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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

November 26: Acts 26

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Paul is arrested and has to stand trial. We discover at the end of the chapter, through Agrippa’s words in v. 32, that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Rome (i.e., “Ceasar”). The question is, why would Paul stay arrested and go through a trial if he didn’t have to? The answer seems obvious. Paul wasn't necessarily looking for a trial to defend himself; he was looking for an opportunity to share the good news about Christ with Agrippa and his household. In other words, Paul was willing to give up his freedom and convenience in order to serve the purposes of Christ.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
When it comes to choosing either my convenience or a chance to serve God’s purposes, I will go with the latter. Like Paul, I don’t want to make decisions based upon what works out best for me but based on how I can minister best to others in Jesus’ name. God, help me to see some of the obstacles I might face as opportunities to serve you today.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 24: Acts 22

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Paul is giving his defense to zealous Jews who do not believe in Jesus. Paul is sharing the story of his conversion to and calling by Christ. These Jews seem to be attentive and willing to listen, that is until v. 21. Here Paul, a Jew like the crowd hearing his case, says that Jesus has called him to bring good news to the Gentiles (Non-Jews). The Jews “listened to him up to this statement” (v. 22) and then they wanted to kill him. These Jews didn’t necessarily hate Paul, but they did hate those who weren’t Jewish. Paul put his neck on the line by following Jesus’ call to go out and bring the good news of Christ’s love to the Gentiles.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
These passage challenges me in two ways. First, I wonder if I am sometimes like those Jews who hated Non-Jewish Gentiles. I’m challenged to consider if there is any person or group that I might try to keep good news from. Second, I’m challenged by Paul’s commitment to not draw lines in the sand when it comes to whom he can share the good news with. Would I risk my neck with the religious crowd in order to reach out to those far from Christ? Sometimes the religious crowd today can be as hostile as the Jews were in Paul’s day. I don’t mean for this to sound arrogant, but at this point in my journey I would rather offend religious people than to not reach out with Christ’s love to all people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 20: Acts 18

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Several times in this chapter Luke, the author of Acts, highlights the importance of knowing the Scriptures in order to proclaim from them that Jesus is the Christ (see vv.5, 24, 28). It was very important for God’s people to know, live, and teach the Scriptures. The word of God is indispensable to knowing God and making him known to others.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
SWC is trying to imitate Paul and Apollos by also becoming “mighty in the Scriptures” (v. 24). We are doing this by reading and applying the book of Acts. For so many people reading the Bible is a real challenge. For me the challenge is really an issue of time. What makes reading, knowing and living Scripture a challenge for you? Reply and let me know.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19: Acts 17

The following thoughts and reflections are from a friend named John who has been attending SWC for the past few months.

This reading really moved me when I read it on multiple levels. First, I am moved by the fact that although there was a plurality of religion in the Athenian society, Paul did not pretend that he was going to talk about one of the many gods which would probably have been readily accepted by the Athenians, he instead stopped and explained to them his understanding of the one God.

Secondly, His explanation of God is breathtaking... Think about it, he states that God not only made man and everything on heaven and Earth but is somehow in everything. Not only did he do all this but Paul also explains what man's purpose is which is exceptional. Paul explains that we are put on this Earth so we might, "27 seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'" This means to me that God has placed us here with a longing to be near him and to know him more intimately. Which is probably the thing in this passage that warmed my heart because I can relate with this strong intense desire to search and know my God. Not only is this a desire of mine but I feel like that is what God wants me to do to know him on an intimate basis and that makes me feel extremely grateful to be on the path that my God wans me on.

These are the things that stuck out the most for me...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November 18: Acts 16

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
I was particularly moved this morning by verses 25 and following. The jailer knew how important a prisoner Paul was and when Paul and Silas were set free by God, the jailer was going to fall on his sword and kill himself. The jailer would rather end his life than deal with the consequences of allowing Paul to escape jail. But Paul stopped the jailer from harming himself and actually stayed in the jail, even though he could have escaped. It seems that Paul’s compassion for the jailer’s situation was influential in the jailer becoming a Christ follower. Compassion for those who have set themselves up as our enemies can have a profound impact.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
Like Paul, I want to have enough compassion for my enemies that I put their need for God before my need for comfort. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “it’s easy to love those who love, but love your enemies (paraphrase).” Today I want to allow compassion instead of anger to rule in my heart toward those who may set themselves up as my enemy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 17: Acts 15

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
There are several things in this chapter that strike me as very important. For one thing, we must learn from the early church not to make it too difficult for new believers to come to Christ in faith. Some of the more legalistic Christians were drawing lines in the sand that Jesus didn’t draw. These lines were a needless obstacle to Gentiles converting to Christ.

The other thing that strikes me about this chapter is the process of decision making that the early church used. When trying to decide what was essential for Gentiles converting to Christ, the early church used several tools in the decision making process. They consulted Scripture, each other, and their experiences.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
First, I will be careful not to overburden new believers with lines in the sand that Christ never drew. Second, when making decisions I will prayerfully reflect upon Scripture, consult with wise friends, and consider my experiences over the years to guide me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 15: Acts 13

The following devotional reflections are from Patrick Eby, SWC board member.

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Today’s chapter begins the story of Paul’s missionary adventure which will be the focus of the rest of the book. First, we learn of the support Paul and Barnabas received from the Church at Antioch, a church which sought the direction of the Lord through prayer and fasting. This chapter also outlines Paul’s normal method of sharing in the cities. He would first go to the Jewish synagogue, and then take the message to the rest of the city. Many times and in many different ways he will be rejected and face opposition. The main point of the chapter seems to be his sharing the story of God’s actions. His story is very similar to Peter’s (Chap. 2) and Steven’s (Chap 7). Beginning with the Old Testament he recounted the work of God, and then he shared the message of Jesus. The chapter ends reminding us that the plan of God was always to bring light to the whole world.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
Today I will reflect on my part in making the gospel known to the whole world. What is my part? How will I be a light to those around me? Will I pray and fast for God to send someone like the people at Antioch? Will I help and encourage others to share their story? Will I go to a mission field either near or far and share the good news of the Gospel?

Lord, today I ask that you would make me sensitive to the role you have for me. Help me to be a light in a world so filled with darkness. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Novmber 14: Acts 12

The following devotional thoughts are from Lynda Keefer, Prayer and Care Pastor at SWC.

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Peter’s miraculous release from prison is a reminder to me that God wants us to turn to Him and rely on Him instead of on our own strength or resources. At the beginning of the chapter, Peter is in chains, ready to stand trial for His faith, and what His friends are doing on his behalf is “praying earnestly” for Him. They are going to the One who has the power to change the situation in ways they can’t even imagine. And how surprised they are with the way God answers! Peter thinks it’s a dream and the other believers do too (vs. 9, 15). But God has a way of working that is often better than we even imagine and He wants us to come to Him and seek Him always.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
Today, I will examine how often I face problems and tackle issues without ever praying about them. I will ask Him to help me seek Him in all things and trust Him instead of my own abilities. When my friends or people that I meet are facing seemingly hopeless circumstances, I will remember that one of the most awesome things I can do for them is pray earnestly on their behalf. And I will look for the ways that He answers, even if it’s unexpected, and be thankful.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 13: Acts 11

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: This chapter opens with Jewish Christians taking issue with Peter for eating in the home of a Gentile named Cornelius (vv.1-3). Devout Jews don’t eat with Gentiles, and yet Peter did. It was important for Peter to build a friendship with Cornelius to share the good news, even if it meant Peter had to put his religious traditions aside. Peter recognized that, while many traditions are good they should not prevent us from loving God and loving people. I have been in the church long enough to see how sometimes Christians are better at drawing traditional lines in the sand than we are at building bridges to people. The challenge for Peter and those first Christians is the same as the challenge facing us: How do we maintain both our personal holiness and our loving embrace of people?

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: I’m at a place in my Christian development in which I really don’t care what “religious” folks think of me if I reach out to those who may be on the religious community’s hit list. While I don’t want to offend anyone, I would rather offend religious traditionalists than clueless seekers. I will continue to challenge myself and the SWC to grow deeper in our holiness, not a holiness that draws us into a huddle away from people but a holiness that actually moves us out toward all people in love.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November 12: Acts 10

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: This is one of my favorite chapters in Acts because it highlights the power of God to transform people and orchestrate circumstances. Peter was taught all of his life not to associate with non-Jews, which meant not letting them in your home or going to their home if you were a Jew. Yet, in this chapter Peter invites non-Jews, called Gentiles, into his home and actually goes into the home of a Gentile to share the good news about Christ. A relationship with God will inevitably cause us to love people we have had a tendency not to love and to go places we would never dare to go before.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: Because of my love for Christ, my love for all people is not an option. In other words, my allegiance to Christ mandates my love for all people, Democrats and Republicans, black, white and brown people, sinner or saint. Today, I will, like Peter, refuse to withhold love from anyone and I will listen for the Spirit’s leading to go wherever he leads me to go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 11: Acts 9

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: The Christians were justifiably cautious of this Paul who was once Saul, the persecutor of Christians. They were “afraid of him, not believing he was a disciple” (v. 26). It is impossible to really love and include people if we are afraid of them, which is why John writes “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John). There was, however, one Christ follower who went out of his way to reach out to Paul and embrace him. “Barnabas took hold of [Paul]” (v. 27) when no one else would. I wonder where Paul would be without a brother like Barnabas who would not follow the majority in rejecting Paul. Barnabas wasn’t driven by fear of what Paul might do to him if his conversion to Christ was fake. He wasn’t fearful of what people might think of him if he reached out to Paul. His love for God and his loving grace toward Paul took him beyond his fears.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: Today I will look for opportunities to embrace people who may need encouragement, people whom I may fear or may not fully “get.” I want the Spirit of God to lead me, like he did Phillip in the last chapter, to people who need an encouraging friend in Christ to “take hold of them” in friendship like Barnabas did for Paul.

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10: Acts 8

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: In verses 18-21, Simon the magician tries to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter. Simon sees that the Apostles give new believers the Spirit by laying their hands on them in prayer. Simon wants this power as well; he wants to be able to give people the Holy Spirit by laying his hands on them. He made lots of money with his magic and it’s clear he wants to sell the Holy Spirit to those who want it. He wanted a good thing (the power of God) for the wrong reasons (to get rich). He wanted the power of God’s Spirit not to build God’s kingdom but to build his own by filling his pockets with cash. Peter rebukes Simon with “your heart is not right before God” (v. 21).

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: I can’t help but think of the many preachers out there today who try to market the power of God to people. These guys travel all over the world promising people the power of God if the price is right. While I have never sold the good news for money, there are times when I’m tempted to use the power of God for the wrong reasons, selfish reasons. Today, while I’m serving God, I will invite the Spirit to confront me with the question “Len, why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you using the power I give you to build your kingdom or Mine?”

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 9: Acts 7

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: In 7:54-8:1 we are introduced to a guy named Saul who happens to be cheering on those who are stoning Stephen to death because of the latter’s faithful witness for Christ. Stephen’s willingness to live and even die by being Christ’s witness seems to have had a huge impact upon Saul. For this persecutor of Christians named Saul would eventually convert to Christ and be renamed Paul-the Apostle Paul! Stephen could not have foreseen the impact of his faithful witness for Christ upon Saul.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: There are people watching my life, wondering if Jesus and my relationship with Him are really real. Saul certainly saw the genuineness and passion of Stephen’s relationship with Christ. Would Saul see that in me? Today I am going to live in such a way that my witness for Christ is so real and passionate that it has impact for Christ. I want to, like Stephen, follow Christ in a way that has impact upon those who observe my following.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

November 8: Acts 6

I asked Brad Hockman, our Men's Ministry Director, to share today's 28 Day Bible Living Devotional. Here are his reflections...

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Although we read that Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews in verse 1 threatening to destroy the church's unity, this story is not about hostility and contradiction in the early church. Rather, it is an excellent example of how to solve disagreements and tensions. Unfortunately, these petty disagreements sometimes cause major divisions in churches.

This reorganization of labor enables the apostles' to honor their commitment to their calling: to “give our attention prayer and ministry of the Word” as indicated in verse 4. It also reveals their commitment to unity and spiritual growth. God has given us all the free gifts of faith, salvation and forgiveness. He has also given us unique spiritual gifts, which are to be used to serve the unity of Christ and the growth of His kingdom.

Having weathered the storm, verse 7 states “the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Today, we need this same conviction. Understanding and living according to the Word of God, spreading the message of salvation and praying constantly are essential for growth. "Be fruitful and multiply."

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
Verse 4 really grabbed my attention. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (NKJV). This pretty much covers all previous postings for Act 1-5. I will share the gospel and love locally and to the ends of the earth. I will put God first. I will pray that God continues to make the necessary changes in my life. I will fearlessly witness for Christ! I will pray that God improves me and uses me. I will be totally committed to helping those in need wholeheartedly! I will pray, witness, serve and give continuously. I am also praying that all of us will be open to using our spiritual gifts!

Friday, November 7, 2008

November 7: Acts 5

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter:
Ananias and Sapphira? Now here's a scriptural account that has always puzzled me. While there are lots of questions raised in my mind after this reading, one thing that strikes me is that Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be recognized as being sacrificially generous, wanted to be part of the mission and the movement of the church, without actually paying the price. Their story stands in contrast to the stories of others in the early church who did pay the price--for example, those believers who shared all their possessions, and the apostles who were arrested and imprisoned yet still continued to speak boldly about Christ. Oddly enough, Ananias and Sapphira tried what they thought was a less difficult way, and ended up losing their lives. God is saying to me, there is no shortcut. To follow Christ, I must follow Him in the way of sacrifice, not with a half-hearted commitment, but with my all.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me:
I think the issue of needy, hungry people around the world demands my sacrificial commitment, not my half-hearted commitment. I can no longer pretend that giving out of my abundance makes me a generous person. While I have plenty and others starve, I should not be content. That is a shortcut I can no longer afford to try to take if I am to be part of God's mission. Today, I am going to examine how I spend my money and reconsider the amount of my contribution to the Dollar Per Day Drive at SWC. I am going to pray that God would continue to challenge me in this area and make me a truly generous person.
(Posted by Lynda Keefer, Prayer & Care Pastor)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November 6: Acts 4

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: Peter’s boldness in the beginning of the chapter is pretty amazing. Don’t forget that this is the same Peter who, in the gospels, denied that he even knew Christ three times because he feared what people would think of him and do to him if he pledged allegiance to Jesus. But after seeing Jesus rise from the dead Peter was transformed from a coward to a man of great courage. Standing before the Jewish rulers, many of whom didn’t even believe in the possibility of resurrection, Peter confidently asserted that God raised Jesus from the dead (v.10) and said “there is no other name (Jesus) under heaven by which we must be saved” (v.12). Peter was not cryptic but quite clear and confident in sharing his faith in Christ.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: Although I believe that our actions must be the “lead card” in our witness for Christ to the world, at some point we must be willing to make clear that Jesus is the only name “under heaven by which we must be saved” (v.12). At some point and in our own words our conviction that only Jesus, and not our spirituality, goodness, or religiosity, must be explicitly shared with love among those to whom we are seeking to bring good news. Today I will look for a chance to share Peter’s claim with someone in a manner that is lovingly explicit but not arrogant.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 5: Acts 3

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: I was struck by verses 3-6 this morning. The man crippled from birth saw Peter and John and asked them for money. Obviously the man needed money in order to eat and survive. But what struck me is that although he was asking for something important, it was far less significant than what Peter and John were willing to give him. The crippled man wanted money but God wanted to heal him. Perhaps the man had given up hope in something as extraordinary as healing and instead sought the lesser gift of money. It seemed that hopelessness caused him to settle for less than God’s best for him.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: I can be like the crippled man in so many ways. So often I become impatient and then hopelessness follows close on the heels of my impatience. God is challenging me today to pray for the plan A (healing) and not just the plan B (money), to pray for the surgery (healing) and not just the band-aid (money). Today I will try my best to pray not just for the surface needs in my life or in the lives of those I love and lead; instead I will pray for the deeper, bigger, more significant needs that only God can meet. Today I’m not going to ask for something less than what God wants to do in me, through me, and perhaps even for me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 4: Acts 2

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: In verse 43 we read about those first followers of Christ, “everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” So many churches can lose this sense of “awe” in the power and love of God. Once we lose this, we begin to gravitate toward lifeless living. We begin to think that everything depends upon us because we forget that God can do anything. The primary reason why so many people were converting to Christ back then is, I believe, because His followers maintained a deep sense of awe in the God they worshiped and served.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: I will maintain my sense of awe in the power of God. If I’m on the lookout, I will see the wonderful power and love of God in the meetings I have today, in the tasks I do, in the beauty of nature, in the friends and family members I’ll interact with, and in events throughout the world. I will not only look for God’s majesty, I will praise him when I see it through prayer and song (if I’m alone, since I don’t really want to frighten anyone). I will also share with others how God has “awed” me today!

Monday, November 3, 2008

November 3: Acts 1

Here is what God is saying to me through this chapter: Two times in this chapter the word “witness” is used. Jesus said to his followers “you will be my witnesses” (v.8) and then later in the chapter the disciples talk about the importance of replacing Judas with someone who can “become a witness…of His resurrection” (v.22). The Greek word for “witness” is “martyr.” We are to give our lives by dying to self (martyr) and living in such a way that we become a proof that Jesus Christ is alive and limitless.

Here is what I will do today because of what God is saying to me: Although I can’t be a literal, eye-witness to the resurrection of Christ, I can still be a witness that he lives today. I can do this through my life and through my words. Today, I will look for opportunities to love and care for people extravagantly, selflessly. This kind of love goes a long way in proving that Jesus is still alive because he has changed my heart. If I have a chance to use my words as a witness to the reality that Christ is alive, I will make the most of it.