Monthly Archives: August 2019

Today’s Scripture – August 28, 2019

Acts 19:1-7 (NIV)
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

Paul returned to Ephesus, catching up again with Aquila and Priscilla. While he was working with the Church there, he found a dozen men whom he sensed had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

It turned out that these were converts from Apollos’ early ministry. They had received salvation by believing in Jesus, but since Apollos didn’t know about the Holy Spirit fully, he couldn’t teach it to his disciples (Acts 18:25). So, they had only been baptized with John’s baptism for repentance. That was enough to enter the kingdom, but not enough to be able to receive all that the kingdom offers and to live in it powerfully and successfully.

The good news is that the fix was simple: the men were rebaptized, this time in the name of Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. As a clear sign of the difference, the men were enabled to speak in other languages and to prophecy, to speak God’s words clearly and boldly.

Often in the early Church, as well as in the church since then, steps get missed with people, so holes exist in their knowledge or understanding. But, as Paul understood, the solution is not to shake one’s head or get frustrated. The solution is simply to back up, give the information, fill the hole, and then we will be able to move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Father, thank You for this insight. All too often we decry the state of the Church today and the immaturity of our people, but we don’t want to stop our forward movement or reschedule our plans in order to bring everyone up to speed. But it is clear from this that (1) the fixes will take less time than we fear, and (2) the results will enable us to move forward much more rapidly on the whole. Help us to move forward with this model, so that we can all move forward together. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 21, 2019

Acts 11:1-3 (NIV)
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Outreach to the gentiles was a new phase of God’s plan for the gospel. It was a next step that Peter himself wasn’t ready for until God showed him a vision and gave him a direct command. But there were many more for whom this new direction seemed like a huge problem.

In many of the Christian’s minds, Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah to fulfill Jewish law and prophecies and to save Jewish people. They didn’t have any problem with the gentiles becoming Christians as long as they became Jews first. This philosophy ran deep in the hearts of many of those first disciples. Paul had a lot of trouble with them later on. He called them Judaizers and mutilators of the flesh, because they taught that only the circumcised could receive salvation through Jesus.

Now they heard the glad news that the gentiles had received the gospel, had believed in Jesus, and had been saved. But these older believers didn’t receive it as glad news at all! It didn’t conform to their theology, so they believed that it was a heresy that had to be confronted and rebuked. So, when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, they took him to task for associating with gentiles, entering their homes and eating their defiled food.

But those believers were listening to their own thoughts on the matter instead of seeking God and His opinion. Their theology, often contaminated with a touch of Pharisaism, was rigid, bound by their own interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures, and it did not include the parts of the prophets that clearly showed that God’s ultimate plan was to reach out and bring the gentiles into the fold of His people as well.

Father, it is true that You will never give a new revelation that contradicts the old. For example, You will never tell a prophet that they should proclaim that adultery is now okay. You are incredibly consistent throughout Your revelation. But all too often we can set our theology in stone and stop learning from Your word. As You point out, Your plan for the gentiles is woven all through the Old Testament, as the Church later realized. (Examples are Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; Isaiah 11:10, 49:6; Hosea 1:10; Amos 9:11-12, and many others.) You knew even then that many of those nay-sayers would respond well when they heard Peter’s story, and that the gospel through Paul would reach multiplied thousands of the gentiles as he and his ministry partners obeyed Your call for the expansion of Your work. Help us all to keep our eyes open for new light from Your word, so that we never end up opposing Your plans, but always work with You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 26, 2019

Acts 18:23-28 (NIV)
After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Paul wasn’t long back in Antioch before he had a strong desire to go back to the churches in Galatia and Phrygia. He heard that some in the Galatian churches had fallen prey to the Judaizers and had turned away from faith Jesus back to legalism. He had written a letter to the Galatians about this, but he wanted to follow up with them in person. So, he gathered a group and left.

Apollos was an Egyptian Greek from the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria on the Egyptian coast. As Luke pointed out, he was fervent in his beliefs, but had received only partial training in the way of the Lord, knowing only John’s baptism for repentance, and being ignorant of the baptism into Jesus that opened the door to the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Like Paul, Apollos’ strategy was to speak in the synagogues to those who knew the Scripture, arguing that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. His logic was sound, but he lacked the power of the Holy Spirit, a fact quickly recognized by Aquila and Priscilla.

Rather than write Apollos off, as many have a tendency to do when they see an ineffective preacher, Aquila and Priscilla took him home with them and instructed him further in the way of the Lord and the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The difference after being filled with the Holy Spirit was profound. And the Spirt put into his heart a desire to take the gospel to Achaia, where he had a powerful and successful evangelistic ministry among the Jews.

Father, it is amazing how many powerful preachers, including Wesley and Moody, had someone in their lives who came alongside them in the midst of their ministry and explained the way of God more accurately, resulting in a transformation from a human-centered, human-empowered ministry to a Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit-empowered ministry that transformed cities and whole nations. Lord, we still need that more accurate way in our churches today. We still need our people to not just do the work of the Church, but to be genuinely Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered, so that we can do the work of the Kingdom powerfully and effectively. Oh Lord, make it so! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 22, 2019

Acts 18:18-22 (NIV)
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.

Paul didn’t let the mob deter him. Jesus had told him to stay in Corinth and work, so even after the incident with Gallio he stayed and worked until he was told to move on. When he finally did leave Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla left with him. In Corinth he was leaving behind a strong Church with elders leading the rest.

Luke didn’t detail the vow that Paul had made, but it was not uncommon for Jewish men (even Jewish Christians) to take the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:2-21, Acts 21:20-24) either as a sign of devotion or as an extra push for a need that they were praying for.

In the vow, a person refrained from alcohol, from eating or drinking anything made with grapes (including wine and raisins) or from touching a dead body. They also let their hair grow without cutting or trimming it. At the end of the decided-upon period, they shaved their heads, and then burned the hair on the altar along with a ritual-ending sacrifice.

On the way home, Paul stopped at Ephesus on the southwest coast of the province of Asia. As usual, he went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews with some success. He felt a pressing need to get back to Antioch, so after his initial efforts, and after setting up a Church in the city, he headed east, leaving Aquila and Priscilla to continue the work there.

Father, everywhere Paul went, he was on duty, ready to share the good news, even if he was only in town for a short time. And he was powerfully efficient in getting churches started so that the work could continue even after he was gone. That’s not a bad mindset for us to have, even those of us who are settled in a particular location. We can’t allow ourselves to settle into a pattern of just “doing Church” but must always be looking for the opportunities to expand the work. Thank You for this clear model for us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 20, 2019

Acts 18:12-17 (NIV)
While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” So he had them ejected from the court. Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

It took a year and a half for the Jewish leaders to reach the boiling point. They had watched as the numbers in their synagogue services had dwindled, and they had heard about Paul’s followers (actually followers of Jesus) continuing to expand into every sector of the city. Finally, they had had enough!

Rather than take the law into their own hands and simply form a mob to assassinate Paul, they took hold of him and took him by force to Gallio, the proconsul. There they charged him with heresy, successfully persuading the people of the city to worship the Jewish God in ways contrary to the law of Moses.

Although those charges were true insofar as Paul was teaching the triune nature of God and teaching people to worship Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior and the Lord, much to everyone’s surprise, Gallio refused to try the case or even to hear the charges. His job was not to get involved in religious disputes or arguments, especially those involving the foreign religion of the Jews, but to deal with serious violations of Roman law, which, as far as he could see, this wasn’t. So, he told them to deal with the matter themselves.

Paul simply walked away, but the crowd was incensed. They were left with no legal remedy and no ability to punish Paul under Jewish law that would not be a crime against Roman law. In their frustration, they turned on poor Sosthenes, the current ruler of the synagogue and beat him mercilessly while Gallio looked on impassively.

Father, it was so common that when people saw others turning to Jesus in huge numbers and away from them, rather than check out the truth that was drawing them and joining in, they moved into an offensive mode, guarding their turf even to the point of violence. And it’s not that different today. In places where the Church is moving forward, it is not uncommon to see other religions or even governments go on the offense to try to take it out. As the early disciples prayed, Lord, so I pray now: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30 NIV)

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Today’s Scripture – August 19, 2019

Acts 18:7-11 (NIV)
Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Paul was right in the center of God’s will working in Corinth. He had good success, converting both Gentiles and Jews, including Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his whole household, both family and servants. And his success was not limited just to those who gathered in the synagogue. As in Athens, he preached the good news of the kingdom even in the marketplaces.

But there was strong opposition from the Jews who had rejected Jesus, which made Paul a bit nervous. That’s entirely understandable. Paul had been whipped, beaten, ridden out of town on a rail, and even stoned over the course of his two mission trips. He was no masochist who enjoyed suffering. He would go through suffering if, and only if, it was unavoidable or would help to move the kingdom forward.

To encourage him in the midst of his concern, Jesus appeared to him in a vision. His message was short, direct, and simple: Paul needed to keep speaking, keep pushing the message of the kingdom forward, and not be silent. Jesus would be with him and would protect him. The harvest in the city was plentiful and was waiting for Paul to reap it.

Paul took the message immediately to heart. He moved forward boldly, preaching to and teaching the people of the city about Jesus and the kingdom of God, forming those who believed into a strong Church, and raising up and training leaders, in a ministry to Corinth which lasted for a year and a half.

Father, it is comforting to realize that even Paul needed a word of encouragement from time to time, and that when he needed one, You provided it. But it is also challenging to see that, once he had that word of confirmation and encouragement, he moved forward with passion and power into the harvest and worked consistently for days, weeks, and even years. Help me to have that same passion to do all that You have called me to do, every day, for as long as You call me to do it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 15, 2019

Acts 18:1-6 (NIV)
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

After Paul finished his work in Athens and got the Church there off to a solid start, he headed west to the metropolitan city of Corinth, where he would stay for a year and a half (18:11). Corinth was known as a wicked city. In fact, the Greek word “to Corinthianize” carried the meaning of “to make morally corrupt.”

Very soon after he arrived in the city, he met the tentmakers/leather workers Aquila and Priscilla. Paul was also a tentmaker, so they joined forces and worked together.

Aquila and Priscilla were Jews, exiled from Rome by the emperor Claudius in AD 49. Even though Luke does not chronicle Paul’s sharing the gospel with them or their conversion, by 18:18 they have both become travelers with Paul, and by 18:26 they have become teachers of “the way of God” to Apollos. This is not surprising. Anyone who spent any time at all with Paul heard the gospel in all its glory from his lips very quickly. And both Aquila and Priscilla were intelligent people who were versed in the Scriptures, saw the truth, and surrendered themselves to Jesus right away.

Paul followed his normal approach in Corinth, sharing the gospel in the synagogues for several weeks in a row among both Jews and Greek God-fearers, and gaining a harvest among them. But when the leaders became jealous of his success and started to abuse him, he shook out his clothes and walked away, vowing to continue to take the gospel to the gentiles instead.

Father, this makes me look at myself and realize that many people hang out in my vicinity all the time, but I rarely share the gospel with any of them. How many opportunities have I missed? How many people are living in the kingdom of darkness instead of in the kingdom of light simply because I haven’t focused on sharing the gospel with the people around me? Help me to do better, Lord. Open my eyes so that I can clearly see the harvest that is waiting all around me today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 14, 2019

Acts 17:30-34 (NIV)
“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Paul concluded his initial gospel presentation to the Areopagus with a plea. In the past, God had overlooked the idolatry of the pagans because they didn’t know anything else. It was all they had been taught from the cradle. That doesn’t mean that He had ignored their violations of His moral laws which He had engraved in their consciences. But He had not counted their idolatry as a sin.

But now the kingdom of God had been established in the world, and its borders were being expanded into every area where the gospel was being proclaimed. Now it had come as far as Athens, and every one of those in the Areopagus were hearing it clearly. From that point forward, each of them would be liable at the judgment if they rejected Jesus and chose to continue in their idolatry.

The seal of the gospel, the event which gave it absolute credibility, was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Anyone could claim that they were dying to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity. But when Jesus rose on the third day, it was proof positive of the reality of His claims.

Some, of course, scoffed at the very idea of a resurrection. But some believed on the spot, both men and women, and they formed the core of a Church in the city. Others were on the fence but were open to the possibility that Paul was legitimate and wanted him to come and speak again so that they could learn more.

Father, the seeds of the gospel had been spread liberally in this group and had found prepared soil in several hearts where it immediately took root and bore fruit for eternal life. Paul never had to have everyone in a group receive Jesus in order to feel successful. He knew up front that some would believe right away, and he focused his message on them. He knew others needed more time, prayer and information, and he persevered with them. And still others were closed and might always remain closed. He didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about those but continue to share when he was around them. It’s the same today. We still have all three kinds of people, and can learn from this how to most effectively work with You in all of them to bring them into the kingdom. Thank You for Paul’s model for us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 13, 2019

Acts 17:22-29 (NIV)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill.”

Paul realized that the group he was speaking to, despite their pretentions of intellectual superiority, were actually ignorant of the true God, of the true history of the world and of God’s revelation to humanity through it. Paul had been appalled at the multitude of altars and idols in the city, but he had studied them to find an opening rather than merely turning away from them.
One altar had intrigued him because it was an altar “to the unknown god”. In addition to the many Olympian gods and goddesses who had temples and altars in the city, this altar was intended to ensure that any unknown god or goddess did not get offended and wreak havoc on the city. Paul used this altar as a launch pad for his presentation because he was truly bringing them information about the true God, a God that they had long ago lost any knowledge of.
Paul began at the beginning. The unknown God was the one who had created everyone and everything at the beginning of time. This God was vastly different from the Greek gods, who were really just humans drawn large, with faults, and shortcoming, and even temper tantrums, just like people. They were not omnipotent, just very powerful, and they could only be in one place at a time. In contrast, the true God created everything and fills everything continually. He has no form that can be represented in wood stone, or precious metals, and His presence cannot be contained in a shrine or temple. He is entirely self-sufficient and is therefore not dependent on the offerings of food and drink brought by His devotees.
This God, unknown to the Greek intellectuals, but well-known by Paul, had created all nations from a single man, Noah, the ninth descendant of the single couple from whom all humanity had descended. And, after the tower of Babel, in His sovereign will God had determined where every subsequent branch of humanity would live.
The true God’s presence so permeated His creation that it could be truly said that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” as some of the Greek’s past poets had intuited and recorded. Thus, rather than receiving leftovers of the Greek’s worship, after they had worshiped the gods that they could identify by name, this God, the true God, was well-deserving of their primary, their only worship.

Father, Paul wasn’t done yet, but he had started at the beginning and had laid a solid groundwork for the gospel which was to come. I have heard many teachers talking about how Paul’s technique of starting where His listeners were, is a technique that we should all emulate. And I agree. But it strikes me that, in order to get there, Paul had to care enough about the people he had targeted to not assume that he knew where they were, but to really get down and look, and listen, and pray until he truly knew. Then he could reach out effectively. Help me, Lord, to care that much about the people all around me who need You today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 12, 2019

Acts 17:16-21 (NIV)
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul’s response to the idols and altars that he found in Athens was to go first to the synagogue to persuade the Jews and God-fearers that Jesus was the Messiah. That was the low-hanging fruit in the city, and he had some success with them.

But he also went into the marketplace every day and shared the good news with those who were there. These people were fresh ground for the gospel, so Paul had to modify his approach. He couldn’t use the Jewish Scriptures as a foundation, because the vast majority of these people had no knowledge of them.

Instead, Paul began by simply sharing the story of Jesus, His ministry and miracles, as well as His death and resurrection. This caught the interest of some of his hearers, mostly because what he was telling them was new and interesting. As Luke points out in verse 21, philosophy was the hot topic among the people in Athens, and everyone was interested in hearing and discussing the latest ideas.

A group of intellectuals, calling themselves “the Areopagus” (Mars Hill) after the place where they met near the Acropolis, invited Paul to address their meeting, and Paul jumped at the chance. It is one thing to share the gospel with the people on the street uninvited. But he was being invited to share his message with this group.

Paul knew that the initial framework for his hearers would be philosophical, mind-centered instead of heart-centered. But he trusted that God would find a way to move the gospel forward into their hearts and create fertile ground where the seeds of eternal life would be able to take root and grow.

Father, it is humbling to see Paul’s passion for the lost, a passion that moved him intentionally out of his comfort zone and into the middle of a difficult mission field. He doesn’t seem to see people as Greeks or the Jews, but simply a people who need the gospel. He knew that some were close to the truth, and he definitely worked there. He also knew that some were far away, but he worked there as well, knowing that every contact would have the potential to loosen the soil and make room for the seeds he was sowing. He knew that eventually at least some of them would be able to come into Your kingdom, so he was eager to move the process forward every day. What a great role model for me! 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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