the gentiles. The Council knew that they had risked their lives to take the gospel to gentile areas of the empire, and referred to them as “dear friends,” which would support them against the Judaizers.

This letter would also be taken by Paul when he went back to the Churches he had planted in Galatia to reassure the gentile believers there that the leadership of the Church was backing them up, and later when he moved on to plant Churches further to the west. The word of the council carried all the authority that was necessary to put the matter to rest one and for all. However, there is strong evidence in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and in the book of Hebrews that this issue continued to crop up later.

Father, how very human it is for us to continue to hold on to our erroneous ideas and our prejudices, and to continue to allow them to influence our thoughts and our actions, even after they have been proven incorrect by Your word. Keep my heart soft, Lord, so that as You guide me, I can let go of old, incorrect ideas and prejudices and take up Your truths wholeheartedly. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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