Category Archives: Acts

Judges 20; Acts 24; Jeremiah 35; Psalms 5-6

“You yourselves recently repented and did what was right in my sight by proclaiming liberty to one another, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name; but then you turned around and profaned my name when each you took back you male and female slaves whom you had set free according to their desire and brought them again into subjection to be slaves.” Jeremiah 34:15-16.

Like the people of Israel, I am known by God’s name and with that comes boundless grace and incredible responsibility. The words that come out of my mouth and the actions that follow have the opportunity to glorify or profane the name of God. These are strong words.

In contrast to the people of Israel, Paul’s life of obedience reflects the character of God: steadfast and true. He didn’t back down and compromise the truth when he spoke to Drusilla and Felix about “faith in Christ Jesus” Acts 24:24-25. Paul clung to the inconvenient truth and it cost him two more years of sitting in a Caesarean jail.

Lord, grant me Paul’s  lack of duplicity, his doggedness and faith. May I represent your name well no matter whether it is convenient or not. I don’t want to be known as a “good”  or religious person, but as one who lives in your grace and truth. Lord, bring me to repentance so that I turn from  petty self interest to worship You in your beauty and righteousness. Amen.

Kathy

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Judges 18; Acts 22; Jeremiah 32; Psalm 1, 2

In a few days I will be on an airplane heading to Kigali, Rwanda. We will be staying at a Youth for Christ facility that is so alive with the presence of Jesus.  This is my third time travelling to this country and I know I go back to visit the piece of my heart I left the first time I went.  There is a group of women at YFC who have called themselves the Blessed Ones–they feel blessed because God has provided for them and their families.  They are widows and women with HIV/AIDS who had no way to support themselves but the Director of this facility gathered them out of the slums and they have learned to support themselves and their families by sewing and jewelry.  They have bible studies together and have learned about Jesus.  Most have accepted Him as Savior, though some have not, but we love on them all.  Being around them fills me with joy.  We really have so much in common—we are all broken women healed by Jesus.  Our time together is filled with fun and laughter, hugs and tears, shared activities, and hearts filled with love for God and each other.

This time I’ve been asked to stand before them and give my testimony. There will be a translator there to tell them what I’ve said because my Kinyarwanda is not very good.  In Acts 22, Paul had no such hindrance as he spoke to the gathered Jews in their own language.

“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Paul begins to give his testimony. The crowd is silent as they listen to him share his encounter with Jesus and how he changed Paul’s life.

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’

19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr[a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

I know when I give my testimony it will not be met with the same reaction that Paul faced from the angry crowd.  People react to Jesus. They either love him or want to kill him.  Because we associate with him, we can get a similar reaction from people.

We are blessed here in the United States. We are not treated brutally for sharing about Jesus but that is not so in all countries.  We read about all the times Paul was beaten and put into jail for going from city to city proclaiming Jesus and all that he did.  We think that only happens in the bible, but Christians are persecuted today for their belief in Jesus—even more so as the end times draw near.

My encounter with Jesus was not anything as dramatic as Paul’s, but it was just as transforming. In his first speech to the Jews in the synagogue, Jesus told them he came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners, comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (taken from Isaiah 61:1-3).  When I tell them my story, that is what I intend to share—the impact of those words on my life.  I could make a checklist of those promises:  did He bring me good news?  Check.  Did He bind up my broken heart?  Check.  Did he clothe me with a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair?  Check.  Did he bestow on me a crown of beauty instead of ashes?  Check.  Check.

To the outward eye, these women may look different than me. But in our inner person, we are sisters in Christ.  We have been through trials and overcome them by the love of Jesus.  His presence in our lives has given us value beyond what the world says.  The last time we went, I got to hear some of their stories of how He changed their lives.  I can’t wait to tell them mine.

Lord, I thank you for changed lives. I thank you that I can go halfway around the world and have something in common with other women.  You have given us a connection through Jesus.  May we sing His praises in whatever language we speak.  It all sounds like a choir to You!  In His name, Amen

Cindy (gardnlady)

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Judges 16; Acts 20; Jeremiah 29; Mark 15

Looking at examples in the Bible, I think God is trying to say that it’s okay to go through pain – only He wants to walk through it with us.

Samson is a fine example.  Even though he had failed, God did not leave him.

Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. – Judges 16:30 NRSV

For Paul pain was a way of life and he prophesied the same to us. Only way through it and its the staple of my walk with Jesus is to place my hope in God, counting on His grace as my foundation and my fountain of joy.

 Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God[d]that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.[e]  I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. – Acts 20:28-30

That is why I struggle with this promise that I still quote from time to time —

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,  I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes – Jeremiah 29:11-14

I struggle with it not because it is not true, but because if it is taken out of context it misses the fact that there was 70 years of pain before this promise was realized.

So Jesus’s life has to be the accumulation of all my thoughts.  The cross and Skull Hill represented death, mockery and pain but for me I found there a place of redemption, forgiveness and hope because of Jesus.  What begins in horror and inhumanity, ends in victory and grace.

 Then they brought Jesus[d] to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).  And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.  And they crucified him – Mark 15:22-24

Lord, thank you for your promises, they are true, every last one of them.  While I  journey with You and we might be joined by hurt, may I take comfort that You and others that You have called have already gone before me.  

evanlaar

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Judges 15; Acts 19; Jeremiah 28; Mark 14

But the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon Samson, and he snapped the ropes in his arms as if they were burnt strands of flax, and they fell from his wrists. Then Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve piled them in heaps! With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve killed a thousand men!” When he finished his boasting, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was named Jawbone Hill. Samson was now very thirsty, and he cried out to the Lord, “You have accomplished this great victory by the strength of your servant. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of these pagans?” So God caused water to gush out of a hollow in the ground of Lehi, and Samson was revived as he drank. Then he named the place “The Spring of the One Who Cried Out,” and it is still in Lehi to this day.” Judges 15:14-19 NLT

Samson was relying on his own strength. But once he cried out, the Lord gave him more than enough water to fulfill his thirst. God doesn’t withhold his Spirit from me. All I have to do is ask. Just like the woman pouring the jar of perfume. He pours out his spirit on me.  There can never be too much.

While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from the essence of nard. She broke open the jar and pursed the perfume over his head. Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked …But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me.” Mark 14:3-7 NLT

Than, why do I sometimes wait till I am depleted, to ask for something he so readily gives?

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them. “No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles…So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.” Acts 19:2-20 NLT

The Lord’s spirit gives me freedom. He frees me from a yoke of bondage.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks…Then Hannaniah the prophet took the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it in pieces.” Jeremiah 28:2&10 NLT

Thank you Father for giving me the power of your Holy Spirit. That you generously lavish your spirit on me when I ask. Forgive me for when I try to do things on my own. Amen.

Amy(amyctanner)

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Judg. 8; Acts 12; Jer. 21; Mark 7

Are we guilty of taking freedom for granted?

“Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said… “The Lord has sent His angel and saved me!” Acts 12:11

Recently, while working in my office at the University, one of my students stopped by with a group of international students as part of a refugee outreach program. One of the students asked a question about a recent trip to Rwanda, and during my response, I said “Thank you, Jesus!” My words immediately triggered her to cowl, then look around to see if anyone had heard what I said, and finally start to back away from the group to separate herself from the rest of us. When I asked what was happening, she reluctantly said “How can you speak like that so openly… aren’t you afraid of what will happen to you?”

The look on my face said it all… how could 3 words cause such a reaction? And it really was just one word, wasn’t it? As Christians, we know that the word Jesus is the most powerful name there is, but to those who are persecuted for their belief in Jesus, that one word is also associated with harsh reality… persecution, and sometimes even DEATH! We are blessed with so many freedoms in this country… it often takes someone who has had those freedoms taken away, or never had them in the first place, for us to realize just how blessed we are as Americans.

Peter in Acts 12 clearly understood the loss of freedom in Herod’s prison, as all of us would under similar circumstances. But spiritual freedom, particularly in this country is one that is rarely discussed because it is assumed, but it represents one of the most powerful of all freedoms as it affects us now while on Earth, but more importantly, it determines our eternity! So many don’t understand the impact of this statement, muddling through life, worshiping whomever and however they please.

As was experienced by Peter in a physical sense, true spiritual freedom comes only from our Lord and Savior, and affects all other freedoms. Verse 11 revealed that even though Peter was in temporary physical bondage, he was spiritually free because he knew that Jesus had already saved him from sin. As a result, Peter’s soul was forever in a much better place than Herod and Peter’s captors, whose physical freedom did nothing to save their souls’ enslavement.

Peter’s physical freedom by God was amazing… but his spiritual freedom was the focus of even more wonder… for it is when, not if, our other freedoms in life are attacked, that our spiritual freedom, centered on our believe in Jesus, will sustain us here, on Earth, and in our eternal life.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the freedoms we enjoy as You are the authority on freedom. In the busyness of day, help us to remember that freedom is not free… in so many ways, the freedoms we experience have come with a heavy price, started with the death of Your Son. And finally, help us to focus on connection with You… only then can we make it through “one more day!” Amen

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Judges 6; Acts 10; Jeremiah 19; Mark 5

Sometimes I forget. Like Gideon, I keep my faith hidden and thresh my wheat in the wine press. Like Gideon, I tend to keep expectations low,  dreams limited and focus on getting by. Immediate disappointment is deferred that way, but in His Grace, God’s vision for life is higher than mine. My stale faith and prayers do not limit what God can do. To the contrary, time and time again, He delights in interrupting the normal.

Those interruptions are a gift to the person with the smallest of hopes. Consider the synagogue leader whose daughter is healed, the woman who dares to reach out in the crowd to discretely touch Jesus’s clothing, and the demoniac delivered from the Legion. But for those unable to cope with the fact that they are not in control and life as they know it has been irrevocably altered, the interruptions of God are unwelcome, if not terrifying. I am thinking of the  Gideon’s Midianite and Amalekite neighbors and later the  Gerasene swineherds.

God doesn’t allow me to stay stuck in the past. His ways break through conventions and rules to call me to the unexpected. I prayer that when He calls me to take the next risk, I will be quick to listen and obey as in the case of Cornelius and Peter. His grace enables me to let go of prejudices and old habits that may have served in the past, but will not work today.

Lord, do not allow me to cling to my ability to get it right. Let me hold tightly to the grace to which you have called me by name. Thank you for being my anchor and my hope. Your relentless pursuit of my soul never fails. It’s by the glorious, beautiful name of Jesus that I offer this prayer. Your sufficiency continues to amaze in ways never expected. Amen.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf has entered…” Hebrews 6:19-20.

Kathy

 

 

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Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4

As followers of Christ, we all have a conversion story. A story of before and after. A turning point. In Acts 9, Saul has a dramatic encounter with Christ. One moment he was headed to persecute Christ-followers, the next minute he is blinded and confronted by Christ himself.

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (NIV)

Ananias was sent to deliver a message of deliverance from God:

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands onSaul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (NIV)

I used to be envious of people who had a testimony that was as drastic as Paul’s. Perhaps they were enslaved to drugs but met Christ and immediately were free of their addiction. Or maybe they grew up with an alcoholic parent, and found healing when they met Christ as an adult. Some speak of walking an aisle when given an invitation.

I have come to realize, though, that my story, though not dramatic is no less miraculous. That even though my entry into the Kingdom was gentle and unceremonious, it was no less remarkable than Paul’s. Our story of conversion is part of a bigger story and plan. God’ welcomes us all equally. We all have a part to play. It’s what we do with it that matters.

15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealthand the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” Mark 4 15-20 NIV)

Though I grew up going to church, I didn’t really hear about having a personal relationship with Christ until I was in college and got involved with a campus ministry. Sadly, many of the people that were involved in that group are no longer walking with God. I don’t know why I am still pursuing God and they aren’t. I can’t imagine life without God – it would be a life without purpose. Looking back, my faith story may not have had a sensational beginning, but it has had it’s share of sensational moments – times of blessing, hard times that led to incredible growth, restorative encounters and answered prayers. I am thankful for my story.

What’s your story? Have you taken the time to write it down? How have you changed since you met Christ? What are some of the things God has taught you? What have been your struggles? Your triumphs? Stories are powerful. God wrote your own unique story just for you. Be ready to share it. You never know how your story might impact someone else someday.

Ann (gardenlady)

 

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