November 20 — The Hard Route — Acts 12-14. Paul’s first missionary journey was a difficult one. He and Barnabas were driven out of Antioch Pisidia (13:50), had to flee Iconium to avoid being stoned (14:5), was stoned and left for dead in Lystra (14:19), and then fled to Derbe. They had traveled about 250 miles by land. Derbe was only about 90 miles from Paul’s coastal hometown of Tarsus, where they could have caught a ship to their starting place in Antioch Syria, but instead, they retraced their long, hard, and dangerous route in order to strengthen the new believers (14:23). It was a choice of love over comfort. It reminds me of John W. Peterson’s song:
|It’s not an easy road We are trav’ling to heaven, For many are the thorns on the way;It’s not an easy road, But the Savior is with us, His presence gives us joy ev’ry day. so I may praise him|
November 21 — Reaching Out God’s Way — Acts 15-16. Acts begins taking on a more international flavor at this point. Timothy, whose father was a Gentile (16:1), joined Paul and Silas. God directed them negatively (saying, “No!”) in their attempts to take the gospel SW into Asia (16:6) or north into Bithynia (16:7). Then God’s positive direction came at Troas through a vision for them to proceed into European Macedonia (the northeast part of modern Greece). The “we” in 16:10 is the indication that Luke, the author of Acts, first joined the troop of Paul and Silas before they left Troas. Finally, Paul’s first recorded encounter in Philippi was with Lydia, a woman from Thyatira, a city in the province of Asia, where God had prevented them from ministering earlier. God sees the big picture and we don’t. He sometimes says “No” to what we want, because in His plan, He wants to accomplish something better. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
November 22 — Mass Confusion — Acts 17-19. Apollos was a gifted and educated man, but although he believed that Jesus was the Christ, he lacked knowledge and experience because “he knew only the baptism of John” (18:25). He was ignorantly confused but was filled in by Priscilla and Aquila regarding the full message of Jesus, and was baptized again. Later, Paul encountered twelve men who had also experienced John’s baptism but were not even aware of the Holy Spirit (19:2-3), i.e., the availability of His indwelling presence. They, also, were confused but their lives were changed as the Spirit came to indwell them. The stubborn demon confronted by the sons of Sceva was also apparently confused saying, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (19:15). Then there was the muddle in the Ephesian theater where “the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (19:32). That near-riot was instigated by an idol-making silversmith whose livelihood was being threatened (19:24). What a contrast that was to a group of new believers, a few verses earlier (19:19), who burned their books of magic arts totaling 50,000 pieces of silver, about $6 million today! Thankfully, we have the clear teaching of the New Testament now to minimize confusion.
November 23 — Hard-Nosed Softy — Acts 20-21. Many people consider the Apostle Paul to be an exacting, stern, no-nonsense kind of guy. Well, he was firm when it came to the truth of God’s Word and obedience to His commands but he was also both loved and loving. We get a snapshot of this when Paul said farewell to the elders from the Ephesian church. After they knelt and prayed together on the beach, “there was much weeping on the part of all” (20:37). Paul was also one of those who wept because he loved them and was concerned about them. The elders loved Paul, too, and “embraced … and kissed him” (20:37). It is not a contradiction to be both firm in your commitment to God and His Word and to be soft and loving toward others.
November 24 — Fighting Words — Acts 22-25. The mob who tried to kill Paul in the Jerusalem temple area listened to his appeal regarding his conversion until he said that Jesus was sending him “far away to the Gentiles” (22:21). The next verse says that “Up to this word they listened” (22:22). What word? “Gentiles.” They were more tolerant of Paul’s statements about Jesus being “the Righteous One” (22:14) than they were of his reaching out to the Gentiles. That sounds like rank prejudice to me. Later, before the Sanhedrin, Paul issued another fighting word: “resurrection” (23:6), causing a raucous division between those on both sides of belief about that word. Still later, Paul delivered three more significant words that stimulated not a fight, but the alarm of conviction from Felix. Those words were “righteousness … self-control … judgment” (24:25). Some words are significant and trigger prejudice, controversy, and conviction. Today, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16).
November 25 — Reactions — Acts 26-28. There were a couple of interesting reactions to Paul’s messages I noticed in our reading for today. One was from Festus as Paul was witnessing to him and King Agrippa, when he shouted that Paul was out of his mind. I love Paul’s response: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words” (26:25). When we speak to others about Christ, we should make sure that our words are “true,” without exaggeration or manipulation, and “rational,” without including meaningless, emotional froth. The second reaction I noticed was that of being ignored. Paul had warned the centurion, captain, and owner not to leave the marginal Crete port of Fair Havens or the ship would be lost (27:10), but his advice was disregarded, resulting in the subsequent loss of the ship. Just before they were shipwrecked on Malta, Paul said, “Men, you should have listened to me” (27:21). It sounds arrogant but it was a fact. He had been “speaking true and rational words.” We should continue to present the Good News clearly and accurately, even when many think we are out of our minds or simply ignore us.
November 26 — Romans — Rom. 1-3. Paul’s letter to the Romans was probably written from Corinth on his third missionary journey about 57 AD, 10 years before his martyrdom in the city of Rome. It is a different kind of letter—long and full of compact theological reasoning—although it doesn’t attempt to describe all of Paul’s theology. A very familiar verse struck me in a little different way today. Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes …” (1:16). Being ashamed of something reflects a condition of weakness. One might be ashamed of a physical deformity or ugliness or ignorance, but those are things connected with us. Paul’s reason for not being ashamed is based not on himself but on God and His power. The gospel message is not about us but about God and His love, mercy, and grace. It has the power to change lives. Therefore, we can be unashamed because we are vitally connected to God and His powerful message.