“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4)? God’s kindness is rich. God’s forbearance is rich. God’s patience is rich. Do we embrace this richness or treat it with contempt? Passing judgment on others while doing the same thing means showing contempt for these riches. Allowing God’s kindness to lead us to a change in heart and behavior is embracing these riches. In those moments when I seem to be stuck in sin, perhaps what I really need to do is spend time considering the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. Same goes for the times when I am railing about sin in someone else’s life. A large dose of the riches of God can go a long way toward leading me out of my own hypocrisy.
Longing for the church
“I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:9b-12). Paul’s longing to be with his brothers and sisters is a reminder to me: do not take for granted opportunities to be together with the church. I am reminded how many times I have been strengthened by time together with my fellow Jesus-followers. How rich is this idea of mutual encouragement! I encourage. I am encouraged. That’s the way it works. That’s why I need to be with the church.
Telling the story
“I was on my way and approaching Damascus…”(Acts 22:6a). We have already read Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion. Now we read Paul’s words as he shared the story of his conversion. We will hear Paul tell the story again later in Acts. He tells his story. The people are quiet and listening carefully at first. By the time he finishes telling the story he says a “magic word” that leads to people throwing off their jackets, shouting, and throwing dust in the air. There is a lot to process in this account, but as I read it today I am thinking about how I need to be prepared to tell my story of encountering God and becoming a follower of Jesus. In fact, all of us who follow Jesus should share our story. Are you ready?
Waiting as you travel
“When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there” (Acts 21:1-3). Each time I come to a passage in Acts that could be described as “travelogue,” I try to imagine what the travel would have been like. I am afraid my imagination is lacking when it comes even to trying to picture the situation and the challenges. The sailing. Trying to make connections. The waiting. The additional waiting. Still more waiting. Maybe I have trouble imagining the scene because I have so a low tolerance for inconvenience when it comes to my travels, and I face nothing like Paul faced.
“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed” (Acts 20:36). Much of Acts chapter 20 describes the relationship Paul had with the elders at Ephesus (particularly from verse 17 to the end of the chapter). I am inspired by the cooperation and teamwork of Paul and the elders. This section serves as a model for how I want to be a cooperative teammate with elders in church leadership.
“On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). Paul found some in Ephesus who did not even know of the Holy Spirit. They knew only of the baptism of John. And so Paul explained the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And when these twelve people heard Paul’s explanation, they were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Have you ever considered that there may be some of your understanding of the way of Jesus that is limited and deficient? Are you open to hearing about the areas in which your understanding is incomplete?
“One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’ He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11). As I read this I consider how much more patient God is with people than I am. How many times have we given up too soon? How many times have we moved on before the time needed for people to hear? And as I read this I wonder how many people there are in our neighborhoods, schools, and offices there are of whom God would say, they “are my people?”
Nostalgia and progressiveness
“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The Athenians craved “something new.” In contrast, there were some who were obsessed with the old paths, the way things had always been done. Sound familiar? Don’t we have the same camps today? Nostalgia is a powerful hallucinogenic: longing for the glory days of our church. Progressiveness – gotta try something new, anything new – can quickly become out with everything old, nothing but the new and shiny. Some are suckers for the way it has always been done. Others are suckers for every new, untested idea that comes along.
“They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus (Acts 17:7b). Jesus is King. Do we realize that political leaders can displace Jesus as King?
Central or incidental?
“After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you” (Acts 17:1-3). Arguing. Explaining. Proving from scripture. Ugh. I have known “Bible bangers,” have you? I have been a “Bible-banger,” have you? But Paul and Silas were not arguing over splitting hairs over some obscure teaching or some disputable matter of opinion. They are focused on a central teaching: The death and resurrection of the Messiah. Do your arguments/explanations/proofs focus on the central or the incidental?